Quarterback salaries are about to get insane

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Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson implored mothers in the 1970s not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. If the duo were to make another version of the song to speak to today’s ‘mommas,’ it would likely carry a different suggestion:

Mommas, please let your babies grow up to be quarterbacks.

Their reasons for not wanting mommas to let their babies grow up to be cowboys were a lot deeper than money. But with the paychecks quarterbacks in the NFL are cashing these days, mothers around the country should be checking to see how far their sons can throw.

With how quarterback contracts have progressed in just the last couple of years, there is no telling the heights they could reach in the years to come.

Recent History

The $25 million/season barrier was broken just two years ago when the Oakland Raiders signed still young quarterback (with just two years under his belt) Derek Carr to a five-year contract extension worth $125 million. The Raiders had only had one season with a winning record with him at quarterback. They had yet to win a division title or a playoff game, either. But they didn’t hesitate to make him the highest paid player in the NFL (at that time).

Carr has since been surpassed by four other quarterbacks and joined in the $25 million club by New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees.

Prior to last season, Matthew Stafford became the highest paid player in NFL history with a five-year extension worth $135 million and an average of $27 million a season. But he was overtaken by a guy with just a handful of starts to his name, Jimmy Garoppolo ($27.5 million).

Garoppolo has since been dethroned by Kirk Cousins ($28 million) who was recently taken down a peg by Matt Ryan ($30 million).

Aaron Rodgers is next in line for a big money deal, but he is not due to become a free agent until 2020. But teams often like to look ahead when it comes to their superstars. Talks supposedly began back in February, but both sides were waiting to see how the market would play out.

With a guy with less than a season as a starter making $27.5 million and another with no playoff wins to his name making $28 million, what’s a guy like Rodgers worth?

Rodgers has led his team to a Super Bowl win, nearly got them to the Super Bowl two other times and has been named NFL MVP twice. Surely, he is worth more than Garoppolo or Cousins. But when you factor in Matt Ryan’s $30 million, could Rodgers be worth upwards of $33-35 million?

Both sides have expressed an interest in getting something done before training camp this year. Should they do so, the question will then become how much money the Seattle Seahawks are going to have to throw at Russell Wilson.

What’s Russell Wilson Worth?

Wilson, like Rodgers, is a Super Bowl champion. But unlike Rodgers, he has not earned league MVP honors. He has, however, reached the Super Bowl more than Rodgers has (Rodgers has only been there once, Wilson twice).

A case could be made for Wilson being worth more since he’d taken his team further. But a case could be made for him making less since he hasn’t achieved the personal accolades Rodgers has. Wilson has had the benefit of a stellar defense for most of his career, unlike Rodgers. But Rodgers has had better receivers.

Wilson will certainly be worth at least $30 million due to the success the Seahawks have had with him. But whether he reaches much higher than that remains to be seen. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports doesn’t think Wilson and the Seahawks have talked about a new contract yet. But the current state of the roster has to be a concern for both sides.

Does Wilson want to keep running for his life or would he rather be on a better team? If the Seahawks may go into rebuild mode soon, do they want to be saddled with a $30 million/season quarterback? 

Should the Seahawks miss out on the playoffs again, it would not be shocking if they were to start thinking about a rebuild. They’ve already overhauled much of the defensive side of the ball and had some changes in the coaching staff. With the Rams and potentially the 49ers on the rise, it may be a more prudent move to sell off veteran assets for draft picks and/or younger talent. If they were to do so, it would be made a lot tougher to effectively rebuild if one player was eating up $30 million in cap space.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk seems to think that Wilson intends on playing out his contract.  Meaning he wants to play under the franchise tag for the 2020 season. Should that be the case, Wilson will make around $30.34 million for that season.

If they go the franchise tag route again for 2021, we’re talking about something in the range of $36 million. A third in 2022 would come out to $52.43 million.

There is no way the team gets to a point where they tag him for the 2022 season. The 2020 season–maybe. Doing so would probably save the Seahawks a little money. But a second tag?

That will only be possible if Seattle wins the Super Bowl in two of the next three seasons, which is highly unlikely.

But wait…there’s more!

As crazy as quarterback salaries are, chances are we’ve only seen the beginning of the insanity. Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady will all be free agents in 2020. Each has earned the right to become the highest paid player. Each one will also be candidates for retirement after the coming season and 2019.

But if they choose not to retire, what will their teams pay them then?

Then there is the parade of young guns that will be due their first big money contracts. Dak Prescott will be due a new deal in 2020 (if not sooner). It will be time for the Tennessee Titans to pay Marcus Mariota. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will need to do the same for Jameis Winston. Both will become free agents in 2020. Should Case Keenum pan out in Denver, he’ll be due for a bump in pay as well.

The value that a good quarterback has to his team is undeniable. But at the rate at which quarterback salaries are rising, you almost have to wonder one thing: when are the 21 other starters are going to take offense to the disparity? It doesn’t matter how far a QB can throw if there isn’t anyone there that can catch. If he doesn’t have time to throw, he’ll never get the pass off.

If the defense doesn’t do its job, it will not matter what a $30 million quarterback does.