• The Western QB Conundrum



    Yesterday, Rich wrote a brilliant article discussing the topic of creating a Quarterback Portfolio, taking into account anticipated QB performance over the next 5 years. This article came on the heels of reading an interesting piece by Bill Barnwell on Grantland, in which he discussed how the “Gang of Four” are revolutionizing the NFL. This “Gang of Four” referenced in Barnwell’s article include Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick. His main point deals with the new salary structure for rookies, and how that’s impacting not only the makeup of the QB position, but also the salary benefits it presents for teams that have been able to find a cheap star QB in the draft, since the new rookie cap has taken effect. Using ideas from each of those articles, I wanted to play a little devil’s advocate, and look into the future to see what may lie ahead for the current young guns of the NFL, and their respective teams.

    Drafting a QB early in the 1st round used to carry a great deal of risk. Contracts and signing bonuses for these players continued to grow out of control, forcing teams to use a relatively hefty portion of their cap space in order to gamble on a QB that had yet to play even one snap of professional football. Teams like the Raiders, who took a giant swing and miss at the top of the draft, are still paying for their mistakes years later. Meanwhile, established stars like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers are also taking up a giant portion of cap space, which ultimately impacts the quality of the rest of the team that can be built around them.

    While Brees, Manning, and Rodgers, among others have been clearly worth the investment, other QBs that used to be considered stars, such as Philip Rivers, find themselves falling into the middle of the pack in terms of production, while still carrying the weight of an exorbitant cap-killing contract. With the growth of QB bargains around the league, such as the “Gang of Four”, while teams like San Diego continue to fall, teams like Seattle and San Francisco are able to build powerful rosters around their inexpensive QBs. This development is very likely to negatively impact players like Rivers when it comes to future earnings, and will likely cause forward-thinking teams like the Steelers and Giants to consider acting even more proactively when determining the right time to replace their 2-time Super Bowl winning QBs.

    Seattle and San Francisco in particular appear to be set up perfectly for the foreseeable future. Russell Wilson will be entering the 2nd year of his 4 year, $3 million contract this season for the Seahawks. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick will be entering the 3rd year of his 4 year, $5.12 million contract for the 49ers. Each were able to engage themselves in a bit of an arms race during this offseason. But their real issues don’t lie in the present. The real question is, how will these teams manage their cap when Kaepernick and Wilson see their rookie contracts expire in the next 2-3 years? The Seahawks and Niners have rosters that are specifically constructed around the extremely cap-friendly salaries of their young stars. But my curiosity lies in what their rosters will look like in the next few years, with Wilson and Kaepernick each candidates to earn a pay raise 4, 5, or even 6 times their current salary?

    Right now, the glass appears full for those 2 teams. But in a few years, there will be some very tough decisions that will need to be made. With the very real prospect in the not-too-distant future that Wilson and Kaepernick will each see a $15-$18 million+ per year spike in each of their salaries, how will those teams work to control the cap, and keep themselves on top of the food chain? Even more interestingly, is it possible that either or both of these teams would consider something previously unthinkable in the NFL? Rarely do we see legit star QBs just entering their prime hit the free agent market. But considering the potentially crippling impact on their cap, would either of these teams even consider allowing their still-young superstar QB to walk, and gamble once more on hitting a home run in the draft? Or, is it possible that with new affordable options available in the draft, we may actually start to see the price of superstar QBs come down over the next few years, as teams now seem to have a more legit possibility of finding a decent replacement in the draft for a fraction of the cost?

    Comments 15 Comments
    1. Ragar's Avatar
      One thing to recall is the Rookie Contract can't be renegotiated until after the 3rd year...meaning that you have the rookie for 3 years before they can even contemplate holding out(which for high performing you can assume they would if not renegotiated)

      I would go with resigning, however you need to do it intelligently where the cap hit doesn't force another renegotiation during the contract (see Flacco vs. Rodgers) thereby hamstringing your salary cap. This actually means you have to manage the salary cap typically two years in advance of the big resigning, so you have the cap space to do it without cutting half your team.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      While you raise an interesting point, Trumpet, I think that when it comes to QBs, money is a secondary concern.

      The primary concern is as it has always been -- finding talent.

