Hello Packer Nation!

Aaron Rodgers was the highest paid NFL player for a hot minute when he signed his new mega deal on August 29, 2018. The new four year $134 million dollar contract ($33.5 million average) was the largest contract in NFL history. Like any large contract extension, someone else comes along to top it. That title now goes to Russell Wilson, who signed a four year $140 million dollar contract on April 16, 2019. The ironic backstory is in 2013, the same two players became the highest paid NFL players right around the same time, exchanging places as they did this year. They seem to be the benchmark for contracts between now and then. 

The salary ranking saga continues. As of July 2019 (less than one year) Rodgers has fallen to the 3rd highest paid QB. On April 24, 2019, Ben Roethlisberger’s new contract netted him an annual average salary of $34 million. Drew Brees was next in line to receive a monstrous contact extension. Instead, he restructured and signed a salary cap friendly extension to help the Saints save close to $11 million in salary cap space in 2019. The Saints have creatively paid Brees his worth but not at the expense of exhausting a huge chunk of the team's salary cap space, as the Packers have with Rodgers.

Quarterbacks are the highest paid NFL players and their value continues to rise and outpace all other positions. For example, Russell Wilson averages $35 million per year. Khalil Mack is the highest non QB position player at $23.5 million. That leaves one question; Have large contracts awarded to quarterbacks led to more Super Bowl wins for their respective teams? Let’s start by going back to the 2011 season, the year after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. For curiosity sake, while Rodgers led the Packers to the teams 4th Super Bowl title in 2010, his salary was a paltry $6.5. It was a small salary that allowed the Packers to field a competitive and deep team with a budding star QB. That is the recipe for Super Bowl participation and teams should take notice.

To provide a little background behind player salaries, salaries are tied to league revenue under the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). Continued revenue growth will be the hot button topic that is currently ongoing during preliminary talks to extend current CBA. Currently, the NFL is close to $15 billion in yearly revenue. With new TV agreements coming up in the next year, it will likely go over that figure quickly. Players currently receive around 47% of league revenue per the last CBA agreement signed in 2011. That is down from the previous CBA agreement of 50% and the players are looking to recoup the losses they incurred. The tenuous 2011 CBA negotiation actually resulted in a 132 day lockout. The NFL wants an increase from 16 seasons games to 18 games (and add a couple playoff teams per division) so they can offset the increase NFLPA is asking for. As we stand today, NFL owners and NFLPA (Players Association) have up to the end of the 2020 year to agree to new CBA and avoid a possible stoppage to the 2021 season. 

Looking at the league’s top ten paid QB’s in each season (2011-2018) totals 80 QB’s and 80 teams. Shockingly, only 30 out of 80 teams made the playoffs. One team won a Super Bowl. Three teams have lost in the Super Bowl. Five lost in Conference Championships. No team with a top 10 paid QB has participated in the Super Bowl since 2015. That means teams have won with cheaper/younger QB’s, or paid the likes of Tom Brady at a team friendly discount.

If you look at those eye popping stats, it is pretty easy to summarize having a top 10 paid QB does NOT guarantee a playoff berth and Super Bowl odds are miniscule. This is one of the reasons I remain steadfast in my prediction that the Packers will not win another Super Bowl with Rodgers at the helm. When only 5% of the top 10 paid QB’s and their respective teams since 2011 made a Super Bowl, odds are not good for the Packers since Rodgers should be in the top 10 paid until his contract expires in 2023. 

The NFL’s highest QB salary has almost doubled from $18 million in 2011 to $35 million in 2019. The NFL team salary cap in 2011 was $120 million and increased to $188.2 million in 2019. The one detail is the top QB salary and team salary cap have increased relatively at the same pace. NFL team salary caps have averaged an increase around 6% per year, or roughly $10 million/year since 2013. QB salaries have increased at the same percentage, on average. While this research piece only accounts for yearly average salary, it does not take into account "guaranteed" money each QB receives. That would be a whole new discussion.

Even though Rodgers average salary places him near the top, the cap hit will become larger every year until 2023. The "cap hit" (not salary) is subtracted from the team salary cap pool and takes signing bonus, roster bonus and other related bonuses into account over the life of the contract each year. In 2019 Rodgers will count $26.5 million against the cap. In 2020 the cap hit increases to $32.6 million, $33.5 million in 2021 and $37 million in 2022. Without a contract restructure, Rodgers will only count around $25.5 million in 2023. Rodgers will be 40 years old and likely won’t command another contract this large. The new CBA could change things, of course.

Let’s recap the highest paid quarterbacks and their respective team’s playoff results each year starting in 2011. All stats were pulled from Spotrac. Players/team in bold did not make playoffs.

