FRISCO - The problem with numbers is, while they themselves are firm and inflexible and unquestionable, our usage of numbers is often fluid and wobbly and biased. So if we're attempting to "prove'' that paying a quarterback like Dak Prescott "too much'' of the team's salary cap will preclude the Dallas Cowboys from winning''?
Nope. We cannot "prove'' that. Nor can anyone else.
Cowboys COO Stephen Jones attempted to provide us evidence of how a high percentage of cap money going to a QB is a poor idea. He said (via ProFootballTalk.com), "There’s all sorts of analytics out there that show if your quarterback takes up too big a percentage of your salary cap, that it decreases your chances to win. We’re just trying to figure out the right fit.''
And I'm still trying to "figure out'' this "magical percentage.'' Yes, I'm aware of the "13.1-Percent Line.'' And I think it's full of ... holes.
The "13.1-Percent Line.''
Here's the ol' chestnut: "No team has ever paid more than 13.1 percent to one player and won a Super Bowl. Steve Young (13.08 percent with the Niners in 1994) is the highest ... and there we draw the line.
But work with me here: Are believers in The "13.1-Percent Line'' purporting to suggest that had those Niners paid Steve Young 13.2 percent of the '94 cap, they would not have won the Super Bowl?
And if paying more than 13.1 percent is so limiting to a team, how did the 2009 Indianapolis Colts get to the Super Bowl while paying Peyton Manning 17.2 percent of the cap? How did the 2016 Atlanta Falcons with Ryan at quarterback get to the Super Bowl while paying the QB 15.44 percent of the cap? Did New England forge an all-time comeback to win because Atlanta violated some goofy "percentage''?
If It's 'Suicide,' Why Do It?
As we discuss with Stephen in Monday's CowboysSI.com exclusive ... One problem with that statement: If, let's say, "17.5 percent'' is a number suicidal to Dallas' chances of winning a Super Bowl?
The 2020 cap is $198.2 mil.
Looking at it one way ... That's 17.5 percent.
WHY ARE YOU COMPLAINING ABOUT INEVITABLE SUICIDE RESULTING FROM THE OFFER THAT YOU'VE ALREADY PUT ON THE TABLE?! NON-SUPER SUICIDE? REMOVE THE OFFER IMMEDIATELY!
(Sidebar 1: We did not use ALL-CAPS in screaming that in Stephen's face.)
(Sidebar 2: The actual math is about the season's cap hit and that percentage of the cap. So Jared Goff's is 14.6 percent this year as some of his big money hits after being just 5.6 percent for the Rams last year. Similarly, a new contract for Dak could mean the spreading out of money in a way that makes his 2020 cap hit a much lower percentage than this "17.5 percent.'')
Additionally: Dallas is also presently prepared to pay Dak $31.409 million for 2020 via the tag. That is 15.84 percent of the cap.
So is 17.16 percent "suicide''? is 15.84 percent "suicide''? Most of the top veteran QBs on what we believe to be the top teams are in 2020 taking up around 10-to-12 percent of the cap ... but they had to get the big-money contract in a previous year in order to trigger that present-day affordability.
In the NFC West alone, Russell Wilson in 2020 takes up 15.53 percent in Seattle, Jared Goff takes up 14.08 percent in Los Angeles and Jimmy Garoppolo takes up 12.87 percent in San Francisco.
Oh well. Inasmuch as that's "too-high,'' I guess the Arizona Cardinals (Kyler Murray takes up just 4.11 percent) are guaranteed to win the division?
Are We Talking 'Winning' - Or 'Winning The Super Bowl'?
And here's another problem: The mention of "winning the Super Bowl.'' As if the singular measure of a QB's worth MUST BE winning it - when logically, it's Super Bowl CONTENTION for which teams should (and do) pay.
Here's some numbers-bending sorcery from an ESPN staffer who cites "the top nine'' QB cap-hitters "from 2014-19.'' He lists Ben Roethlisberger ($128 mil), Aaron Rodgers ($126 mil), Drew Brees ($125 mil), Eli Manning ($124 mil), Matt Ryan ($118M), Philip Rivers ($117 mil), Joe Flacco ($106 mil) and Cam Newton ($104 mil) and notes, "None won the Super Bowl during that time.''
Yeah, but ...
*That list of nine guys includes seven Super Bowl wins. How is that bad? Because they didn't do so in this purposely predetermined tiny window?
*That list only goes nine deep. Wonder why? QB No. 10 would've been ... Tom Brady, who shoots the thesis all to hell from every angle.
*How many Super Bowls have these guys been to? How many Conference Championship Games? How many playoff entrants? How many 10-game winners? Shouldn't those achievements be part of the measurement - especially when if we say it's ONLY "win the Super Bowl,'' that means the other 31 starting QBs that year MUST be considered "over-paid wastes''?
Were Super Bowl "losers'' Peyton and Ryan "over-paid wastes''?
Who has the top four QB contracts in football today? Wilson, Big Ben, Rodgers and Goff. Those four guys have been in the Super Bowl a total of seven times. You sure that "doesn't count''? That it's "not enough''?
Who has the top five QB cap hits (the measure used to create the franchise-tag salary)? Goff, Big Ben, Cousins, Wilson and Garoppolo. Cousins stands out here; the other four? A total of seven Super Bowls.
Is that "enough''?
Great QBs Help Teams Do Great Great Things
Do we believe the above statement, or not? How long as it been happening that Super Bowl QBs make a fortune (a presumptive "large percentage of the cap'')? I stopped checking once I got back to 2003, when the top three-paid QBs in the NFL were Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner - with eight Super Bowl appearances between them.
So, guys get paid once they win big. Combine that with their employers' belief in greatness, and you have a formula that usurps "13.1 percent'' in true importance.
The truth is, there is no "magical percentage.'' Dak might throw a TD or an interception while making 13 percent of the cap (just low enough!) or 13.2 percent of the cap (too high!)
Here's the "magic'': Build a good team. Pay the good players. Include a great quarterback. Try to win when he's cheap (Dallas missed an opportunity with fourth-round kid Dak, no doubt.) Replace him with somebody just as good (one sort of challenge for coaching and scouting) or pay him when you must (a different sort of challenge for the cap guy, requiring the coaches and the scouts to find other talent elsewhere.
And then hope that once you climb to 10 wins - in this time of parity a fair measure of whether a team is "good enough'' - you get a break and make a play.
The Drew Brees Theorum
I'm not here to advocate for or against paying Prescott "x.'' What I'm against is using math in a cherry-picking manner. A formula that guarantees a Super Bowl win? Or guarantees the absence of one?
Nonsense. I'll tell you what: You take some "formula.'' I'll take ... oh, Drew Brees.
Brees has been voted into 13 Pro Bowls. In the 14 years since he started his Saints run in 2006, New Orleans has eight times won 10 games, seven times won 11 games and four times won 13 games. He's been the most consistently powerful force in their three NFC title games and their one Super Bowl win. The organization has opted to compensate him for many, many good reasons, including his incredibly positive commitment to that community.
A most recent example: Due to COVID-19, he quarterback announced recently that he and his family will donate $5 million to help deliver meals to needy people in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, amid all of this - impact in every way that extends far beyond a decimal point's measurability - Brees' cap-hit percentages at different times has been as "outrageously'' and "cap-suicidal'' high as 16.6 and 16.8.
Have the Saints been making a by-the-books fiscal mistake all of these years? And if so, and if you're a Cowboys fan ... wouldn't you hope and pray that Dak's Cowboys could achieve the same "mistake''?