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Paying a QB $30 Million Is No Longer a Risky Bet—It’s a Bargain


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Paying a QB $30 Million Is No Longer a Risky Bet—It’s a Bargain

Matt Ryan’s contract extension last year set a new milestone for QB salaries. The Falcons were delighted with the deal at the time. They’re even happier after seeing that threshold surpassed so many times since.

Is the NFL in a QB salary bubble? As the most important position in sports becomes more expensive, teams have to decide when it makes sense to pay their quarterback big money, and when it’s time to move on. On Wednesday, The Ringer examines the decisions a team faces as its rookie quarterback approaches free agency, how a $30 million QB has become a bargain, and what the next big-money deal might look like.

In the spring of 2018, the Atlanta Falcons signed Matt Ryan to a long-term extension which made him the first NFL player to average $30 million per season. It was a milestone salary for a quarterback—the top end of the market had been set at around $25 million for much of the decade. (Ryan was also the first to receive $100 million in guaranteed money.) Once the $30 million threshold had been crossed, it started to be crossed a lot. Ryan’s deal has since been surpassed by deals for Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Ben Roethlisberger, with more likely to follow, including Dak Prescott. Ryan’s deal established the cost of doing business with productive veteran quarterbacks. In a conversation with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, I mentioned that because quarterback pay is always rising, any good quarterback under contract becomes a bargain so quickly that in a few years … ah, wait.

“How many years did you say?” Dimitroff said with a slight chuckle.

“Well, maybe now,” I said.

“You may be looking at it right now, honestly,” Dimitroff said.

I’ve written plenty about what teams can do if they have a cheap quarterback. I’ve talked to the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs this month, specifically, about their timetables to build around Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, respectively, while they’re on their rookie contracts. It’s sort of a sandcastle: nice but temporary. A good, cheap quarterback becomes expensive overnight, and so those plans have an expiration date. Dimitroff has an interesting perspective on how to negotiate with a quarterback: He’s paid Ryan three times, including a first-round rookie deal (back when those were far more expensive), plus two lucrative extensions. Only Pittsburgh’s front office, with Roethlisberger, has been intact long enough to go through each of those negotiations with one quarterback. This experience leads Dimitroff to bring up a semi-popular thought experiment that arises in the football world every few months: What if a team never signed a quarterback to an extension and simply kept finding cheap quarterbacks forever?

 “I was literally moved to say ‘That’s asinine,’” Dimitroff said of the first time he heard of it. “I understand the idea. But when you’re sitting on this side of the desk, and you think about the precariousness of churning a quarterback out like that, going through a few years, and saying, ‘OK, go, time to find the next one.’ You want to talk about unnerving and unsettling and staying up all night? That’s what a lot of people do who don’t have a quarterback in this league.”

Dimitroff has a quarterback, one he drafted with the third overall pick in 2008, and he makes it clear that he enjoys having him. The Falcons had a disappointing season last year, partly due to injuries, and partly due to an offensive line that Dimitroff addressed in this year’s draft. But it was through no fault of Ryan’s: The Falcons ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per play with 6.2, and scored on 43 percent of their drives, fourth best in the league.

With the 34-year-old Ryan under contract through 2023, Dimitroff is locking into place the pieces around him. The team re-signed linebacker Deion Jones to a four-year extension worth $57 million, and inked defensive lineman Grady Jarrett to a four-year, $68 million deal. The Falcons are also discussing an extension with receiver Julio Jones just one year after renegotiating his contract. “Yes, of course, you need the proper backups and rounded talent, but I truly believe you win with pillar players,” Dimitroff said. “If you are not taking care of your pillar players, there’s a degradation of your organization, not only on the field, but off the field. So I, humbly, believe we’ve picked our players well, and they are legitimate leaders for us. We’ll look at those players who are our pillar players, and will be dedicated, financially, to taking care of them.”

Investing heavily in “pillar players” is made easier by the rising salary cap, which has gone up about $10 million each year, with a total rise of $65 million, since 2013. Ryan and Julio Jones combined for nearly 25 percent of the Falcons’ cap in 2016, a season in which they were just a quarter-and-a-half away from winning the Super Bowl. That would have been by far the highest percentage for the two highest-paid players on a title team since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Most successful teams resemble the Eagles, whose top salary on their Super Bowl–winning team in 2017 accounted for 6 percent of their cap. Luckily for the Falcons, it’s become easier to build a team around a rich quarterback: Ryan accounts for just 8.3 percent of the cap this year. He’s making $44 million in salary this season, the most in his career, but his long-term deal allows the Falcons to lower his cap number to a reasonable $15.8 million.

“There has never been one person in this organization—at least to me—I’ve never heard moaning about the payment of Matt Ryan and how it affects not paying other people. Everyone realizes the benefits of having an upper-echelon quarterback,” he said.

“There were people out there who said ‘Oh, you can get him for 29-and-a-quarter.’ And I just simply said ‘What are we doing here?’” Dimitroff said. “He’s going to be the top-paid quarterback, and before you know it, he’s not going to be the top-paid quarterback because that’s the way it goes.”

