Ranking NFL Quarterbacks on Long-Term Job Security
The nature of the National Football League is a cruel, merciless sport in which players can be swapped from one team to another or outright released at any given time.
Job security is never what it seems; a six-year deal can in all actuality be a one- or two-year contract allowing the organization an easy out at any time should they so choose. Just look at the contracts Jay Cutler or Colin Kaepernick signed. Both seemingly agreed to $100-plus million deals but can be released after just one to two seasons at little cap penalty.
That’s the way it works in this league, though. A contract is worth only what the guaranteed money entails, and sometimes not even. Quarterback is by far the most important position on the field, and often a team will only go as far as its quarterback.
That’s why teams will shell out big money for the best in the business, and a failed first-round draft pick may only get a year or two to prove his worth before he’s gone. The new collective bargaining agreement doesn’t overpay young quarterbacks as used to be the case (see Sam Bradford), so a team like the Cleveland Browns isn’t set back for years because of a failed first-rounder like Brandon Weeden.
Veteran quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are all considered old by NFL standards, but they’re playing at such a high level that they will continue to reign supreme as long as they’re productive. Meanwhile, up-and-coming stars like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck will soon receive contract extensions, which will lock them up for the long term with their current franchise.
This list looks at how comfortable a quarterback should be with his long-term job status. Obviously a player like Brees won’t still be the starter in 10 years because of his age (35), but how confident should New Orleans Saints fans be that he will be around in three seasons? A three-year window is a fair marker of long-term security.
Rankings are based on a quarterback’s talent level, his salary, age, injury history and any potential backups who may threaten his future status as the team’s starter. Is there a backup on the team threatening the starter's job or is the backup a washed-up veteran clinging onto his NFL career? All will be strongly considered when evaluating the quarterbacks.
The first players on the list are quarterbacks who probably won’t even make it through 2014 as starters, while the ones ranked in the top five can confidently assume they’ll still be starting three seasons from now.
*Contract figures are per Spotrac.com.
32. Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns
The most polarizing quarterback in college football history will have all eyes on him this season. Beating out Brian Hoyer for the starting job shouldn’t be a problem; Hoyer was released by the Arizona Cardinals just last offseason.
It will be interesting to see if Johnny Manziel’s playmaking abilities at Texas A&M can translate to the NFL level. He’s without All-Pro talent Josh Gordon, which means he will throw to declining veterans like Miles Austin and Nate Burleson.
Manziel may see growing pains as a rookie, but his four-year deal and the fact that he will sell out every home game in 2014 suggests Hoyer probably won ‘t even start Week 1 for this franchise.
31. Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith brought in Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown as a stopgap quarterback, immediately anointing him as the starter over last year’s third-round rookie, Mike Glennon.
Bucs' Lovie Smith, asked if Josh McCown is his quarterback: "Yes, he is."
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) March 12, 2014
McCown enjoyed a truly remarkable campaign at age 34 after spending 2012 out of football. He threw 13 touchdowns to just one interception, seeing a revival under quarterback guru Marc Trestman. McCown was helped out tremendously by Pro Bowl receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but he certainly held his own. Per Pro Football Focus’ advanced quarterback metrics, McCown was accurate on 77.8 percent of his passes, the fourth-highest mark in the game.
There are several problems with McCown as the long-term starter for the Buccaneers. He’s going to have to beat out Glennon in training camp, and Glennon played very well a year ago. As a mid-round rookie, Glennon tossed 19 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. That’s a solid ratio, and Glennon will have another top-tier wide receiver in Mike Evans.
McCown also has a modest two-year, $10 million contract with no guaranteed money. Essentially, he could be released right now without the Buccaneers having to pay even a cap penalty. That doesn’t suggest that will happen, but what it does tell you is there aren’t many financial implications implying he’s anything more than a brief stopgap for Glennon.
30. Matt Schaub, Oakland Raiders
After earning two Pro Bowl selections as a starter in Houston, everything fell apart for Matt Schaub a year ago. He threw a pick-six in four consecutive games before the Texans eventually sent him to Oakland for one more pick-six.
Texans get a 6th for Schaub this year.
— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) March 21, 2014
Schaub has plenty of starting experience, but he will have to hold off second-round rookie Derek Carr, who is poised to become the Oakland quarterback of the future. Carr wasted no time in bypassing Matt McGloin on the depth chart, and there’s talk that he may start for Oakland very soon in 2014.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen compared Schaub to Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, but then said Schaub’s starting job is only written in pencil.
That’s telling evidence that Schaub is already treading water. Bet on Carr being named the full-time starter by Oakland, and he will have every opportunity to become the first long-term quarterback in Oakland since Rich Gannon.
29. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
For now, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has announced Chad Henne will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2014.
That will allow rookie third overall draft pick Blake Bortles the chance to sit on the bench and learn for a year before taking over the reins regularly.
Don’t expect Bortles to sit for a full year, though. Henne is in no way the future of this club. Bortles will push for snaps early, and the Jaguars have two rookie wide receivers (Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson) with whom Bortles will have to develop chemistry.
If the Jaguars are quietly in contention (very possible, considering they went 4-4 over their final eight games in 2013), Bortes may get the nod as the starter. After all, he's younger, has a stronger arm and quicker release, and Gus Bradley may view him as a better option to get Jacksonville into the playoffs.
28. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans
At this point in his career, Ryan Fitzpatrick is what he is.
He’s an above-average backup who can produce at a competent level as a starter. He doesn’t elevate his teammates, and it would be surprising if Houston expects that he’s anything more than a one-year starter at quarterback.
Fitzpatrick will assuredly enter 2014 as the Texans’ starter, considering it’s Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum or their fourth-round draft choice, Tom Savage. Keenum flamed out after a brief run of success a year ago, and Savage is a project who may take several years to develop.
Still, this doesn’t mean Fitzpatrick is the quarterback of the future for Houston. He’s 31 years old with a career 27-49-1 record as a starter. Bill O’Brien is a quarterback guru, and he will likely rather work with the rookie with a strong arm (Savage) than the former seventh-round draft pick. Savage may not start games in 2014 or even ’15, but don’t expect Fitzpatrick to be the starter for too long, either.
27. Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater with the final pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. While he may not enter the season as the starter, neither Christian Ponder nor Matt Cassel is a long-term answer for the franchise.
Ponder is a failed first-round draft pick from ’11 who is best suited as a backup. Cassel was rated 28th among NFL quarterbacks in ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando’s article, and he’s a 32-year-old quarterback who essentially signed a one-year deal with the Vikings.
Bridgewater should be starting football games by midseason, and he will have every opportunity to be the Vikings quarterback of the future. The team has a solid offensive line, highlighted by left tackle Matt Kalil and center John Sullivan. The running game is still elite as long as Adrian Peterson is there. And the weapons make up an underrated group with Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings have nothing to gain by letting Cassel start football games. Bridgewater will be starting very soon.
26. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
It’s do-or-die time for Jake Locker, a former top-10 overall pick who is entering his contract season with the Tennessee Titans. The organization already neglected to grab his 2015 team option, which means Locker better show he can produce and stay healthy if he wants to remain this franchise’s starting quarterback.
Last year, Locker started to show signs of life before suffering a Lisfranc injury that placed him on season-ending injured reserve. Locker had thrown for eight touchdowns to four interceptions. His completion percentage was higher than ever before, and he had won four of his seven starts.
Locker may still be the Titans' quarterback of the future, although the odds aren’t looking good. His backup is veteran Charlie Whitehurst, a clipboard artist who won’t push for playing time. Rookie sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger may though, as Mettenberger was seen by many experts to be a first- or second-round prospect before tearing his ACL last season at LSU.
Locker will have to stay healthy and produce to get a contract extension. His brief NFL career so far doesn’t suggest that’s possible.
25. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
There’s little long-term hope for 34-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer, who is set to enter his 12th NFL season.
Palmer played well in stretches last year, accumulating over 4,200 passing yards and 24 touchdowns while helping the Arizona Cardinals to 10 wins. But his interceptions rose to 22, and he took a career-high 41 sacks.
Palmer is set to make $12 million in 2014 and 2015, and he can be released after the ’14 campaign at very little cap penalty. Bruce Arians did a remarkable job coaxing double-digit wins out of this Arizona team a year ago, but he has to know Palmer isn’t the long-term solution at quarterback.
