How Much Were 2013 NFL Starting Quarterbacks Really Worth?

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIJanuary 23, 2014

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos in action against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

There isn't a more glamorous position in all of professional sports than the quarterback in the NFL.

Quarterbacks are the faces of their respective franchises. They're the ones that everyone watches when the games are on. If they win, they're considered heroes, but if they lose, fans will go so far as to burn their jerseys in public.

While all NFL players are paid quite well, quarterbacks are the ones that make the big bucks. While it's easy to quantify how much these players make, it's harder to determine how much they're actually worth, both on and off the field.

So, how much are NFL quarterbacks really worth? Should Peyton Manning really be making more than $17 million? Should players like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck be earning more? Let's find out.

Note: All information regarding salaries is provided by Spotrac.com. Formulas to determine on-field value of players used the DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric from Football Outsiders.

The Process

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 05:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to throw a pass during warm ups prior to their NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on January 5, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Before I get into the numbers of explaining how much each player is worth and comparing that to how much he made, explaining the process would help provide some context.

I selected one starting quarterback from all 32 teams to evaluate. Most teams had a consistent starter, but for teams with inconsistent QB situations, I used the quarterback that was considered the "go-to guy" for the majority of the season (i.e. Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden). For teams who had their quarterbacks injured, I still included them (i.e. Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford).

Although some of these players didn't play in all 16 regular season games, values for them are determined as if they were able to play an entire year based off of their DVOA for the time that they played.ย 

These values are based solely off of the regular season and do not count playoff games.

Quarterback Values

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 29:  Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Teams and agents constantly go back and forth during contract negotiations to determine how much their players are actually worth. For quarterbacks, they tend to earn pretty big contracts after their rookie deals, especially if they've played well.

Of course, sometimes that doesn't always work out. Some quarterbacks earn massive contracts, but are unable to live up to the lofty expectations. Others quarterbacks, usually rookies or backups, are given much smaller contracts, yet some end up having incredible seasons, making them much more valuable than what they actually make.

Below is a look at which quarterbacks were worth the most in 2013. Keep in mind that these values are based off of only the regular season, and that it only takes into account on-field ability compared to other starting QBs. For now, focus more on the positioning of the players rather than the dollar amount, as we'll get more into that later.

Chart by Tyler Brooke
2013 QB Value
PlayerTeam2013 SalaryWorth
Peyton ManningBroncos$17,500,000 $10,664,416.15
Nick FolesEagles$655,880 $10,034,240.93
Philip RiversChargers$13,776,667 $9,936,713.81
Drew BreesSaints$17,400,000 $9,434,074.05
Aaron RodgersPackers$12,000,000 $9,314,040.68
Colin Kaepernick49ers$1,397,532 $8,661,359.20
Russell WilsonSeahawks$681,085 $8,601,342.51
Matt RyanFalcons$9,600,000 $8,406,288.28
Tony RomoCowboys$11,818,833 $8,263,748.64
Tom BradyPatriots$13,800,000 $8,218,736.13
Ben RoethlisbergerSteelers$13,595,000 $7,896,146.43
Jay CutlerBears$10,370,000 $7,881,142.26
Sam BradfordRams$12,595,000 $7,791,117.23
Matt StaffordLions$17,820,000 $7,761,108.88
Andrew LuckColts$5,024,545 $7,738,602.63
Carson PalmerCardinals$4,000,000 $7,618,569.25
Andy DaltonBengals$1,422,054 $7,596,062.99
Cam NewtonPanthers$6,006,818 $7,536,046.30
Ryan TannehillDolphins$2,879,205 $7,304,553.37
Alex SmithChiefs$8,500,000 $7,025,904.46
Jake LockerTitans$3,432,546 $6,973,389.86
Mike GlennonBuccaneers$564,375 $6,845,854.40
Robert Griffin IIIRedskins$4,799,795 $6,425,737.58
Christian PonderVikings$2,770,554 $6,395,729.24
Chad HenneJaguars$4,150,000 $6,358,218.81
Matt SchaubTexans$10,750,000 $6,185,670.83
Joe FlaccoRavens$6,800,000 $6,088,143.71
E.J. ManuelBills$1,615,509 $5,908,093.65
Eli ManningGiants$20,850,000 $5,825,570.70
Geno SmithJets$912,655 $5,638,018.55
Terrelle PryorRaiders$741,517 $5,030,349.59
Brandon WeedenBrowns$1,837,181 $4,707,759.89

Several names really stick out here. It's no surprise that Peyton Manning tops the list considering he had arguably the greatest season ever by a quarterback. Foles, despite being a backup at the beginning of the year, was the second-most valuable quarterback in the league, throwing 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Others were big disappointments. Eli Manning, who made more than $20 million in 2013, ranked 29th overall in overall value. Joe Flacco, who signed a mega-deal before the season, was just two spots higher than Eli Manning at 27th.