 

2011 Player - Salary (Team) - Team playoff result

  1. Peyton Manning - $18 million (Denver) - Did not make playoffs.

  2. Tom Brady - $18 million (New England) - Lost Super Bowl.

  3. Eli Manning - $16,250 million (NY Giants) - Won Super Bowl.

  4. Michael Vick - $16 million (Philadelphia) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Philip Rivers - $15 million (San Diego) - Did not make playoffs.

  6. Ben Roethlisberger - $14.67 million (Pittsburgh) - Lost in Wild Card.

  7. Sam Bradford - $13 million (St.Louis) - Did not make playoffs.

  8. Matthew Stafford - $12 million (Detroit) - Lost in Wild Card.

  9. Tony Romo - $11.25 million (Dallas) - Did not make playoffs.

  10. Matt Ryan - $11.25 million (Atlanta) - Lost in Wild Card.

 

2012 Player - Salary  (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Drew Brees - $20 million (New Orleans) - Did not make playoffs.

  2. Peyton Manning - $19.2 million (Denver) - Lost Divisional Round.

  3. Tom Brady - $18 million (New England) - Lost AFC Championship.

  4. Eli Manning - $16.25 million (NY Giants) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Michael Vick - $16 million (Philadelphia) - Did not make playoffs.

  6. Matt Schaub - $15.5 million (Houston) - Lost Divisional Round.

  7. Philip Rivers - $15.3 million (San Diego) - Did not make playoffs.

  8. Ben Roethlisberger - $14.7 million (Pittsburgh) - Did not make playoffs.

  9. Mark Sanchez - $13.5 million (NY Jets) - Did not make playoffs.

  10. Sam Bradford - $13 million (St.Louis) - Did not make playoffs.

 

2013 Player - Salary  (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Aaron Rodgers - $22 million (Green Bay) - Lost Wild Card.

  2. Matt Ryan - $20.75 million (Atlanta) - Did not make playoffs.

  3. Joe Flacco - $20.1 million (Baltimore) - Did not make playoffs.

  4. Drew Brees - $20 million (New Orleans) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Peyton Manning - $19.2 million (Denver) - Lost Super Bowl.

  6. Tony Romo - $18 million (Dallas) - Did not make playoffs.

  7. Matthew Stafford - $17.7 million (Detroit) - Did not make playoffs.

  8. Eli Manning - $16.25 million (NY Giants) - Did not make playoffs.

  9. Matt Schaub - $15.5 million (Houston) - Did not make playoffs.

  10. Philip Rivers - $15.3 million (San Diego) - Lost Divisional Round.

 

2014 Player - Salary  (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Aaron Rodgers - $22 million (Green Bay) - Lost NFC Championship.

  2. Matt Ryan - $20.75 million (Atlanta) - Did not make playoffs.

  3. Joe Flacco - $20.1 million (Baltimore) - Lost Divisional Round.

  4. Drew Brees - $20 million (New Orleans) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Peyton Manning - $19.2 million (Denver) - Lost Divisional Round.

  6. Colin Kaepernick - $19 million (San Francisco) - Did not make playoffs.

  7. Jay Cutler - $18.1 million (Chicago) - Did not make playoffs.

  8. Tony Romo - $18 million (Dallas) - Lost Divisional Round.

  9. Matthew Stafford - $17.7 million (Detroit) - Lost Wild Card.

  10. Alex Smith - $17 million (Kansas City) - Did not make playoffs.

 

2015 Player - Salary  (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Aaron Rodgers - $22 million  (Green Bay) - Lost Divisional Round.

  2. Russell Wilson - $21.9 million  (Seattle) - Lost Divisional Round.

  3. Ben Roethlisberger - $21.85 million (Pittsburgh) - Lost Divisional Round.

  4. Eli Manning - $21 million (NY Giants) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Philip Rivers - $20.8 million (San Diego) - Did not make playoffs.

  6. Cam Newton - $20.76 million (Carolina) - Lost Super Bowl.

  7. Matt Ryan - $20.75 million (Atlanta) - Did not make playoffs.

  8. Joe Flacco - $20.1 million (Baltimore) - Did not make playoffs.

  9. Drew Brees - $20 million (New Orleans) - Did not make playoffs.

  10. Ryan Tannehill - $20 million (Miami) - Did not make playoffs.

 

2016 Player - Salary  (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Andrew Luck - $24.6 million (Indianapolis) - Did not make playoffs.

