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QB salaries are ridiculous: an historical look at QB ROI

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ROI = return on investment, so which QBs have been the best investments in terms of wins in the modern NFL?

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks just handed Russell Wilson the most yearly money of any player in NFL history.

Wilson’s average of $35 million bests the four-year, $134 million deal Aaron Rodgers signed with the Green Bay Packers last August. His total value of $140 million is second to only Atlanta Falcons signal caller Matt Ryan, who signed a five-year deal back in May of 2018.

This got me thinking about the ROI (return on investment) that teams get for these crazy QB contracts (*note: all data for this comes from Spotrac.com and pro-football-reference.com). If Wilson’s cap hit for 2019 is $35 million, that means Seattle will have almost 19 percent of its salary cap tied up in one player.

Spotrac has a tool that shows the entire career earnings by position if you want to see it, so I looked at the career earnings for the top 100 modern QBs (some QBs did not show up in their list, such as Steve Young and Joe Montana, no idea why) and then found how many wins each QB had led his team(s) to.

I divided money by wins to find the best and the worst QBs in terms of ROI. Note that the guys on the “bad” are mainly career backups who got paid large sums to hold clipboards and wear a headset.

Rank Quarterback Sportrac Career Earnings Career Regular Season Wins as of 4/19 $/Win NFL Passes Thrown $/Pass
1 Chase Daniel $28,304,317 2 $14,152,159 154 $183,794
2 Charlie Whitehurst $17,546,823 2 $8,773,412 396 $44,310
3 Luke McCown $17,159,334 2 $8,579,667 356 $48,200
4 Matt Flynn $19,222,800 3 $6,407,600 357 $53,845
5 Jimmy Garoppolo $45,458,637 8 $5,682,330 361 $125,924
6 JaMarcus Russell $39,365,000 7 $5,623,571 680 $57,890
7 Sam Darnold $20,558,338 4 $5,139,585 414 $49,658
8 Mike Glennon $27,446,782 6 $4,574,464 791 $34,699
9 Sam Bradford $130,022,863 34 $3,824,202 2967 $43,823
10 Baker Mayfield $22,329,440 6 $3,721,573 486 $45,945
11 Kevin Kolb $29,003,708 9 $3,222,634 755 $38,416
12 Josh Allen $13,965,846 5 $2,793,169 320 $43,643
13 Brock Osweiler $41,396,679 15 $2,759,779 1165 $35,534
14 Matthew Stafford $178,278,969 66 $2,701,197 5405 $32,984
15 Drew Stanton $29,162,094 11 $2,651,099 659 $44,252
16 Matt Leinart $18,810,000 8 $2,351,250 641 $29,345
17 Josh McCown $49,668,000 23 $2,159,478 2628 $18,900
18 Kirk Cousins $72,640,630 34 $2,136,489 2702 $26,884
19 Michael Vick $124,758,908 61 $2,045,228 3217 $38,781
20 Aaron Rodgers $204,044,529 100 $2,040,445 5492 $37,153
21 Eli Manning $235,280,004 116 $2,028,276 7972 $29,513
22 Mark Sanchez $74,223,773 37 $2,006,048 2320 $31,993
23 Robert Griffin III $29,203,473 15 $1,946,898 1216 $24,016
24 Matt Schaub $90,555,000 47 $1,926,702 3281 $27,600
25 Carson Palmer $174,148,722 92 $1,892,921 6307 $27,612
26 Tyrod Taylor $43,301,548 23 $1,882,676 1356 $31,933
27 Andrew Luck $97,107,998 53 $1,832,226 3290 $29,516
28 Matt Cassel $65,494,057 36 $1,819,279 2683 $24,411
29 Rob Johnson $21,033,000 12 $1,752,750 806 $26,096
30 Matt Ryan $178,707,925 102 $1,752,038 6201 $28,819
31 David Carr $40,000,000 23 $1,739,130 2267 $17,644
32 Philip Rivers $202,917,656 118 $1,719,641 7000 $28,988
33 Chad Henne $30,780,135 18 $1,710,008 1959 $15,712
34 Blake Bortles $40,654,802 24 $1,693,950 2632 $15,446
35 Matt Moore $25,098,000 15 $1,673,200 983 $25,532
36 Derek Anderson $33,284,303 20 $1,664,215 1674 $19,883
37 Todd Collins $18,304,750 11 $1,664,068 701 $26,112
38 Jay Cutler $122,196,087 74 $1,651,298 4920 $24,837
39 Tony Romo $127,422,458 78 $1,633,621 4335 $29,394
40 Derek Carr $52,010,601 32 $1,625,331 2800 $18,575
41 Ryan Tannehill $67,550,979 42 $1,608,357 2911 $23,205
42 Alex Smith $146,475,000 94 $1,558,245 4941 $29,645
43 Colin Kaepernick $43,479,216 28 $1,552,829 1692 $25,697
44 Jeff Blake $60,452,000 39 $1,550,051 3241 $18,652
45 Cam Newton $104,692,164 68 $1,539,591 3891 $26,906
46 Joe Flacco $147,800,000 96 $1,539,583 5670 $26,067
47 Shaun Hill $25,779,225 17 $1,516,425 1225 $21,044
48 Blaine Gabbert $19,526,851 13 $1,502,065 1498 $13,035
49 Mitchell Trubisky $21,504,146 15 $1,433,610 764 $28,147
50 Drew Brees $221,710,422 155 $1,430,390 9783 $22,663
51 Marc Bulger $55,391,000 41 $1,351,000 3171 $17,468
52 Peyton Manning $248,732,000 186 $1,337,269 9380 $26,517
53 Brian Hoyer $21,171,470 16 $1,323,217 1412 $14,994
54 Ben Roethlisberger $187,286,864 144 $1,300,603 7168 $26,128
55 Nick Foles $31,933,635 26 $1,228,217 1581 $20,198
56 Jameis Winston $25,258,894 21 $1,202,804 1922 $13,142
57 Joey Harrington $31,195,000 26 $1,199,808 2538 $12,291
58 Ryan Fitzpatrick $58,041,098 50 $1,160,822 4285 $13,545
59 Chad Pennington $50,966,000 44 $1,158,318 2471 $20,626
60 Vince Young $35,390,000 31 $1,141,613 1304 $27,140
61 Byron Leftwich $27,212,000 24 $1,133,833 1605 $16,955
62 Jake Delhomme $63,474,061 56 $1,133,465 2932 $21,649
63 Josh Freeman $28,328,824 25 $1,133,153 2048 $13,832
64 Matt Hasselbeck $88,044,500 85 $1,035,818 5330 $16,519
65 Tom Brady $212,166,804 207 $1,024,960 9375 $22,631
66 Donovan McNabb $99,689,735 98 $1,017,242 5374 $18,550
67 Russell Wilson $74,362,520 75 $991,500 3261 $22,804
68 Andy Dalton $67,314,198 68 $989,915 3921 $17,168
69 Jared Goff $23,677,990 24 $986,583 1243 $19,049
70 Carson Wentz $22,588,656 23 $982,115 1448 $15,600
71 Case Keenum $25,181,151 26 $968,506 1844 $13,656
72 Kurt Warner $62,773,000 67 $936,910 4070 $15,423
73 Tim Couch $20,264,000 22 $921,091 1714 $11,823
74 Marcus Mariota $24,239,134 27 $897,746 1605 $15,102
75 Kyle Boller $17,915,000 20 $895,750 1519 $11,794
76 Daunte Culpepper $34,990,000 41 $853,415 3199 $10,938
77 Jake Plummer $58,777,775 69 $851,852 4350 $13,512
78 Steve McNair $76,234,917 91 $837,746 4544 $16,777
79 Drew Bledsoe $79,856,250 98 $814,860 6717 $11,889
80 Kerry Collins $63,748,000 81 $787,012 6261 $10,182
81 Jason Campbell $24,454,500 32 $764,203 2518 $9,712
82 Brett Favre $137,829,000 186 $741,016 10169 $13,554
83 Brad Johnson $53,120,500 72 $737,785 4326 $12,279
84 David Garrard $28,684,000 39 $735,487 2281 $12,575
85 Kyle Orton $30,109,000 42 $716,881 2712 $11,102
86 Jeff George $30,246,000 46 $657,522 3967 $7,624
87 Jon Kitna $32,755,600 50 $655,112 4442 $7,374
88 Jeff Garcia $36,637,500 58 $631,681 3676 $9,967
89 Rex Grossman $15,480,000 25 $619,200 1562 $9,910
90 Troy Aikman $55,537,000 94 $590,819 4715 $11,779
91 Dave Brown $15,050,000 26 $578,846 1634 $9,211
92 Doug Flutie $21,765,000 38 $572,763 2151 $10,119
93 Neil O'Donnell $30,540,000 55 $555,273 3229 $9,458
94 Chris Chandler $33,060,000 67 $493,433 4005 $8,255
95 Rich Gannon $36,463,000 76 $479,776 4206 $8,669
96 Steve Beuerlein $22,238,265 47 $473,155 3328 $6,682
97 Trent Dilfer $27,050,000 58 $466,379 3172 $8,528
98 Dan Marino $51,510,000 147 $350,408 8358 $6,163
99 John Elway $45,445,000 148 $307,061 7250 $6,268
100 Jim Kelly $28,715,000 101 $284,307 4779 $6,009

