Paying and Praying: Do Big NFL Contracts Come Too Soon?

Cam Newton just got more than $100 million, and he’s won a single playoff game against a team that was on its third-string quarterback. Andy Dalton got just shy of $100 million, starting in 2014, and he’s never won a playoff game. Matt Ryan got a little over $100 million, and he also has just a single playoff win.

Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL. If you have a good one, you pay him whatever it takes to keep him around. Teams without good quarterbacks simply don’t win. It’s the one position in the game where a team has to excel.

According to Over the Cap, the highest paid quarterback in the NFL is Aaron Rodgers. And it makes sense. The Packers dominate the NFC North every year, they’re in the playoffs every year, and Rodgers even won a Super Bowl. The Packers are a favorite of many people—including myself—to win it all again in 2015.

Aaron Rodgers is the reason why. Pay the man.

The problem is that teams know they have to pay a franchise quarterback, and it seems like they’ll go out of their way to do it. They’ll do it on potential and not realism.

That’s why you have guys like Andy Dalton staring down $100 million. Good for Dalton, and I hope he spends the money well, but let’s be honest: He’s not even close to being as good as Aaron Rodgers. The idea is laughable. The same goes for Matt Ryan. Sure, he’s been good at times, but he’s also nowhere near Rodgers’ level.

Cam Newton just inked a massive new contract.

Cam Newton just inked a massive new contract.

Cam, in many ways, is the only one who makes a little bit of sense because the ceiling seems higher. Statistically, though, Cam’s not any better. He’s had less success than Matt Ryan. He’s struggled with injuries and maturity issues. He does seem to have put a lot of that behind him and turned into a better leader, but he’s now the third-highest paid QB in the NFL.

It’s a gamble. That’s all it is. The Panthers are gambling that he can reach his ceiling and turn into something that he isn’t right now, and so they’re paying him like he’s already there.

Consider this: If, five years from now, Newton has won one more playoff game over a bad team and never sniffed the Super Bowl, was it money well spent? Did it make sense to pay him close to what Rodgers gets for making his team a contender every season?

Of course not. It’ll look like a colossal mistake.

But that level of productivity is where Newton is right now. It’s where Matt Ryan is. Andy Dalton is even worse. But they’re still being paid like the best.

Teams are just paying and praying.

The argument is often made that, once a team has a solid starter with some upside, it’s very hard to find another quarterback at even that level, so they have to pay. No one wants to be the Browns, with an endless search and a new QB every year. So they pay these guys and hope for the best.

That argument holds a bit of water. These guys would all be sought after if they were free agents, some harder than others. If that’s worth $100 million, then so be it.

But let’s not pretend these quarterbacks are being paid for what they’ve done. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be anywhere near the top, because they’ve done nothing. They’re being paid for what they might become. It’s the horrible gamble NFL teams have to make, and, when it fails, the fallout can last for years.

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