The extension Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford signed on Tuesday has likely deepened the pool of NFL signal-callers capable of securing a mega-contract, while also ensuring blockbuster deals for the next wave of top passers.
Quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan and Cam Newton will each look to use Stafford's new deal—worth $53 million over three years, with $43 million guaranteed, per Pro Football Talk—as a point of reference in their looming negotiations. Others, including Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Andy Dalton, can now feel confident in their ability to secure a contract at or near what Stafford received.
Overall, the message this spring and summer has been crystal clear: Being an NFL quarterback has never been as profitable as it is today.
On schedule to become an unrestricted free agent, Flacco used the Baltimore Ravens' run to a Super Bowl win as leverage to obtain a six-year, $120.6 million deal with $52 million guaranteed. The Super Bowl MVP briefly became the highest-paid player in the NFL, only to see Rodgers' seven-year deal worth $130.8 million (plus $54 million guaranteed) take the crown a month later.
In between, Romo—a 33-year-old quarterback with just one career playoff win—secured a seven-year, $119.5 million deal with $55 million guaranteed from the Dallas Cowboys.
In terms of average salary, Stafford, Flacco, Rodgers and Romo now represent four of the top six at the quarterback position.
As is the case in any negotiation, leverage and timing helped pave the way for these megadeals.
Flacco was coming off a Super Bowl season, Rodgers is arguably the top quarterback in the game and entering his prime and both Romo (59 touchdown passes since 2011) and Stafford (over 10,000 passing yards the last two seasons) helped create much-needed salary-cap space for their respective franchises.
However, it has become clear that the parameters for securing a blockbuster deal on the quarterback market have changed.
There was once a time when the biggest deals were reserved for MVP- and championship-level quarterbacks. Now, teams are willing to give big money to lesser qualified players in exchange for stability at the position.
While Stafford is just one of four quarterbacks to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season, he also has a 17-28 career starting record and just one playoff appearance. His career passer rating is a perfectly average 82.8, and the Lions went 4-12 last season after winning 10 games in 2011.
The former No. 1 overall pick doesn't exactly fit the profile of a megadeal quarterback. But the Lions now have a promising, young option under center to lean on for the next three years. There is a certain comfort in possessing such an asset in today's NFL.
Stability is the name of the game for Romo and the Cowboys, too.
Romo, a nine-year veteran, has led Dallas to the postseason in just three of the seven years he's started. His last and only playoff win came in 2009, when he "improved" his postseason record to 1-2 before falling in the Divisional Round the following week.
Yet, Romo does have a lifetime passer rating of 95.6, which should give the Cowboys a more-than-capable player at the position over the next several years.
While few will argue that Stafford or Romo lack the talent or physical skills to keep their teams competitive every season, it appears reaching the NFL's peak is no longer a prerequisite for obtaining elite salaries.
This dynamic has likely opened the door for a broader spectrum of quarterbacks capable of approaching the deals of Stafford and Romo.
Even if the likes of Newton, Luck, Griffin III, Kaepernick or Wilson fail to build on the success of their early careers, each quarterback will have a relatively high probability of signing a market-level deal sometime down the road.
Even a quarterback like Dalton, who has brought the Cincinnati Bengals to the postseason in each of the last two seasons, should have a realistic opportunity to enter the ranks of the financially elite. Another season of improvement from him would make the Bengals very likely to entertain the idea of locking Dalton up long-term with a big deal.
Once so elusive to the majority of NFL quarterbacks, the allure of the mega-contract is now attainable for a greater number of starting signal-callers. The NFL has clearly committed to paying the game's most important position across the board.
The next batch of megadeals isn't far off.
Ryan, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2013, will be expected to eclipse Stafford's deal at some point this offseason. He should easily reach the $100 million range overall and the $50 million benchmark in guaranteed salary.
Newton has two years left on his rookie deal, but he's performed well enough in his first two NFL seasons to warrant a big extension from the Carolina Panthers. More than likely, those talks will accelerate at some point during or after next season. He should also surpass Stafford's deal, in total and guaranteed money.
Sam Bradford might also be on the megadeal radar at some point, as he's scheduled to be a free agent following the 2015 season. Just one big year from the former No. 1 overall pick, and he'll be in line to cash in on an extension from the St. Louis Rams.
Speaking of No. 1 picks, Luck appears right on schedule to receive a substantial raise from the Indianapolis Colts sometime in the future as well.
Stafford's extension certainly wasn't unexpected, but it does reinforce the idea that barriers to entering the financially elite among NFL quarterbacks are crumbling. The lack of Super Bowls and MVPs is no longer keeping the less accomplished at the position from obtaining out-of-this-world stipends.
These truths should pave the way for others down the road, both in the near and distant future. The NFL quarterback market is all about who can claim ownership of the next top payday, with everyone afforded the opportunity to enter the sweepstakes.
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