The quarterback conundrum

To pay or not to pay

Let’s take a moment and consider a few of the Super Bowl champions. What do they have in common? The Chiefs led by Patrick Mahomes were an offensive juggernaut that had enough speed to make a cheetah blush.

The 2015 Denver Broncos won on the strength of their suffocating defense, with a ghost of Peyton Manning offense needing to do just enough on offense. The 2018 New England Patriots seemed to be a mix of both. Tom Brady and the Pats offense out-dueled Patrick Mahomes in the AFC championship game shootout two weeks before scoring just 13 points in the Super Bowl in a 13-3 win.

No single Super Bowl champion is made equal, but there is a common thread amongst the teams. Each of the last seven Super Bowl champions had a quarterback that was not a top-12 paid player at his position.

The Seattle Seahawks seemed to start the trend back in 2013. They knew they had their guy in Russell Wilson, and they wanted to take advantage of him being on his rookie contract. Since they did not have to pay Wilson more than a few pennies, they had money to spare to spend at other positions and build a Super Bowl champion and perennial playoff-contending roster.

We saw this formula work in 2017 with the Eagles. Carson Wentz was the MVP favorite playing on his rookie deal before he went down with an injury. However, Philly had built such a strong roster that when Nick Foles stepped in he could flourish.

The 2018 Rams were in their last year with Jared Goff on his rookie deal, went all in and came up just short losing in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs have just one more year before they must give Mahomes a blank check and make him the highest-paid player in league history.

Perhaps the rest of the league is, per usual, catching up with the Patriots. Throughout Tom Brady’s career, he has taken pay-cut after pay-cut. Multiple times in his career, Brady had the opportunity to demand to be the league’s highest-paid quarterback but didn’t. This gave New England the freedom to pay free-agents and keep successful draft picks in town, and constantly retool and reload year after year.

So when guys like Dak Prescott are due for a payday, what should teams do? The Cowboys missed their shot to win while Dak was basically getting paid with high fives from his former head coach.

One option the Cowboys have is the franchise tag Dak. This way they don’t commit to him long-term and get one more year with Prescott on an affordable salary. Sounds sweet right? Well, that just puts off this discussion for another year, and if Prescott plays well enough he may be able to ask for even more money than he is now.

There is no undervaluing the importance of the quarterback position. They are the whole reason this trend seems to be working. Joe Burrow cannot get here fast enough for Cincinnati. The Dolphins were not historically bad as many predicted, and won an, um, impressive five games last season. The thought of overachieving and still landing Tua Tagovailoa has Miami fans drooling.

When Russell Wilson signed a record-breaking, four-year 140 million dollar contract last season, it surprised nobody. Seattle had no other option, Wilson is the most important player in the history of the franchise. It was either sign him to however much he asked for and continue to contend for a playoff spot for at least the next four years or let him walk and implement a complete rebuild that will take years.

However, with Wilson set to collect over 100 million in guarantees over the next four years, the Seahawks will be hard-pressed to find the dough to rebuild the Legion of Boom to get back to the title game with Wilson still in his prime.

That’s not to suggest it’s impossible. Aaron Rodgers, who is currently the second-highest-paid quarterback in the league (behind Wilson) had the Packers on the doorstep of the Super Bowl last season. Wilson had the Seahawks a few plays away from the conference title game. However, the path seems to be harder for these teams.

Out of the entire AFC playoff field, Tom Brady was the highest-paid quarterback, and he was just the 14th highest paid across the whole league. The next highest-paid quarterback in the AFC playoffs was Ryan Tannehill, who is 27th highest league-wide, and came into the season to be Marcus Mariota’s backup.

A franchise quarterback provides ticket sales, success and most importantly, hope. A franchise quarterback is a person a team and a city can get behind. Dak Prescott, by all intents and purposes, is a franchise quarterback.

Prescott gives the Cowboys leadership and stability at the most important position in sports. He has two trips the playoffs and a playoff win under his belt. He won rookie of the year in 2016 and was talked about as an MVP candidate for the first month of last season. Prescott is not easily replaced and would have numerous suitors if he were to actually hit the open market.

However, Dak does not possess a quality about him the sets him apart from his quarterback peers. For Wilson, his escapability and fact that he can never be counted out of any game he’s in. For Rodgers, it’s his accuracy on the run and ability to hit every throw, from every platform.

Without Prescott, what would the Cowboys be left with? A win-now roster without a captain to lead the ship. It can take years to find the stability that Prescott provides. He is good, not great, and in recent years quarterbacks haven’t had to be great to get paid (I’m looking at you, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins).

If the Cowboys risk losing Prescott, they risk heading into *gasp* quarterback purgatory. Does that mean he is worth the 30+ dollars a year he is reportedly asking for? That is for Jerry Jones to decide.

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