Explaining My Beliefs Regarding QB Contracts

Some may think that I’m crazy for believing quarterbacks, especially ones like Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler and Sam Bradford, should try to get contracts that pay them handsomely, but are also team friendly. Many believe they should try to get everything they can, rather than settle for reasonable deals with their current teams.


The salary cap is about to increase at a rate that hasn’t been seen before in the NFL,; the history of the salary cap combined with Roger Goodell’s projection of $25 billion in revenues by 2027 show us that, as I wrote here last summer. If I’m any of these quarterbacks, sure I want to be paid in the short-term, but I want to ensure I’m in a situation where I’m going to be a high earner into the future. Any short-term gain pales in comparison to where future earnings will be, especially considering the length of a quarterback’s career in comparison to the rest of the league. The length of a QB’s career, the size of their earnings in comparison to the rest of the league, their impact on their team, but also their cap hit’s impact on their team’s cap situation are all major factors that make this market slightly different than every other one.

The Browns could be in the position to make a move for Osweiler or Bradford and either might end up costing them about what a first round signal caller would have cost them and allow them to use that #2 pick on someone who they felt more comfortable with. The top three quarterbacks in this draft–Carson Wentz from North Dakota State, Jared Goff from Cal and Paxton Lynch from Memphis– all have question marks , so the Browns might be seriously interested in Osweiler or Bradford enough to pay them more than what I would project, but Osweiler couldn’t be in a better position to start his career.

That leaves Bradford as the only one left on the table of these three. While the Browns have some pieces and Hue Jackson is one of the most highly regarded offensive minds in the league, which could interest Bradford, I think they’d pass on Bradford and use the #2 pick on Wentz, plus maybe a 4th or 5th rounder on Kevin Hogan out of Stanford to give them a potential project as I think he’s been one of the most underrated players in college football these last few years and highly accurate with a 67.8% completion percentage as a senior. For Bradford, I’d rather stay with the weapons I have in Philadelphia with a similar West Coast offense anyway. There’s just not enough there in Cleveland, where QBs have gone to die for almost 2 decades now, for me to think they can recruit one of those two away from situations that are much less risky for the two signal callers.

Below are just some rough projections for the total career earnings for the three quarterbacks. For Cousins and Osweiler, I used the projections from my Kirk Cousins and Broncos articles: so Cousins at four years, $48.35 million and Osweiler at three years, $27 million. I gave Bradford a short, three year, $33 million contract at $11 million a year as I feel like he’s the middle ground between Cousins and Osweiler, less of a ceiling than Cousins, more proven than Osweiler. It’s my belief that no player should make above about 12% of the cap, so I gave these guys conservative estimates for their contracts that are coming after the one they’re currently negotiating.

Cousins would be averaging 11.19% per year in cap hits, while Osweiler would be 10.90%. This isn’t because I’m projecting one will be better than the other, but Cousins’ has three less years to earn now that he’s entering his 28-year-old season and Osweiler is entering his 25-year-old season. With less time to earn big money, Cousins has to be more concerned with getting it in less time, while Osweiler can take a really team-based viewpoint and create a situation similar to Brady in New England, but for different reasons.

I have notes for an article outline I started last summer about Gisele might be the biggest economic force in the quarterback market, and I’ll have to take those out for the podcast to accompany this episode, as her wealth has provided Brady with the opportunity to sign the most team-friendly contract in the NFL. His cap hits in 2015 and 2016 are between 9-10% of the salary cap, which is about what Andy Dalton costs instead of the 12-14% of the cap that Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers make. This is a huge deal for the Patriots as that allows them to sign one or two more of those important short-term veterans they always find around 1-2% of the cap. I reference it often, but my Manning/Brady article last year illustrates the impact of Brady’s lower cap hits on their team’s success.

Before I go any further, here are the projected future lifetime earnings for these three players if they can make it through this next contract and onto the next as the unquestioned face of the franchise:

Figure 1: Kirk Cousins:

Kirk Cousins Lifetime Earnings

Figure 2: Brock Osweiler

Brock Osweiler Lifetime Earnings

Figure 3: Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford Lifetime Earnings

 

I didn’t want to muddy the figures above, but Mike Tanier’s article breaking down all of the potential scenarios and suitors in this quarterback market, along with this from Jason LaCanfora reminded me that I have to be slightly more conscious of the market forces in the quarterback market. While I’m a firm believer that teams have to be more rational with their QB spending, if a player like Cousins were to get to free agency next year after a solid 2016, the Redskins could run the risk of him really getting towards $20-22 million a year on the open market. This makes me think that after they franchise tag him and negotiate into the summer, they’ll end up in a middle group where Cousins will just be paid almost exactly what Dalton received, just with the inflation of the salary cap factored in. To do this is easy, I just took the first four years from Dalton’s contract and spread them from 2016 to 2019 for Cousins:

