To say that quarterbacks are well-paid in the NFL is an understatement. In fact, NFL quarterbacks make up the entirety of the top ten highest paid players. Here are the current ten highest paid players by average annual salary:
10.) Philip Rivers – $20.81 million
9.) Eli Manning – $21.0 million
8.) Ben Roethlisberger – $21.85 million
7.) Russell Wilson – $21.9 million
6.) Aaron Rodgers – $22.0 million
5.) Joe Flacco – $22.1 million
4.) Andrew Luck – $24.6 million
3.) Derek Carr – $25.0 million
2.) Matthew Stafford – $27.0 million
1.) Jimmy Garoppolo – $27.5 million
It should come as no shock that all ten players are quarterbacks. Having an elite-level talent at the position can be the difference between winning and losing for a franchise. Just ask the Cleveland Browns. What may be a surprise is that there is only one Super Bowl win (as a starter) within the top five. Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford each became the new gold standard after stellar 2016 seasons. Jimmy Garoppolo won every start he made for San Francisco this season, and the 49ers more than repaid the favor by making him the league’s highest paid player.
This year, there are at least five quarterbacks who are either unrestricted free agents or who are long overdue for a lucrative contract extension. Their respective résumés speak for themselves, and it is more than likely that Jimmy Garoppolo will not be the league’s highest paid player going into the 2018 regular season.
All contract information and market value calculations provided by Spotrac
Case Keenum was a revelation for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017. The Vikings had high expectations going into the season. The team had started out 5-0 in 2016 behind Sam Bradford, but a string of injuries doomed Minnesota to an 8-8 finish. With a healthy squad and revamped offensive line, the Vikings were early favorites to win their division and possibly the NFC crown. Early in the season, however, starting quarterback Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury. Insert Case Keenum: a journeyman who bounced around between the Rams and the Texans before accepting the backup quarterback spot in Minnesota going into 2017. Keenum more than exceeded expectations.
In 14 regular season starts, Keenum posted an 11-3 record. While passing for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdown passes against only 7 interceptions, Keenum finished with the league’s 7th best passer rating (98.3) and 2nd best completion percentage (67.6%). The 2017 season was by far Keenum’s finest.
Once the postseason rolled around, however, Keenum and the Vikings began to struggle. While Keenum did lead Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game, he was far less consistent than he was during the regular season. In two games, Keenum threw 2 touchdown passes against 3 interceptions while completing only 60.2% of his passes, posting a passer rating of 73.5. In all fairness to Case Keenum, the entire Minnesota Vikings team failed to show up in any real way during the NFC Championship game. Going forward, it would be hard to argue against Keenum being one of the better options for Minnesota at quarterback.
Leading up to the 2017 season, Case Keenum signed a one-year $2 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Needless to say, the Vikings got the most bang for their buck with Keenum. Case Keenum will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and it is doubtful that Minnesota will be able to retain him with another $2 million deal. The franchise tag is an option, although that would mean Keenum would receive approximately $21-23 million dollars for a one-year deal if the two sides don’t reach a consensus on a contract.
Estimated Market Value: 4 years/$84.4 million ($21.1 million per year average)
What more needs to be said about Drew Brees? He has consistently been one of the league’s best passers over the last decade-and-a-half. In 261 career regular and postseason starts, he has a combined record of 149-112. The Super Bowl XLIV MVP is an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, 4-time All-Pro selection, and has won the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award twice. Brees has led the league in passing yards seven times and has led the league in touchdown passes four times.
Drew Brees has also rewritten the record books. No other NFL quarterback has finished a season with 5,000 or more yards more than once; Brees has done it five times. He holds the record for both highest single-season completion percentage (72.0% in 2017) and highest career completion percentage (66.9%). He is one of eight quarterbacks tied for the most touchdown passes in a single game with 7. His most impressive feat has to be his record 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Only Peyton Manning and Brett Favre have more touchdown passes and passing yards in their careers than Brees.
Drew Brees is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Due to a clause in his contract, the Saints cannot exercise the franchise tag option on Drew Brees going into 2018. Brees is 39 years old, so it is unlikely that the Saints will sign him to a long term deal. Nonetheless, their goal will be to give Brees a respectable deal that is also salary cap friendly.
