The Role of Age in the Success of the NFL QB


In keeping up with our theme of extending Quarterbacks I decided to look at the age of QB’s advancing deep into the playoffs, meaning at least an appearance in a conference championship game.  Why team success instead of stats?  Primarily because QB’s are paid at an extremely high rate since teams are equating playoff success with QB play.

We’ll begin by breaking the numbers down by decade.


The 70’s were certainly a different brand of football. The average age of a Super Bowl participant was 31.4. The next closest decade was just 30.3. All 10 seasons in the 70’s had at least 2 QB’s over 30 and 6 years saw at least one over the age of 35. In the 33 years that have followed, only 15 seasons had at least 2 QBs over 30 leading their team to a conference championship game and only 11 seasons with a QB over the age of 35.

Focusing on 1980 thru 2012, we can begin to see some trends that develop. The following graph represents the percentage of players appearing in the championship game sorted by age, with a best fit line trend line added to smooth the data. We can call this a Quarterbacks lifecycle.


This chart really should be a guideline for teams when identifying talent and extension possibilities for the QB position.  47% of participants in the Championship game were ages 26 thru 29. It’s 54.5% if we extend it to 30. Beyond 30 the numbers begin to crumble. 18.2% were between the ages of 31 and 34 and the 35 and over category is just 10.6%.  The numbers just affirm the saying that “it’s a young mans game”.

The consistent plus 31 group is from an older generation. Joe Montana and Steve Young led the way with 4 appearances while John Elway and Jim Kelly both had 3. The only players whose careers did not begin before 1990 that made the list multiple times were Tom Brady and Brett Favre, both of whom made it two times past the age of 30. The other post 90 QB’s to do it were Brad Johnson,  Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer, and Donovan McNabb.  Of the 7 Super Bowl winners (in which I included Phil Simms due to so many starts even though he was injured for the playoffs) only Johnson would be considered a modern era QB. Of the 14 who played in the Super Bowl a total of 4 are from the modern era (Manning, Brady, and Warner along with Johnson).  That doesn’t mean nobody is going to do it again but it’s a hard task, especially if high cap charges for the aging QB, not an issue in the 80’s and even partially in the 90’s, compromise your ability to field the best roster.

As we look around the NFL there are a number of contracts that defy logic just based on the age criteria. Perhaps there is no worse contract in the NFL than the contract given to Peyton Manning. Manning fell into an age group that had a 7.6% chance of making it to at least the title game and in each season the odds get progressively worse. On average he gives the Broncos a 1.5% chance of making it and for that makes $19.2 million a season. The Broncos are paying $12.672 million per percent, by far the highest in the NFL. The Patriots, who were praised to no end (myself included) for the contract extension given to Tom Brady, have the second highest effective spend in the NFL on the position. Brady’s contract may be more difficult to escape than Manning’s, though Brady has been far more successful in the postseason and is one of the most likely candidates to make it back again to the title games as this generations Montana or Elway. Tony Romo is the 3rd worst bargain in the NFL and with no track record at all he is a prayer player for the deep playoff run.

When you look at the rookie contracts it just reinforces why teams should be considering the draft rather than overextending aging talent. Cam Newton, coming in at 22, would have about a 4.8% chance per year at making it over the terms of his rookie deal. Luck, a year older, would be at 7.7%. They both cost around $5.5 million a year, about 3.5 times less than Manning, and with a significantly higher chance at making it deep into the playoffs.

By extending a player earlier in their lifecycle a team can gain tremendous upside and flexibility.  Consider the option of extending Newton when he turns 25. A 5 year extension makes Newton property of the Panthers until the age of 30.  That 6 year period is the peak of the lifecycle with a 10% chance per year of making it deep into the playoffs.  By extending early and rolling the 4th rookie year into the contract the effective cap values of the contract can be smoothed out and rather than just having one low cost year and a few high seasons the Panthers have the ability to have a cap affordable contract over the entire 6 year period using the extra funds to improve the quality of the team for the long term.  In the event a player does not work out or you end up in cap trouble you can escape the contract with minimal cap penalties or potentially extend briefly into the low 30’s.