Figure 4: Cousins with Dalton’s Cap Hits

Kirk Cousins with Dalton's Cap Hits 

 

With the increases in the salary cap from 2014 to 2016, using the exact same cap percentages and the same projections for future salary caps, Cousins would make $54,965,150 compared to Dalton’s $47,459,063. Cousins in 2016 would cost the same as Dalton in 2014 for their teams, but because of the inflation, Cousins would make $7,506,087 more over the course of the four years. This might end up being the middle ground they agree on. I would think this is a fair contract for the Redskins and Cousins as well, both sides could be happy. One could argue that you’d want Cousins more than Dalton as Cousins’ 2015 was more efficient than anything Dalton had done up to that point. Although Cousins has a very small sample size compared to a few years of success for Dalton at the point of his signing, another $6-7 million more than what I had projected over four years is a price the Redskins would have to be willing to pay. Just like you don’t want him playing at about 12% of the cap in 2016 as the Redskins need a ton of help elsewhere, there’s no way you want to risk Cousins hitting free agency in 2017.

Bringing it back to the market, the figures show that the big, more appropriate goal for all three of these players isn’t this contract, but the third contract. They can only command so much right now because all three of them have question marks. Cousins only blew us away for 10 games, which is a very small sample size. Osweiler looked like he could make the Broncos formula work, but he didn’t do anything to push him into a long-term, top of the market contract conversation. Bradford showed he could run Chip Kelly’s offense with accuracy once he settled in, which might make him a candidate for San Francisco if they decide to cut Kaepernick and eat his $7.4 million in dead money, or he might be the perfect guy for Doug Pederson as his offense throws the kind of shorter passing game that plays to Bradford’s strengths.

For the sake of all three of these player’s teams, neither of them can afford to franchise them as they’re just not worth 12% of the cap, nor will their teams have the space to do that and make the appropriate moves in free agency. It’s very unlikely that either of these three play themselves into the $20-22 million range in one season on the franchise tag anyway.

For the sake of all three of these players though, this contract isn’t going to be their lottery ticket, the; it will be their ticket to give them a chance at the next contract which can be the real jackpot.

Tweet me: @ZackMooreNFL

I’ll be discussing this more on Episode #6 of The Zack Moore Show, which will be up on iTunes and Soundcloud within the next two days. Please subscribe and give it five stars if you enjoy as that helps with the ratings on iTunes!

I’m also in Indianapolis until Friday morning if you’re in town for the combine and want to learn more about the Caponomics research and Caponomics: Moneyball Thinking for the NFL, which will be coming out this year. You can always e-mail me at Caponomics@gmail.com.

  • McGeorge

    Zack,
    I really disagree with your projection of 10MM for Cousins.
    If I was his agent I’d say No. Either franchise my client or I walk.
    If you don’t want to pay me, the Browns will certainly work out a deal paying me 15MM.

    As for Osweiller, a long term contract at 8MM? He may think he’s a Tier 2 QB, and should make more, like 12-15MM. So 8 may be hard. I can see a one year 10MM contract.

    Lastly, Bradford. 9MM? I think thats too low. I think he can get at least 12MM, with an incentive clause. Say a 2 year contract.

    • I’ve addressed these all at length in all of my last few articles. It’s not $10 M/yr for Cousins, this current contract I wrote up is $12 M/yr with the updated one being a realistic contract simply using Dalton’s first four years of his most recent deal. The first four years of Dalton’s deal were right around $12 M/yr, so I’m right in line with what Dalton was just paid. The $16 M/yr number comes from the later increases.

      I’ve explained at length in the Cousins article why I placed his valuation around $12 M/yr as Nick Foles real value of that contract is only about $6.4 M/yr, which makes the middle tier market a bit lower than we’ve been saying it is with Foles’ $12.5 M/yr average as the last year is funny money.

      And for Cousins’, okay, play on the franchise tag and with that added cap hit, you might not even make the playoffs as you can’t plug the big holes on defense and you walk into free agency with the same narrative as this year. He’s very unlikely to change the narrative enough to get him to the $20 M/yr category, so take the next couple years to increase your value and reap the benefits of the increased cap that’s coming.

      • Jon

        Why would he wait to enhance his contract value when it’s currently at an all-time high coming off a career year and having so much leverage? Too much risk for him to do that when he could sign for $19M per year right now.

        • As I wrote here, plus here (overthecap.com/projecting-kirk-cousins-with-the-redskins/), Kirk Cousins isn’t worth that and it’s unlikely he earns his way there with just one year on a franchise tag. His comparison from everyone has been Dalton, even using Dalton’s later years, he only makes $16 M/yr, so $19 M/yr is not a realistic value for someone who still has questions on a team that has question marks.