      Money may be scarce, but talent is scarcer. As you know, that's why Baltimore is willing to spend what some say is crazy money to lock-up a guy like Flacco. Arguably, 9 teams last year wished they'd had a different QB. That's almost 1/3 of the NFL.

      So while it will be painful and their contracts may do long term damage to their team, I think it's inconceivable that Copernicus or Wilson are let go if they continue to play at last year's level.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      Hmmmm, that's right about the rookie deal. It also means the Niners could have their hands full at the end of the season. That could hurt their chances of shoring up young talent for the strength of their team... the defense.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Excellent point on the rookie deal.

      Wax, I agree that it's been previously inconceivable that teams would ever consider letting talents like either of those guys go. But does the inconceivable become conceivable considering the unprecedented spike those 2 players could receive. I expect both to remain in their respective locales for years. But how will the 49ers and Seahawks compensate when it comes time for them to give their stars up to 20 times more than their current earnings, based on the current going rate for star NFL QBs?

      Based on this info, would it have been better for SF to keep Alex Smith around, simply to keep their team salary composition more diversified, instead of switching to Colt McCoy for only $1.5 mil per? Had they kept Smith for one more year, their percentage hit when renegotiating with Kaepernick after this season wouldn't have been nearly as great.

      These 2 teams have dominant rosters, but while it seems now like they're in great shape, I wanted to throw a reminder that their luxury will be soon coming to an end.
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      The 49ers have to deal with a near future were their elite OL will want to get paid, as will their elite LB corps. If you think somebody wont break the bank fora lot of those pieces, you are mistaken. The 49ers OL is tremendously talented.

      The Seahawks will have to deal with their secondary rising in price as well. And they also have a lot of talent in the OL. Those contracts will be coming up in a couple of years as well. And if history has taught us anything, Richard Sherman will command a high price.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      Excellent point on the rookie deal.

      Wax, I agree that it's been previously inconceivable that teams would ever consider letting talents like either of those guys go. But does the inconceivable become conceivable considering the unprecedented spike those 2 players could receive. I expect both to remain in their respective locales for years. But how will the 49ers and Seahawks compensate when it comes time for them to give their stars up to 20 times more than their current earnings, based on the current going rate for star NFL QBs?

      Based on this info, would it have been better for SF to keep Alex Smith around, simply to keep their team salary composition more diversified, instead of switching to Colt McCoy for only $1.5 mil per? Had they kept Smith for one more year, their percentage hit when renegotiating with Kaepernick after this season wouldn't have been nearly as great.

      These 2 teams have dominant rosters, but while it seems now like they're in great shape, I wanted to throw a reminder that their luxury will be soon coming to an end.
      The way I see it, there are two forces at work.

      One is money. The young, talented QBs are underpaid right now. At some point they'll rightfully expect a huge raise. The opposing force here is the salary cap and its team-wide implications.

      The second force is the supply and demand of talent. The reason that the Wilson and Copernicus will earn huge money is because the demand outstrips the supply for outstanding QBs. Great pass rushers, cornerbacks etc. are hard to find. Great QBs are even harder to find. And every season in the NFL, the QB becomes ever more important to the success of his team.

      If SF and Seattle won't pay the kids, a bunch of teams will. So unless Seattle and SF decide that they can't afford to compete in today's NFL, they're going to have to pony up. They really have no choice.

      You can win with a really good QB and a so-so offensive line. It's a lot harder to win with a so-so QB. It seems to me that's the reality of today's NFL. Personally, I don't believe there's even a remote chance that Wilson and Copernicus leave their current teams -- providing they remain healthy and playing at last season's level.
    1. xmenehune's Avatar
      Now if teams could ID talented QBs with consistency, maybe they will go looking for the cheaper alternative. But in reality, I think 1/4 can ID good to great QB's, 1/2 are lucky at ID'g QBs (they can't groom backups) and 1/4 just stink at ID'g talented QBs.

