Holler: Smith deal sets new standard for QBs

The guaranteed money in the Alex Smith deal has to have general managers fearing for the future. Fortunately for the Vikings, they will have a fifth-year option on Teddy Bridgewater.

Three years from now, one of the most brilliant moves Vikings general manager Rick Spielman may have made was to convince the Seattle Seahawks to get off the 32nd pick in last May’s draft.

By getting Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, there is a fifth-year option that needs to be exercised prior to the fourth year of his rookie contract kicking in. It will come with a price, but if Sunday’s announcement of a megabuck contract is any indication, the Vikings might exercise the option even if they don’t know if it will pay off.

Things have gotten a little crazy in the NFL these days. Sunday’s announcement of the Kansas City Chiefs agreeing to terms with pedestrian game manager Alex Smith (four years, $68 million, $45 million guaranteed) is a troubling portent of things to come in a league where the running back is being replaced by the quarterback as the franchise player – even on a team that clearly has a franchise player in Jamaal Charles.

In his two years with the Vikings, Brett Favre was paid approximately $40 million. He earned every dime, despite the 2010 season being pretty ratty. He was actually ready to retire and had resigned himself to that fact. The Vikings made the trip to Mississippi to sound like the Welcome Wagon was coming to town when Steve Hutchinson, Jared Allen and Ryan Longwell flew Air Wilf One to an airport more accustomed to talking down planes with a propeller on both sides.

They likely showed up to the farm in a nice SUV, but it may as well have been a windowless van. Reality would argue they zip-tied Brett’s wrists, put a pillow case over his head, apologized to Deanna and kids (Minnesota nice) and tossed him in the back of the van.

For that reason alone, Favre earned his second 20-Xtra large.

It seems like ancient history, but it was a telling moment in the history of how quarterbacks are compensated.

When Drew Brees came due in 2012, he signed a deal for $20 million a year. That ring on his right hand did a lot of his talking for him. When Aaron Rodgers signed a contract extension that officially kicks in next year, he’s getting $22 mil a year on average. His ring spoke volumes as well.

Peyton Manning is getting 19-plus on his deal in Denver. Like those other guys, his right-hand ring shuts up his critics. He’s earned it. Like Favre, his past performance is call for future expectations of success.

Now is where it gets dicey. By that same logic, Joe Flacco played Russian Roulette with the Ravens and won – earning a right-hand ring on the backs of his defense and O-line and got rewarded with a six-year, $120 million deal that put him about three steps above his performance pay grade. They didn’t win because of him, they won with him – and he was compensated handsomely.

He trails only Rodgers and Matt Ryan, who signed a five-year deal for $104 million conveniently before Julio Jones got hurt and his offense imploded around him.

Colin Kaepernick is technically signed through the 2021 season after putting pen to paper on a six-year extension ostensibly worth $114 mil – even though less than 12 percent of that contract is guaranteed, a.k.a. “team friendly.”

G.M.’s throughout the NFL are dropping expletives deleted about the Smith contract. It’s changed the landscape of expectations and organizational culpability that nobody outside of K.C. views as a masterpiece. The people who brought you Dwayne Bowe’s fat contract bring you Al Smith.

Flacco was grossly overpaid. Matty Ice melted without a supporting cast. Kaepernick has to earn it, but he hasn’t earned nine figures yet. But the Smith deal is truly a benchmark moment for the pedestrian QB that makes guys like Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson shake an envious ring-bejeweled fist.

There are two components to contracts – the eye-popping announced total and the realistic total. Unfortunately for other owners and general managers, the Smith numbers are troubling to say the least.

The contract average of Smith’s deal is an absurd $17 million a season for the next four years. The biggest problem is the guaranteed money – $45 million.

That represents two-thirds of the total. Why is that important? While his annual average puts him at 10th among the most lucratively compensated QBs, it’s the guarantee that is troubling for other owners, general managers and organizational comptrollers.

While every big-money contract is signed with the expectation that it may actually play out – see Jared Allen – the risk franchises are willing to establish with a franchise player is tenuous at best. Things happen in the NFL – because we’re a family website, “things” was used in that sentence. Non-familial types know what the buzz is around team headquarters and odds are they’re not saying, “things happen.”.

Things have hit the fan.

When Rodgers signed his extension, less than 50 percent of the deal was guaranteed. Flacco has already eclipsed the guaranteed portion of his deal. The Broncos only guaranteed 19 percent of Manning’s deal given those neck scars adjacent to his spine. Even Brees was simply at a 40 percent guarantee and he could run and win the race for mayor of New Orleans. Nobody in the $17 Million Club has a higher guarantee than Smith.

Heady days indeed.

At a time when the NFL is emphasizing passing until playoff time, the Smith signing may simply get casual fans to shake their collective heads. In NFL money rooms, they’re shaking their fists. A new bar has been set and Smith shouldn’t be the test case.

Fortunately for the Vikings, getting Seattle’s pick delays that tsunami from hitting Minnesota for the next four years.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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