A Closer Look at Russell Wilson’s Massive Contract

The numbers are now in on the Russell Wilson extension thanks to Ian Rapoport and it’s a big one.

Clearly there is some give and take on both sides, which I discussed today at the Sporting News, but now let’s focus on the cash flow of the contract to see just how big this deal is compared to the market. Continue reading A Closer Look at Russell Wilson’s Massive Contract »

NFL Stock Up: Week 8


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.

Mark Ingram– Back from injury, Ingram exploded for 172 yards and a touchdown. Ingram has run the ball since late last season like a man possessed and could very well be the most attractive free agent runner on the market this year. I say that for two reasons.  One is that he does not have a tremendous amount of wear and tear on his body and secondly that the Saints are looking to be for running backs what the Steelers are for wide receivers.

Ben Roethlisberger– It will soon be extension time for the QB class of 2004 and Roethlisberger put on a show for the ages with a 522 yard, 6 touchdown performance against a defense that was in a groove and shutting offenses down. The Steelers can be maddening to watch at times, all too often playing to the level of their opponents, but Roethlisberger always gives them a chance. They would be lost without him and that is going to show when the extension finally happens.

Justin Houston– Houston is on pace for a 20 sack season and obliterated the Rams for 3 sacks and 5 solo tackles. I’m not sure that there is a better player at the position and he compares favorably to where Clay Matthews was when he signed his $13.2 million contract that set the market for the outside linebacker. With Gerald McCoy, a defensive tackle, breaking the $13 million per year mark there is no reason for Houston not to aim for $14 million a season.


New Contract Player Of The Week

Golden Tate– Tate gets the nod two weeks in a row following his 151 yard day. I think at this stage of the season its safe to say that Tate was the best free agent signing of 2014. I’m not sure where the Lions would be without Tate, but they definitely would not have a winning record. The Lions front office has not gotten many things right the last few years but their pinpointing of Tate was perfect.


The Steelers Salary Cap and Ben Roethlisberger


A story broke this morning that Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger had made it known to the organization that he would be open to a trade in 2014. Since that time he has denied he ever made such a request, but I do think it’s an option that should at least be discussed.

The Steelers are one of the older teams in the NFL. They had a tremendous run from the mid 2000’s through 2011 but the last two seasons have been disappointing and the writing is on the wall that the team, as currently constructed, is not going to go back to the playoffs. The Steelers currently have six starters over the age of 30 and of their top 10 2014 salary cap charges, six will be over 30 next year.

Pittsburgh has been both a victim of their own success and also of poor cap management. When you are as good as the Steelers were you will almost always encounter difficult salary cap situations since your best players will always need to get paid, but the Steelers have consistently refused to face reality when it came to some of their players in recent years. While they have been willing to let Wide Receivers leave the organization (Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace were all considered above average players) the remainder of the team was pretty much kept intact.

In order to be cap compliant the Steelers have been nothing but a restructuring factory simply deferring charges until later and later has pretty much arrived. It seems as if much of the planning has only been with the current year in mind, not that different than the Dallas Cowboys. Many of the recent signings have never gone back to back years without a restructured contract.  Now it will be time to release many of those players.

My estimates have Pittsburgh about $7.5 million over next years’ salary cap with 40 players under contract. The release of T Levi Brown (a no brainer) and S Troy Polamalu (a very difficult move since he’s a Steelers legend) will give the team about $7 million in cap room. From there they will need to make a decision on TE Heath Miller and CB Ike Taylor. Releasing both would open the team up to $20 million in cap space but this is an organization that has never been about free agent signings but instead building through the draft, so they wont have immediate need for the money. That said having cap room when you re-sign your quality draft picks down the line is important.

With the possibility of releasing Miller, Polamalu, and Taylor very real, plus the fact that starters Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark, Emmanuel Sanders, Jason Worilds, and Fernando Velasco are all free agents the Steelers could finally be at the point of a major shakeup. This should bring up the thought of whether or not Roethlisberger is the man to lead the team through this change period.

This should not be a financial decision. First of all Ben is a cheap QB. His salary the next two years is just $12.1 and $11.6 million. That would make him attractive to other teams but should also make him attractive to Pittsburgh. While he does have bloated cap charges of $18.95 and $18.35 million due to the constant restructuring of his contract, trading Roethlisberger would still cost the Steelers $13.59 million in dead money. If the Steelers were really considering the option then the restructuring of his contract was a terrible mistake. Prior to his latest restructure the dead money on his contract was just $7.59 million.


