Today we begin a series on the best and worst contracts in the NFL by position, starting with the most underpaid quarterbacks. For each player named, we give the years remaining on his contract, as well as the average cap hit he has against the team for the remaining years of his deal.
1. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Years remaining: One
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $3.1 million
Taylor's deal with Buffalo is not just the best contract for a team among quarterbacks, but also for all positions. Several backup QBs have a higher cap hit than Taylor in 2016, including Nick Foles, Josh McCown, Chase Daniel, Carson Wentz, Chad Henne, Case Keenum and Shaun Hill.
Buffalo isn’t just getting a starting quarterback at backup money, but one that earned an overall grade of 81.8 in 2015, good for-ninth-best among NFL quarterbacks in 2015. Part of the reason Taylor graded so highly is his deep-throwing ability, where his 1,014 deep-passing yards and 12 deep-passing touchdowns were both good for top-five last season. There are talks that Taylor could get an extension before or during the 2016 season, but until it happens, the QB's current deal is a huge help to the Bills.
2. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Years remaining: Five
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $21.1 million
In the 2015 offseason, Cam Newton signed a five-year contract extension, then proceeded to compile by far the best season of his career. The Panther QB is known for his running ability, but his 85.2 passing grade in 2015 was good for fifth-best among quarterbacks. He also had an adjusted completion percentage of 47.8 on deep passes, fourth-best among quarterbacks.
It might seem odd that a player making over $20 million per year is “underpaid,” but it isn’t until 2019 that Newton is among the top seven quarterbacks in terms of cap hit. The youngest quarterback to have a higher PFF overall grade than Newton in 2015 was Ben Roethlisberger, who is now 34. It isn’t farfetched to think that, in a few years when some of the top quarterbacks have retired, Newton could be the best quarterback in the NFL. Even though he is eventually projected to be among the top five highest-paid quarterbacks with how much the salary cap is increasing, it wouldn’t be surprising if other QBs get new contracts for more money. As long as Cam Newton continues to play as well as he did in 2015, he will be underpaid for years to come.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Years remaining: Four
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $20.4 million
Colleague Sam Monson recently named the 101 best players in the NFL right now, and the top offensive player in the NFC was Aaron Rodgers. However, Rodgers isn’t even among the top 10 quarterbacks with the largest cap hits in 2016. In fact, at no point over the course of his contract is Rodgers expected to be among the top five highest-paid NFL QBs.
Despite Rodgers making less per year than Newton—and the Green Bay QB likely to be better overall in 2016—Newton’s contract is still a better deal for the team. One reason is that Newton is under contract an additional year. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Panther signs another extension before that point, but if negotiations aren’t going well, they at least have an additional season with him at the helm of the Carolina offense. Between Rodgers' relatively poor 2015 season and Newton being five and a half years younger, there will likely come a time in the next few seasons where Newton surpasses Rodgers on the quarterback ranking list. At the moment, however, the Packers are getting an elite quarterback without paying him elite money.
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Years remaining: Four
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $20.6 million
Russell Wilson is in a similar situation to Newton and Rodgers as one of the league’s best quarterbacks not making top-of-the-market NFL QB money. Before the 2015 season, he signed a contract extension with Seattle, and followed that up with a better 2015 performance than 2014. Last season, Wilson was the only quarterback to have an NFL QB Rating above 100.0 on passes with a time-to-throw under 2.5 seconds, as well as on passes above 2.5 seconds.
Wilson isn't quite at on the same level as Rodgers and Newton in terms of production; despite having his best receiving group yet, the Seahawk was just outside the top five in terms of overall PFF grade among QBs last season. In Monson’s 101, both Newton and Rodgers—as well as Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger—are both ranked higher. While his contract doesn’t look as good as Newton's and Rodgers', it is still a team-friendly deal for Seattle compared to what Wilson could have earned had he hit the open market.
5. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Years remaining: Five
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $15.8 million
Recently, when a good-but-not-great quarterback has been in line for an extension, the team has paid him like an elite QB, simply because having a good quarterback is still better than being stuck with a bad one. In 2014, when Dalton signed a six-year extension, he became the exception to that rule.
20 different quarterbacks have a higher average value per year than Dalton, yet the Cincinnati QB made his way into our top 10 highest-graded quarterbacks last season, with an overall grade of 84.7. On passes where Dalton threw the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, he had an NFL passer rating of 115.7, the best in the NFL. Dalton may never be a top-five NFL quarterback, but he is an above-average starting QB getting paid like a below-average starter.