It’s Never Sunny in Cincinnati: Playoff Edition – The Quarterback Bubble

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The reason for this is simple: paying a single player such a significant amount of the total money a team is authorized to spend means that franchises have less money to pay to other players.  Without that capital, teams lose the ability to pay for, say, a marquee left tackle, a slashing running back, a bruising linebacker, or a lock-down corner.

Like a solid quarterback, these other skill players cannot carry a team by themselves, but their absence makes reaching a championship game just as difficult.  Further, the difference between a quarterback’s rookie contract verses that of a high-profile NFL veteran can allow a team to afford several such players over those critical first years.

Dec 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) and tight end Sean McGrath (84) celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum. The Chiefs won 56-31. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Take the Kansas City Chiefs for example.  After finishing last season at 2-14, a savvy Andy Reid maintains an inherited Pro-Bowl laden roster by securing Alex Smith who is currently making only $8.5M against the salary cap.

For perspective, that is less than most starting left tackles.  Poignantly, next year Smith will only levy $7.5M against the cap in the final year of his contract.

Veteran quarterbacks who enjoy a taste for victory have also started to acknowledge this paradigm shift.  Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady both restructured their contracts this season to take less money, specifically so that the salary cap can be afforded more wiggle room.  Eli Manning is reportedly discussing something similar this offseason as well.

Counting Alex Smith, of the twelve teams that have made the playoffs in 2013, eight are paying their quarterback rookie wages.  Additionally, if Brady and Manning are removed from the argument as well, only two teams with $100M quarterbacks made the playoffs this year; Philip Rivers and Aaron Rogers.  Neither clinched until Week 17.