Is the "rookie contract quarterback" argument holding up this season?
The Seahawks have the best bargain in the NFL, but the Chiefs have just the plain best quarterback: Seaside Joe 1351
Ever since the collective bargaining agreement reached between the player’s association and the league in 2011 that set the standard for how much each draft pick would be paid, guaranteeing four years and a fifth-year option for all first round picks, this concept of a “rookie contract quarterback value” has ruled fan conversation based around how to build a championship roster. I apologize for that run-on sentence, but all of that needed to be said.
The first team to take full advantage of NFL’s “moneyball” after the 2011 CBA was Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks.
It was in part thanks to the play of uber-cheap third round pick Russell Wilson that the Seahawks were able to take full advantage of their extremely valuable draft classes from 2010-2012, adding onto the pile by being able to afford the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Percy Harvin on veteran contracts by the 2013 championship season. Seattle’s less successful seasons under Pete did coincide with Wilson’s first, and especially second, contract extension.
But let’s say that’s more correlation than causation?
In the years that followed, we also saw the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowls with rookie contract quarterbacks (Carson Wentz started most of the season for the Eagles in 2017, and Nick Foles was relatively cheap anyhow), while the Carolina Panthers, L.A. Rams (in 2018), and Bengals have recently lost Super Bowls with rookie contract quarterbacks.
The New England Patriots famously got away with under-paying Tom Brady year after year, most recently winning Super Bowls in 2014, 2016, and 2018. But Brady and Matthew Stafford were also fairly cheap as the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks of the Bucs and Rams in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
It’s hard not to associate “inexpensive quarterback” with “successful strategy” when that many Super Bowls in the post-2011 era have featured teams with starting quarterbacks who are not ranked in the top-10 of salary cap hit—sometimes not even in the top-30—during those seasons.
However, like anything else, this is misleading without more context. Like the fact that Russell Wilson is a unicorn.