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.


  • Yahmule

    Was this article written by a 12 year old?

    • NYG Cap Central

      What are you talking about? The article was excellent. You sound like you’re 12.

      • Yahmule

        The article was garbage. The author pretty much admits he knows nothing about the NFL that happened over ten years ago. That would have been a nice disclaimer if he didn’t proceed to spout a bunch of uneducated nonsense about previous eras anyway.

        Anybody who “doesn’t remember” people criticizing Elway and Marino for not winning the big one could have done a little research. Here’s a tip for you, Giant fan: if you don’t remember something happening, making declarative statements about that topic makes you appear stupid, or lazy.

        The conclusion from the auther reeks of recency bias. Joe Flacco wins the Super Bowl with a salary that is a low percentage of his team’s overall cap, thus most Super Bowl winners will be constructed the same way. And then you see the previous four SB winning QBs all have salaries above the 7.88% number the author established.

        It’s kind of sad when someone can’t even properly decipher their own specious data. Did you even read the ****ing thing?

        • Ok I would like to know what nonsense is being spouted. I grew up with Marino torturing my team. I grew up seeing SI covers of Dan the man and discussion on inside the nfl of how the Dolphins had no running game or defense. I read about Marino being the best pure passer. Not long ago Peter king still called Marino one of the best ever (I think he ranked 8th on his list)

          As for the cap numbers I have a pretty good understanding of the numbers. I can go back to 93 if you want and come up with the same numbers. Since the Brady/manning extensions it’s become a battle of leapfrog for salaries once a team wins a Super Bowl. Though the cap did not exist in the80s it was not a salary determinant. Boomer Esiason made the most because he had the best stats. It didnt matter that he didnt win. Now it’s the fact that you need a ring to get the biggest money.

          Nowhere did the article state you can’t win or you need x percent. I was just pointing out the amount of qbs whose salaries are now above that. When the top qbs drive salary the bottom follows. It’s a competitive advantage for these teams with a lower cap devote to good players to win. You can develop a financial structure to surround with talent rather than sink into a few spots. If you think otherwise that’s fine but since the cap became impactful post Cowboys dynasty the veteran qb has not been the Super Bowl driver. From a SB success standpoint most have found success earlier in their financial lives than later.

          • Yahmule

            During Marino’s final couple of seasons it became obvious the Dolphins didn’t have quite enough to compete with the best teams and Marino would likely finish without a ring. Sportswriters took so much delight in repeatedly asking him about how it would feel to retire without a Super Bowl victory he finally lost his temper with them and then had to apologize afterwards.

            The comment about Elway being carried to the Super Bowl victories is just bizarrely off the mark. In his final season, Elway posted career best marks in yards per attempt, touchdown rate and quarterback rating. He went on to win the MVP award in SB XXXIII. Does that sound like a quarterback who was carried to a championship?

            I try to be very careful when I’m discussing players from different eras. First off, the game and the athletes have changed so much over the years that it’s almost impossible to properly contextualize the numbers. Nor can I really say how players from prior to 1975 or so were regarded throughout their careers.

            The way people talk about RGIII’s athletic ability is the way they used to talk about Elway as a young player. Some people realized the Broncos were overmatched in those early Super Bowls, but many others just concluded that Elway couldn’t win the big one.

            I think Peyton Manning really skews your theory badly. Before he ever played in a Super Bowl, there were some people calling him the best of all time. Maybe they will prove to be correct when all is said and done.

            Teams don’t necessarily place a greater value on quarterbacks who’ve won championships. There is a premium on good quarterbacks and the top talent doesn’t move around very much. Those are the market conditions that drive quarterback salaries. Five of the ten highest paid QB’s in the NFL have never even played in a Super Bowl, let alone won a Super Bowl: Romo, Rivers, Schaub, Sanchez, Bradford.

            I think your theory that spending less money on a premium position to better allocate funds elsewhere is sound, but hardly a fresh concept. I think the small sample size of the data presented here (and the previously noted market conditions) make any concrete conclusions rather specious.

            So, yeah, not really changing my opinion much. I think your comments about prior eras are careless at best and your overarching theme not particularly compelling. There are tons of sportswriters out there who think they spot trends in everything. Don’t be that guy.

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  • Gabe Johnson

    It would be nice to see the actual salary figure and league rank in columns next to the cap percentage. Also, it would be nice if the table went back further since 13 years is a somewhat small sample size.

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