A perfect illustration of this is the cap killing contract of Joe Flacco versus that of Aaron Rodgers. While the two are at different stages of their careers Rodgers effective cap value is only $18.68 million a year compared to Flacco’s $20.1 million. The Ravens will be forced to extend Flacco at huge money figures when he turns 31. The effective age at which the Ravens will be able to escape Flacco is likely going to be 36 unless he fails so badly that they absorb major cap penalties when he is 32 or 33. Rodgers can be let go after the season in which he will be 34. It’s the benefit of extending early.

The worst thing a team could do is franchise their young QB. All a tag does is delay the inevitable of a long term deal. In Newton’s case you would pay a huge sum of money to invoke their 5th year option when he will be 26. Most likely you will extend the next year keeping him until he is 31 and on a contract with far less flexibility than one in which he was extended at the age of 25.

As difficult as it is for a team to let go it almost seems foolish to chase the dream with the overpriced aging QB, no matter what the track record of the player may be. Brady has probably exceeded all expectations but he is under a contract until he is 40 and in essence the deal is fully guaranteed if he remains on the team through the 2014 season. Structuring deals like the Brees contract that nearly ensures 5 years under contract is insanity. Now 34, Brees is in the age group that shows little upside, let alone at $20 million a season.

In a perfect world teams should be extending their QB’s at the ages of 25 or 26 and setting up contracts with exit strategies in the early 30s. If you must extend in the 30s the contracts need to be of the Alex Smith variety- 3 years with a rapid escape plan after 1 year. Everyone considers it a foregone conclusion that Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger will be extended in the next year or two. They probably will be and at least they have the pedigree to be the next group of post 30 stars, but the teams would likely be better off, if the draft quality is good, to trade such a player for multiple first round picks that can be turned into 22 or 23 year old QB’s. If a team does not have the guts to do that kind of move then the next best option is to draft QB’s in the later rounds until you find the successor.  If those teams do plan on extending the earlier they do it the better off they will be when it comes to long term health. It’s far better to extend Eli at 32 than at 34 or 35 years old.

This now leads into a discussion of players currently under contract with potential  extensions on the horizon, the most interesting of which looks to be Matt Ryan. I’ve said multiple times that Ryan is the best young player in the NFL, but Ryan will actually be 28 this season. This is the peak of his career and the Falcons may let him play things out. Signing him at 29 to a 5 or 6 year deal makes much less sense than locking him up at 28, though that is a better option than tagging him and then signing him at 30. Ryan probably should have been extended last season with the Falcons having plenty of options later in his career to use him to rebuild or to hope he is one of the late career success guys.

Jay Cutler will turn 30 this year, his final with the Bears. The Bears best option with him is to let him play the year out, tag him, and try to trade him to a team like the Browns or Buccaneers who will likely bid high in desperation for a QB. Phillip Rivers still has a few years remaining on his contract but with almost  no dead money the next two years this is essentially a free agent year for him. He will be 32 in 2013 and the Chargers should be doing everything in their power to trade him and get younger and cheaper at the position.

The young guys are all strong candidates if the play warrants it. Matt Stafford and Josh Freeman are only 25. I don’t think either has shown enough to be extended now though Stafford’s cap numbers may force the issue. Newton, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick will all be eligible after this season for extensions. Their ages will be 25, 27, and 27 respectively, making Dalton and Kaepernick both very interesting decisions if they have decent seasons. They will be at that age where waiting is counterproductive once you have made the decision that the player will be your starter for the next few years. Better to make mistakes early in the lifecycle than later in it, which should push teams to extend players like this even if some questions persist.

The following table lists the veterans in the NFL and what their effective cap charges are over the entire terms of their contracts. $/percent represents the dollar figure paid for the chance to get to the Championship round. The more expensive the worse the deal is in terms of cap management.



Earnings Comparisons: Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning


With Joe Flacco set to break the bank and become the highest paid player in the NFL I wanted to look back at the two players who are universally regarded as the best QBs of the generation and their contract history to see the difference in approach to the financials. Of course those two players are Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Both players had very different paths to the NFL. Peyton Manning was the number 1 overall pick in the draft in 1998. He was the most heralded prospect since John Elway 15 years earlier. Manning from day one was expected to be the most prolific passer in the NFL and lead the Indianapolis Colts to great heights. Brady was a non-descript 6th round draft pick in 2000. 198 players were selected before Brady. 6 QB’s came off the board first including “stars” such as Chris Redman and Tee Martin. Brady was expected to maybe be a backup to Drew Bledsoe.

