Looking at the Sando/ESPN QB Rankings from a Salary Perspective


Mike Sando did a terrific piece on ESPN Insider (subscription required) in which he polled a number of people in football to rank the starting Quarterbacks in the NFL. Sando grouped the quarterbacks into tiers based on the rankings and also provided their overall ranking in his article. I wanted to examine that list from a salary standpoint and see if the consensus opinions match the price tags associated with each player.

Because rookie contracts are pre-determined I only wanted to look at veteran players (that means no Luck, Bradford, Newton, etc…) who I felt would start (that also eliminates Hoyer for me).  That left us with 20 QBs. Just looking at annual contract values and equally dividing the tiers our “salary tiers” are

Tier 1: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning

Tier 2: Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Matt Stafford, Eli Manning

Tier 3: Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer

Tier 4: Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel, Josh McCown, Chad Henne, Ryan Fitzpatrick

Based on Sando’s article the players who would be situated in the proper tier are Rodgers, Brees, P. Manning, Kaepernick, Romo, Stafford, E. Manning, Smith, Palmer, Schaub, Cassel, Henne, and Fitzpatrick. That’s a pretty good list with 13/20 being properly slotted by tier. Here are the tier average salaries:


ESPN’s tier two was a bit larger than the one I’m using and their tier 1 average is pulled down by Brady’s contract which in many ways is an outlier, but for the most part the average salaries are slotting pretty close to where they should be.

If we examine the list by overal rankings and compare the salary rank to the ESPN rank we can pick out the best and worst salary slotting based on the consensus scoring.

Brady of course is the biggest gainer. He ranks tied for number 1 overall in the Sando article but just 13th in salary, a 12 slot differential. Brady has always been a unique case, really only receiving one contract in his entire career that would be considered a market setter despite being universally accepted as one of the top two quarterbacks of the last 10 years.

Rivers and Roethlisberger both provide six benefit points. This is not surprising as both signed contracts prior to 2011 when the salary escalation at the position really began to occur. The two of them, Roethlisberger in particular, have provided great value for many years for their teams. Both kind of get lost in the shuffle because one never won a Super Bowl and the other does not put up the huge statistical output some of the other great QB’s put up.

Of the lower tier QB’s the biggest positive would be McCown who ranks 18th in salary but 16th in the survey. Other players that would be considered some type of salary bargain include P. Manning, Brees, E. Manning, Tony Romo, and Chad Henne.

Not surprising to me is that the biggest drop would be Joe Flacco. Flacco ranks 3rd in compensation but just 10th among Qb’s, a drop of 7 slots. Flacco’s salary was largely driven by his team winning a Super Bowl and the Ravens cap situation at the time. Cutler and Kaepernick both see differences of 6 slots, which is actually a bigger move from a salary perspective than Flacco due to the lack of a middle class in the NFL QB salary scale. Ryan was the other big drop, with 5 slots between his salary and ranking.

If we re-distribute the salaries on a 1-20 basis, using averages for each slot in which there is a tie score, we can look at the players in terms of best and worst bargains in the NFL.

Brady would deserve a raise of a whopping 81.7%, which equates to $9.3 million a season. Again it just illustrates how Brady’s willingness all these years to work with the Patriots has given them more ammo to take risks on players that many others can not. Rivers and Roethlisberger would each deserve in the ballpark of $4 million more a season, which may give some guidelines as to what they will be asking for when their extensions come up for discussion in the near future. Another interesting name is Eli who the consensus indicates should get around a 10% raise and that is coming off an abysmal season. A bounce back season should really increase his stock when an extension comes up as many of the personnel people who ranked Manning seemed to put a great deal of weight in his 2013 season.

From a percentage standpoint both McCown and Henne are big bargains within those lower tiers. Hennehas the chance to earn more based on performance that could bring him to that higher level.

Cutler is the most overvalued in the NFL. He should earn $6.7 million less a season, a decrease of 37% over his current rate. Cutler’s contract was one I did not understand much when signed and he will need to improve greatly as he moves forward to justify it. Kaepernick and Flacco would be the other two that see big decreases in annual value. On a percentage basis Cassel is highly overpaid as is Schaub.

The following chart breaks down each players ranking, their salary, adjusted salaries and anything else discussed. Right now they are sorted by the percentage change in salary that would occur if their salary was based on the consensus ranking. Clicking on a column header should allow you to sort the data in any manner you would like.


PlayerTeamSalary TierESPN TierSalary RankESPN RankRank DiffAPYAdjusted APYAPY Difference% Change
Tom BradyPatriots3113112$11,400,000$20,712,500$9,312,50081.7%
Josh McCownBuccaneers4318162$5,000,000$6,750,000$1,750,00035.0%
Ben RoethlisbergerSteelers321266$14,664,417$19,000,000$4,335,58329.6%
Philip RiversChargers321156$15,300,000$19,200,000$3,900,00025.5%
Chad HenneJaguars4419181$4,000,000$5,000,000$1,000,00025.0%
Eli ManningGiants221073$16,250,000$17,922,222$1,672,22210.3%
Peyton ManningBroncos11514$19,200,000$20,712,500$1,512,5007.9%
Drew BreesSaints11413$20,000,000$20,712,500$712,5003.6%
Alex SmithChiefs3314140$9,258,333$9,258,333$00.0%
Carson PalmerCardinals3315150$8,000,000$8,000,000$00.0%
Ryan FitzpatrickTexans4420200$3,625,000$3,625,000$00.0%
Tony RomoCowboys22871$18,000,000$17,922,222-$77,778-0.4%
Aaron RodgersPackers11110$22,000,000$20,712,500-$1,287,500-5.9%
Matt StaffordLions22911-2$17,666,667$15,300,000-$2,366,667-13.4%
Matt RyanFalcons1227-5$20,750,000$17,922,222-$2,827,778-13.6%
Joe FlaccoRavens12310-7$20,100,000$16,250,000-$3,850,000-19.2%
Matt SchaubRaiders441617-1$6,750,000$5,250,000-$1,500,000-22.2%
Colin Kaepernick49ers22612-6$19,000,000$14,664,417-$4,335,583-22.8%
Matt CasselVikings441719-2$5,250,000$4,000,000-$1,250,000-23.8%
Jay CutlerBears23713-6$18,100,000$11,400,000-$6,700,000-37.0%