That last part is quite important. I wrote earlier this year about the phenomenon of overpaying bad quarterbacks. It’s easy to think about there being two groups: cheap quarterbacks and expensive ones. Notably, a third group has developed: quarterbacks with mega extensions whose deals became cheap as time elapsed. Before his retirement, Andrew Luck, who signed a record-setting deal in 2016, had an average annual salary of $24.6 million—far behind every major quarterback who signed after him, including Wilson ($35 million), Roethlisberger ($34 million), and Rodgers ($33.5 million). Ryan has made $179 million in his career. By the time his contract is due to expire in 2023, he’ll have eclipsed $300 million—it will not have been an overpay.

Dimitroff loves athleticism. He believes, along with Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, that “if you’re 10 pounds lighter than most players, but you have a badass persona, you can thrive in this league,” which is true for athletic defenders like Deion Jones. When Dimitroff got the job in 2008, and was facing his first big decision, he wondered whether he should value that in a quarterback, too. “I thought ‘Do I build a quarterback on what I really love? Athleticism?’” he said. Then he thought back to his days in the personnel department in New England. “I grew up in this league being around Tom Brady. How could you want anything different?” That, he said, is why he decided to commit to Ryan, the prototypical passer. He mentions having respect for Bill Polian’s team-building model with the Colts, which basically comprised of getting a franchise player, Peyton Manning, and building everything around him. (Dimitroff jokes that he knows this is heretical coming from a former Patriots employee.)

After watching DeSean Jackson destroy the Falcons early in Ryan’s career, Dimitroff told me he realized he needed to find a similar offensive weapon for his quarterback. In 2011, he traded a haul of draft picks to acquire Julio Jones, and is committed to keeping the All-Pro receiver. Jones is the NFL’s all-time leader in career receiving yards per game with 96.7, and will be paid like it soon.

“You go as your quarterback goes. I’ve seen the ups and downs of franchises who banked on a quarterback and it not working. I’ve seen the deleterious effects across the organization—not just the offensive side, but the defensive side, the morale of the organization,” he said. “It is so important to build through your quarterback.”

The Falcons are doing that, and at $30 million, they think it is a bargain.

https://www.theringer.com/nfl/2019/8/28/20833473/falcons-matt-ryan-thomas-dimitroff-julio-jones

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Paying a QB $30 Million Is No Longer a Risky Bet—It’s a Bargain Matt Ryan’s contract extension last year set a new milestone for QB salaries. The Falcons were delighted with the deal at the time.

I know this thread is about Ryan, but I love this quote: “If you’re 10 lbs lighter than most players, but you have a badass persona, you can thrive in this league”.... Agree completely, and

But I think churning cheap QBs is still the right move until you find a Top 10 QB. No way I’d pay Dak Or Dalton or any QB big money unless I knew he could still bring me a ring. 

Those inflated salaries are tied to the entertainment dollars that the players generate.  Just like the movies, the biggest stars get the biggest pay.   Thats why Dak wants to be the highest paid quarterback because he knows he is the biggest star on the most high profile team in the league.  Back when Arthur Blank gave Vick a 100 million contract, it wasn't just about his play on the field, it was the exposure and the VALUE of the Falcons team that increased, so Blank compensated him accordingly.  The owners of every team does the same, evaluate the VALUE the players brings as far as entertainment in coordination with play on the field. 

 In today's game where the NFL is about high scoring passing games, the running back is not the " entertainer " anymore, thus, players like Zeke aren't valued like Dak, Ryan, etc.  My point is you have to look at some of these huge contracts from a entertainment point of view and not the actual play of the player.  No way Wentz, Dak, etc. deserve to be paid like they are.  Dak gonna break the bank which is why Dallas hasn't come to terms with him yet...

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2 hours ago, Vandy said:

I know this thread is about Ryan, but I love this quote:

“If you’re 10 lbs lighter than most players, but you have a badass persona, you can thrive in this league”....

Agree completely, and am excited how our defense has been built accordingly.

I don't agree.  Happens sure, but I have always believed in size.  Having small S, LB', DT's, etc.'s who are fast will work with some guys, but I wouldn't make a habit of having smallish guys.

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3 minutes ago, Boise Falcon Fan said:

I don't agree.  Happens sure, but I have always believed in size.  Having small S, LB', DT's, etc.'s who are fast will work with some guys, but I wouldn't make a habit of having smallish guys.

It's not a habit, it's the demeanor. 10 pounds in the grand scheme of things isn't big if he's a dawg. Look at Asante. He was a little corner, size wise, but just balled. Same with Pac Man. He could barely rep 225lb on the bench but was just a beast on the field. Grimes is the same. You have to know what you're looking for. Guys like Chris Owens weren't. 

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1 hour ago, slickgadawg said:

Those inflated salaries are tied to the entertainment dollars that the players generate.  Just like the movies, the biggest stars get the biggest pay.   Thats why Dak wants to be the highest paid quarterback because he knows he is the biggest star on the most high profile team in the league.  Back when Arthur Blank gave Vick a 100 million contract, it wasn't just about his play on the field, it was the exposure and the VALUE of the Falcons team that increased, so Blank compensated him accordingly.  The owners of every team does the same, evaluate the VALUE the players brings as far as entertainment in coordination with play on the field. 