These numbers show how much a player's tangible assets were worth, but it doesn't help us compare to how much the teams were paying them. Luckily, we can take a look at that as well.

Overvalued or Undervalued?

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks drops back against the San Francisco 49ers during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The average 2013 salary for these 32 quarterbacks was around $7.5 million. That means that an average quarterback, someone like Carson Palmer, should have been making around that much.

But that's not usually the case. Contracts are given out before the season begins, and just because someone played well in a previous season doesn't mean they'll do it again in the next one. Rookie deals also keep great players from making the money they're really worth, such as Luck and Wilson.

Here's a look at the difference between how much a player made in 2013 and how much they were actually worth. Numbers in parentheses are considered overvalued, while numbers not in parentheses are considered undervalued.

Chart by Tyler Brooke
QBs Under/Overvalued
PlayerTeam2013 SalaryUnder/Overvalued
Nick FolesEagles$655,880 $9,378,360.93
Russell WilsonSeahawks$681,085 $7,920,257.51
Colin Kaepernick49ers$1,397,532 $7,263,827.20
Mike GlennonBuccaneers$564,375 $6,281,479.40
Andy DaltonBengals$1,422,054 $6,174,008.99
Geno SmithJets$912,655 $4,725,363.55
Ryan TannehillDolphins$2,879,205 $4,425,348.37
E.J. ManuelBills$1,615,509 $4,292,584.65
Terrelle PryorRaiders$741,517 $4,288,832.59
Christian PonderVikings$2,770,554 $3,625,175.24
Carson PalmerCardinals$4,000,000 $3,618,569.25
Jake LockerTitans$3,432,546 $3,540,843.86
Brandon WeedenBrowns$1,837,181 $2,870,578.89
Andrew LuckColts$5,024,545 $2,714,057.63
Chad HenneJaguars$4,150,000 $2,208,218.81
Robert Griffin IIIRedskins$4,799,795 $1,625,942.58
Cam NewtonPanthers$6,006,818 $1,529,228.30
Joe FlaccoRavens$6,800,000 $(711,856.29)
Matt RyanFalcons$9,600,000 $(1,193,711.72)
Alex SmithChiefs$8,500,000 $(1,474,095.54)
Jay CutlerBears$10,370,000 $(2,488,857.74)
Aaron RodgersPackers$12,000,000 $(2,685,959.32)
Tony RomoCowboys$11,818,833 $(3,555,084.36)
Philip RiversChargers$13,776,667 $(3,839,953.19)
Matt SchaubTexans$10,750,000 $(4,564,329.17)
Sam BradfordRams$12,595,000 $(4,803,882.77)
Tom BradyPatriots$13,800,000 $(5,581,263.87)
Ben RoethlisbergerSteelers$13,595,000 $(5,698,853.57)
Peyton ManningBroncos$17,500,000 $(6,835,583.85)
Drew BreesSaints$17,400,000 $(7,965,925.95)
Matt StaffordLions$17,820,000 $(10,058,891.12)
Eli ManningGiants$20,850,000 $(15,024,429.30)

Almost all of the players on rookie deals are considered undervalued, and it makes sense. So many of these young quarterbacks have been playing very well, and with how little they're making, they've been bargains for their respective teams.

On the other side, we see some of the league's best players as "overvalued." While this may seem like a bad thing, it isn't, and we can explain why.

The "It" Factor

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 11:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints reacts while taking on the Seattle Seahawks during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at CenturyLink Field on January 11, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Ge
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

There's a reason guys like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady make the big bucks. Their passing is better than the rest, but the reason they make so much more money than the other quarterbacks is because of their intangibles, or "it" factor.

Peyton makes more than $17 million because the Denver Broncos understand that by bringing him in, not only are they going to win more games, but they're also going to be making a lot more money, either by jersey sales, merchandise, increased attendance at games or a number of other things.

Having an elite quarterback also gives them an opportunity to make the playoffs consistently and possibly even go to the Super Bowl. So Manning may be "overvalued" by about $6.8 million, but he makes up for it with the intangible things he does outside of putting up monster numbers.

For players like Eli Manning or Matt Schaub, however, that's a different story.


SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers under center in the first half against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

By the laws of capitalism, what a player makes on his contract is what he's technically worth. However, the salary cap rules along with players not meeting expectations means that we can find a way to look back and determine whether or not these quarterbacks lived up to their contracts.

It seems clear that teams with young quarterbacks are getting great bargains, even if they aren't top-tier. This helps give NFL teams time to build around these players while they aren't worth as much so that they can quickly become playoff contenders.

This formula obviously isn't perfect, but these values can help give us an idea as to where the money should be going in the coming years, especially for these younger QBs making names for themselves.

Tyler Brooke is currently a student at Indiana University and the Kelley School of Business. He was a direct admit to Kelley coming out of high school, and plans to earn a degree in finance by 2016. Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerDBrooke


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