4 Dec 2020

Home of the NFL Offseason

Is it important for a quarterback to win a Super Bowl on a rookie contract?

Upon conducting research into the idea that winning a Super Bowl during a rookie contract was a significant sign for future success, I decided to publish my results. Here is what I found.

Last week, a topic was brought to light by NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks about the importance of winning at the quarterback position. I won’t steal any of his thunder and I’ll let you see it for yourself.

I have been heavily criticized on social media for my positive evaluation of former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts. It was recently brought to light in an interview on ESPN that over the course of his entire college career, Hurts had lost just four games. Mark Jarvis, the creator of the What’s On Draft database and contributor to the Lindy’s NFL Draft magazine also acknowledged that Hurts had been to seven (yes, seven) playoff games in his career in college.

Armed with these statements and facts, I really took a minute to start thinking about it. Do wins really matter to quarterbacks? If they do, how can I tell that they are going to win the only game that really matters in the NFL, the Super Bowl?

This sounds like a matter in which the data can help me decide.

The history of Super-Bowl-winning quarterbacks

You have to look through the last couple of decades of Super Bowls to get an appreciation for who played in those games. Let’s go through this list quickly and see who is in it.

  • 2019: *Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  • 2018: Tom Brady, Patriots
  • 2017: *Carson Wentz/Nick Foles, Eagles
  • 2016: Tom Brady, Patriots
  • 2015: Peyton Manning, Broncos
  • 2014: Tom Brady, Patriots
  • 2013: *Russell Wilson, Seahawks
  • 2012: *Joe Flacco, Ravens
  • 2011: Eli Manning, Giants
  • 2010: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
  • 2009: Drew Brees, Saints
  • 2008: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • 2007: *Eli Manning, Giants
  • 2006: Peyton Manning, Colts
  • 2005: *Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • 2004: Tom Brady, Patriots
  • 2003: Tom Brady, Patriots
  • 2002: Brad Johnson, Buccaneers
  • 2001: *Tom Brady, Patriots
  • 2000: Kurt Warner, Rams
    * Designates player was performing on a rookie contract.

In the last two decades, there have been seven quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls while playing under their rookie contracts. Out of those twenty Super Bowls, fourteen Bowls have been won by quarterbacks who won a Super Bowl while performing under their rookie contracts.

Think about that for a second. Okay, now you may proceed with the article.

There are six quarterbacks who won Super Bowls after their rookie contracts had expired in the past two decades. They are:

  • 2002: Brad Johnson, Buccaneers (34 years old, third NFL stop, only career Super Bowl appearance)
  • 2006/2015: Peyton Manning, Colts/Broncos (2-2 overall in Super Bowl appearances)
  • 2009: Drew Brees, Saints (30 years old, second NFL stop, only career Super Bowl appearance)
  • 2010: Aaron Rodgers, Packers (27 years old, brand new contract, only career Super Bowl appearance)
  • 2017: Nick Foles, Eagles (28 years old, fourth NFL stop, only career Super Bowl appearance)

Why is this the case?

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In recent memory, one can only point to the vast amounts of money that starting (and sometimes back-up) quarterbacks receive in the NFL. Their position group as a whole is on an entirely different level than the rest of the positional groups, and it’s not even close. The average salary of quarterbacks is doubled what most other positional groups average.

When a quarterback is on a rookie contract, they are only being paid a fraction of what other quarterbacks are making across the league. A fraction, let’s say a fourth, leaves a quarterback being paid $8M a year instead of $32. That gives teams an incredible $24M in extra cap space.

You do the math.

What this ends up doing for a lot of teams with a star quarterback under a mega-contract is it limits their ability to go out and sign other positional talents on both sides of the ball. They are instead forced to sign lesser talents that turn into weaknesses across the long NFL season.

This also eats into the depth across all position groups. Teams are sometimes forced to sign veterans to minimum contracts to keep the cap contained. When players get injured (or exposed), it’s always good to have a back-up plan to go to. In the world of $40M a year quarterbacks, there isn’t much room for sustained depth and success.

Even the New England Patriots, who have had the most prolific quarterback in Tom Brady and has appeared in nine (yes, NINE) Super Bowls understood this and helped their quarterback understand too. He now has six Super Bowl rings to show for it, even though he wasn’t ever one of the top paid quarterbacks in the league.

Is this always a good thing?

Just look at the list again. How many of those quarterbacks were getting top dollar for their services?

I’m going to tell you.

  • 2015 Peyton Manning ($15M)
  • 2010 Drew Brees ($12M)

No other Super-Bowl-winning quarterback before 2014 was paid more than $10M a season. How does it feel to be paying your quarterback outrageous money right now?

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) scrambles in the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Understand that the idea of this article isn’t to criticize teams that pulled the trigger to pay people. Those quarterbacks often times earned that money and it’s called staying with the times. Another team was willing to pay them a lot of money, and the franchise had to match it.

While seven quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl on a rookie contract, how many quarterbacks have been drafted in the last decade?

I’m going to tell you that number too: 103 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first three rounds of the last twenty drafts, and a whopping total of 247 quarterbacks have been drafted since then.

Five of those quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick. Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. The hit rate is crazy difficult to capitalize on.

The league is evolving toward this

The hit window seems to be evolving toward the young, rookie deal quarterback. The last seven Super Bowls, the time in which the quarterback market has skyrocketed, has seen four different new quarterbacks on rookie contacts win the big game.

Sep 26, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The cap does matter. Winning is limited. The windows to win Super Bowls (unless you’re Bill Belichick) is so small. With the most important position on the field, it matters too. This is a team sport, and the play starts with the quarterback in the backfield.

Winning does matter. Leadership is better.

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