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.



Podcast: QB’s, Cowboys, Raiders, Jets, Cap Management and More….


Touching on the QB moves of the week plus some questions answered on the Cowboys, Jets, and Raiders. I think I have this set up for itunes now but Ill check that in the morning.

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Thoughts on the Romo Extension


Big news of the day was the Dallas Cowboys giving Tony Romo a 6 year extension worth $108 million that will keep him in Dallas until 2019. Some people have gotten a little wrapped up in the overall value of the contract but it’s a number I had discussed in the offseason as a realistic point for him so I don’t think it’s surprising. The contract contains $55 million in guarantees of which $25 million come in the form of a signing bonus according to Todd Archer. $57 million will be paid in the first three seasons, though the 3 year new money average is $54 million.

Archer broke down the cap hits in his article which has Romo counting in excess of $20 million in 2014 and 2015 against the salary cap. The contract is clearly designed for the Cowboys to convert his base salaries in those seasons into prorated bonuses. If the Cowboys can keep Romo at those cap charges and not restructure him then the contract will likely end in 2016 when it becomes reasonable to absorb the dead money associated with cutting Romo. Every restructure adds at least 1 season to the real length of the contract so Dallas should only consider restructuring him in the future as a last resort.

I think a question that should be asked of the Cowboys is why did it take so long to get this deal done?  Clearly there was no hard bargaining position being taken by Dallas as evidenced by the guarantees and overall contract value. Had they extended Romo back in February they likely could have done a better job of creating more team friendly restructures or avoided restructuring entirely some older and/or questionable talent who the Cowboys will now be stuck with for at least one more season.

Romo is always a polarizing subject because he is a great statistical QB but has failed to win any meaningful games in his career. QB’s are often paid for winning and Romo’s $18 million APY is the first non-winning QB to really break the barrier. Prior to Romo’s deal the closest would have been Mike Vick’s $16 million per year average with the Eagles and then Phillip Rivers and Matt Schaub both making over $15 million. Romo’s $18 million likely sets a new floor point for players such as the Lions’ Matt Stafford who are younger than Romo but also showing limited team success.

View Tony Romo’s  Cap Page


Twitter Q&A and An Introduction- March 5

Well before we get started I’d like to introduce everyone to Jim who is one of the new contributing writers on the site. Jim is a big Raiders fan and an amateur capologist. He’ll be popping in from time to time with his thoughts on the cap and probably doing quite a bit of Raiders related posts, as the Raiders are always a hot salary cap topic. Unfortunately for Jim its rarely positive but one of these days it has to.  Onto the Q&A:

33,( who looks like a big Tony Dorsett fan)- Does the cap increase in the next several years? If so, how does this play into the process of cap planning?

Thats a great question and its one that I certainly can’t fully answer. While the cap does increase every year the projections seem to be that it will remain pretty flat even as the new TV contracts roll in. The union has had to make a number of concessions to get the cap to be even where it is today so my guess is there will be limited growth. That being said projections are nothing more than educated guesses and can change at ant time.

As for the second part of the question it absolutely plays a role. As the salary cap inflates so can contracts. It is far better for a team to shuffle cap dollars to the future because those cap dollars will, in theory, eat up much less of a percentage of the cap than they would in the present. Back in 2006 when the new CBA went into effect teams planned contracts with a certain projection in mind, but by 2007 when the cap begin rising substantially so did the pushing of money and contract values. The problem for teams now is that the cap remains at the same levels at 2009 but star player salaries keep rising. That was one of the points I was trying to make on the Flacco contract. When Eli Manning signed his record breaking deal worth $16.25 million it was on a cap of $123 million rising $5-6 million a year.  The pushing of salaries from that period have essentially made that contract worth nearly $21 million a year but, with a flat cap, it eats up a far larger percentage. To try to protect themselves from that reality the Ravens designed the cap hits of the contract to remain low for the next three years hoping that by 2016 the cap grows substantially making Flacco’s high end numbers seem more reasonable.

From @ross_christie- How much of a contract will a player actually get? Is it just the guaranteed money?

Depends on the quality of player and structure of the contract. If you look at our releases page you can get a good idea as to just how much players earn before being released. Most probably earn around 50% of the contract and in many cases that is because of the protection that was built into the contract. Players that have strong representation, especially those who negotiate with weaker front offices, are able to craft player friendly contracts that make it difficult to release the players. The fact that signing bonus money is prorated and all accelerates onto the cap if released provides another layer of contract protection besides just the fully guaranteed money.  A player that can negotiate a large signing bonus in conjunction with fully guaranteed salary will most likely earn more than players with more guaranteed money but no bonus protection. I would say that it is pretty rare for a player to actually play out his entire contract without ever having a paycut.

From @WeightyThings- For Bowe’s contract structure, what do you think their primary concern was in organizing it? Any player contracts coming up?

I think their main concern was getting a cap friendly deal in year 1, which they accomplished with a $4 million dollar cap hit in year 1. The Chiefs dont really have any cap issues on the horizon so they knew they could deal with the higher cap hits in years 2-5. This maximizes their chances to attract free agents and change the culture in Kansas City.

