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The MMQB Mailbag: NFL Quarterback Contracts Are Monopoly Money

The Matthew Stafford contract extension opened eyes for its dollar amount, but when compared against the salary cap, it’s not all that stunning. QBs have, and always will, get paid

I haven’t read everything on the Matthew Stafford contract extension, but I’ve read enough to know that there are a lot of you who think: That is an insane contract for a guy who’s never won a playoff game. But it isn’t. Not at all.

The deal Detroit paid its franchise passer this week is five years of new money, at $135 million. Or, if you take this current season into consideration, a total of six years and $151.5 million, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. I’ll use the Florio number because it takes into account what Stafford is going to be paid over the life of his contract, the six years from 2017 to 2022. Average payment per year over those six years: $25.25 million.

I think what everyone needs to realize about quarterback contracts is that nothing’s changed. Quarterbacks at the top of the salary chain are going to make between 13 and 16 percent of the salary cap. That’s how it works. To prove it, I went back to 1997 to see the three highest-paid quarterbacks. And then I took the three highest-paid 20 years later. I found that, basically, we’re playing with Monopoly money. That’s the lesson here.

Now that Matthew Stafford’s extension is complete, the next NFL quarterback in line for a massive contract could be Kirk Cousins. The Washington QB will be a free agent following the 2017 season.

Now that Matthew Stafford’s extension is complete, the next NFL quarterback in line for a massive contract could be Kirk Cousins. The Washington QB will be a free agent following the 2017 season.

In 1997, the salary cap was $41.5 million. This year, the cap is $167 million, almost precisely four times what the cap was 20 years ago. Comparing the highest-paid passers then and now, in average salary:



Avg. Salary

Pct. of Cap That Year


Brett Favre

$6.5 million



Troy Aikman

$6.3 million



Drew Bledsoe

$6.0 million



Matthew Stafford

$25.3 million



Derek Carr

$25.0 million



Andrew Luck

$24.6 million


So here’s what changed: nothing. What teams are paying quarterbacks, as a cut of the cap, is exactly what teams paid quarterbacks back in the day. The only argument you could make, and I would listen, is that Favre and Aikman, 20 years ago, had Super Bowl titles on their résumés. Stafford and Carr do not. That’s a valid point. But the bigger point, I think, is that quarterbacks get paid. They did then, they do now, and they will tomorrow.

Matthew Stafford's Contract: Lions Pay for Stability at the NFL's Most Important Position

Three points about Stafford, lest you think he’s just okay:

• In the past six seasons, he’s one of two NFL quarterbacks (with Drew Brees) to throw for at least 4,200 yards every year.

• He’s started 99 games in a row.

• He’s got a plus-81 touchdown-to-interception differential over the past six years. Eli Manning: plus-62.

So don’t get all riled up about the highest-paid player in NFL history. He’ll get eclipsed by the next quarterback (Kirk Cousins, perhaps) to sit atop the salary standings. And it won’t matter. It’ll just be a team paying more Monopoly money to the next quarterback in line.

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Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is facing a five-game suspension for an illegal hit during a preseason game, pending appeal.

Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is facing a five-game suspension for an illegal hit during a preseason game, pending appeal.


Why should Vontaze Burfict be given a pass on a dirty hit just because it was during preseason? Wow! Here is what you said: "There will be those, perhaps with good reason, who will say it's absurd to erase 31 percent of a player's season for a play that happened in a preseason game. I would be one of those."


Who said he should be given a pass? I just said it’s absurd to whack a guy five games for a preseason hit. I would say it’s absurd to whack a guy five games for this hit if it happened in the regular season too.

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I was born too late to see Jerry Kramer play, but thanks to my father the book “Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer” was one of the first I ever read. It instilled in me a love of football, helped foster a love of reading, gave me a bond with my father, and showed me the Lombardi no excuses, no surrender, practice-and-prepare-more-than-the-other-guy ethos. I’ve talked to more than a few people over the years who’ve had the same experience. Regardless of what Kramer did on the football field (which was, by all accounts, superb), I can’t help but wonder if any single person has done more to turn more kids from my generation into lifelong NFL fans. That ought to count for something.

—Glenn D.

That’s an excellent point. Truly on the mark. Just as John Madden’s life and football legacy should be boosted by the Madden video game, “Instant Replayshould help Kramer’s legacy. That book meant the same thing to me—I read it maybe around 1969, and it opened the world of football to me.

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Regarding Kramer for the Hall of Fame, why is it that someone always has to sponsor or push a candidate to get the attention of the voting committee? It's not just Kramer; it seems as though all potential nominees have backers.

—J.T., Los Angeles

Good question. The way the process works, each finalist has his case presented by a member of the voting committee who covered that person during his career. It’s just a way for everyone in the room to be able to focus on the facts and figures and opinions of people who competed with and against the nominee over the years. Sometime the presentations are persuasive, sometimes not. It’s a part of the process—certainly not normally what gets a guy in or keeps him out.

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Way to go ignoring Pat Bowlen getting screwed by the contributor's vote again. I'm eager to hear your excuses as to why there isn't a hardcore anti-Broncos bias in all aspects of Hall of Fame voting. Nineteen teams have won 450 games, and 18 of them average 16 team-affiliated people in the Hall of Fame. The 19th, Denver, has only five, and only if you count Gary Zimmerman, who did win his Super Bowl with Denver but played more years with the Vikings. Bowlen's teams have been to the Super Bowl more times than they've had losing seasons. Bowlen is the father of Sunday Night Football and has made his fellow owners billions upon billions of dollars. Let's not forget the huge help he was in labor relations with the NFLPA. He's also dying of Alzheimer's, and likely won't be around much longer. But hey, let’s enshrine the idiot who was stupid enough to draft Ryan Leaf.

