Russell Wilson, Cam Newton And The Rising Cost Of A Quarterback

Coming out of the 2011 NFL Draft, which saw six quarterbacks taken in the first 36 picks, and the 2012 NFL Draft, which produced five rookie starters at QB, the NFL is entering a new era of quarterbacking. We’ve seen the influence of the spread offense infiltrate the NFL to a certain extent and mobility certainly seems to be at a premium in this day and age.

But as all of those promising young players finish out their wage-capped rookie contracts (the most recent collective bargaining agreement introduced the rookie wage scale in 2011), we don’t really have any idea what the cost of doing business with these young phenoms is going to be. Miami Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill is about as middle of the pack as you can get from a quarterback statistically (relax, Miami fans, he’s certainly trending in the right direction) and he just got a new deal that’s going to pay him $19.25 million a season.

Then there’s Andrew Luck. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback has had a magnificent start to his career and he seems destined to be the standard by which we judge young quarterbacks (a la Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) for the remainder of this generation. The Colts picked up his team option for 2015 and he’ll make a little over $16 million this season, but as he negotiates a long-term extension that number could creep up to around $25 million, which could mean he’ll sign the most lucrative contract in NFL history sometime in the near future.

Somewhere in between Tannehill and Luck on the quarterbacking spectrum falls Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton and the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson. These two don’t quite approach Andrew Luck territory when it comes to what they’d demand on the open market but they certainly bring more to the table than Tannehill at this point. So how much is it going to cost to re-sign these two and give their respective franchises clarity at quarterback for years to come? Especially when you consider the uniqueness of their skill sets.

Cam Newton would be quick to tell you that the NFL has never seen somebody with his combination of size, strength and speed at the quarterback position, and the Panthers will undoubtedly pay a premium for that. Because even though Newton hasn’t completely changed the face of the NFL, he’s shown flashes of sheer brilliance in his four years in the NFL.

Cam Newton brings more to the table physically than just about any quarterback in NFL history.

Cam Newton brings more to the table physically than just about any quarterback in NFL history.

There was the 854 yards he threw for in the first two starts of his career or his four-touchdown, no-turnover performance with 358 total yards in a 30-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. Then, sitting at 3-8-1 with only the faintest chance of making the postseason there was his three-start winning streak (four total for the team) to close out the 2014 season and win the NFC South.

Those wow-worthy moments have been fewer and farther between then the Panthers (or Newton for that matter) would like, but they’ve been frequent enough to know that it’ll be costly to get him to sign an extension, and even if Newton wants to stay in Charlotte forever, his agent Bus Cook isn’t giving the Panthers any hometown discounts.

For Wilson, there’s no comparison to what Newton brings to the table physically, but that’s quite alright because Wilson has allowed his play to dictate his value. The undersized quarterback who played his college ball at both North Carolina State and Wisconsin makes the right decision–albeit with his arm or with his legs–every single time, but you’d be hard-pressed to get away with simply calling him a game-manager.

He’s got big play ability and he’s entirely capable of winning a game in his own right, he’s just lucky enough to play for a team so damn good that he doesn’t have to. In Seattle, Wilson may just be a piece of the winning puzzle, but he’s a really big piece and the puzzle would look pretty stupid without it.

Russell Wilson took his ground game to the next level in 2014.

Russell Wilson took his ground game to the next level in 2014.

As a passer he’s been steady and reliable since he entered the league as a third-round pick in 2012 and as a runner he took his game to another level in 2014, running for 849 yards and leading the NFL in yards per attempt (7.2). Add in the Super Bowl and no matter how much Seattle tries to minimize his value, you know he’d command a large price if he were to become an unrestricted free agent.

So if Tannehill is the baseline for what we pay an average quarterback with above-average potential and Luck is a potential $175 million man, where does that leave Wilson and Newton? Theoretically, we’ll see them in the $20-23 million range per season and if they’re extended for five years they’ll likely see guarantees of around $60 million.

That guarantee will matter more than just about anything to Newton and Wilson (or at least their agents) and the structure will matter more than just about anything to their respective front offices (because a cap hit that size could be crippling). And when it’s all said and done, we’re going to see some of the richest contracts for quarterbacks that we’ve ever seen.

And make no mistake, everybody will be watching. From your regular every day fan to cap analysts to Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (the next wave), because this will shape the market and the NFL for the next decade moving foward.

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