          • Jon

            Dalton had one year remaining on his contract at just over $1M in salary prior to negotiating his extension. He had considerably less leverage than Cousins does right now. It’s not a good comparison from that standpoint. As the Redskins know from experience, it’s so tough finding a franchise QB. You pay for the value and demand of the position. They have no real alternative solutions at the position, meaning they will have to tag Cousins at around $19M if they can’t come to an agreement. With that in mind, Cousins and his reps won’t accept anything less. So yes, he is worth $19M and it is a realistic value.

          • I’m saying in terms of his real value as him making $19 M/yr will damage their Super Bowl hopes considerably as they have a bunch of holes and not much cap space for it. Could you argue he could leverage his way to $19 M/yr? It’s possible considering Tannehill’s deal has that kind of average, but those numbers are inflated by later years.

            From Cousins’ standpoint, I sign something similar to Dalton’s deal, higher than my original projection with a larger signing bonus to get the money up front like the franchise tag would have given him. I’d even put in an opt-out clause for Cousins before 2019 to push the Redskins towards re-negotiating with him in 2018 with a long-term deal. If Cousins were to hit the market in 2019, then things would really get crazy for him after a few more good seasons.

            Point being, the salary cap is about to explode and, while I often discuss I like money today rather than tomorrow in the NFL, his long-term earnings could be astronomical if he waits for his value to rise by 2018/2019. Taking $19 M/yr right now would actually put the Redskins in a more kind of team friendly position long-term with the cap increases as his higher earning years will be in the later years anyway with how most contracts are structured, plus he’ll have even more leverage in a couple years.

  • eddiea

    I’ve heard what Cousins agent asked for and the Skins said no. Like you’ve said and as Skins know,if he was Franchised the team couldn’t upgrade team,O or D, so he should accept a reasonable “team friendly”deal $11M-$13M per. Now,any QB going to Browns would be putting themselves in a worse position and chances are they’d be released before having a chance to make real money,imho. Oswieler probably has the best bargaining position if only b/c Broncos wouldn’t have a QB if he left,but he shouldn’t expect them to break the bank for him. Now unlike you i think hhe’ll end up with a better avg than Cousins because of this,even though a “Game Mngr” QB would work if they kept the D intact. Just my thoughts,which lately haven’t bern good but i keep guessing hoping i get something right.

    • I like your point on Osweiler. It might force the Broncos to have to pay the same or maybe even more than Cousins’ value as he will likely be a free agent with no restrictions.

      • McGeorge

        Zack,
        I don’t think Osweiller is better than Cousins.
        What is it that you like about him?
        I doubt Elway pays big for Osweiller.
        Maybe they should try out Sam Bradford.

    • McGeorge

      I don’t see why Coousins should accept 11-12/year. If I was his agent I’d reply “Franchise him, and he’ll make almost 20 in one year”.
      I could see a compromise like starting with a certain base and have escalators and de-escalators based on performance.
      If he has another good year, he should get paid well. If he turns back into a pumpkin (like Nick Foles) he should make a lot less.

      • eddiea

        The way things are going,Cousins most likely will be Tagged. But it’ll be the Transition one according to DC Sports talk. That’ll be more than what i suggested,but might make things worse. Yet be more than what others thought fair. Man i hate this time of yr and when it involves QBs.

  • Jon

    You can’t make any cap projections beyond 2020 because that’s the last year of the current CBA. There could very likely be a modification to the revenue sharing agreement in the next agreement.

    • Correct, but for arguments sake, the differences won’t be so much that these numbers aren’t somewhere relevant. Goodell projects $25 billion in revenues by 2027, so these actually line up with where the revenues and cap are going: overthecap.com/using-historical-cap-data-to-project-future-salary-caps/

  • David Kubik

    If I were Brock/Kirk I would be looking for 3 year contracts in the $14-17 mil per year range, with both player and club options to void the contract in the third year.

    • McGeorge

      I can’t imagine offering Osweiller a 3 year 14MM/year contract.
      He was fair in a handful of games. I’d offer him a 1 year deal, to see if he’s for real.
      Or a 2 year deal at 10MM/year.

      Kirk Cousins did better for the entire season. I’d rather gamble on him than Osweiller.

      • David Kubik

        Well, Brock got $18 – wow! way overpaid!

  • MaxT

    With Bradford receiving a 2 year, $18mil APY contract, do you still think Brock (or more specifically his agent) will or should entertain a $9mil APY offer ?

  • Jon

    Brock Osweiler – $18M per year
    Kirk Cousins – franchise tagged, $19.95M
    Sam Bradford – $18M per year