—James B.

Points taken. I can only speak for myself; I can’t divine what is in the hearts of the other 47 voters. I thought Bowlen was the best candidate among the Contributors this year. And regarding the other Broncos who have not made the Hall, that’s a story that, honestly, is a little old and not nearly as valid as it used to be. Four Broncos have been enshrined in the past nine years. Be angry over Bowlen; I get that. But be fair.

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Your comment on the suffering of Bills fans for the past 20 years or so struck a chord with me. I’m from Edinburgh and have followed Hibernian FC for as long as I can remember. Before I was born in 1989, Hibs had won a few domestic league titles (primarily in the 50’s) and the League Cup but our biggest failing, one that rival supporters were unlikely to let us forget, was that we hadn’t won the Scottish Cup since 1902! During my lifetime, I have seen my club relegated twice, almost bought over by our most fierce rival and defeated in the Scottish Cup final three times. Last year, we finally won the Scottish Cup after a last-minute goal. The joy felt by myself and thousands of others in the stands and across Scotland was … indescribable. My advice to any Bills fan who thinks about giving up on their team is simple: Don’t. It may take a decade, it may take 114 years of heartbreak like it did for us, but when you finally get there it will be well worth the wait.

—Michael, Edinburgh, Scotland

Good lesson, Michael. Thanks for writing.

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Enough with piling on the Bills, OK? I understand that your take on them the past number of weeks is based on fact. But that take of yours (the Bills suck, the old regime sucked at drafting, etc.) isn't new or original. I read MMQB because it is different, and goes a little more in-depth than other sources. Your take on the Bills is the same as a million 12-year-old fans on NFL message boards across the country. Not impressive. Why not go a little more in-depth? This is a new regime with a promising young coach that took the job despite challenges. Throw us fans a bone, OK?

—Todd V., Rochester, N.Y.

I had a quick opinion about the Bills in an 8,200-word column. You’ll know when I write in depth on them. This wasn’t one of those times.

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I have an adult son with autism, and Houston coach Bill O’Brien is so right that knowing, loving or caring for someone with special needs provides you with great patience, empathy and humility. Thank you for sharing his, his wife and his son’s story. Bless them all!

—Robert W.

I asked O’Brien that question because I know it’s a huge part of his life, and he wants to talk about it. He wants the world to know he has a special-needs child, and special-needs children and their caregivers should not be marginalized. Their lives matter. I appreciate O’Brien always being willing talk about a big part of his life that we need to know.

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I noted this comment by Arthur Blank and your response regarding the new Falcons stadium: “We designed this one to last 40 to 50 years, maybe longer.” Given the increasing number of no shows for bad seats at massive stadiums due to the appeal of home viewing as well as the possibility that the head trauma experienced by NFL players will result in the sport being regarded in the not too distant future about as well as boxing is now, is it realistic to believe this 70,000-seat stadium will have a productive use within the next 20 let alone 40 or 50 years?

—Dan C., Atlanta

I believe that from the moment Blank bought the Falcons more than a decade ago, he’s been intent on building a new stadium because he always felt the Georgia Dome was a blah place. This stadium should outlive him, and the next owner should realize it’s a huge waste for a community to build a new stadium every 20 to 25 years. This one has to last, for the good of the city and the region.

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I look forward to your column every week and the coverage of the NFL your team provides. I particularly want to thank you this week for your willingness to call out the behavior of our president in your column. I’m sure some readers will complain about bringing politics into your work, but I am grateful. If we leave all political commentary to the opinion pages and headlines of newspapers and associated websites, it may seem disconnected from our everyday lives—almost like politics and the behavior of politicians are a game that we are merely spectating.


Thanks Tom. I spend 90 minutes or so every day of my life reading and consuming news other than sports, so to think I wouldn’t or shouldn’t have an opinion on the rest of the world is pretty unrealistic. A long time ago—21 years actually, when I started writing this column—my editor at the time, Steve Robinson, asked me to write what I had left in my notebook after finishing my work for the week for SISo I wrote about TV shows, my kids’ sports games, whatever was on my mind. That’s continued to this day. The way I feel about the country I love, I’m going to share my opinions when I have strong ones. Thanks a lot for reading.

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I am a regular reader and a big fan of yours—I love the structure of your column and the topics you cover.  But your beernerdness section this week left me appalled. Genny Cream?  That pitiful excuse for a beer is known all over the Northeast as "The Green Death."  Among my tight circle of beer-drinking friends, Genny Cream is what we make people drink to punish them for various infractions. I have tried many of your beer recommendations from past columns and found you a pretty fair beer critic.  But remembering Genny Cream as anything other than a huge mistake of an ill-spent youth makes me question your sanity—or at the very least, your memory.

—Lars H., State College, Pa.

Hey Lars! I probably remember Genny Cream so fondly because, at 18 and 19, I was used to drinking Schlitz, Pabst and that cheap Cincinnati gem, Wiedemann. I’m sure you’re right. Sometimes taste buds grow sentimental over the years.

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