The franchise took a flier on developmental quarterback Logan Thomas in the third round of the NFL draft, although many believe Thomas is better suited as a tight end at the next level. Even if he doesn’t translate to quarterback, Palmer still probably won’t be back after 2014.
24. Geno Smith, New York Jets
The future doesn’t look bright for Geno Smith for a handful of reasons.
The first is Smith’s play on the field as a rookie. He struggled mightily, to say the least, throwing for 12 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. He finished 37th out of 37 quarterbacks in passer rating, posting a mark lower than that of Oakland Raiders undrafted rookie Matt McGloin.
During one horrific four-game midseason stretch, Smith completed a total of 29 passes. He threw zero touchdowns, six interceptions and posted a 22.0 passer rating. Fortunately for New York Jets fans, Smith played significantly better in December, accounting for seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. The Jets went 3-1 during that span.
But head coach Rex Ryan brought in veteran Michael Vick, a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback who has struggled to stay healthy yet will pose a threat to Smith’s job in training camp. Even if Smith beats out Vick, he will have to hold him off for the rest of the season.
And Ryan’s history of developing quarterbacks hasn’t been too impressive. Mark Sanchez had his moments, especially in the postseason, but the bottom line was that he wasn’t worth the fifth overall selection the Jets used on him in 2009. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will need to play an instrumental role in Smith’s development this coming season.
23. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams made it very clear they’re committed to Sam Bradford when they passed on Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 NFL draft. In fact, the Rams didn’t even take a quarterback at all. Shaun Hill and Austin Davis won’t pose a threat to Bradford’s job security.
The fact that the Rams are paying Bradford $17 million this season is surprising, considering he’s been underwhelming since the team chose him first overall in 2010. The organization could have saved $10 million by releasing Bradford, although that would have meant going with a stopgap option like Matt Cassel or Michael Vick for a season.
Bradford’s biggest problem as of late has been his health—last year, he had thrown 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions before suffering a torn ACL that placed him on injured reserve. Since 2011, Bradford has missed an average of five games per season; the ’14 campaign will be his final shot to show the organization he can still be a successful quarterback.
It’s highly unlikely Bradford turns it around enough to be a long-term solution for the team. The best bet is he develops into an Andy Dalton-type of passer who can take a franchise to the playoffs. Should Bradford stay healthy for all 16 games in 2014, he may get a multiyear extension.
22. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Even after a dreadful 2013 season, Eli Manning is still the most important player on the New York Giants. After all, he’s just two years removed from a second Super Bowl championship, one in which he again outmatched Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
Several signs suggest Manning may not have too much time left in New York. He’s 33 years old this season and coming off offseason ankle surgery. He put up career-worst numbers in 2013, tossing 27 interceptions (the most by an NFL player in eight years), seeing his completion percentage drop to his lowest mark since 2007 and taking more sacks than ever before.
Manning is set to make $20.4 million in 2014 and $19.8 million in 2015. He becomes a free agent after ’15; in fact, the Giants can save a boatload of money by releasing Manning after this coming season.
There’s not really a backup quarterback in the waiting, unless you think last year’s fourth-round pick Ryan Nassib can become the long-term solution. Tom Coughlin will likely hang on to Manning as long as the two of them are working together, but that window of opportunity is closing. If Manning doesn’t show improvement in ’14, he may have to play somewhere else.
21. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
An up-and-down rookie season didn’t really show Buffalo Bills fans whether EJ Manuel can be the franchise’s long-term quarterback. He was flat-out mediocre, finishing 29th out of 37 qualifiers in passer rating (77.7) and 32nd in yards per attempt (6.4).
Manuel won just four of his 10 starts before ending the season on injured reserve due to a knee injury that plagued him all season. He will need to show the Bills he can stay healthy in 2014, which wasn’t the case a year ago.
The organization is doing everything possible so Manuel succeeds. General manager Doug Whaley pulled off a bold draft-day trade when he moved up to the fourth overall spot to grab Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The team also brought in receiver Mike Williams from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and added Bryce Brown to a deep running back committee.