If the season ended now the Steelers would have a draft pick in the top 8, but that would be behind multiple QB needy teams such as Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Houston, and Minnesota. The Rams could possibly have two top 10 picks while the Browns will likely have two mid round picks. That gives both significant ammunition to trade up with the Falcons or Bills, the two bad teams with no need for a QB.

Realistically I am not sure that trading Roethlisberger would give the Steelers the ammunition they need to grab a QB. A team that would want him would be one like the Cardinals who will likely be picking near the playoff area of the draft. That would give them more firepower than Cleveland but not the Rams. Even if it did you are essentially trading your franchise QB to package with another draft choice to draft a QB. That is a pretty steep price.

If the Steelers were to use a top draft pick on a QB the compensation in cash would be around $14 million with a $4 million cap charge. Both of those numbers would be basically a push on the QB spending for the team in 2014 under the scenario where Ben remains. If they were to simply trade him for another draft choice then they have a limited set of options to play the position next year.

In my opinion they would probably be best off keeping Ben on the team under his current contract and considering drafting a prospect with one of their top draft selections in 2014. As we have seen this season having a quality backup is something most teams desire and with the new CBA in place there is no reason why you can not have a player like Roethlisberger and a 1st or 2nd round draft pick on the team. You can then revisit trading him in 2015 when you may have more faith in where the organization is headed.

Unless the season gets to the point where they sneak into the 3rd draft pick and are in line to get one of the top QBs in the draft naturally I just can’t see trading him for what could end up being the 18th pick in the draft.  Even then I am sure than Roethlisberger could at least mentor the player somewhat during his rookie season. Roethlisberger is not the problem with the Steelers salary cap and moving him is not going to change that situation one bit. A trade as things stand right now would be surprising to me.



Super Bowl Rings and the Overpricing of the Quarterback

With Tiki Barber taking to the airwaves again to make his latest outlandish statements, it immediately brings up the more modern TV made argument of just how important a Super Bowl ring is to the legacy of the QB. Since then its grown to become a difference maker in salaries and contracts for QBs who have outdistanced everyone else in the game by a wide margin now because of the correlation that is expected between QB and SB titles. Seems like a good topic.

To be honest I don’t really recall the “he just wins” argument being a big deal when I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Obviously Montana would be the guy who won, but Montana also put up good stats for that era, specifically in the defense dominated NFC. He was  a perennial Pro Bowl guy  and was always in the upper 20’s in his Touchdowns when healthy.

I don’t recall (and maybe its just from being too young) people killing Dan Marino and John Elway on TV. I remember people talking about both as two of the greatest QB’s of all time. It wasn’t until much later on that I would hear people bringing up Elway’s Super Bowl wins as reasons that he was one of the best 3 or 4 of all time, which is a ridiculous argument since the Elway of the late 90’s was the one being carried to a title whereas the Elway of the 80s was the guy carrying really bad teams to title games, where the team would get exposed for being awful.

I don’t recall anyone putting Terry Bradshaw’s name on the list of greatest of all time. Hall of Famer sure, but whenever people talk of best ever does his name pop up?  Not really, despite all the Super Bowl success. Even Troy Aikman, leader of the famed 90’s Cowboys, doesn’t get brought up as the greatest ever because statistically he did not produce to the same level as other players of his time. If Aikman or Bradshaw played now they would not just be Hall of Famers but considered among the greatest to play the game because of the way the criteria changed at some point.

I always felt that the change in QB evaluation metrics came with the Patriots second Super Bowl Championship. ESPN or other media outlets wanted to create an argument that Tom Brady was better than Peyton Manning. Manning was the far more polished player, being drafted number 1 overall in 1998 and being considered the perfect prospect. Brady was an unknown playing for a defensive minded coach who was a failure in his first stint as a head coach in the NFL.

Statistically there was no comparison. Manning was consistently at 4,200 yards on a high powered offense that averaged 26 points a game. Brady was a 3,600 yard guy on a team around 22 points a game from 2001-2003. In 2003 they beat the Colts two times and in 2004, again, came out with another two victories. By the end of the 2004 season Brady was a bonafide playoff superstar and Manning was anything but. The debate was strictly turned to rings.

