QB Market Growth

With the Jared Goff extension in the books attention has turned to the salary expectations for a number of quarterbacks including Trevor Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jordan Love. I wanted to dive a little bit into historical contract trends at the position to see if there was anything that we could learn from jumps in contract value.

The first thing I wanted to do was to look at quarterbacks signed since 2013 who reset the market. The one complication in this was the out of the box contract that was signed by Patrick Mahomes in 2020 which ran for 10 years at $45 million per season. This contract really seemed to be designed as two five year contracts. The first half of which would be worth $39.55 million per year so that is what I used for him. Here is how this looks

The growth trends since Rodgers blocked the market in 2013 are pretty linear and I think it is safe to say that when looking at the market movement at QB it is probably best to focus on 2016 onward. 2016 seems to be the year that the NFL seemed to give up on the concept of benchmarking to the best player and instead just agreed that every player with some leverage, whether from performance or free agent status, should result in a market setting contract.

We have had a new top market contract in every year since 2016 and in most years it is multiple players. Here are the growth rates for each contract as well as how many days the player held the top spot.

NameTeamSigningDays at TopAPYGrowth Rate
Joe FlaccoRavens3/4/201333$20,100,0000.5%
Aaron RodgersPackers4/6/20131,061$22,000,0009.5%
Joe FlaccoRavens3/2/2016119$22,133,3330.6%
Andrew LuckColts6/29/2016358$24,594,00011.1%
Derek CarrRaiders6/22/201768$25,005,0001.7%
Matt StaffordLions8/29/2017163$27,000,0008.0%
Jimmy Garoppolo49ers2/8/201835$27,500,0001.9%
Kirk CousinsVikings3/15/201850$28,000,0001.8%
Matt RyanFalcons5/4/2018117$30,000,0007.1%
Aaron RodgersPackers8/29/2018231$33,500,00011.7%
Russell WilsonSeahawks4/17/2019446$35,000,0004.5%
Patrick MahomesChiefs7/6/2020247$39,550,00013.0%
Dak PrescottCowboys3/10/2021149$40,000,0001.1%
Josh AllenBills8/6/2021220$43,000,0007.5%
Aaron RodgersPackers3/14/2022406$50,271,66716.9%
Jalen HurtsEagles4/24/202310$51,000,0001.4%
Lamar JacksonRavens5/4/202383$52,000,0002.0%
Justin HerbertChargers7/26/202345$52,500,0001.0%
Joe BurrowChargers9/9/2023254$55,000,0004.8%

I think it is safe to say that the most important person to the QB market over the last decade has been Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has set the market three times since 2013 and has three of the five highest growth rates during that period, including the top spot in 2022 at nearly 17% over the prior high. Rodgers has also clearly been the standard during this time frame with three of the top seven in terms of duration at the top of the market.

While Rodgers was a block in 2013 we did see six players land contracts above the prior high during his run on the top and in 2022, three players signed contracts above the Allen level before Rodgers was passed by Hurts. Most of the other players see at most just one player come between the prior high and the next one.

My belief is the NFL thought Mahomes was going to do something similar but when they saw how long his contract ran it was going to be a near impossible number to use. Rodgers leveraging the Packers into a big contract in 2022 at the same time Deshaun Watson was leveraging the Browns into crazy town the Mahomes deal became obsolete.

When looking at the growth rates for the QB contracts I think we can separate QB’s into two buckets of players. One is the true superstar players. These are players that have statistical success, playoff success, and are generally regarded as top players due typically to combinations of draft status and play. Those players have been Rodgers, Mahomes, Luck, and to a lesser extent Allen, Ryan and Stafford. Those players averaged 10.6% in contract growth from the previous high.

On the flip side we have the players whose contracts are based more on circumstance. These players may not have had the great playoff success or draft status and there may be some questions about their game but not to the point where teams are comfortable walking away from the player and/or getting into a fight about the contract. Those players were Jackson, Garoppolo, Cousins, Carr, Hurts, Prescott, Herbert, and Flacco. They averaged just 1.3% growth and really are the guys just playing contract leapfrog.

