Does a High Salary Veteran QB Hurt Your Super Bowl Chances?

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Everything closes fast in the NFL. Pockets collapse, running lanes shrink and the window to win the Super Bowl can be wide open today and nailed shut tomorrow. A good quarterback improves those Super Bowl chances. He might help to give you a couple of windows instead of just one. Longevity with a team is a generally a good thing. It usually signifies success and a chance to win a championship year in, year out. So once teams find a good QB, they don’t want to let them go.

With each new quarterback contract the numbers go up. Annual salary goes up. Total contract value goes up. Guaranteed money goes up. I am all for someone making as much money as a team is willing to offer. To quote the Joker, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.“ But it got me thinking. Does it correlate to winning? More specifically does it correlate to winning Super Bowls? Does paying big salaries to veteran quarterbacks correlate to winning Super Bowls? Here’s a look at a couple interesting points of data.

Salary Cap Percentage

I went back through the last 12 years to look at Super Bowl winning quarterback salaries and what percentage of the salary cap their salaries represented. Based on name and reputation, the list is pretty distinguished. Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Tom Brady each won twice, plus appearances from Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson and Nick Foles.

Using the numbers at Over The Cap, the highest percentage paid to a Super Bowl winning quarterback was 12.2% to Peyton Manning in 2015 with the Broncos. Everyone else was paid under 12% of the salary cap.

To further expand on those numbers, I looked at the quarterbacks in the conference championship games for those twelve years. Only 7 times (other than Peyton Manning in 2015) out of 48 did a team make it to the AFC or NFC championship game while paying more than 12% to the Quarterback.

Looking at the salaries for 2018 season, there are 13 quarterbacks scheduled to be paid above that 12% threshold, which is about $21.5 million. This includes six Super Bowl winners (Brady, Brees, Manning, Roethlisberger, Wilson, Flacco), quality veterans (Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Matt Stafford, Derek Carr), new or fairly new starters (Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo) and others (Andrew Luck). That’s lot of talent with a lot of wins in that list of 13. 1,156 wins all together over the regular and postseasons. Money well earned. Incidentally, Garoppolo has the highest salary in 2018 at $37 million. He has 7 of those 1,156 wins.

Year they Won

Of those 13 quarterbacks in 2018, 10 of them will be playing in their 7th year or more with their current team. This leads me to the next area. How many years were they with the team before they Super Bowl.

Over the last 20 years, the year with their team in which they won has varied from year one (Trent Dilfer, Baltimore) to year 17 (Brady, New England). If you average the number of years over that time period, it’s 5.65 years with their team before winning a title. If you take out the outliers, John Elway (year 16) and Brady’s latest 2 (year 15 and 17) the average drops to 3.76 years. For the other 17 signal callers, they were all in their 7th year or less with that team.

Fourteen of the twenty were playing for the team that drafted them and averaged 6.85 years with the team; 6 were playing for a different team and averaged 2.83 years with that team.

To recap, 85% of the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in the last 20 years won within the first 7 years with the team. And 11 of the last 12 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks earned 12% or less of the salary cap. There seems to be a pattern forming here.

The Model for Long Term Success

Now, if you’re going to talk about quarterbacks you have to talk about Brady. He, and the Patriots, are the outliers. The exception to the rule if you will. How in this day and age where the NFL strives for parity does a team win 5 Super Bowls, win their division 15 times and have double digit wins in every season but one since he became the starter. Let’s look at Brady’s cap number. Since he came into the league in 2000 only twice (2006, 2008) has his cap number been over 12%. In 2006 they lost in the AFC Championship game and in 2008 he suffered a knee injury in Week one. In fact, his highest cap number was in 2010, an uncapped year but that will be topped in 2018 when he receives $22 million (12.4%). His first 3 Super Bowl wins were in his first 5 years, before he went 10 years before winning again. Did New England gain an advantage by keeping the salary of arguably the best quarterback in history relatively low throughout his career?

What Does it Mean?

  • 1 out of the last 12 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks was paid more than 12% of the salary cap (8.3% of QBs).
  • 8 out of 48 starting quarterbacks in the championship games were paid more than 12% of the salary cap (16.7%).
  • 17 or 20 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks were in their 7th year or less with their team when the won (85%).

It would appear that the time to capitalize is early in the career of the quarterback before he’s earned the big pay day. That would lead to new questions. As fans, we always want our team to keep the leader of the offense. But should teams pay as much as they do? Should teams pay as long as they do? It would be heartbreaking for your team to let your quarterback hit free agency and sign with another team. Just the thought of him winning a championship in a different jersey is crushing. But, maybe this concern is unfounded. Based on these stats, letting the veteran sign elsewhere and presuming his new team pays him more than 12% of the cap (likely if he’s any good and signing as a free agent), their chances of winning is quite low. Conversely, your teams chance to win would go up as your team would have a new starter who would likely be well under that percentage.

Sounds crazy, right? Letting the known commodity go for the unknown. I’m not even sure I believe it or would want my team to do it. However, with teams always looking for any advantage they can get, it may be worthy of consideration.

Teams That Fit

Using this scenario, it made me wonder if there are quality teams that could keep this trend going in the upcoming season. Let’s take a look at some of teams that meet the criteria I’ve outlined with the best odds based on Vegas Insider’s Super Bowl odds, which are listed in parentheses.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) – Can they repeat? And with possibly a different starting quarterback in the championship game? OT Jason Peters is coming back and DE Michael Bennett was added to an already impressive defensive line.

Los Angeles Rams (10-1) – Trying to build off last year’s success they added veterans in WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, DB Marcus Peters and DB Aqib Talib. Can Jared Goff continue to build off and impressive campaign.

Jacksonville Jaguars (20-1) – Another surprise team from a year ago with an impressive defense. They brought in OG Andrew Norwell to solidify the offensive line, drive the run game, and protect Blake Bortles.

Houston Texans (22-1)Deshaun Watson had the offense clicking with 19 touchdowns in 6 starts before he tore his ACL. They added three offensive linemen in Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete and Seantrel Henderson, which should beef up the offensive line and DS Tyrann Mathieu can hopefully spark that defensive backfield.

Dallas Cowboys (28-1) – No more Dez Bryant or Jason Witten. WRs Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup were added to help Dak Prescott, but will Dallas go back to relying on the run behind their impressive offensive line as they did in 2016?

Kansas City (40-1)Alex Smith out, Patrick Mahomes in. Can he spark the offense like some of these other young quarterbacks have done?

Others teams that meet the criteria for 2018 (So you’re saying there’s a chance):

Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets

Follow Tom on Twitter @THMead3. Check out his other work here, such as his recap of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2018 NFL Draft.

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