  2. Carson Palmer - $24.325 million (Arizona) - Did not make playoffs.

  3. Drew Brees - $24.25 million (New Orleans) - Did not make playoffs.

  4. Joe Flacco - $22.13 million (Baltimore) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Aaron Rodgers - $22 million (Green Bay) - Lost NFC Championship.

  6. Russell Wilson - $21.9 million (Seattle) - Lost Divisional Round.

  7. Ben Roethlisberger - $21.85 million (Pittsburgh) - Lost AFC Championship.

  8. Eli Manning - $21 million (NY Giants) - Lost Wild Card.

  9. Philip Rivers - $20.8 million (San Diego) - Did not make playoffs.

  10. Cam Newton - $20.76 million (Carolina) - Did not make playoffs.

 

2017 Player - Salary (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Matthew Stafford - $27 million (Detroit) - Did not make playoffs.

  2. Derek Carr - $25 million (Oakland) - Did not make playoffs.

  3. Andrew Luck - $24.6 million (Indianapolis) - Did not make playoffs.

  4. Carson Palmer - $24.350 million (Arizona) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Drew Brees - $24.25 million (New Orleans) - Lost Divisional Round.

  6. Kirk Cousins - $23.943 million (Washington) - Did not make playoffs.

  7. Joe Flacco - $22.13 million (Baltimore) - Did not make playoffs.

  8. Aaron Rodgers - $22 million (Green Bay) - Did not make playoffs.

  9. Russell Wilson - $21.9 million (Seattle) - Did not make playoffs.

  10. Ben Roethlisberger - $21.85 million (Pittsburgh) - Lost Divisional Round.

 

2018 Player - Salary (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Aaron Rodgers - $33.5 million (Green Bay) - Did not make playoffs.

  2. Matt Ryan - $30 million (Atlanta) - Lost Divisional Round.

  3. Kirk Cousins - $28 million (Minnesota) - Did not make playoffs.

  4. Jimmy Garoppolo - $27.5 million (San Francisco) - Did not make playoffs.

  5. Matthew Stafford - $27 million (Detroit) - Did not make playoffs.

  6. Derek Carr - $25 million (Oakland) - Did not make playoffs.

  7. Drew Brees - $25 million (New Orleans) - Lost NFC Championship.

  8. Andrew Luck - $24.6 million (Indianapolis) - Lost Divisional Round.

  9. Alex Smith - $23.5 million (Washington) - Did not make playoffs.

  10. Joe Flacco - $22.13 million (Baltimore) - Lost Wild Card Round.

 

How will the ten highest paid QB teams fare in 2019? If it follows most recent trend, more than half of these QB’s will not make the playoffs. Is this the year we throw all stats out the window?

2019 Player - Salary (Team) - Team Playoff Result

  1. Russell WIlson - $35 million (Seattle) - ?

  2. Ben Roethlisberger - $34 million (Pittsburgh) - ?

  3. Jared Goff - $34 million (LA Rams) - ?

  4. Aaron Rodgers - $33.5 million (Green Bay) - ?

  5. Carson Wentz - $32 million (Philadelphia) - ?

  6. Matt Ryan - $30 million (Atlanta) - ?

  7. Kirk Cousins - $28 million (Minnesota) - ?

  8. Jimmy Garoppolo - $27.5 million (San Francisco) - ?

  9. Matthew Stafford - $27 million (Detroit) - ?

  10. Derek Carr - $25 million (Oakland) - ?

  11. Drew Brees - $25 million (New Orleans) - ?

 

Let me throw another eye popping statistic! According to overthecap.com, 19 NFL QB’s make over $10 million per season. 18 QB’s make at least $20 million. Some fans say it worked well for Philadelphia in 2017 when Carson Wentz suffered a season ending knee injury a few games before the playoffs and Nick Foles heroically carried an underdog Eagle team to its first Super Bowl victory in team history. Then, you have teams like San Francisco who pay Jimmy Garoppolo a monstrous contract after he won five games as a starter and eight games overall in his five year career. He has not even started a full season? What? 

While any of this is not foolproof methodology, one thing is for certain. Excellent quarterback play typically prevents NFL teams from sustaining success. Except for the outliers like New England, there is not one team in the last decade that can replicate their success. While being a Patriot fan has to be exhilarating, the rest of the top paid QB’s are not a fan’s ticket to a February celebration these days. 

For Packer fans decades ago, it had to be refreshing to watch Bart Starr lead the Packers to multiple World Championships and Super Bowls when Starr’s base salary was maxed out at $100,000. In relation to inflation, Starr’s salary equates to roughly $865,000 dollars today. While it is tough to throw this comparison due to a large increase in revenue streams filling the NFL's pockets, it is just to tickle curiosity.