Winning with Expensive QB’s

The Dak Prescott story continues to give us some things to talk about with the discussions today turning to the salary cap impact of a contract extension hurting the teams chances to win. There was a post on Twitter looking at the lack of Super Bowl wins for top QBs since 2014 which garnered a great deal of attention todat so I wanted to expand on that a little.

While the Super Bowl is certainly aspirational it is so difficult that using that as the only judge of success can be limiting. So I wanted to look at what teams have spent and how much success they have had over that 14-19 timeframe. For the most part I think we measure success as making deep runs in the playoffs. So I awarded each team 1 point for completing the regular season, 2 points for losing in the wildcard round, 4 points for losing in the divisional round, 6 points for losing the conference championship, 8 points for losing the Super Bowl, and 10 points for the ultimate Super Bowl winner.

The following chart shows the results (yes I know its old logos) with the exception of the Patriots who throw everything out of whack. If you want to know where they would be its nearly 50 points with just slightly above league average QB spending.

The data pretty much indicates no correlation between spending and success. There are teams that spend big that are consistent deep playoff teams and those like the Lions and Giants who have basically stunk. There are teams with cheap QB rooms that do well and others on the Jets line who spend little and win little.

Still this can be a bit misleading because for many of these teams the arbitrary timeframe overlaps rookie contracts and non-rookie ones. So what if we just look at veteran players? Here is the list of QB’s who have totaled more than $25M in cap charges on veteran contracts (meaning Russell Wilsons 2014 would not count but 2015 would), played at least three “veteran years” and how they performed. I pulled Brady out from here just because he completely changes the ranges we have to show since he has been so successful.

Again it is basically the same story. You can win or lose with expensive QBs. Its more about who you spend it on than the cost itself. That brings up the other questions which is should you just draft or not? Here is how the average yearly performance of teams with rookies who primarily started matched up with the average performance of these veterans (again I took Brady out).

This gets a bit messy since I didn’t take out the names and so many rookies make little but I do think there is some evidence to suggest what intuitively makes sense- having so little spent on the QB position relative to the veteran should give teams more opportunities for success during that short window of time where they are on a rookie contract, which usually is years 2 to at the most 4, so a two to three year window. Even when a team is playing a sub par QB like Bortles and Mariota they may have had enough resources to use elsewhere to build a team that hides the QB. Of course many teams then make the mistake the Jaguars made and assume a Bortles can be successful when the reality is they were only successful because of what was built around him.

This is of course a completely different question for a team like Dallas. Its not an option to get Prescott under $10 million nor is it an option to land a top 10 pick which is where most of the good rookies come from. The question is does Prescott lock them into that bottom right area?  If they think it does then bail, but if they thought that way the time to be auditioning replacements was 2018 and 2019, not waiting until 2021. It’s the one area that the Patriots did a good job which is somehow overlooked because of Bradys longevity- they were always looking to have a young guy behind Brady so they have an opportunity to have already looked at his replacement for a year or two in their system.

It’s a completely different strategy discussion but the concept would be to take a player like Prescott (or Goff or Wentz) and see before their fourth year how many first round picks you could turn them into. If its more than one you are probably giving yourself the ammunition to potentially upgrade the position at a far cheaper cost. Basically you are trying to exploit the fact that desperate teams that have failed in their quest to find a QB would be desperate in a trade and give the farm. That’s a topic for a different day.

But for today’s topic I don’t think that any of the data backs up the point that dropping from a Prescott to a cheap option like Dalton or Fitzpatrick type players will lead to any success nor that paying a QB completely eliminates the chance of winning. Its about finding the right players to pay and making the very difficult decisions on those who are not worth it.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC