The Holy Grail for any GM and front office is to find the “mythical” franchise quarterback. Whether it’s by draft or trade, finding a quarterback that can be the face of a franchise is the top priority of every team save the ones that already have one, and there aren’t many out there that can say they have one. A GM can essentially make a name for himself just by finding a franchise quarterback; Bill Polian picked Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, Ron Wolf perhaps made the best trade in Packers history by getting Brett Favre and Ted Thompson had the foresight to not pass over Aaron Rodgers even when 23 other teams did. Sure each GM had their fair share of mistakes (cough cough, Justin Harrell) but when it comes down to it, Polian and Wolf are in the Hall of Fame and Thompson may join them because they were able to find a franchise quarterback and then build a team around him.
The franchise quarterback is such a rare breed that they are in their own conversation when it comes to money; while Ndamukong Suh’s $19 million yearly contract was labeled perhaps the worse in all history since there’s no way he’ll ever be able to live up to his contract, Ryan Tanehill was given a $19 million yearly contract right afterwards as well and most observers noted what a “team-friendly” deal it was. Naturally there is more to the Dolphins respective contracts than just yearly value, but the point is teams negotiate with quarterbacks one way and the rest of the players another way.
However, while I’m sure the Green Bay Packers were more than happy to make Aaron Rodger the highest paid player in history, recent history has suggested that this in actually a poor move. In the last 20 years, only 1 quarterback has eaten up more salary cap and won a Super Bowl, which is Steve Young in 1994. The average salary cap percentage of the winning Super Bowl quarterback is 6% while Aaron Rodgers last year was closer to double that. It should be mentioned that Aaron Rodgers in 2014 was a markedly superior player than Aaron Rodgers in 2010, but in 2010 Rodgers only took up 5% of the salary cap (projected since there was no salary cap that year) and won a Super Bowl.
Further research has shown that NFL teams that follow a “super star” approach (meaning spending heavily on a few players who are the best at their position and rounding out the team with lower priced, less talented players) tend to do worse than their more balanced counterparts and this is exemplified by the quarterback position, which typically is the most contract skewed position on the team. A couple of reasons have been raised, one being that lower priced players are unhappy with the inequity (which I don’t agree on), injuries can be more devastating if it happens to occur on a “super star” team (see the 2013 Packers), but perhaps most likely is that spending so much on one player is a detriment to the rest of the team in terms of fielding a balanced team.
Now what is a NFL team supposed to do? NFL front offices work tirelessly to find a franchise quarterback, then draft players to fit his play style and in a stroke of luck all that actually happens the way you want, you are never going to let him go until his arm falls off (even maybe not then as the Colts showed with Peyton Manning in 2011). NFL teams have proven that they will basically pay any price for a franchise quarterback and will even lavishly overspend for quarterbacks that are only average.
For the Packers specifically, Aaron Rodgers is perhaps a generational talent and worth every penny that he signed for, but having Rodgers on the team is a historically distinct disadvantage when it comes to winning a Super Bowl. Having Rodgers at $22 million yearly means that other parts of the team can’t be as strong; to Thompson’s credit, he’s fielded a competitive team every year with Rodgers, Matthews, Nelson and Cobb all on premium contracts by balancing out the rest of the roster with “undervalued” players, namely draft picks who outplay their contracts (i.e. Linsley, Daniels and Lacy).
And to be honest, it could be a lot worse. There are plenty of teams who are paying way more than they probably should for quarterbacks who are only good enough, Andy Dalton perhaps exemplifies a quarterback that is good enough to win you game but isn’t one that will inspire a team to follow him. The league is starting to correct itself with average quarterbacks as well; going back to Ryan Tanehill, the contract he signed with the Dolphins functions a lot like Colin Kaepernick’s where it’s somewhat structured to be a “pay as you go” agreement where every year more and more money becomes guaranteed.
The absolute worst situation is thinking you have a true franchise quarterback when in reality you don’t; Jay Cutler is the poster child for a GMs nightmare, on one hand Cutler possess every physical and mental trait required for a franchise quarterback but you almost know he’ll never put it all together and he certainly can’t inspire his team to play for him. You have to pay Cutler like a franchise quarterback because if you don’t someone else will and when he flops, you can’t cut him or find his replacement since you’ve already invested so much money into Cutler.
Perhaps one can file this as a “good problem to have” but as with all things in life, there are two sides of a coin. In the end Ted Thompson would be insane to let Rodgers go, but by proving his sanity by letting Rodgers go would only go to prove his insanity.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.