Estimated Market Value: 2 years/$50.1 million ($25.05 million per year average)
Many analysts questioned why the Washington Redskins used the 102nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to select another quarterback. They had already selected Baylor’s Robert Griffin III in the first round, why would they take Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins in the same draft? Certainly there are more pressing needs. They already have their quarterback of the future.
As it would turn out, Kirk Cousins would be more than just an insurance policy. Cousins turned out to be a bona fide franchise quarterback when Robert Griffin III did not live up to expectations. In 49 starts as Washington’s full-time starter (2015-2017), regular season and postseason combined, Cousins has posted a record of 24-24-1. That may not be impressive on paper, but Cousins is obviously the lone bright spot of the Redskins roster. Over the last three seasons, Cousins has averaged 4,392 yards, 27 touchdown passes, only 12 interceptions, and a 67% completion percentage per season, with a passer rating of 97.5. That kind of consistency at the quarterback position is not so easy to find.
Arguably his best year as a pro was in 2016. In his only Pro Bowl season, Cousins finished third in passing yards (4,917 yards) and had a top ten passer rating (7th – 97.2). He also completed 67% of his passes with 25 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions.
Kirk Cousins is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, and has been franchise-tagged by the Redskins the last couple of seasons. In light of the Redskins reportedly trading for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, Cousins’ days in Washington are obviously numbered. There is still some conjecture as to whether or not the Redskins will tag Cousins again and try to trade him or let him hit the open market.
Estimated Market Value: 5 years/$128.2 million ($25.64 million per year average)
Much like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers has built an impressive Hall of Fame résumé. The Super Bowl XLV MVP has a career record of 103-55, regular and postseason starts combined. Rodgers has also been selected to six Pro Bowls, has been an All-Pro selection three times, and has twice been the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Rodgers’ career statistics are also a marvel. He holds the all-time record in career passer rating (103.8). Rodgers set the record for single season passer rating in 2011, posting an inhuman 122.5 rating. In fact, in seven out of Rodgers’ ten seasons as Green Bay’s starter, he has finished the season with a passer rating of 100 or higher. Rodgers has only twice finished a season with a total number of interceptions in the double digits. His 4.01-1 touchdown to interception ratio is the best all-time.
As indicated before, Rodgers is currently the sixth-highest paid player in the NFL. That seems a bit low, considering he has played at a level worthy of being within the top three. I mean he should at least be paid more than Joe Flacco.
Rodgers will not become an unrestricted free agent until 2020. He is set to make just under $21 million total in 2018. But now more than ever, Rodgers has leverage in commanding a respectable contract extension.
Estimated Market Value: 4 years/$114 million ($28.5 million per year average)
Since he came into the league in 2008, Matt Ryan has consistently produced at a level making him a top ten quarterback in the league. Ryan set the record for most wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons (later tied by Russell Wilson), and has a career record of 99-69 (regular season and postseason starts combined). He also has the most game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime since he entered the league with 37. In 2017, Ryan became the fastest to reach 40,000 career passing yards and is currently sitting at a total of 41,796 yards.
Ryan had his best season in 2016 as he was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl, won the league’s Offensive Player of the Year Award, and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. In 2016 Ryan passed for 4,944 yards, completed 69.9% of his passes, threw 38 touchdown passes against only 7 interceptions, and posted a passer rating of 117.1. Ryan led the league’s number one offense to Super Bowl LI, as his Falcons were defeated by the New England Patriots in overtime 34-28. Despite the loss, Ryan played well, posting a 144.1 passer rating, the fourth-highest in Super Bowl history.
Despite struggles in the postseason early in his career, Ryan’s last three postseasons have been phenomenal. In that span Ryan has averaged 298.3 passing yards per game, has thrown 17 touchdown passes against only 3 interceptions, and has completed 69.3% of his passes. Ryan has the third-highest career postseason passer rating (100.8), behind only Kurt Warner (102.8) and Bart Starr (104.8).
Matt Ryan will not become an unrestricted free agent until 2019. He is set to make up to $21.65 million in 2018. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has made it a point that the organization plans on giving Matt Ryan a new deal this offseason. The 5-year/$103.75 million extension he signed in 2013 made him the second-highest paid player in league. That was before he was an MVP and had reached a Super Bowl.
Estimated Market Value: 5 years/$149 million ($29.8 million per year average.
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