As I mentioned last year, there are four main ways to judge a QB (in my opinion): stats, regular season wins, postseason wins, and Super Bowl rings. Some players have one or more of these categories, and some have none. Some guys have all of them. If a player has all of them, then he basically deserves the maximum amount of money because he’s an elite QB. If a QB doesn’t have any of them, he deserves the minimum amount of money and probably shouldn’t be the team’s highest paid QB in the first place. But things happen and people get overpaid for one reason or another, and sometimes it’s essentially impossible to get rid of a player, forcing them to let him play out his contract.
The concept that each new player has to be the “highest paid player in history” at his position still exists and probably always will. The salary cap will continue to go up at a staggering rate until a new CBA agreement is made, so it makes sense that QBs should see a slight raise every year. But the problem is that many QBs are making over the amount that they deserve regardless of the salary cap. And each guy that gets a new contract is likely to receive some sort of massive deal that screams confidence in the player, but also a bit of insanity in the team.
The new fad this past offseason in terms of big QB deals is a step in the right direction though. Teams are giving players what seem like insane contracts with large guaranteed money numbers, but there’s a catch. There’s a difference between “guaranteed money” and “actual guaranteed money.” Actual guaranteed money is what the player will receive no matter what happens the rest of his career. If he dropped off the face of the Earth tomorrow, he’d technically be owed that amount of actual guaranteed money. But then there’s the guaranteed money amount that the media plays up, which always seems like a massive amount and bloats the contract’s value.
The “guaranteed money” number is the amount of money that the player would receive if he reached all of the goals that the contract sets out for the player. In other words, the player has incentives to earn “extra money” beyond the “actual guaranteed money.” This “extra money” is included in the player’s total contract already, but would technically be subtracted and not allocated to the player if he doesn’t live up to the goals. For example, a player’s cap hit one season might be $10 million, but he gets another $1 million if he makes the Pro Bowl. He might get another $1 million if he makes the playoffs, and another $3 million if he makes the Super Bowl. These are all hypothetical numbers, but it shows how a player can go from earning $10 million to $15 million in a season just because he met the goals of his contract.
This system is an excellent way for everyone involved. Ok, well it’s not the ideal thing for the player since he isn’t just given the money straight up, but it makes the most sense. It allows teams to say, “hey, I think you’re a great player, and I’ll give you a lot of money, but you have to earn it.” So, if the player gets the total amount of the huge contract he signed, it meant he was probably a pretty darn good player, and likely in the elite category. This is best case scenario for the team because it also eliminates the “content” factor that I talked about last year in which players might become less motivated to try after receiving a new big contract with lots of guaranteed money. With most of the guaranteed money coming from performance incentives, the only way the player will receive all the money is if he plays great.
Now, here is a look at some overall stats in terms of all 32 teams’ highest paid QB. Eight players have contracts that were originally over $100 million, an astounding amount. There are 16 QBs that have total contracts over $50 million, which is half the league. That’s a lot of money devoted to just one position. The average total money for a QB contract in the NFL (remember, just looking at the highest paid QB per team) is $51.4 million, and the averaged actual guaranteed money is $21.0 million. I also looked at average salary per year of their contracts and took the average of that, which is $10.6 million.
Last year, the average cash value for the 2013 salary of the 32 QBs was $10.5 million while the average cap hit was just $8.9 million. Both of those are pretty significant numbers. This year, the numbers seemed switched. The average cash value for their 2014 salaries is $8.7 million while the average cap hit was $10.3 million. The reason for this change is that last year, a lot of players were in the first year of their new, massive contract, and therefore received a high signing bonus that was paid in terms of cash up front. That also meant their cap hits were a bit lower; but, with the next year into their contract, the large cash values were lessened and the cap hits were higher. The average cap hit should be higher for all players regardless of position though because of the rising salary cap, although a raise of $1.5 million in average cap hit over just one year is a lot.
Comparing the list of guys on each of these lists, 23 of the teams have the same highest paid QB on their team, and three other guys are still on the 2014 list despite changing teams. So there are only six new names on this year’s list. The average NFL starts per QB in last year’s list was just over 70 games, which close to 4.5 full seasons. The average starts per QB in this year’s list is almost 82 games, which is just over 5 full seasons. So, because a lot of the same guys remained on this list, it both makes sense that the average starts per QB is higher and that the average cap hit is higher, because the increased experience means they should likely deserve more money. Also, even though another year has passed, the average Super Bowl rings per player has not changed (which is a slight spoiler).