I think the other thing is that few of the teams likely regretted these contracts (the exception being the 2nd Flacco contract and maybe to some extent the Wilson contract). The market movers have typically made teams happy. The problems more often come in with the players who are not market movers but land somewhere above a prior high that was in place in the prior two or three years.

So where does that leave the current group of players?

I think the player with the highest potential is clearly Lawrence. While people seem to be surprised that he is seeking “in excess of $50M a year” there is little historically that would suggest he get under that. You would have to go back to Carson Wentz and Jared Goff in 2019 to find two high draft picks with some success that “settled” for a contract. Wentz came in under Rodgers $33.5M a year and Goff tied it at the time Wilson had moved the market to $35 million a year. Even if that became the standard it would put Lawrence around $53 million a year.

The negative for Lawrence is the lack of success. Luck had three 11 win seasons and 3 playoff wins to go along with all of the pedigree and numbers. Burrow, who did not have the same lofty expectations as Luck or Lawrence, had two 10+ win seasons, five playoff wins, and a Super Bowl appearance. Lawrence has had no double digit win seasons and one playoff win.

I think Lawrence would have the most to gain by waiting to sign a new contract. If he were to go out, make the playoffs, and have a playoff run he would track with the group of guys that should see 10% type of growth. That would put him at $60M a year. Even if he does not have the great season it would be likely that the market increases before his next contract anyway, which should only increase his value.

I guess there is an outside chance if he were to sign now that he would be in the Goff/Wentz bucket and not reset the market. Right now I think his contract range would likely be anywhere from $53.5M per year to $56M per year though I would lean more toward the $56M number.  

Prescott is very interesting because he has all of the leverage in the world but the playoff success is non-existent and there may be some concerns on availability. The closest comparison I can see to him would be Flacco in 2016. His contract had become an albatross and that helped him land a new extension even though he had three years remaining on his contract. Flacco was also 31, the same age as Prescott when he did that deal. Prescott has put up more regular season numbers but Flacco did have the Super Bowl win from a few years prior to fall back on.

If Prescott were to get close to a Super Bowl this year I do think he could leverage himself into the Wilson/Stafford/Ryan range, but I think the risk is higher here. An injury would be a big negative as would a bad season. I think if all things stay equal the fair move here would be $55.5-$56.5M per year assuming he is the first to sign a contract and Dallas doesn’t get bogged down in Goff comparisons.

Love comes off the big second half of the year where the team went 6-2 down the stretch and then throttled the Cowboys in the playoffs before a very close loss to the 49ers. Love has some draft pedigree but more in line with Jackson and Hurts than some of the others on the list. Working in his favor is the fact that the Packers have done all those massive deals for Rodgers. While Love is not Rodgers it does show that the organization is more than willing to push the chips on the position.

Love can certainly move the market but I guess the question would be if the Packers want to be cautious since this is all based on a handful of games. That would be similar to Jimmy Garoppolo (7-0 regular season record prior to his extension) and really unlike anyone else, though Hurts’ contract was heavily based on what he did the year prior as well. Right now Love to me falls in the barely move the market range with a contract coming in anywhere from $55.2 to $55.5 million. Love also settled for a really bad contract last year and Green Bay may think he is willing to do the same here and would be aggregable to a deal that does not set the market and is in the $50-$51M per year range.

Finally, we have Tua. I am not sure if he fits the profile of a market mover. He has one 10+ win season and no playoff wins. He is a high draft pick but I feel like his success comes with the asterisk of having a great group of wide receivers on the team. Burrow I believe had the same knock but had plenty more regular season success than Tua has had, not to mention the playoff success and higher draft status. The rumor was that the Dolphins offered him $50 million a year which tells me that Miami is not sold on him as being a surefire bet. That feels like pegging him to a prior market high and working off that.

While there is no rush to sign a contract until the summer, if the Dolphins are indeed offering $50 million a year and a reasonable guarantee package I am not sure why he would turn that down. We have begun to see somewhat of a middle class develop in the QB market with Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield and I feel like Tua would have more potential of landing here or worse as a free agent than landing in the Cousins $45M+ range.  

If Miami did decide to make him the highest paid, I would anticipate that it would be at the lowest possible increase at something like $55.1 million a year if he was the first to sign a contract extension.