Overpaying For Losses

Every so often we are faced with a decision that heavily influences future events. Often times, the best choice is sacrificing some individual gain for the greater good. I am talking about the decision to miss the Thursday Night Game to put in those extra hours of work to finish a project, or the decision not to buy the entire bar drinks to pay off your credit card bill on time, or the decision to skip the movies with your friends to volunteer at a homeless shelter. The same theme holds true for the success of an NFL team and, specifically, the starting quarterback. Currently, the six highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL are not on teams that lead their respective divisions. In fact, five out of the eight division-leading quarterbacks are under rookie contracts. As evidenced by the current standings, if teams want to win games they cannot overpay for their quarterback.

Let's take a further look into the successful division leaders after week 13. AFC East leader, New England Patriots (9-3), are led by 4-time Super Bowl MVP and 13-time Pro Bowler Tom Brady, who has also claimed 15 division titles and 5 Super Bowls under his command. Arguably the best quarterback of all-time, Brady ranks16th on the highest paid quarterback list, receiving an average of $20.5M/season. AFC North leader, Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1), is led by 2-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger. Ben ranks 12th on the list, receiving an average of $21.85M/season. NFC South leader, New Orleans Saints (10-2), is led by Super Bowl champion and all-time passing yard leader Drew Brees. Drew ranks 7th on this list, as he receives an average of $25M/season. The remaining 6 division leaders are headed by starting quarterbacks still under their rookie contract - AFC South leader Houston Texans (9-3) led by Deshaun Watson; AFC West leader Kansas City Chiefs (10-2) led by Patrick Mahomes; NFC East leader Dallas Cowboys (7-5) led by Dak Prescott; NFC North leader Chicago Bears (8-4) led by Mitch Trubisky; and, NFC West leader Los Angeles Rams (11-1) led by Jared Goff.

The division leaders led by quarterbacks under rookie contracts are able to be aggressive in signing high profile, elite players in order to capitalize on the short time frame with their quarterbacks. For example, the Chicago Bears are able to attract and acquire elite players such as Khalil Mack (OLB), Allen Robinson (WR), Akiem Hicks (DE), Prince Amukamara (CB), and Danny Trevathan (ILB). In today's offense-driven NFL, a dominating defense like the Bears are rare to come by; however, it is achievable when you do not have to overpay for a quarterback. Also, take for example the Los Angeles Rams that have taken advantage of Jared Goff's rookie contract by signing elite players like Ndamukong Suh (DT), LaMarcus Joyner (FS), Aqib Talib (CB), Michael Brockers (DE), Andrew Whitworth (LT), and Aaron Donald (DE). Did the LA Rams need superstar Ndamukong Suh (DT)? No way! Let's not forget last year's Super Bowl Champion, the Philadelphia Eagles, led by rookie Carson Wentz and backup Nick Foles. These teams have the luxury to overpay for these differentiating players all because of the cheap rookie quarterback contracts. The end result - more wins.

The remaining division leaders are led by future hall-of-famers Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger, all of whom should be the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. However, they are leaving millions of dollars available for the TEAM. The New England Patriots can pay for Devin McCourty (FS), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Stephon Gilmore (CB), Dont'a Hightower (ILB), and Marcus Cannon (RT). The New Orleans Saints can pay for defensive players like Cameron Jordan (DE) and AJ Klein (OLB), and also protect Drew Brees behind the best offensive line with Terron Armstead (LT), Larry Warford (G), and Max Unger (C). The Pittsburgh Steelers can pay for Joe Haden (CB), Maurice Pouncey (C), Antonio Brown (WR), Marcus Gilbert (RT), and Cameron Heyward (DE). These three superstar quarterbacks have remained focused on the long-term goal of winning, as shown by an accumulated 8 Super Bowl rings, at the cost of forfeiting personal wealth worth millions.

Let's take a look at the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. At number one, Green Bay Packers (4-7-1) are 3rd in the NFC North and led by Aaron Rodgers that recently signed a 4-year, $134M contract. At number two, last place Atlanta Falcons (4-8), are led by Matt Ryan receiving an average of $30M/season. Other notable quarterbacks include Kirk Cousins (average $30M/season), Jimmy Garoppolo (average $27.5M/season), and Matthew Stafford (average $27M/season). These 6 highest paid quarterbacks have accumulated 1 Super Bowl. If I am paying premium for a filet at RPM Steak, I expect that filet to taste better than an Applebee's steak. Same holds true for a quarterback.

Yes, the quarterback is the most important position on the team, and yes, they should be compensated as such. However, when teams overpay for quarterbacks they leave less cap space for elite players that have proven to make a difference in order to win. Furthermore, most people either ignore or do not realize that sacrificing one personal gain for the greater good of the team can ultimately lead to further personal satisfaction. I guarantee that Brady, Brees, and Roethlisberger would all agree the millions of dollars they have left on the table is well worth the elated feelings they experienced each time their team won a Super Bowl.

By Austin Okuno