From @Dessedrengen- how is it possible for Dallas to get under 123.0 when they are at about 126 now, and then the cap penalty?(10mil$ if I guess)

The Cowboys cap penalty this year is $5 million and their adjusted cap, after carryovers, should be around $120.3 million. They did get under the cap for a brief moment before tagging Anthony Spencer. I estimate them to be around $5.6 million over the cap. I cant really see how they will get under the cap without extending Tony Romo. They were going to pay him  ton anyway, but I have a feeling it will be even more now. Romo has all the leverage in the world because Dallas has almost no other options as they have restructured almost everybody on the team. Statistically he can point to Flacco and state a case he deserves close to that, though Romo is older so I cant see that working. Other options would be to restructure Doug Free but he already has a large dead money hit close to $4 million in 2015 at which point his contract should void. Its ugly in Dallas and only going to get worse

From @WeightyThings(a 2nd questions)- Now that Tyson Jackson is back at 5.2 million, what is the Chiefs salary cap looking?

Sometimes initial reports can be wrong, but based on what was reported the Chiefs gained at least $9 million in cap space. It is likely more than that as the way the reports have been worded make me think he needs to reach certain performance levels to even earn that much. If that is the case they will save more against this year cap. The team probably has around $12.5 million though that does not include the deal for Alex Smith.

From L_A_RAIDERS-  The New Regime has only been here 1 year…isnt that statement a little pre mature?? What Crazy contract has Reggie Handed out?

This was in reference to a statement I made on the Raiders decision to continue to not release players but instead keep extending. Its a fair question. I think when you have a situation as bad as the Raiders you have to be willing to make very difficult decisions. They continued to make many of the same moves as the previous regimes. In Richard Seymour’s case they added another void season onto the end of his contract to just increase the inevitable dead money in 2013, which is close to $14 million. They re-signed LB Aaron Curry, who had shown nothing, to a deal that contained 3 voidable contract years and they fully guaranteed his 2012 base salary. He was gone by November. They used a similar void trick to bring Carson Palmers numbers down in 2012 which has just added to more dead money issues either in 2013 or 2014. I just think the abuse of these void years and salary conversions makes it impossible to ever get out of this hole and based on the most recent restructure of a player that most Raider fans seem to think doesnt even fit their offense it just seems to be the same approach. Maybe the moves of 2012 were done out of absolute necessity, but this last one was not.

From @Donkey_Kang With the inflated price of cornerbacks is it more likely the Chargers draft one in first 2 rounds than sign one for big money?

I could see salary cap playing a role for some teams in the draft but I have to think the Chargers are simply in BAP mode. But as a general question if you can find a QB, DE, CB, or WR in the draft you are well ahead of the game in your positional spending. The ability to have rookie contracts playing those position is a huge advantage.

Feel free to keep asking me questions either on Twitter, email, or in postings. Ill try to answer them as best I can in the future.


Monday Morning Stock Down

Mike Vick- Just an awful season and it gets worse by the day. Another non-200 yard passing performance and a turnover to boot. Vicks re-signing was some overreaction to a small sample of actual games and he has not rewarded the Eagles at all. He has a good chance of being benched as the head coach struggles to save his own job. Vick has no job security with the team right now. He has no cash guarantees left in his contract provided the Eagles release him before the start of the 2013 waiver system in February. His dead cap hit is only $4.2 million which will represent $12.7 million in cap savings. Most importantly they free themselves of $15.5 million in cash commitments.

Nnamdi Asomugha- Sticking with the Eagles theme, Asomugha is the face for the poor moves they have made on defense in Philadelphia. Asomugha still gets respect from teams but when he gets thrown on he gets toasted and that is what happened this past weekend as he gave up a 63 yard TD reception against the Falcons. Depending on how one values the Darrelle Revis contract, Asomugha is the highest or second highest paid corner in the game, but he is not a difference maker at all. Asomugha has $4 million in guaranteed salary next season but received no signing bonus so there is no real sunk cost for the team to chase. If there is an offset for that salary the Eagles would likely be able to cut him and just have someone else pick up the tab. At worst, if there is no offset for the guarantee, it is a savings of $11 million in both cash and cap.

Tony Romo- Yes he led them back and yes he almost got saved by a miracle grab by Dez Bryant, but 4 interceptions just doesnt cut it. Romo has one of these wacky contracts where the backend is all void seasons giving the team significant reason to extend the term of the real contract. Romo’s real contract ends in 2013, but he has become the poster child in Dallas for failure. Romo has a salary due next year of $11.5 million and a cap charge of $16.8 million. It is unlikely that Dallas’ owner would consider an extension at this point and with each passing game Romos value sinks. Cutting or trading him would cost Dallas $13.5 million in dead money which would result in a net savings of $3.3 million. Dallas has eaten big cap hits before for players and if the right package came along would do the same with Romo.