From that point forward playoff success has gone from the media right into the negotiating room. The ring became the biggest money maker in all of the NFL. In the pre-rings era players like Mark Rypien, Brad Johnson, Jay Schroder, Jeff Hostetler, Jim McMahon, Jim Plunkett, Ken Stabler, and so many more didn’t break the bank off a Super Bowl. In many cases they had to fight for long term job security and are more or less footnotes in history, rather than legends.

Teams now put so much value on that ring. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning only had one championship when they were made the highest paid players at the position. Not multiple rings, just one. I think we all tend to forget that Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton only have one title each. Joe Flacco joined that club this season. Brees, Rodgers, and P. Manning are prolific passers but look at the difference in treatment Brees gets compared to a Tony Romo type, who in a different generation would probably be looked up very differently.

The question should be if teams better off by paying QB’s for past rings and past success at the current price levels we are seeing?  Brady may go down as one of the best QBs to play the game in part based on the fact that he has 3 Super Bowls. But when Brady put his name into the statistical arguments as well as “ring” argument how many does he have?  The answer is none. Brady the superstar Manning-esque level player  has lost two times. Manning got back once. Brees and Rodgers haven’t returned.

When I did a more statistical valuation of the QB marketplace the one clear this is that the market is overpaid based on actual production compared to an average player level. The difference is price is really attributed to past success and perceptions of future success. Is it worth it?  It is a debatable question. Here is the annual salary estimates presented as a percentage of the salary cap for the Super Bowl winning QBs from 2000-2012. For the uncapped year I assumed a cap of $129 million which was the expected number based on cap growth in the prior CBA.



% Cap (based on APY)





E. Manning












E. Manning



P. Manning




















The two highest cap eaters were the Manning brothers, with Roethlisberger being the only other player whose APY at the time ate up more than 10% of the unadjusted salary cap. It should be noted that both Eli and Roethlisberger were on extensions that allowed the total cap to be less than the new money APY used in these estimates.  They would be closer to the 11% mark looking at total contract value.

With the increased emphasis on rings the market has skyrocketed for the QB. In 2009 Manning’s Super Bowl driven APY was $16.25 million, highest in the NFL. Now that number only ranks 7th in the league.  Considering the way the cap has retreated to 2009 levels the positional spending on the QB has now spiked to incredible levels because of the “ring” part of the equation, except the highest prices are not necessarily providing more rings. Resources have to be moved out of other spots on a team to now pay for the QB. Here are the players that rank above the median Super Bowl champion in terms of cap percentage ( 7.88%) and their percentage of the current years salary cap:


% Cap            (based on APY)







P. Manning






E. Manning


















If any of the first six names win a championship this season it would represent the highest percentage of cap spent on a QB contract since 2000. The first 12 names all represent numbers greater than 10%, a feat only achieved by three players.

Teams are focusing on the wrong things with the QB payscale and it’s most likely the reason why a team like the Patriots pulled Brady back so much. For as great as he is his salary level was unsustainable if you are looking to build a complete team to win a championship.

With a good crop of young QB’s now in the NFL under a low wage system you will continue to see the trends of the lower cost player winning championships while those with the big money items struggle to find balance on their football teams. It is going to put teams at a competitive disadvantage, at least for the long term, with the overspending on a past Super Bowl on a team constructed with far less spend on the QB position.


The Options for Falcons QB Matt Ryan


With training camp just a short time away we will be turning our attention more towards potential extensions of pending free agents. One of the most prominent, and currently in the early stages of negotiating a deal, is QB Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.

Ryan is almost the perfect prospect. He was highly regarded coming out of Boston College, selected 3rd overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. He has been to the playoffs in 4 of his 5 seasons in  the NFL and the only year his team missed the playoffs was his second year when he was injured and missed two games, both of which the Falcons lost. His record as a starter is an impressive 56-22 and only once has he not finished with double digit wins. From a statistical standpoint he is an incredible QB and his numbers have shown a steady progression in his time in the NFL.

I don’t think that it’s even arguable that he is the best QB drafted since 2006 and in terms of being effective since day 1 you might be able to state the case that he is the best QB drafted since Tom Brady in 2001 and the best 1st round player since Peyton Manning  in 1998. Obviously that discussion includes Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger, but in terms of playing at a high level from the start he is going to be better than Manning and Roethlisberger and was as high end statistically accomplished as Rodgers in the same time frame.