 In today's game where the NFL is about high scoring passing games, the running back is not the " entertainer " anymore, thus, players like Zeke aren't valued like Dak, Ryan, etc.  My point is you have to look at some of these huge contracts from a entertainment point of view and not the actual play of the player.  No way Wentz, Dak, etc. deserve to be paid like they are.  Dak gonna break the bank which is why Dallas hasn't come to terms with him yet...

No, not really. In general, salaries go up because revenues continue to increase.

But that doesnt do anything to explain why QBs are highly paid and RBs arent highly paid. 

Not to mention the notion that RBs arent "the entertainers anymore" is pretty obviously ludicrous given the role fantasy football has played in increasing revenue and how the typical first two rounds look in a fantasy draft....

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50 minutes ago, Boise Falcon Fan said:

I don't agree.  Happens sure, but I have always believed in size.  Having small S, LB', DT's, etc.'s who are fast will work with some guys, but I wouldn't make a habit of having smallish guys.

So Debo/Foye, Jarrett/Takk, Rico/Kazee/Tru aren’t your kind of players? 

Okay....

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58 minutes ago, Boise Falcon Fan said:

I don't agree.  Happens sure, but I have always believed in size.  Having small S, LB', DT's, etc.'s who are fast will work with some guys, but I wouldn't make a habit of having smallish guys.

But this is the reality for literally every player type. Big, small, medium. It works for some guys but doesnt work for everyone. 

 

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2 hours ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

No, not really. In general, salaries go up because revenues continue to increase.

But that doesnt do anything to explain why QBs are highly paid and RBs arent highly paid. 

Not to mention the notion that RBs arent "the entertainers anymore" is pretty obviously ludicrous given the role fantasy football has played in increasing revenue and how the typical first two rounds look in a fantasy draft....

The entertainment value goes up because of the players, and the revenue goes up with that.  One factor feeds the other...

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4 hours ago, Vandy said:

I know this thread is about Ryan, but I love this quote:

“If you’re 10 lbs lighter than most players, but you have a badass persona, you can thrive in this league”....

Agree completely, and am excited how our defense has been built accordingly.

Odell Beckham and Antonio Bryant on line one...

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1 minute ago, slickgadawg said:

The entertainment value goes up because of the players, and the revenue goes up with that.  One factor feeds the other...

As of now, revenue goes up because the major sources of revenue (TV/Cable companies) see NFL programming as the most reliable bet in broadcasting. So they pay more and more money because its the only thing thats going to get them the eyeballs they need to justify ad buys. 

The marketing of the game is self-feeding at this point. That doesnt make it immune to downturn but those downturns are more likely to be caused by institutional factors than "the players." Aside from the margins here and there, viewership isnt waxing or waning because of "the players." 

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2 hours ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

No, not really. In general, salaries go up because revenues continue to increase.

But that doesnt do anything to explain why QBs are highly paid and RBs arent highly paid. 

Not to mention the notion that RBs arent "the entertainers anymore" is pretty obviously ludicrous given the role fantasy football has played in increasing revenue and how the typical first two rounds look in a fantasy draft....

QBs are highly paid because they are one of the most, if not the most, important positions in all of sports.  They are getting paid more and more because this is moving to a passing league, with rules protecting the passer.  You don't see 42 and 40 year old running backs, you don't even see mid to late 30s year old running backs, but that will become the new norm for the top end QBs.

Fact is the RB position is mostly devalued right now because their shelf life just isn't long like it is with most QBs.  There is a reason RBBC is a thing now and it's because you can't have just 1 RB and expect to be successful over the long haul anymore.

RBs aren't the entertainers anymore.  QBs and WRs are.  People don't want to see 3 yards and a cloud of dust, they want to see Tyreek Hill burning folks for 50 yard bombs.  Just because RBs are still valuable in fantasy football really means nothing to the actual sport of football.  RBs and WRs always rule the early rounds in FFL, that has not changed and it's because they are the most consistent point scorers.

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2 hours ago, Vandy said:

So Debo/Foye, Jarrett/Takk, Rico/Kazee/Tru aren’t your kind of players? 

Okay....

And just where did I say that? I said, I wouldn't make a habit of drafting smallish players.  If I can have size, speed, and attitude, why would I want a smaller player with the same attributes.  You can't teach size...

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53 minutes ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

As of now, revenue goes up because the major sources of revenue (TV/Cable companies) see NFL programming as the most reliable bet in broadcasting. So they pay more and more money because its the only thing thats going to get them the eyeballs they need to justify ad buys. 

The marketing of the game is self-feeding at this point. That doesnt make it immune to downturn but those downturns are more likely to be caused by institutional factors than "the players." Aside from the margins here and there, viewership isnt waxing or waning because of "the players." 

Yes. Without live sports the cable companies would lose their number one source of programming for advertisers...

By the way. Vince McMahon wants in on the football stuff...

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