Over the past week, I’ve written a little bit about the best-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, looking first at the championship rivals and then taking a deeper dive into the highest-paid QBs as a function of cover space. Lots of great conversations have come out of those pieces, and a variety of quarterback retention theories have emerged from them. However, one consistent point of agreement was, as one poster put it: “Don’t pay average QBs a lot of money. Break the bank for a top 5 legit QB.”
For the sake of this discussion, at this point in time, anything north of $30 million a year generally constitutes “a lot of money”. But, how do we discern those elite few QBs that are worth breaking the bank for?
The greatest young QBs tend to reach the Super Bowl in the first four seasons as starters
Looking at their truly elite quarterbacks, men who have held the “top five” status for years in a row, and who will likely end up in the Hall of Fame, we see a very interesting trend: The vast majority of them won their first Super Bowl during their first four seasons as a player Basic.
- Tom Brady – Season 1 as a Beginning (Season Two)
- Ben Roethlisberger – Season Two
- Aaron Rodgers – Season Three as a Beginning (Season Six)
- Russell Wilson – Season 2
- Patrick Mahomes – Season Two as a Beginning (Season Three)
All of the top quarterbacks — with the exception of Rodgers, a special case, having sat behind Brett Favre for three years — have won their first (and in some cases only) Super Bowls in their rookie contracts, which gave their team the ability to spend more generously on the roster elsewhere. . They all demonstrated their ability to lead their teams to greatness very early in their careers.
Not many might be tempted to include him in this venerable group, but even two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning won the first Lombardi of his rookie decade.
Another interesting case is Jimmy Garoppolo, who reached the Super Bowl in his third season as a rookie, even though he ended up losing. He has a chance to come back again if he wins this weekend. Is Garoppolo “elite?” I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but he showed great success early in his career.
- Jimmy Garoppolo – Season Three as a Beginning (Season Six)
Two notable outliers for this trend are Drew Bryce and Peyton Manning. In some ways, Brees had two jobs, a short, dwarfed one marked by a hit with chargers, and a 15-year campaign with the Saints we all associate with him. Brees didn’t win a Super Bowl until his ninth year – his fourth season with the Saints.
Manning experienced playoff success early in his career, going 0-3 before finally winning his first playoff game in 2003. He eventually won his first Super Bowl after nine seasons in the league.
- Drew Bryce – Season 9
- Peyton Manning – Season 9
Who of the young crop of QBs is eligible?
Winning the Super Bowl, for anyone, is an incredibly high level, and it may be more exclusive than we really need. There are also many young, up-and-coming QBs who have not yet joined the junior deals.
So, if we were to look at these guys, which one of them might make it to that threshold? Mahomes, in his fourth year, has already destroyed the pub. His signature on a huge deal made sense by the above criteria. But, what if we drop the threshold for “appearing in a championship match” in the first four seasons?
That ropes in the Bills, Josh Allen, who featured in the AFC Championship game in his third season, which stretched to a huge deal in his last off-season.
It also brings in Joe Burrow of the Bengals, who has – at least – a similar feat this season. His team plays for a chance at the Super Bowl this weekend. Burrow, at this point, looks like a very safe bet for a massive extension beyond the 2022 season.
There are certainly other young QBs, Justin Herbert or Mac Jones, to name a few, who could get into this conversation over the next few years, but they haven’t gotten there yet.
It’s time to decide now for QB Class of 2018
The 2018 quarterback class was one of the most advertised in recent memory, with 5 QBs selected in the first round of the draft. Josh Allen, as described above, was the third QB version to be drafted, but he stood head and shoulders about the rest. The Bills wisely rewarded him with a massive extension outside last season.
Originally coined by Cardinal, Josh Rosen has been bankrupt by all accounts and is currently a backup for the Falcons. Sam Darnold, the second QB taken in the draft, was destroyed by planes. He got another chance to save his career by the Panthers this season, but he missed that too.
The two players taken that year are the subject of the puzzle above.