      Too me it's not age, that should count the most for QB, it's
      1) accuracy
      2) ability to decipher coverages
      3) team OC/HC allowing QB to change the play, to something more favorable to QB, not just a few select plays
      4) arm strength
      5) confidence

      Last year was an anomaly with 4 starting rookie QBs that win, history tells me so and unless in the next 3 of 5 years teams can pick a rookie starting QB that win w/consistency, I'm sticking with the theory it's easier to build the rest of the team, then
      a) draft a QB, til you get lucky
      b) trade for QB, and I hope you've seen enough in pre-season and regular season games
      c) pick up another teams QB left for trash, Raiders had success w/this at times
      d) grab a QB from another league, AFL, CFL, USFL
      e) have a developmental league, oh wait this has been done w/NFL-E, but it's been disbanded. Or you could consider the college ranks or AFL/CFL as developmental leagues (Is the UFL still around?).

      Still this would place an emphasis on ID'g talent, not just by measurables as there is a prevalent want to do so in this era.
      It's a wonder that more management/scouting staff does not have a yearly turnover factor if they can't uncover the 'gems'.
      Even more emphasis should be placed on finding and developing QB's for those teams w/dismal results. IF the present personnel are unsuccessful at finding QBs then someone else should be given the chance. If these personnel directors are unsuccessful for one team, why would you think they would be successful at another?
      If the QB coach is unsuccessful with one team, why would he be successful elsewhere. NFL teams management/staff love to move on to the new player, perhaps they should look at themselves first and oust their own when the expected rate of success does not appear at the QB position and then maybe we'll see an influx of new eyes, talent evaluators, that can truly live up to the motto 'on any given Sunday' as their seems to be a great disparity between the have's and have not's (I have a QB, thus I can win, vs I'll say I have a QB, but watch me lose, I can't really compete w/o a QB).
      Enough venting................
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Based on this past year, Wilson and Kaepernick may be underpaid. But its only based on a body of work of one year. I wouldn't exactly feel comfortable paying either of these guys $15 million/year based on what I have seen so far. When their contracts expire, it may be a problem for these teams and it may be worth it for these teams to pay the high stakes for these QBs. If that happens, these teams will need to start making choices, although creative salary cap management can push the salary cap back. If the Niners and Seahawks really think they have the real deal, then do what you can to reduce the cap hits in the future and manage your salary cap accordingly.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Clearly each will need to prove themselves for more than just 1 year. This is all based on projection.

      And for the record, I had originally included Griffin and Luck as well, but cut them out of the main point because their teams are clearly being built around them. In Washington, the cap penalty that they're currently experiencing will be up by the time RGIII needs to be renewed, so their roster shouldn't see much of an impact at all.

      But SF and Seattle are both teams that were not built around their suddenly star QBs. They represent arguably the two strongest top-to-bottom rosters in the league. Considering the talent around them, Kaepernick and Wilson both have a perfect set up to continue their success.

      Once they justify last year's success, teams like Cleveland, Jax, Oakland, Arizona, etc, etc, will be licking their chops at the chance to get a projectable young star at the position, driving up each of their values even further, and making it even more difficult for SF and Seattle to resign them without otherwise significantly impacting their roster.

      Is Kaepernick (assuming continued development) worth Losing Anthony Davis and either Willis or Bowman, and possibly more? That's the decision the Niners will be faced with.

      I'm not saying either team will, nor should part with a young star QB. But success this early from players that are this inexpensive at a position like QB, combined with the expected salary spike based on the current going rate is unprecedented. The Pats were able to sign Tom Brady to an extension (worth around $7.5 million per) immediately following their first SB run, his second in the league. And Brady was not as impressive that year as both Wilson and Kaepernick were this past year. There was no clue Brady was about to become one of the greatest of all time at that point.

      All I'm saying is, it will be very interesting to see how the 'Hawks and Niners handle this situation. Is it unlikely they leave? Absolutely. But am I slamming the door on the possibility?

      Anyone else think after his first finals run that a few years later, LeBron would end up in Miami?
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      The only way I can see it happening is if one of the teams finds itself in a Colts situation. The #1 draft pick and a can't-miss prospect coming out of college. The odds of that happening are pretty low. And even then, they're only putting off the inevitable moment when they'll need to pay their young and talented QB.