I also looked at the total number of passes thrown and figured out how much each of these QBs made per pass.

Chase Daniel is the king of making a fine living as QB2. He has earned $28.3 million in his NFL career and has exactly two NFL wins to his name. Daniel has made an insane $184K for every NFL pass he has thrown.

Among starting QBs, Sam Bradford has made the most money for the least results with Matthew Stafford a distant second (worst).

Starting QBs like Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield should turn into much better investments IF they start producing winning seasons for their teams on a regular basis.

It is interesting to note that both Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers are in the top 20 worst ROI QBs. Two former Bronco QBs are in the top 30 worst ROI - Brock Osweiler, by virtue of that huge contract Houston threw him, and Mark Sanchez have both made more than $2 million for every NFL victory they have “authored.”

I realize I have not adjusted this to constant dollars to normalize the QBs who played in the 80s and 90s with the QBs who are playing today. Someone with more of a finance/accounting background should do that since I don’t have the time nor inclination to do so.

That being said, Jim Kelly, John Elway and Dan Marino produced with a tremendous ROI relative to modern starting QBs. Elway earned $307K for every victory he authored, while Jim Kelly earned less than $300K. Of course, here in the real world where the rest of us live, $300K is a lot of money and probably more than many of us earn in a year.

However, in the NFL, if you have the skills to play QB at an elite level like 0.00000001% of the world’s population can, you could have earned a lot of money even 40 years ago in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers makes roughly $37K every time he throws a pass. John Elway earned about $6K. How’s that for inflation?

Currently Peyton Manning holds the record for most money earned by an NFL player during his career (according to Spotrac). He earned about a quarter of a billion dollars playing in the NFL (that does not include endorsement money).

His brother Eli is poised to pass him next season. Eli Manning currently has earned $235 million and has $5 million guaranteed for next season even if he is cut prior to June 1. If he makes the roster, he gets another $5 million roster bonus and can earn another $6.5 in base salary if he plays for the Giants in 2019 - bringing his salary for 2019 up to $16.5 million. That would put him in first place all-time in earning for an NFL player.

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady could all end up in that No. 1 spot in a couple of years.