By acquiring Watkins, the Bills had to give up next year’s first-round draft pick, which only helps Manuel’s long-term chances. They’re all but locked in to him for 2014 and 2015, and his contract does carry through the ’16 season. Thaddeus Lewis and Jeff Tuel pose no immediate threat to Manuel’s job security.
20. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith is a Pro Bowl quarterback coming off a strong 2013 season in which he led the Kansas City Chiefs to a playoff berth. But general manager John Dorsey hasn’t yet extended Smith’s contract, and Smith is set to become a free agent after the ’14 campaign.
There has been talk about a long-term deal; ProFootballTalk reported (h/t Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt of SiriusXM NFL Radio) the Chiefs are trying to work out a long-term deal with Smith in the range of $100 million.
Smith is 30 years old, which means he could still have at least four or five more productive seasons. Since 2011, Smith has been one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the league. He’s 30-9-1 as a starter, having tossed 53 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions while posting a 92.5 passer rating. His style of play resembles a game manager in some ways—Pro Football Focus rated Smith just 38th out of 40 quarterbacks in percentage of throws that traveled over 20 yards in the air.
There’s no quarterback in the waiting in Kansas City. Chase Daniel is a well-compensated backup, but he’s likely not the long-term answer. The Chiefs will probably give Smith an extension similar to that of Jay Cutler, one in which the figures look like a six-year deal but it’s really more like a two-year contract.
19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton is in pretty much the exact same situation as Alex Smith. They’re both successful quarterbacks entering the final year of their contracts. Dalton has taken the Cincinnati Bengals to three consecutive playoff berths (in three seasons as a starter), and he’s four years younger than Smith.
That puts Dalton slightly higher than Smith in terms of his long-term job security. Dalton has been inconsistent, and his biggest downfall is his poor performances in the playoffs (he’s 0-3 as a starter).
Still, Dalton has started all 48 regular-season games since being drafted. Last year, he topped out at 4,293 yards, 33 touchdown passes and a 88.9 passer rating. He’s demonstrated a fine rapport with A.J. Green, and he has a handful of weapons in Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
If the Bengals lost their first postseason game again this season, owner Mike Brown will have to decide whether he thinks he can continue with Dalton (head coach Marvin Lewis probably won’t still be employed to make that decision). Teams don’t usually move on from quarterbacks who have had even the middling success Dalton has had, and a contract extension similar to Smith’s will likely be in the works.
18. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
This upcoming season will go a long way in determining Ryan Tannehill’s future with the Miami Dolphins. Since being drafted in 2012, Tannehill has shown steady improvement.
He threw 12 touchdowns to 13 interceptions as a rookie, then put up 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions as a second-year player. His completion percentage rose two points, and his passer rating went up five points. The problem is that he took an awful pounding behind a makeshift offensive line in wake of the Bullygate scandal, and the result was a league-worst 58 sacks.
Tannehill enters year three with a chance to show he’s on par to be the franchise quarterback. He’s an above-average runner, and the team added slot receiver Jarvis Landry in the draft, along with running back Knowshon Moreno via free agency.
The likelihood is that Tannehill enters 2015 still on his rookie deal, and the organization will be able to decide after the season whether he’s worth keeping around for the long haul. As of now, it really could go either way.
17. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Perhaps no quarterback in the National Football League can make or break his long-term future more than Nick Foles. Foles came out of nowhere to put together a truly spectacular 2013 campaign, tossing 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Along the way, he posted the third-highest single-season passer rating in league history.
Chip Kelly gave a vote of confidence to Foles when he passed on his onetime love Johnny Manziel in the NFL draft. Foles isn’t blessed with exceptional arm strength or dangerous running ability, but he’s extremely careful with the football and possesses ideal intelligence.
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles went 7-1 during the second half of the season with Foles under center. Even in the playoff loss, Foles threw two touchdowns to no interceptions and left the field the final time with the offense holding the lead.
If Foles can come even close to duplicating his ’13 numbers, he will ink a nine-figure contract extension that will put him among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the game. If he takes a significant step back, Kelly may let him play out the final year of his deal and then look for a younger, more mobile passer to run his high-speed offense.
16. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
That’s not likely, but Stafford will need to show improvement from his last two seasons. After throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns passes in 2011, Stafford saw his interceptions rise from 16 to 17 to 19. His completion percentage has dropped in consecutive years, and he’s just 11-21 as a starter since going 10-6 in ’11.
Stafford was a former first overall pick, he has a cannon of a throwing arm and he’s still just 26 years old, even after five NFL seasons. The Lions have put him in position to succeed, adding Golden Tate and Eric Ebron this offseason to a corps that already included Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Brandon Pettigrew.
15. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo has become almost a punchline around the National Football League, but the reality is he’s a very good quarterback. Romo has shed the injury-prone label in recent years, starting 47 of 48 games since 2011. During that span, he’s averaged 4,305 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and a 96.1 passer rating.
The problem is his age (34) and an offseason back surgery that could make Romo one easy hit away from landing on injured reserve. Romo has routinely struggled in clutch situations. The Dallas Cowboys have finished at exactly .500 for each of the previous three seasons. During that span, they’re just 15-15 in one-score games.
Romo isn’t going anywhere though, at least not anytime soon. Owner Jerry Jones recently extended Romo to the tune of a six-year, $108 million contract, and as long as he’s still producing among the top 10 quarterbacks in the game, he’s staying.
14. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger’s status as one of the game’s best quarterbacks has gotten swept under the rug in recent years, but he’s still a top-10 signal-caller. Last year, Roethlisberger quietly started all 16 games, throwing for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Since 2011, he’s eighth among all quarterbacks in completion percentage (63.6) and passing yards (11,603), ninth in passer rating (92.8), 10th in touchdown passes (75) and 11th in yards per attempt (7.5). He’s taken quite a beating behind that offensive line, getting sacked 112 times (third-most among all quarterbacks).
The Pittsburgh Steelers have made recent attempts to shore up their offensive line, extending center Maurkice Pouncey to a long-term deal and drafting standout guard David DeCastro in 2012. Roethlisberger’s current contract expires after 2015, and the team can conceivably move on from him after ’14.
That’s not likely to happen though, even if Roethlisberger gets injured this coming season. There’s been talk of Roethlisberger even asking the Steelers organization for a trade, but two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks don’t get traded when they’re still in the prime.
Per the Tribune-Review’s Alan Robinson, Roethlisberger is eager to obtain a new contract from the Steelers. Expect a multiyear extension after 2014, one that allows Roethlisberger to eventually retire as a member of the Steelers.
13. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears faced an interesting dilemma this past offseason. Longtime journeyman backup Josh McCown had run Marc Trestman’s offense so well that some thought the team should allow free-agent quarterback Jay Cutler to test the open market.
Not only did Trestman allow McCown to leave, Cutler was given a seven-year, $126.7 million contract with the Bears that includes over $45 million in guaranteed money. Essentially, the deal is a two-year deal for 2014 and 2015 that allows the Bears to part ways with Cutler before ’16 should they so please.
Cutler has been inconsistent, erratic and injury-prone during his eight-year NFL career. He’s thrown for 4,000 yards in a season just once, and he hasn’t started all 16 games since 2009. But there are several reasons to believe he will flourish in ’14.
Trestman’s offense brought out the best in the 35-year-old McCown in 2013, to the point that McCown landed a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. There are two Pro Bowl receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and a tremendously talented running back in Matt Forte. The offensive line has been strengthened as well.
Expect Cutler to put up his best numbers in 2014. He won’t play out that seven-year deal, but he has several productive seasons left with the Bears.
12. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
After a near-storybook rookie season, all fell apart for Robert Griffin III in 2013. He struggled to return from a torn ACL, and it appeared he lost confidence in his abilities on the field.
It’s still early in RGIII’s career, and he can easily turn it around. The Washington Redskins added talented wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and RGIII is now 18 months removed from his postseason injury. He’s entering just the third year of a four-year deal, and there’s a lot of reason to believe he is still the team’s franchise quarterback.
The Redskins invested a lot in Griffin, trading three first-round draft picks for the talented playmaker. Griffin can run and pass, and if he can show 2012 wasn’t a fluke, he’s here for the long term.
11. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
It’s extremely difficult to rank Peyton Manning as a long-term quarterback. He’s 38 years old and has already undergone numerous surgeries on his neck. Outside of Brett Favre, very few quarterbacks make it to 40 years old as productive players.
