Op Ed: Why NFL Teams Need to Stop Paying Quarterbacks so Much Money

The NFL has a QB problem. For the first time in NFL history, it seems that there are very few teams without a viable quarterback option. Think back to a time long ago when you excitedly watched NFL Sunday just to see Derek Anderson vs Bruce Gradkowski. Maybe you’d flip the channel and see the long-awaited duel between Kyle Orton and David Garrard. Or, you could wait a few weeks and have the honor of witnessing two NFL greats like Jimmy Clausen and Jake Delhomme duel it out. What high-quality football! Ok — ok all humor aside — I don’t think these names are in anyone’s memories of football ten years ago. Yes, this was only ten seasons ago. In 2010, names like Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Matt Moore, Brady Quinn, Tim Tebow and Jason Campbell actually started multiple games! Today there are probably around 40 starting caliber QBs in the league. Reliable options like Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Marcus Mariota, and Jameis Winston — all rode the bench this year. How is it that a league with such high-quality options at QB, end up overpaying half of them just to do a mediocre job? 

That might seem like a crazy assertion to make, but I’m not even talking in “moneyball” terms here. Think about it, there are 20 QBs that make more than $20 million a year. Even adjusted for inflation, in 2010, there was only one. Even considering two important factors, like the fact that the salary cap has gone up by $78 million since 2010, and that QBs are always going to make more money than everyone else — this still seems excessive. But I’m going to float an idea over to you that may seem groundbreaking, but really isn’t. A good quarterback is no longer a rarity. As important as they may be to a team’s success, there are so many of them — that their value should actually be dropping. But not only is their value not dropping, it’s actually rising to inordinate heights. 

So you might be asking, “Brian, what is the problem then?” Well let me tell you — it’s not obvious. In fact, in the business world of football, there really isn’t a problem. These QBs will inevitably fill seats and sell jerseys. What I’m afraid of is the total drop in quality of play in the NFL when every QB is making more than 15% of their team’s cap space. I’d hate to bore you with numbers and statistics, so I’ll just cut to the chase.

After doing some rough calculations, I found something pretty interesting. In the last 10 years, the league hasn’t seen a team win a Superbowl, while paying more than 15% of their cap space out to QBs. Knowing this, we can safely say that paying 15% of your cap space to the most important position on the field — seems to be the threshold for building a championship caliber team. That still seems like a pretty high percentage for one position on the field, yet there are currently 14 teams that pay that or more. In fact, six of them pay out more than 20%! These teams will have some serious trouble giving extensions to younger players, and even if they are able to, there will be limited resources available to fill out the rest of the roster. 

Players like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers are some of the greatest athletes ever to step foot on a football field. They are in MVP talks every season, and they will probably have a decent amount of success throughout the rest of their careers. But I wager that they won’t win many more Superbowls; maybe just one, this year. At the end of the day, football is a team sport, and the best QB in the league rarely wins the final game of the year. The best TEAM does (this isn’t the NBA), and it’s impossible to build the best team — when you’re paying too much to one position. We should all be excited for the next decade of football, but wary of the effect this overpayment of QBs may have on the league, long term.