Of course the one thing missing from Ryan’s resume that all of those players have is a championship. It is going to be a major factor in pricing Ryan. I think the NFL has changed a lot since the early 2000’s when Peyton was always higher regarded and paid than Brady as the debate ranged between how one guy “just wins” and the other puts up great numbers. Since then, however, winning the big one has catapulted QBs into a game of leapfrog where each players new deal becomes the largest contract in the history of the NFL. Roethlisberger set a market after winning a Super Bowl. Eli jumped him and was then in turn jumped by Brady and Manning who were jumped by Drew Brees. Joe Flacco set a new bar fresh off his Super Bowl win while Aaron Rodgers then set the new threshold soon thereafter.

The problem for Ryan is that none of these players have gotten paid before winning a Super Bowl. So where does that leave Ryan who would like to get an extension now but also does not want to sell himself short?  He absolutely has the potential to be as good statistically, especially in that stadium, as Rodgers. But Rodgers has a ring and Ryan does not. Statistically you can not even compare Ryan and Flacco, but Flacco has great playoff success while Ryan is 1-4.  So it becomes a scenario as to how much do we value playoff success versus non-playoff success.

The top QB contracts in recent times given to non-winners were Mike Vick in 2011, Matt Schaub in 2012, and Tony Romo in 2013.  While those are the most fresh contracts in everyone’s mind I don’t think any would be valid here. All were past the age of 30 at the time of signing and had no upside remaining in their games. The best QB comparison out there is Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers. Rivers was the other big name of the 2004 draft class, the one who never won a championship.

Unlike Ryan he sat for two years, but once he finally got his chance he ran with it. Rivers first three years playing saw him surpass both Manning and Roethlisberger in a number of standard statistical categories. From 2006 thru 2008 here were the stat comparisons of the 3 star QB’s:










E. Manning










Rivers was throwing for more yards, far more touchdowns, and much fewer interceptions. In 2008, the year before his extension, Rivers actually led the entire NFL in YPA and TD’s. Over the timespan Rivers won 33 games compared to 30 for Manning and 29 for Roethlisberger. Rivers’ Chargers won their division three years in a row. But he didn’t have that Super Bowl, compiling a record of 3-3 and losing as a favorite in the playoffs.

Rivers looked like he should be the biggest star of the group and his production was far greater than Eli’s. But that SB ring means a lot. Manning ended up setting the market at $16.25 million a year while Rivers would sign soon for $15.3 million a year, about 6% less. Rivers was given a higher guarantee but had lower 3 and 4 year contractual values than both the Super Bowl winners making the meat of the contract worth less than that of his two contemporaries.

Rivers would go on to a number of exceptional seasons before the wheels seemed to come off starting in 2011, but he has yet to be able to win the big game. Manning won another Super Bowl and Roethlisberger appeared in yet another one.  The comparison of the 3 seems silly now because two are proven winners while Rivers has struggled and never got over the hump. Manning and Roethlisberger will likely both get mega contracts next season from their respective teams while there are questions as to whether or not Rivers will even remain in San Diego.

I think this brings up an interesting decision for Ryan. Manning’s and Roethlisberger’s original Super Bowl wins allowed them to become market setters at the position. Rodgers’ $22 million dollar extension he recently signed is now the top of the market and it had to be a disappointing figure for Ryan. Rodgers was so superior the last two years that he should have earned closer to $24 million a year considering Flacco’s $20.1 million dollar a year contract.  At that point I think it becomes easy. You sell Rodgers as the top line young winner and Flacco as the lower level setter and you fit in at the Rivers level, which would be around $22.4 million. Now if you put Rodgers as Eli and Ryan as Rivers the contract point becomes $20.57 million a year, assuming no concessions are made for Rodgers per game incentives which only lowers the number further. That has to be much lower than Ryan thought would happen.

Now to maximize his value I think Ryan is in a position where he has to sell Rodgers as a number to try to surpass. While many think of Rodgers as young he will be 30 at the end of the season and this will be his 9th year in the NFL. Its something of a limbo stage for comparison as he’s not really young but he’s also not early 30s like Brees, Manning, and Brady were when they jumped Eli in contract value.  But to get the number that Ryan probably felt he was going to get just a month or two ago he has to push using Rodgers as a baseline not a high point.

Of course to do that Ryan is going to have to play out the year and then try to force the Falcons hand in a negotiation. Ryan has a lot to gain by winning a Super Bowl before his extension. While I fully believe (and deeper stats do back this up) that Rodgers is a more productive QB than Ryan, it could be hard to separate the two if Ryan keeps up his current pace especially factoring in that Ryan is the younger player. Atlanta’s whole team is built around Ryan and his arm and, unlike the Lions and Matt Stafford, another player up for a deal, has been highly successful year in and out.

