The 2015 Sando/ESPN QB Tiers Project and Salaries

Mike Sando of ESPN just wrote up his 2nd annual QB tier rankings in which he polled a number of football people to rank the quarterbacks in the NFL. Mike then crunches the numbers to place players into one of four tiers. It’s a great concept and helps illustrate the various opinions that people have on players in the NFL.  And for the second straight year I’ll look at the opinions and see how they line up with salaries in the NFL.

Like last season, because rookie contracts are predetermined they will be removed from the analysis. The lone exception is Sam Bradford who I decided to include this season since at this point his salary is essentially a veteran salary since the Eagles opted in to the price which is not terribly far removed from the low grade veteran salary. That leaves us with 22 quarterbacks that we will use to determine our salary tiers. Breaking them down into quartiles by using the contracts annual value our “salary tiers” are:

Tier 1: Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Newton, Ryan, Flacco, and Brees

Tier 2: Tannehill, Kaepernick, Cutler, Romo, Stafford

Tier 3: Smith, P. Manning, Palmer, E. Manning, Dalton

Tier 4: Rivers, Bradford, Brady, Hoyer, Cassel, McCown

All told 12 of the 22 players fit in the same salary tier as the tier ranking. That’s a lower figure than last year (13/20) but still not too bad. Here is how the average salary breakdown runs for the two groups:

TierSalary TierESPN Tier
Tier 1$20,910,000$17,970,000
Tier 2$18,403,333$18,403,810
Tier 3$16,550,000$17,641,667
Tier 4$8,744,445$7,041,667

The Tier 2 is almost spot on with the two groups while Tier 1 for ESPN is hampered because of Tom Brady’s incredibly ridiculous team friendly contract.  It is almost unfair to include that.  The other interesting takeaway was the drive up in salaries from last year at this time. Last year the third tier averaged between $10 and $12 million, depending on which ranking was used, while tier four was at just $4 million. The explosion of contracts for the likes of Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill, etc… had basically brought those tiers way up.  Given upcoming extensions on the horizon for Eli Manning and Philip Rivers this will be even higher next year. I believe that there is such a disparity in talent between Tier 1 and Tier 3 that teams overspending on the likes of those players are probably putting themselves at a disadvantage of building the rest of their roster.

Comparing the rankings between the two groups we can get a better idea of who around the NFL is considered a good and bad bargain at the QB position. Brady, it should be no surprise, is the most undervalued player. There is a +18 rank differential and if we relocate salaries his should be 59% higher than it currently is.

Rivers is the second best bargain with a jump of 11 spots and should deserve a raise of 23.5%. He’ll earn more than that when he does sign a new contract. Peyton Manning ranks third following his reworked contract while Eli Manning and Tony Romo have a gain of 5 and 3 spots respectively.

The other end of the spectrum sees Cam Newton and Jay Cutler as the most overvalued players. Neither is a big surprise. Newton is being paid on potential, draft status, and fear of the unknown but his track record is shaky which is going to turn teams off. Cutler’s contract was a head scratcher from day 1 and his reputation took a major hit. Both fell by 9 slots though Cutler should see nearly a 40% reduction in salary, which is far more of a drop than Newton’s 22%. Other big fallers were Ryan Tannehill and Colin Kaepernick (both 8 spots) and Matt Ryan (5 slots).

Ryan, Kaepernick, and Cutler all saw the biggest differentials last year as well so it seems as if it will take a major change in results for them this season to change the value proposition for the three. Joe Flacco, who saw the biggest drop last season, looks to have benefitted the most. He climbed the rankings a little, most likely on the another strong postseason performance, and his salary is getting closer to being in line due to some of the new signings. Flacco’s cap charges however will be a completely different story.

Here is how everyone breaks down:

PlayerESPN TierSalary TierSalary RankESPN RankRank DifferentialAPYAdjusted APYAPY Difference% Change
Aaron Rodgers11110$22,000,000$21,925,000($75,000)-0.3%
Tom Brady1419118$9,000,000$21,925,000$12,925,00059.0%
Ben Roethlisberger1123-1$21,850,000$20,760,000($1,090,000)-5.3%
Peyton Manning131349$17,000,000$20,750,000$3,750,00018.1%
Drew Brees11651$20,000,000$20,100,000$100,0000.5%
Philip Rivers2417611$15,300,000$20,000,000$4,700,00023.5%
Tony Romo221073$18,000,000$19,250,000$1,250,0006.5%
Joe Flacco2158-3$20,100,000$19,000,000($1,100,000)-5.8%
Matt Ryan2149-5$20,750,000$18,100,000($2,650,000)-14.6%
Matt Stafford2211101$17,666,667$17,833,334$166,6670.9%
Eli Manning2315105$16,250,000$17,833,334$1,583,3348.9%
Cam Newton21312-9$20,760,000$17,000,000($3,760,000)-22.1%
Carson Palmer3314131$16,500,000$17,000,000$500,0002.9%
Alex Smith331214-2$17,000,000$16,500,000($500,000)-3.0%
Ryan Tannehill32715-8$19,250,000$16,250,000($3,000,000)-18.5%
Colin Kaepernick32816-8$19,000,000$15,650,000($3,350,000)-21.4%
Andy Dalton3316160$16,000,000$15,650,000($350,000)-2.2%
Jay Cutler32918-9$18,100,000$13,000,000($5,100,000)-39.2%
Sam Bradford441819-1$13,000,000$9,000,000($4,000,000)-44.4%
Josh McCown4422202$4,666,667$5,250,000$583,33311.1%
Brian Hoyer442021-1$5,250,000$5,250,000$00.0%
Matt Cassel442022-2$5,250,000$4,666,667($583,333)-12.5%