The differential in draft status makes some of the financial comparisons between Manning and Brady difficult. The pay differential between a top pick and the 199th pick is gigantic. That discrepancy would have existed if Manning proved to be as bad as JaMarcus Russell. So to make thing a little more fair I want to look at each player as they moved into their extension years. We will start with Manning.

Peyton’s first contract ended in 2003 and he signed his first extension in 2004. Manning, at that stage of the game, was universally regarded as the best QB in the game, but lacked any type of playoff success having just lost to Brady and the Patriots and the year before suffering a 41-0 loss to the New York Jets. It was a 7 year contract worth $98 million dollars with just over $35 million coming in the first year of the contract. Manning and the Colts played the entire contract out all the way thru 2010.

By 2010 Manning had finally won one Super Bowl and had recently been to a second one that he lost.  There were some health concerns and he was well into his 30s, but the multi time MVP was still regarded as one of the top 2 or 3 in the NFL. He got paid as the best. This time it was a 5 year $90 million dollar deal with his agent again getting a massive payout on the front end with $26.4 million coming in the first year. That proved to be extremely smart as Manning was injured, never played  a game, passed go and collected his $26.4 million before being released. Manning signed a deal with the Broncos in 2012 worth up to $96 million. $18 million came in year 1 and as long as his neck is healthy he will earn another $40 million over the next two years.

Brady’s first new contract came in 2002, the year after winning the Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP honors. He parlayed that into a deal worth just over $30 million. Quite a difference a few years makes as Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco parlayed their Super Bowl wins into record setting contracts. Granted those players had more time in the league than Brady who was still a relative unknown despite the trophy, but in todays game people are clamoring for huge raises for Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, players who have yet to accomplish as much as Brady had in his first real year of action. Its the way the game has changed.

Brady’s next extension came in 2005. By this point in time the Peyton vs Brady argument was probably at its peak. Brady had won 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls and always beat Manning head to head. He didn’t have the stats that Manning had but he had more success. Brady signed a modest $48.5 million dollar contract worth around $12.1 million a season at the time Manning was on a $98 million dollar deal worth $14 million a season. Think about that for a minute. 3 Super Bowls and 2 Super Bowl MVPs and he could not earn more than Manning. Eli took one Super Bowl MVP and lapped his brother. Flacco is about to take one Super Bowl title and pass Drew Brees. Brady wasn’t the top guy. Not even close.

In 2010 Brady signed another 4 year deal this time being the market setter with $18 million a year coming his way. It became the framework for the latest Manning contracts who could not surpass the APY with Indy but negotiated much better front end terms. Brady’s latest deal has been highly publicized as being well under market value.

Here is how the cash flows for the two players will compare post rookie deals. For the sake of comparison I will consider Brady’s first year payout to be in 2003 since that is when the extension officially kicked in. He received a signing bonus in 2002 but Ill add that to his cash payment in 2003.  Since all signs point to Manning checking out medically I am also including the last two years for him at $20 million. My assumption is he will retire after that point. Now I know some might say that Brady will still have $29 million set to kick in which is true but he is going to have to play for another 4 years to earn that and that changes the timeframes.

Brady Manning Career Earnings

Over the 11 year period Manning will outearn Brady by $31.275 million. Brady’s 11 years post rookie contract average about $13.739 million a year. Peyton is $16.582. Now some of this should be credited to the Patriots who have done a fantastic job of extending Brady early and staying ahead of the changes in payscale of the position to get him on the cheap. Some of the credit goes to Brady who clearly has not pushed as hard as he could to keep pace with the market. I think its also interesting to see how Manning is probably the guy really responsible for the current payouts in the QB market as there is now a pure premium paid for a QB compared to Brady’s first two extensions when it was not nearly the same kind of premium.