Playing the year out certainly brings along risks. The biggest is injury and as Jerry Maguire warned Rod Tidwell in the movies all those years ago “If you get injured you get nothing”. But at the QB position is that as much of a concern is it for a RB or a WR?  Probably not. QB’s are protected more than any other player and they are also not playing in the same manner that is as likely to lead to random injuries. And even if the injury was to occur would it damage the players earning potential?  I don’t think so. Carson Palmer blew out his knee in 2005 but the Bengals never walked away from his monster contract. Tom Brady had the knee injury in 2008 and ended up as one of the highest paid players in the game. Peyton Manning was signed to a mega deal while injured, missed the year, was cut and signed for an even bigger deal with another team. Even Rivers had a torn ACL in 2007 that he played through and he came back in 2008 to have the big deal that got him the big contract. The injuries had very little effect on the treatment of the players, outside of an injury protection for Manning that could have been avoided had he signed with the Titans. It’s a built in premium that teams are willing to pay.

The secondary risk lies in the application of the Franchise Tag. For the most part the tag never really happens as teams do want to keep the QB happy , but this still has to be a consideration. Atlanta’s cap situation in 2014 looks to be healthy with around $103 million committed to the 2014 salary cap and a whole roster that is filled other than at QB. The ballpark figure for a QB on the tag is going to be about $15 million with the exclusive tender coming in at $19.978 million and likely headed downward by the time next season is actually here.  So for one season they can tag Ryan and work within the cap without too much issue. If Ryan goes that route he is going to play this year for $10 million and next for less than $20, which is only an average of $15 million. In contrast Aaron Rodgers will earn $50.9 million over the next two years and Flacco $51 million. Even Romo’s $40 million payout will be far superior to Ryan’s. You can definitely damage your long term earnings taking this strategy as the extra million or two a year may not going to make up for lost wages over the next two.

Ryan’s cap hit this year is low so the Falcons don’t really have a need to get a deal done. This isn’t like the Ravens who basically could not afford to carry Flacco on a franchise tag type number.  That being said the Falcons are tight against the salary cap now and getting Ryan extended in 2013 probably helps their cap allocations over the next few years, but they can hold off if the two sides are far apart on compensation. So Atlanta might be willing to play it out as well.

Ryan has little to lose by playing and I think much to gain if he can get his team to the Super Bowl. I just don’t see the risks impacting his value greatly and his track record is so solid that at worst his value will remain the same.  There is also the chance that Manning or Roethlisberger can jump Rodgers next year as their teams may be forced to extend due to cap concerns, making the market even more lucrative than it is now.

At the worst he will be in the same position he is now. Even if he signed an extension now remember that his $10 million salary is going to be built into the contract (the new vs old money debate in contract valuations) so he is stuck at that salary being factored in under any scenario. Signing today doesn’t change that. I truly feel that if he wins a championship a strong case can and will be made that he deserves to be the highest paid player in the NFL. He can’t make that argument right now. All things considered I think his is a rare situation where you are better off playing out the year than accepting a deal that you may regret in another year or two.


Ben Roethlisberger Ready to Restructure Deal?

According to Albert Breer of NFL.com the Steelers are close to restructuring the contract of QB Ben Roethlisberger for cap relief. Breer reports that this will be a renegotiation rather than an extension, which is not that uncommon for most Quarterbacks in the league to do and has become an annual ritual for Ben and the Steelers.

If the two sides do come to an agreement it will mark the third renegotiation for Roethlisberger since singing his 6 year extension in March of 2008. In 2011 Roethlisberger reduced his cap charge from $15.8 million to $11.32 million by converting by $5.6 million of his salary into a signing bonus. The Steelers again went to Ben for relief in 2012 this time reducing his cap number from $16.92 million to $8.89 million this time converting $10.7 million of salary into a signing bonus.

What could we expect this time?  With the team estimated to be close to $14 million over the salary cap and few avenues for cap relief I would imagine a restructure very similar to last year. If Roethlisberger took a salary this year of $840,000 rather than $11,600,000 and converting the difference to a signing bonus it would create over $7.17 million in cap room reducing his cap number from $19.595 million to $12.421 million and change.

