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What Justifies A Quarterback's Contract?

In Tom Brady, Tony Romo, and Joe Flacco (soon to be joined by Aaron Rodgers), this year has been as good as any in recent memory for re-signing franchise quarterbacks. Using these new contracts, and specifically their guaranteed money, it might be possible to determine what teams actually consider when deciding how much to pay their quarterbacks.

Rob Carr

When comparing players at the same position, during the same year, signing new contracts, one thing is near certain: the 'better' player will receive more money, even if it's a trivial amount more. The Cowboys experienced this last offseason, as Brandon Carr received $50.1M from the Cowboys in free agency. Why the extra $100K? Cortland Finnegan, who many believe to be a lesser corner, was signed previously for $50M.

In this sense, a contract is a player's concrete validation of where he stands among his peers. It's his source of pride, in much the same way an academic might pride himself on his rank within the class. This could never be more true than with quarterbacks.

How do we look at these new quarterback contracts, then? OCC argues, in a post I recommend everyone reads who hasn't yet, that the only real money is the guaranteed money. Let's see if that passes the eye test:

If ranked by total value, the contracts dictate that Joe Flacco > Tony Romo > Tom Brady. If ranked by guaranteed money, the contracts change their tune to say that Tom Brady > Tony Romo > Joe Flacco. I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd go with the latter.

With the basis for quarterback value now set as the guaranteed money he receives, we can compare the three newly-inked quarterbacks and look for correlations between on-field performance and off-field compensation.

With that in mind, we'll be looking at six measures of quarterback performance: Career Passer Rating (official NFL stat), 2012 Passer Rating, 2012 QBR (ESPN's new version of the quarterback rating), Career Adjusted Net Yards per (passing) Attempt ('s quarterback metric of choice), 2012 ANY/A, and 2012 Defensive (adjusted) Value Over Average (Football Outsiders' method of evaluating offensive players).

Here's what we get:


Each bar represents Romo or Flacco's performance in that metric as a percentage of Tom Brady's performance in the same metric. For example, Romo's Career ANY/A was over 99% of Brady's in 2012, while Flacco's DVOA was about -4% of Brady's (yes, Flacco was deemed to be of lesser value than the league-average replacement quarterback last season, hence his negative DVOA. Imagine that.)

Now, to explain the fancy shading. There are red and green thresholds in the background of the image. The red threshold represents Tony Romo's guaranteed money as a percentage of Brady's, while the green is Flacco's in the same manner. Thus, a red bar coming close to the red background indicates a strong correlation, as does a green bar nearing the green background.

The winner in this comparison, clearly, is Career Passer Rating. All three players were paid in what appears to be near-direct correlation with their career passer ratings. Incidentally, using this method as a predictor forecasts that Aaron Rodgers, when signed, will receive $61.9M in guarantees. I'd say that sounds quite accurate.

This same formula predicts guarantees of $49M for Matt Stafford and $53.6M for Matt Ryan; those two should be interesting. The formula, for those interested, is [(Player's Career QB Rating) / (96.6)] * $57M, where 96.6 is Brady's career passer rating and $57M is his guaranteed money.

What does this teach us? Well, for one, that even a Super Bowl ring doesn't influence the minds of the ones writing the checks (they appear to recognize that football is, in fact, a team sport). Playoff success, wins and losses, and all of those other team statistics don't seem to factor into the contract at all. In fact, it appears that even the more 'advanced' metrics are abandoned (especially the ones that show Flacco as anywhere from pedestrian to below-average).

It's widely believed that the NFL is moving towards adopting the more intriguing advanced stats available, but as far as this investigation has shown, the adoption has not made its way into contract negotiations.

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