I think it also shows the big difference between having an absolute shark as an agent versus a good agent. Manning is repped by Tom Condon and CAA who are pretty much the premier QB agency. They go to battle in the negotiating room and usually come out on top. Brady’s team came to mutually beneficial agreements while Manning’s pretty much put the boots to the throats of the Colts and Broncos. For Brady to match Manning’s post rookie earnings he is going to either need the Patriots to renegotiate another deal after 2014 or he has to play thru at least 2018. It will take him 5 extra years to match Manning’s pay and if Manning goes beyond these next two guaranteed years the path becomes even longer for Brady. There will always be a debate as to who was better but financially there is no question as to who came out on top.

Link: Field Yates with the Official Breakdown of Tom Brady’s Deal

Field Yates of ESPN was able to build on Peter King’s report from yesterday and dig up the details on Bradys new extension.

The deal includes a $30 million signing bonus for the quarterback, which will be paid out over a period that extends to March 15, 2015, according to a league source.

Yates has alot more information in his article about the timing of the cash flows of the deal as well as the verification of the cap hits reported yesterday by Peter so its well worth clicking on the link and reading the full article.

Based on Yates’ numbers Brady will earn a guaranteed $11 million in cash payments this season, $17 million in 2014, and another $5 million before the 2015 League Year begins, bringing his cash total to $33 million for two seasons. Under his old contract the actual cash flows were set to be $10 million in 2013, $15 million in 2014, and $5 million prior to the start of the 2015 League Year.

Its really a spectacular deal for New England. Brady will only receive an extra $1 million in cash in 2013 and $2 million in 2014 over his prior deal. And for that $3 million he completely gave up any type of back end money he could have made down the line. Brady will be 38 years old when his non-guranteed extension years kick in at a salary of just $7 million. As a point of reference Peyton Manning at the same age in 2014 will earn $20 million, which should be fully guaranteed provided his neck checks out ok. Brett Favre was earning over $10 million a season at the age of 40 and that was before the QB salaries really escalated these past few years.

Maybe there is more to the deal than meets the eye on the backend of the contract, but Brady really saved the Patriots from dealing with some difficult salary cap decisions in 2013 and 2014. The Patriots will save $15 million in cap dollars over the next two years due to the restructure.


Thoughts on Tom Brady’s 3 Year Extension

According to SI’s Peter King the New England Patriots and Tom Brady worked out an extension for cap relief that more or less throws the entire NFL pay system out of whack if King’s details are correct. King reported the 3 year extension to be worth $27 million dollars.

Brady was set to count for $21.8 million against the cap in 2013 and 2014 and earn cash compensation totaling $30 million, all of which was for all intents and purposes fully guaranteed. According to King Brady reduced his cap figure to $13.8 million a savings of $8 million in cap room, savings which will likely be used to franchise tag one of their big three free agents. King also reports that Brady will receive a $3 million dollar signing bonus, and salaries of $7, 8, and 9 million from 2015-2017. Based on Kings reported cap numbers it would seem that Brady will earn cash compensation of $6.4 million in 2013 in addition to his signing bonus, $7.4 million in 2014, and a likely a large prorated bonus in the ballpark of $15 million in 2015 assuming New England used a normal type of contract. Odds are the deal is completely guaranteed to match the value of the other elite QBs in the game at least in that metric.

The low value of the deal is something of a head scratcher that has to make the rest of the players pretty unhappy. This is to QB’s what the Nnamdi Asomugha contract with the Raiders was to CB’s except in reverse. Brady’s new money APY would be lower than that of the Jets Mark Sanchez.  A QB of Brady’s stature should command upwards of $21 million. Perhaps this deal will be the catalyst for the market correction I discussed with QBs that needs to occurs with their salaries growing disproportionately large compared to the rest of the NFL while the salary cap remains flat. Or perhaps people will just not even reference it in negotiations.

Brady’s situation is probably more unique than anyone else’s in the NFL in that he is married to someone whose earnings dwarf those of Brady’s. They have financial security most do not have in the NFL and that is something that all of the other players will likely point to when asked to take Brady’s contract into account during negotiations. That said it is a pretty welcome thing to see happen from a star in this league, even when you are a fan of an opposing team.  Brady has carried the Patriots for years almost by himself and now he is giving the team the financial flexibility to help him as he nears the end of his career.

Edit: I had a brain fart on the calculation up top and its been fixed to represent the right number