Of course that would increase his future cap charges by nearly $3.587 million a year, but it gives the team significant cap relief now. At some point many of these restructures that the Steelers are doing may come back to haunt them on their salary cap, but for a franchise QB in the prime of his career this moves are rarely the reason a team finds itself in trouble in the future.


The Case for Joe Flacco Breaking the Bank


At face value I admit the numbers sound crazy. Even after winning a Super Bowl and earning MVP honors it seems to be out of this world to think that Joe Flacco is worth $20 million a year. I mean Flacco has yet to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He has never thrown for 30 TD’s. For the most part he was considered a caretaker of a team that featured Ray Rice running the football and wanted a QB that would not put the defense in a bad position on the field. Just last year his own teammates seemed to wonder if he could carry them to the promised land.

Flacco’s case seems to be built on, even prior to the Super Bowl, was postseason success, regular season team wins, durability, and last minute comebacks. Why are these the main points of contention?  Because statistically he can not compare to the elite players in the NFL so he has to look at the softer factors when negotiating with the Ravens.   In some respects this is what happened with Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets who extended the QB based primarily on soft factors like team wins, playoff wins, and draft status. That’s not to compare Flacco and Sanchez. Flacco is Joe Montana compared to Sanchez. It’s just to illustrate a point of the only case that can really be made.

Flacco’s argument really centers around three contracts and three players. The first is Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans who Houston inexplicably gave a $62 million dollar extension to this past season. The annual value at $15.5 million a year puts him above Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers who were both considered infinitely better players, especially Roethlisberger who has been to three Super Bowls. At the time of Schaub’s extension he had been to the playoffs a grand total of 0 times. He was injured in 2011 and his lifetime record in Houston was 32-32. While Schaub did have one year where he led the NFL is passing yards that was a lifetime ago in 2009 and in general he was considered a caretaker QB and his limitations were badly exposed in the playoffs this season.

I think Schaub is clearly the market pusher for the position. He was different than a player like Kevin Kolb or even Sanchez in that Schaub was a known quantity when he signed. There was no remaining upside or downside. He is what he is, and normally you would expect that to be in $12-13 million a year range. The fact that they pushed the number as high as they did with almost half of the deal coming in the form of real guarantees is an eye opener and market mover. Immediately this jumps the market for Flacco by 20-30% because everyone now needs to adjust to the Schaub deal. So if you are saying to yourself that by no means should he earn more than Roethlisberger the Schaub 20-30% market correction jumps a Roethlisberger salary to between $17.6 and $19.1 million a year.  On its face it sounds crazy, but that’s the way the position is now headed salary wise.

Now that doesn’t push Flacco into the highest paid in the game category, but that is where the two other contracts come into play. The other players are Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Forget for a minute that Eli Manning has two Super Bowl MVPs and nearly threw for 5,000 yards in 2011. What we need to be focused on is what Eli Manning was not what he became. Same goes for Roethlisberger. When Manning signed his 6 year $97.5 million dollar contract back in 2009 he had only won one Super Bowl. He barely snuck over 4,000 yards and, in general was throwing for around 3,300 yards a year. He never threw 30 touchdown passes.

Big Ben was in a similar position. His near $88 million dollar deal that he signed in 2008 came as a QB who just once hit the 3,500 yard mark (and barely at that) and in two of his four years had not even reached 3,000 yards passing. He did have a Pro Bowl nod off his one 30+ TD season and he did win a Super Bowl in 2006, but, like Flacco, was considered something of a caretaker who was tough as nails that was able to make plays when it counted.

The important thing to note with these two players is the timeframe and what those contracts meant at the time. Eli’s brother, Peyton, almost universally regarded as the best QB in the game, was earning $14 million a year. Tom Brady was making $12.1 million. Donovan McNabb made $12.1. Brett Favre I believe was at $12.5 million and Kurt Warner was at $11.5 million.  Drew Brees was only at $10 million and Donovan McNabb was just under $9.1.  Favre and Warner were both well into their careers, but the other players were more or less on their first real money, post rookie contracts, similar to the position Eli and Ben found themselves in in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

When Eli and Ben signed, Peyton and Brady had 4 Super Bowl wins between the two of them. McNabb had been to a Super Bowl and Brees was setting passing records in New Orleans. The four had 18 Pro Bowls nods among them when Roethlisberger signed and 20 when Manning signed. Maybe we don’t think about it as much now, but back then these were landmark contracts that pushed the market the same way that Flacco is looking to push the marketplace.

