Best & Worst 2015: The Best Quarterback Contracts

For the last two seasons I have done a summer “Best and Worst” contracts for each team in the NFL, but I decided this year to put that on hold since it recycles so many players and instead take a positional approach to the concept. So during the course of the summer I’ll do my choices for the top three and bottom three contracts at each position from a team perspective. As usual the rules are no rookie contracts allowed in the selection. Today we start with my selections for best quarterback contracts in the NFL and I’ll be back later this week with the worst QB contracts in the NFL.

3. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (6 years, $96 million, $17 million fully guaranteed)

I think we all can agree on the downside of Dalton as a middling quarterback that is helped by the system and personnel in Cincinnati, but given the landscape of the position this is a tremendous contract for the Bengals and one they should get more credit for. Outside of postseason success, Dalton had many traits that lead to big contracts for quarterbacks- consistent regular season wins, strong TD numbers, over 4,000 yards passing in the year prior to his contract. But the Bengals were able to cut through all of it and focus the contract solely on his downsides which are greatly talked about in the media.

Dalton essentially got very little in the way of contractual guarantees and would never have a cap charge above $17 million until the final year of the contract. He can be cut at any time with almost no penalty. His $16 million a year annual value defined a mid tier market that didn’t exist prior to this contract and this is the only contract for a long term contract for a starter in the last five years to come in under the old CBA benchmark set by Eli Manning. While I had thought that this may prove to be the contract that pulled salaries back it proved to be somewhat of an aberration. Recent deals for Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton indicated a much more robust market.

Give the Bengals their due for this one. His contribution matches his pay and the team was able to turn the negotiation on his negatives rather than allowing themselves to manipulated by his potential positives. That gives them a more beneficial position than most in the NFL.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (5 years, $110 million, $54 million fully guaranteed)

Just because Rodgers is the highest paid player in the NFL, it doesn’t mean that the contract is a bad contract for the Packers. Given how great Rodgers is I think a strong argument can be made that he is one of the most underpaid veterans in the NFL. Rodgers contract is a byproduct of a forward thinking front office who decided to extend Rodgers while he still had two years remaining on his contract.

Don’t get too caught up in the overall $110 million figure of the contract. Rodgers will earn $68 million over the first three extension years of the contract which is less than Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan and the same as Cam Newton. By the time he begins to pull away in years 4 and 5 the team was fully protected from catastrophe since there was exactly $0 dollars in dead money remaining if released or traded in his mid 30s.

Due to the early extension he will never have a cap charge above $21 million and never above $19.25 million in the real guaranteed contract years. Even the guarantee of $54 million is a bit overstated- the new money guarantee in the contract is about $34 million, well under Drew Brees’. When you factor in zero cost to move I doubt you will find another contract this reasonable for a player in his prime. Rodgers also has a few dollars in his contract tied to being healthy.

While some may say that when this was signed (a few months before Matt Ryan and two years before Newton and Roethlisberger) it was a massive contract so it shouldn’t be considered, the Packers need to be given credit for seeing the landscape forming in light of Joe Flacco’s $20.1 million contract. Had they waited until the expiration of Rodgers original contract the Packers would have had to deal with potential extensions for a number of players rather than simply working off the $20 million starting point. This contract is a perfect example of a deal that really should make both parties extremely happy when they walk away with the new contract.

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (3 years, $27 million, $8 million fully guaranteed)

You can value Brady’s contract a million different ways, but there is no way to look at the contract negatively. Brady had all the leverage in the world when he first negotiated his original three year extension, but instead he choose to take significantly less money for the betterment of the team. He would later tweak his contract just to help the Patriots with their own internal cash flows.  Brady will earn just $8 million this season which is 18th in the NFL and $7 million less than Peyton Manning, the best comparable player to Brady.

The contract allows the Patriots so much flexibility with the future of their team. If they want to trade Brady they can do so at any point over the next two years and create cap room in doing so. If they want Brady to take a mentoring role to his eventual replacement his salary is not outlandish by any means to prevent the team from investing heavily in a new player.  The team covered all bases with this contract.

It is doubtful any other team in the NFL will ever be able to manufacture a contract like this with a star player. It is clearly becoming the model that ownership is going to hope they can force the aging player to follow, but it’s doubtful that will ever be the case. Even in Manning’s recent renegotiation, he has the ability to make up his pay cut through incentives. Brady’s contract provides a competitive advantage that is unmatched in the NFL.

  • Dnomso24

    Guessing this is perhaps excluding Russell Wilson’s contract due to it being a rookie deal, as surely his production per dollar makes his the best contract in the NFL today, with a massive competitive advantage available to the Seahawks because of it. Of course, that will all change quite soon.

    • Kirk Vollmer

      Yeah rookie contracts are routinely left out of the discussion in this. Otherwise Wilson and Luck would be the top 2.

  • JJ

    I note they left out the fact that Brady: 1. has a rich supermodel wife so he doesn’t need the money; 2. is afraid to leave the Patriots since his every season there has been marred by some cheating allegations – he doesn’t want to find out if he can compete on a level playing field. Best contract here seems to mean cheap to the owners – it says nothing about paying the player for the beating they’re taking or the accomplishments they’ve achieved. That’s a pretty odd definition of a good contract.

  • Kirk Vollmer

    You are right about the Rodger’s contract. The Packers don’t get enough credit for that one. After the Joe Flacco deal went down, they got a contract for Rodgers that pays him just a smidge more then Joe Flacco. Plus a better contract structure to boot. If Tom Brady wasn’t playing at a discount rate then Rodger’s contract would be the best in the NFL.