Then again, Manning is special. He compensated last year for diminished arm strength with the greatest statistical season in league history. He shattered the record for passing touchdowns, tossing 55 against just 10 interceptions, winning his fifth league MVP award in the process.
Manning led the league in numerous passing stats—completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, net passing yards per attempt and sack percentage. His quick release and uncanny ability to read defenses makes him the single-best player in the league, and perhaps of all time.
His five-year, $96 million contract is irrelevant, even the fact that the Denver Broncos can easily release him after this season. General manager John Elway knows an elite quarterback when he sees one, and he will keep Manning around as long as possible. The team is built to win now, and as long as Manning can win football games, he will be allowed to come back at whatever cost.
10. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton took a significant step forward in 2013. After consecutive non-playoff seasons, he helped the Carolina Panthers capture 12 wins and an NFC South title. Newton led the Panthers to four fourth-quarter comeback victories in ’13, and he put up his best statistical numbers across the board.
Even though he’s a running quarterback, Newton hasn’t struggled with injuries. He’s started 48 of 48 games while averaging a ridiculous nine rushing touchdowns per season.
Newton may be in for a rough ’14 campaign, as he underwent offseason ankle surgery. The team also said farewell to longtime receiver Steve Smith (released) and Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross (retired). Newton is entering a contract season, but even if he plays below his standards, he’s going to get a long-term deal.
The problem for Newton is that he may get a contract similar to that of Colin Kaepernick, in which his team can essentially evaluate him on a year-to-year basis.
9. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Well, maybe not. Per ProFootballTalk, the deal is really worth just $13 million in guaranteed money before the Niners can conceivably move on from him. A breakdown of the contract on Spotrac reveals the team can actually release Kaepernick after 2014 and save $8 million off Kaepernick’s $17 million cap hit for ’15.
That doesn’t mean Kaepernick is on his way out. What it means is he may have to prove to the organization that he can stay healthy (not that injuries have been a problem) given his running style of football. He’s not the best passer, as evidenced by a 58.4 completion percentage that rated 31st out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks.
Still, he has a unique skill set that projects to long-term success. He’s 6’4”, has a cannon of an arm and can run extremely well. He’s also just 26 years old and coming off an NFC Championship appearance and then a Super Bowl appearance.
8. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
A 2013 career resurgence should hand Philip Rivers a multiyear contract extension. Head coach Mike McCoy helped to rejuvenate Rivers’ numbers, as the 32-year-old signal-caller put up arguably his best season ever.
Rivers led the NFL in completion percentage (69.5), tossing 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. His 105.5 passer rating tied his personal best. And he did all this throwing to a rookie No. 1 receiver in Keenan Allen while playing behind an offensive line that ranked just 25th in pass-blocking efficiency, per Pro Football Focus.
Rivers has never missed a game due to injury since becoming the full-time starter in ’06. His contract expires after 2015, but he will likely get a three- or four-year contract extension to keep him with San Diego for life.
7. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Winning the Super Bowl did wonders for Joe Flacco. After posting league-average statistics in the regular season from 2008 to 2012, Flacco’s unprecedented postseason run in 2013 earned him a six-year, $120.6 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens.
The structure of Flacco’s contract is a bit odd—per Spotrac, he’s scheduled to make $28.5 million in 2016 and $31.5 million in 2017. That suggests he may need to rework the financial details of his extension for the Ravens to be able to sign other players.
Flacco could also stand to play significantly better than he did last season. He threw more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (19) for the first time in his career. He also posted career worsts in yards per attempt (6.4) and passer rating (73.7).
But winning a Super Bowl will buy Flacco plenty of time. It certainly did for Eli Manning, who was never a top-10 regular-season quarterback but performed well in the clutch. There’s no reason to think Flacco is going anywhere anytime soon.
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Wait, if Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl and Matt Ryan hasn’t even been to one, why is Matt Ryan rated higher? After all, they were both 2008 first-round picks, so it isn’t as if one is significantly older.
