Is it just a matter of time before Andrew Luck
becomes the NFL's highest-paid quarterback? (Simon Bruty/SI)
In light of Colin Kaepernick's record extension, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar examine the next quarterback in line for a payday and the dangers of hefty extensions.
How long will it be before Colin Kaepernick's record six-year extension is surpassed? Who will surpass it?
Chris Burke: A year or less. Alex Smith will not (or, at least, definitely should not) get into that range, but the next crop of quarterbacks up for extensions -- Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton -- all will top that number. It's all a matter of which guy comes up first, because then the bar will be reset for quarterback contracts yet again. When all is said and done, I'd bet Luck winds up the highest paid of that bunch, with Newton and Wilson slightly behind.
Doug Farrar: It depends on what you mean by "surpassed" -- will another young quarterback get more than the hypothetical $61 million guaranteed that Kaepernick got? Most likely. Between Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, there are all kinds of quarterbacks who are getting ready to cash in throughout the next few seasons. Kaepernick's guarantee exceeded Drew Brees' by $1 million, but that top number was mostly ceremonial in nature, because the contract essentially contains a series of annual roster bonuses as the primary payout. So, no matter who wants to exceed the $61 million number in the abstract (if the Seahawks wanted to give Wilson $62 million, or the Colts wanted to give Luck $70 million), it's easy enough to manufacture a scenario in which the player gets the big number, but the actual mechanics of the contract are still favorable to the team.
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Who will be the first player to receive $100M guaranteed?
Burke: Drew Brees got $60 million guaranteed; Colin Kaepernick received $61 million, with an asterisk -- as Doug noted, a lot of that money is only guaranteed if Kaepernick remains on the roster for the start of ensuing seasons. The numbers keep ticking onward and upward, and the salary cap is expected to rise for 2015. Still, we're a long way from $100 million guaranteed.
So, barring a massive ascension in quarterback contracts over the next few months (certainly possible), I think we're still at least a few years away from getting to the $100 million guaranteed range. Perhaps someone in this latest QB crop of Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, etc., pockets that kind of change in three years or so. More likely, it will be until at least the 2015 class comes up for extensions around 2017-18 before this becomes a realistic possibility.
Farrar: Probably nobody we know of now -- either the salary cap would have to be inflated enough, or a team would have to be bound and determined enough, to roll to that crazy number. It would have to be an interesting combination of factors. Perhaps if one of the more media-conscious team owners (hello, Jerry Jones) had a player with whom he wanted to exceed that threshold just to prove a point. Still, as the details of the Kaepernick contract proved, even a $100 million guarantee is no guarantee. That's just how modern NFL contracts work. Darrelle Revis' contract with the Buccaneers was a great example. There was no guaranteed money at all -- just a series of $13 million base salaries and $3 million bonus packages based on participation. After one year, the Bucs cut Revis loose, and he signed with the Patriots, who gave him their own version of a complicated contract with a first-year guarantee, and all sorts of second-year Easter eggs.
So... it's possible that the answer is that it will never happen. More and more, you see teams going year-to-year with bigger contracts in some very creative ways, and I think that will continue. Such deals give the player more guaranteed money on the front end, and prevent the horrible salary cap offloads teams have had with particularly onerous contracts.
Fact or fiction: A team paying a QB top-five money can't afford to field a Super Bowl-worthy team.
Burke: Fiction, even if it requires extremely competent work elsewhere. The Broncos just reached the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning up in that strastophere, and teams like Green Bay and New Orleans are at a minimum contenders despite coughing up huge dough for Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, respectively.
Teams are finding more and more creative ways to tap dance around the NFL's salary cap -- look no further than Brees' Saints this season for proof of that, as they managed to get Brees, Jairus Byrd and several others under contract while also saving space for Jimmy Graham. But a front office needs a Packersesque model if it wants to break the bank for a QB or any other position: build through the draft, approach free agency with extreme caution.
Winning the Super Bowl with your quarterback making $700K per year, as the Seahawks did with Russell Wilson, is the dream for NFL GMs. In reality, all of those tabs eventually come due, and this is arguably the only position on the roster where every team remains open to paying top dollar.
It's absolutely possible to win the Super Bowl with a high-priced quarterback. That quarterback has to deliver on his contract, though, and the rest of the roster has to be built with expert craftsmanship.
Farrar: It depends entirely on how the deal is structured. When the Ravens gave Joe Flacco a six-year, $120.6 million contract in March 2013, it precluded the team (for whatever reason) from doing two things that Flacco could have really used last season -- keeping receiver Anquan Boldin and improving the offensive line. Flacco's targets dwindled, and the running game fell apart. But Kaepernick said in his press conference announcing the contract extension that his deal was put together in such a way that it would still be possible to retain the most important people around him. Going back to the year-to-year theory, it's clear that teams are implementing new ways to stay within compliance of the cap, keep most of the best and brightest and still bring in new blood.
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