      For me, I don't even think either team wants that to happen. They appreciate what they have, because both have experienced what it's like to a rotten QB. When the time comes, they'll be happy to pay up. Because they know the alternative. Did anyone truly believe that SF was likely to win a SB with Alex Smith? And Seattle wasn't even on the SB radar until Wilson shocked the football world. I think both teams will hold onto to what they have and be grateful, when that payday arrives.
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by wxwax View Post
      The only way I can see it happening is if one of the teams finds itself in a Colts situation. The #1 draft pick and a can't-miss prospect coming out of college. The odds of that happening are pretty low. And even then, they're only putting off the inevitable moment when they'll need to pay their young and talented QB.

      For me, I don't even think either team wants that to happen. They appreciate what they have, because both have experienced what it's like to a rotten QB. When the time comes, they'll be happy to pay up. Because they know the alternative. Did anyone truly believe that SF was likely to win a SB with Alex Smith? And Seattle wasn't even on the SB radar until Wilson shocked the football world. I think both teams will hold onto to what they have and be grateful, when that payday arrives.
      Can we at least watch them for 2 more years before we crown them? They've looked great, but they've also looked decidely mortal at other times. What makes Drew Brees, Brady, Manning and Rogers so great is that they do it week in and week out for years, even when the rest of the team was struggling. Sure, Kaep and Wilson might be the second coming, but they also might be guys playing behind loaded Defenses and Offensive lines, with very good coaching.

      Immediacy bias is a killer.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by iwatt View Post
      Can we at least watch them for 2 more years before we crown them? They've looked great, but they've also looked decidely mortal at other times. What makes Drew Brees, Brady, Manning and Rogers so great is that they do it week in and week out for years, even when the rest of the team was struggling. Sure, Kaep and Wilson might be the second coming, but they also might be guys playing behind loaded Defenses and Offensive lines, with very good coaching.

      Immediacy bias is a killer.
      Like this, you mean?


      Quote Originally Posted by wxwax View Post
      Personally, I don't believe there's even a remote chance that Wilson and Copernicus leave their current teams -- providing they remain healthy and playing at last season's level.

      Quote Originally Posted by wxwax View Post
      So while it will be painful and their contracts may do long term damage to their team, I think it's inconceivable that Copernicus or Wilson are let go if they continue to play at last year's level.
      Obviously, I agree with you.

      They still have to prove they can do it for the long run.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by iwatt View Post
      Can we at least watch them for 2 more years before we crown them? They've looked great, but they've also looked decidely mortal at other times. What makes Drew Brees, Brady, Manning and Rogers so great is that they do it week in and week out for years, even when the rest of the team was struggling. Sure, Kaep and Wilson might be the second coming, but they also might be guys playing behind loaded Defenses and Offensive lines, with very good coaching.

      Immediacy bias is a killer.
      Welcome to the site, Denny Green!

      This is a good point. While the decision about money for any quarterback is big, perhaps the bigger thing is that both Wilson and Kaepernick are going into their second seasons as starting QBs in the NFL.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Rich Gapinski View Post
      Welcome to the site, Denny Green!

      This is a good point. While the decision about money for any quarterback is big, perhaps the bigger thing is that both Wilson and Kaepernick are going into their second seasons as starting QBs in the NFL.
      Absolutely. And history shows that it's likely at least one of the 2, and quite possibly both, don't pan out to quite the star their first years suggest.

      Then again, very rarely do young QBs have this kind of success. And when they do, often times it's a very good barometer of predicting the future.

      We're at a confluence. Never before have we seen this level of success among young QBs in the NFL. Never before have we seen this kind of premium salary being placed on star QBs. Now, there's a good chance we'll see these two forces meet in the middle. Considering these two teams have been able to build potent rosters in large part due to the money they haven't had to set aside for a QB, these two QBs are in absolute perfect conditions to succeed.

      I think it's fair to speculate how the structure of each of these teams may start to shift in the next 1-2 years, even if only one of these 2 young QBs ultimately continue to develop at their current rate.
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Rich Gapinski View Post
      Welcome to the site, Denny Green!

      This is a good point. While the decision about money for any quarterback is big, perhaps the bigger thing is that both Wilson and Kaepernick are going into their second seasons as starting QBs in the NFL.
      :lol Sorry, I've grown irritated with all the talking heads talking about how they are changing everything. I'm old fashioned, I want things to actually change first