NFL Teams Should Think Twice Before Paying Quarterbacks

Living in the DC area, I’m bombarded with Redskins talk whenever I tune in to sports radio. This entire off season, the local hosts lambasted Redskins management over their handling of Kirk Cousins and his contract situation. I am among the minority who does not understand the rush to pay “franchise” quarterbacks. I fully realize that quarterback is the most important position on the field, but teams that rush to pay quarterbacks exorbitant amounts of money do so at the detriment of the rest of their team.

While perusing the top NFL salaries for the 2017 season, I made it 17 spots before reaching Von Miller, the first non-quarterback on the list. Ahead of him were such great QBs as Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, and the previously mentioned Kirk Cousins. Proponents of paying QBs argue that a franchise must have an elite QB in order to get to and win a Super Bowl, but this doesn’t add up. I commonly cite Brad Johnson to refute this argument, but the truth is I don’t have to look so far back for evidence that average and above-average quarterbacking will often win Super Bowls if surrounded with the right pieces.

The biggest case in point is Peyton Manning. In 2013, Peyton Manning was arguably the best QB in the game as he led a record-setting offense to the Super Bowl. However, his greatness was not enough to overcome Seattle’s top defense as he was crushed in the Super Bowl 43-8. Two years later a greatly diminished Peyton Manning returned to the Super Bowl with the best defense in the league and came out victorious. The Broncos were able to overcome Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning’s mediocre play because John Elway appropriately allocated resources to the Denver defense.

Looking at the last ten Super Bowl champions, many of them were propelled by strong defenses as much as QB play. Eli Manning twice rode a hot Giants defense to the Lombardi trophy. Ray Lewis had as much to do with the Ravens championship as Joe Flacco. Even Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady benefited from having the league’s best scoring defenses in winning Super Bowls in 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2016.

This season, Alex Smith, who is tied for the league’s 23rd highest salary with Antonio Brown and Oliver Vernon, has benefited from a strong supporting cast and an above average defense to lead the Chiefs to a fantastic start. Smith may be a game manager, when a team invests enough around him, he looks great. Even the Patriots won most of their Super Bowls before they invested so heavily in Brady’s right arm. Brady’s early years in the league he benefited greatly from a strong group of veterans on both defense and offense that were able to carry the team to the promised land (Brady’s 141 passing yds did not win that first Super Bowl). Teams would be wise to think twice before making their “franchise QBs” the highest paid players in the game.