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An analysis of NFL quarterback pay

Who is REALLY the highest paid QB in the league?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In my post from yesterday, there was some wailing and gnashing teeth over how much money the Denver Broncos are going to be paying Russell Wilson to play QB and the contract that George Paton gave him before playing a down in Denver.

At the same time there was some misinformation being spread - saying the Russell Wilson is the highest paid QB in the league. Russell Wilson is NOT the highest paid QB in the NFL. Period. Full stop. End of sentence.

There is no metric where he has the biggest number. Not total contract value (Patrick Mahomes 450 million), not practical guaranteed (DeShaun Watson 230 million), not average value per year (Aaron Rodgers 50.3 million), not total guaranteed (again Watson), not even average yearly cap hit (also Rodgers).

Yes, Russell Wilson has one of the bigger contracts in the NFL, but he doesn’t have the biggest (nor should he based on his play from 2022 - but that’s not what is being discussed here). If we plot the cap hit for QBs who are no longer on their rookie deals and who are under contract through 2025 at least, we get the plot below. Apologies to those who are colorblind.

Russ doesn’t even have the biggest cap hit until 2026, and by 2026 I doubt that a cap hit in the high 50s will be the biggest cap hit in the league.

One could also argue that by 2026 Russ will have had to restructure his deal and he won’t even have that high of a cap hit for the 2026 season. Russ will be 38 in the 2028 season. Only a handful of QBs in the history of the league have still be playing at an elite level at that age and they all are or will be in the Hall of Fame.

Only nine QBs currently have contracts that extend through the end of the 2025 season and one of them, Derek Carr, just had his contract terminated so there really are only eight. Carr will have a 5.6 million dead cap hit for the Faiders in 2023. Seven QBs have a cap hit greater than 40 million for 2024. Russ is not one of them.

Of course many, if not all of these contracts could get restructured. But maybe not. The Chiefs, who were just gifted the Super Bowl by the refs, are the first team to win the Super Bowl with more than one sixth of their yearly cap tied up in their QB. Mahomes had a cap number of 35.8 million for the 2022 season. That jumps to 49.3 for the 2023 season, but as much as it pains me to type it, he’s worth it.

Andy Reid would still be a great head coach without the play of Patrick Mahomes, but he would not be a lock for the Hall of Fame. Without Mahomes, Reid would probably be the second coming of Marty Schottenheimer, a head coach who was never able to win the biggest games. Marty is still not in the hall of fame despite having 200 career regular season wins (8th all-time). He and Dan Reeves are the only two in the top 10 who are not still coaching and are not in the Hall of Fame.