Roethlisberger’s contract represented an increase of 4.75% in new money APY over Peyton Manning’s contract at the time. Maybe some looked at that as more reasonable since Ben had two years remaining on his contract at the time making the effective value of the contract $102 million at $12.5 million a season. There was no such ambiguity when the younger Manning signed his contract. It represented a 17.9% increase in APY over his brother’s deal in new money and even if you took it as a 7 year contract and included the old money it was still a 7.14% increase in value. Even today nobody would dream of saying Eli is better than his brother. More clutch in the playoffs perhaps, but not better.

Now I have no idea if this is the argument that has been made behind closed doors to the Ravens, but if it has not been it should be because it’s the only logical way to justify such a pay for Flacco. Since the class of 2004 it has really been a series of misses so Flacco is going to represent the new market reset for a series of young QB’s and in that respect this contract is more important to other NFL Quarterbacks and Teams than just a number for Joe Flacco.

When Roethlisberger received his contract in 2008 he really set the floor for that generation of QB. It was that number that helped Eli and his team negotiate what ended up being a ceiling of sorts that was going to hold until the next successful prospect came up for renegotiation. Almost immediately after the ink was dry on Manning’s contract Rivers, who was statistically superior but failed to advance to a Super Bowl, signed a deal that fit in between the Manning and Roethlisberger deals. Over time the bigger name players surpassed the Eli contract to take their rightful place in the hierarchy but with Schaub and Michael Vick within breathing distance of Manning it’s clear that the market is ready for a reset.

Flacco’s contract is going to set a barometer for Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford, the next two big young guns to get their first real extensions, as well as Josh Freeman and Cam Newton.  Whether Flacco is the high mark or low mark is going to depend on if any of these other players can grab the postseason success Flacco has. If Ryan was to win a Super Bowl he would easily jump Flacco, but for now they all may be forced to play Rivers to Flacco’s Manning.

So from that perspective what Flacco is asking for is not that crazy. It’s happened before and will likely happen again. In the past there used to be outlandish rookie deals that made it clear that the market was ready to move, but with those out of the equation poor decisions like those with Schaub and Vick will be the new drivers that inform everyone the market is ready for change. Flacco performing well in the playoffs came at the perfect time and he is going to hit a big payday.

In looking at the top of the market we have Drew Brees making $20 million a year. Based on the Roethlisberger contract, that would put Flacco in line for a payday of $20.95 million a year. The Manning deal would push it to an enormous $23.57 million a year. I would think if the Ravens do give in it will come in closer to the $20.95 million number. When Manning signed there was already Roethlisberger’s deal to base something on. Manning also has a number of soft factors that work in his favor including his last name, draft position, and a bigger fanbase and market that pushes value. Flacco who plays in a smaller market and was never supposed to be a savior can’t meet those same soft factors that Manning had working for him.

Brees will earn $60,500,000 over the first three years of his contract, $40 million of which is fully guaranteed and most likely the full amount virtually guaranteed due to the large signing bonus that he received. The remainder of his contract will likely never be earned unless Brees maintains an extremely high level of play. Based on the Manning and Roethlisberger models Flacco should earn anywhere from $66-$70 million over the course of the first three years of the contract. How much is probably based more on cap needs for the Ravens than demands by Flacco. That is quite a haul and is going to make a new generation of young stars plus a generation of established stars, which includes Ben, Eli and Aaron Rodgers, chomping at the bit to get their last shot at free agency.

I think that does bring up an interesting point that teams may need to confront in the near future and that is the overly heavy investment in the QB position which has the potential to get extremely high if Flacco is able to pull this contract off. Brees’ salary is about $4 million more a year than the next closest positions, which are WR and DE, and the gap between QBs and everyone else is growing. However the high priced QB is no longer pulling off the Super Bowl wins that are expected of them. Of the last 14 Super Bowl champions only 3 have been of the ultra high priced variety- Peyton in 2006, Ben in 2008, and Eli in 2011. Roethlisberger in 2008 was still part of a team at that stage as the transition to being his team was not really complete so in many ways its two players in the last 14 years. The only other mega money QBs to reach the game were Manning in 2009, Brady in 2011, Brady in 2007, and Roethlisberger in 2010. QB’s are earning money for winning the Super Bowl, but it’s questionable whether the league may be pushing too hard at one spot to the detriment of the overall team success. That will be a discussion for another day, but Flacco is going to be the catalyst that gets that discussion started when his contract becomes the new floor for a large group of talented QBs that are playing in the NFL.