There are two fundamental and repeated thought flaws I see/hear every time a quarterback agrees to a major contract extension, and they increase ten fold when the name in question is one the public at large enjoys hating. Like Jay Cutler.
They go as follows:
- Caring at all even a little about the length of the contract.
- Caring far too much about the average annual salary.
I’m trying to keep my broad, sweeping brush in its holster here, as surely many of you see an NFL contract for what it truly is, and the rest maybe haven’t considered how utterly useless things like length and an unguaranteed salary are. Of the numbers associated with the contract Cutler agreed to this morning — seven for the years, reportedly just north of $17.6 million for the average annual salary, $126 million for the overall salary, and $54 million for the guaranteed money according to Ian Rapoport — the last one is where your focus should lie.
Clearly the Bears are committing handsomely to Cutler, and Cutler to the Bears. But like so many before him, Cutler’s chances of seeing that contract through to its conclusion are moderate at best, and that’s using pretty polite and fluffy language.
When your eye turns to that $54 million, you see a quarterback who will be be kept off the market for a long time if the Bears so choose, and at essentially average market value. And there’s value in average market value.
We’re now in just the second day of the year 2014, and the list of all the major quarterback contracts that were handed out in 2013 as franchise arms were nailed down at their current places of NFL employment is a long one. It includes Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, and Tom Brady. If we exclude Stafford since the guaranteed money he was given was far below the rest ($41.5 million), the average guarantee given to the other five breaks down like this…
Five notable QB extensions in 2013 were Ryan, Flacco, Rodgers, Romo & Brady. Average guarantee: $55.2M
— Brian McIntyre (@brian_mcintyre) January 2, 2014
That means Cutler is actually slightly below the average market value watermark. For all involved it’s downright terrifying that he matches the guaranteed money given to Rodgers, though they’re both the same young and quite ripe age (30). But it’s far below the guaranteed green given to Ryan ($59 million), and it gets under Romo’s guarantee ($55 million), and well under Brady’s ($60 million).
Financially then, this is standard, which is another word for average. Then it gets even more average/standard and entirely tolerable when we consider the predictable front-end loading: Cutler will reportedly be paid about $18 million annually over the first three years, which is all of the guaranteed money. That also compares favorably to the current market.
3-year APYs (where applicable): Rodgers ($22.7M), Ryan ($22.9M), Flacco ($20.7M), Romo ($18M).
— Brian McIntyre (@brian_mcintyre) January 2, 2014
Translated into NFL cold-heartedness, that means Cutler signed a three-year contract, and any years he’s still a Bear beyond that are gravy for both him (he’s still getting paid to play football) and his team (he’s still employed beyond the guaranteed portion of his contact, which means he’s still pretty good at playing football).
If you’re still cringing, riddle me this: what else were the Bears supposed to do here? Those still riding the Josh McCown hope floats locomotive are choosing to forever forget the lessons Matt Flynn taught us about backup quarterbacks who sporadically have a handful of solid games. But even if that’s cast aside, they’re also forgetting that although McCown showed promise and surely (and rightly) made general manager Phil Emery consider his options, he’s 34 years old, and he’s openly discussed retirement.
While McCown was more than impressive during his five fill-in starts for Cutler and eight game appearances this season overall, he’s not a long-term solution. Had Emery decided to move on from Cutler and get McCown for a cheaper fee while still paying him like a starter, in three or so years he’d be dipping his toe into the QB waters again. Both in free agency and the draft, that pool often doesn’t go much past your toe.
Use this year’s free agency class as a proxy. With Cutler now locked up, McCown arguably leads the group (yeah, he’s a free agent too), followed by Michael Vick, then Josh Freeman. That’s a 34-year-old, a brittle 33-year-old mess, and then another quarterback who’s generally just awful. Then there’s the draft, which can quickly become a crapshoot beyond a given year’s Teddy Bridgewater, especially at the back end of the first round (hi, Brandon Weeden).
Or instead Emery could just lock up the still young quarterback he currently has control over at an average price for a manageable term, and his motivation to do just that was even greater after Cutler set a new career high in passer rating (89.2), had his best completion percentage since 2007 (63.1), and his second lowest single-season interception total over a full year (12). And he did all that during his first year in a new offense playing under his new quarterback whisperer head coach.
Yes, that does sound like a good idea.