Well, simply put, Ryan is a much better quarterback, and fans of 31 of the 32 NFL teams would confirm this. Even in a disappointing ’13 season, Ryan still threw for 4,515 yards and 26 touchdowns. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes, and his 439 completions rates as the seventh-best single-season mark in league history.
This was despite playing much of the season without Julio Jones and Roddy White and behind an offensive line that allowed him to get sacked 44 times. Ryan hasn’t missed a game to injury since 2009, and he’s still a top-seven or eight quarterback.
His current contract extends through the 2018 season; realistically, the Atlanta Falcons are tied to at least three more years of Ryan before they can conceivably release him. But there’s no reason for the organization to look to move on from Ryan. Even with his postseason struggles, he’s a bona fide franchise quarterback.
5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Even at nearly 37 years old, Tom Brady still cracks the top five quarterbacks on this list for several reasons. The most important aspect is that he’s really, really good.
Brady is a perennial league MVP candidate and a franchise quarterback who can hide any weakness on his team simply because of his tremendous passing abilities. Last year, he threw for 4,343 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions despite playing with nearly a brand-new receiving corps. He still led the New England Patriots to a 12-4 record and a postseason victory.
Brady’s contract locks him to the Patriots for at least three more seasons; even if he is released after 2016, the Patriots still have to pay $6 million in dead money. It’s impossible to project the long-term status of a quarterback of Brady’s age, but it seems very likely that as long as Bill Belichick is here, Brady will be here.
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is in an extremely similar situation to Tom Brady; he gets the higher spot simply because he’s younger and he’s won a Super Bowl more recently.
Brees is 35 years old, but he’s playing like he’s 25. All he did in 2013 was post his third consecutive 5,000-yard passing season while tossing 39 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. His 104.7 passer rating was eight points higher than his ’12 mark, and he led the New Orleans Saints to an 11-5 record.
Brees’ contract expires after 2016, which means he’s currently signed for three more seasons. That really shouldn’t matter though. As long as he’s still an MVP-caliber quarterback, the Saints won’t dare let him leave. He’s the greatest free-agent acquisition in NFL history and perennially one of the game’s best players.
3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Say what you want about Russell Wilson being a product of a great running game and elite defense; the bottom line is that he’s a two-time Pro Bowler in two seasons, and he turned in a tremendous performance in winning last year’s Super Bowl.
Wilson is still just 25 years old. He’s never missed a game in his career. He’s a dual-threat as a runner and a passer. After the 2014 season, the Seattle Seahawks will have to give him one of the largest contract extensions in NFL history, but expect it to be a lot more stable than the one Colin Kaepernick got.
Wilson is a much more polished passer, he’s the face of the franchise and he could win multiple Super Bowls very soon.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
There are four top-tier quarterbacks in the NFL—Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (a case could be made for Andrew Luck as the fifth). Regardless, Rodgers is by far the youngest of the first group, which earns him the second-place slot on this list.
Rodgers is a tremendously talented passer. He won a Super Bowl in 2010 and then followed that up with an NFL MVP award in 2011. He’s posted a passer rating of over 100 for five consecutive seasons—even last year when he missed seven games due to injury.
Rodgers is signed to a long-term deal with the Green Bay Packers, one that will keep him in a Packers uniform through 2019. Realistically, Rodgers is in the same situation as Brady, Brees or Manning; as long as he’s productive, he’s not going anywhere. Rodgers is also just 30 years old, so he has a much greater window of opportunity remaining.
1. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
You could make a case for either Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck as the one with the most long-term job security. Luck gets the nod because he's six years younger and hasn't even hit the prime of his career yet.
What Luck has done so far is remarkable. He can pass. He can run. He doesn’t get hurt. He doesn't get rattled. He's taken the Indianapolis Colts to consecutive 11-win seasons despite a roster that is lacking in many key areas. He won a playoff game last year with a comeback for the ages; in fact, Luck has made a living winning the close games.
Since his rookie season, he's an unprecedented 16-2 in one-score games. There have been eight instances since 2012 in which a quarterback has brought his team back from a 17-point halftime deficit, and Luck has three of those such wins.
The Colts will have to break the bank for Luck. He will far exceed any contract that has been handed out to any quarterback so far. Look for a six-year deal worth $150 million, with at least $80 million of that in guaranteed money.