I don’t actually think the decision on the first overall pick in the draft, Browns-Baker Mayfield, is so difficult. Mayfield has been a 29-30 year old over the course of his career so far, winning a playoff in 2020, but I don’t think there is any plausible case he can be made of as a top 5 (or even top 10) midfield player. league. Signing Mayfield on a stretch would just feel like paying the “average QB a lot of money.”
Mayfield currently has another season under his junior contract – his fifth-year option – so if Browns want to keep him in the future, they either have to extend it soon or risk the franchise-mark lift they will face after 2022. The problem for Brown is shoulder surgery (which doesn’t throw by arm) in the off-season, what kind of commercial value might Mayfield have? On the trade block, I would imagine Mayfield bringing in a third or fourth round pick under his current situation.
Is that level of commercial revenue worth entering the QB show circuit again in 2022. I suspect that’s the path that both GM Andrew Perry and head coach Kevin Stefansky want to get down to for such a small bonus. However, if I were them, I would definitely consider crafting a Plan B in the next draft, unless they want to remain a team that juggles the playoffs every year with Mayfield at the helm. If they want to compete for the Super Bowls, they will probably need someone better, but Mayfield’s trading now is unlikely to help much in that regard.
The position of the last midfielder in the first round of the 2018 draft is the most interesting. By most conventional standards, Lamar Jackson was an exceptional talent for the Baltimore Ravens. He was the NFL Player of the Year in 2019. He took the team to the playoffs in 3 of his first four seasons. He won a playoff in 2020. Injured in 2021, Jackson ended up playing in just 12 games (he went 7-5), and the Ravens lacked juice to make the playoffs without him.
Jackson, unlike Mayfield, is a star. When he plays, he’s in absolute debate about being the top 10 best player in the league in the league. His unique combination of being a hasty and passive threat always keeps opponents on the alert. But, even at his best, as he was in 2019, he hasn’t been able to hold his team when it mattered most, against the best competition.
I have no illusions that Lamar Jackson will be traded in the off-season, but if Eric DeCosta and John Harbo decide to do it – and if anyone might, it probably will – I’d applaud the move. Here is the reason:
- Lamar Jackson, even in his fifth-year option, is sure to attract massive attention from front desks across the league. Since trade discussions about Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers often include estimates of up to three (+) first-round draft picks in compensation, I think Jackson would be in the same field if it were made available.
- Jackson demonstrated the ability to carry out individual performances at the highest level in his first several years in the league, but he never had any early team-level success for the really great quarterbacks described at the beginning of this piece.
- Tyler Huntley, Ravens backup, is this off-season exclusive rights-free agent that the Ravens can easily sign for a very reasonable price. Huntley is no Jackson, but he will likely keep the Ravens respectable in 2022, especially with the Steelers reloading QB and the Browns in disarray.
- Ravens have the fourteenth selection in this years draft. With 2 (maybe 3) additional first rounds, they’ll easily have the ability to step up in this year’s draft to grab virtually any quarterback they want, or be ridiculously charged for picking trash in the 2023 draft.
- Moving Jackson gives the team an additional $30-40 million annually in cover space, starting in 2023, to continue building the team around the QB site.
There is no doubt that the step proposed above would be extremely high risk. Chances are, if the Ravens extend Lamar Jackson they will be at risk of staying on the brink of the playoffs for several more years – although his playing style puts him at constant risk of severe injury, which will likely reduce his effectiveness significantly.
If they exchange it, there are absolutely no guarantees that the player(s) they bring in to replace it will be as good as it is. Of course, there’s also the opportunity to use one (or more) of your additional draft picks to pick Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Russell Wilson.
After all, Eric DeCosta is the author of one of my favorite quotes associated with the draft:
We view the draft as, in some ways, a process driven by luck. The more choices you make, the higher your chances of getting a good player. When we look at teams that formulate well, it’s not necessarily that they draft better than everyone else. Looks like they have more shots. There is certainly a correlation between the amount of choices and the crafting of good players.
Do you risk being good to get the chance to be great? That is the question for the Baltimore Ravens this off-season.
If you were a crow, would you trade with Lamar Jackson on the first-round draft picks and change them?
I was thinking about it.
Did you lose your medication?
113 votes total