Yeah, your team has a quarterback. But for how long does it have that quarterback, and how sure is it that he’s the one?
Some NFL teams are married to their quarterbacks. Some are just starting to get serious. Some are sitting across from their quarterbacks at a fancy restaurant blatantly eyeing a quarterback at the next table. It’s a complex and varied landscape, and it can be confusing.
So we thought we’d take a look at the state of the various team-quarterback relationships around the league, to see just how committed each team is to its current starter. To do this, we focused almost entirely on the contract situations — how much guaranteed money is left on each deal, for how many years, and more.
If you follow the NFL, you know contracts are usually loaded with funny math and fake numbers. Kirk Cousins is making his money the next two years no matter what. Andy Dalton … can’t be so sure. The only way to really examine how tied your team is to its quarterback is to dig into the numbers and see how much it still really owes and for how long. That’s why we ranked every team from 1-32 — 1 is the highest level of commitment, 32 is the lowest — based on the cold, hard dollar figures. We also factored in the different types of current QB contracts within their own tiers.
So dive in, and find each fan base’s answer to the questions of, “How much longer do we have this guy?” or, in some cases, “How much longer are we stuck with this guy?”
Starter: Matt Ryan | Signed through: 2023
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 1
Contract: Five-year, $150 million deal signed in May 2018, including $94.5 million guaranteed at signing.
Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Big Ben all have passed Matty Ice in average salary since he signed his deal. But the structure of this contract keeps Ryan in the top spot when we talk about commitment. As of March 15, an even $100 million of Ryan’s deal was fully guaranteed, including $20.5 million in 2020 and $5.5 million in 2021. It would cost the Falcons $68.9 million in dead money to cut Ryan next offseason and more than $35 million to do it after 2020. Ryan looks set in Atlanta for at least three more years.
Starter: Russell Wilson | Signed through: 2023
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 2
Contract: Four-year, $140 million extension signed in April 2019, including $70 million guaranteed at signing.
The Seahawks, as a policy, don’t guarantee anything other than the signing bonus and the first year. So Wilson WISely scored a $65 million signing bonus to go with his $5 million salary this year. No way they’re cutting him next offseason and paying him $70 million for only one year. Heck, Seattle would carry $26 million in dead money if it cut him after three years. It was between Wilson and Ryan for the top spot here, and Ryan got it because of the real-money guarantees, but there’s no realistic way a healthy Wilson is gone from Seattle anytime soon.
Starter: Aaron Rodgers | Signed through: 2023
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 3
Contract: Four-year, $134 million extension signed in August 2018, including $78.7 million guaranteed at signing.
Rodgers’ 2020 roster bonus of $19.5 million became guaranteed in March, which means the Packers will have paid him a cool $100 million through 2020. That works out to about $33.3 million a year, which isn’t crazy, and if for instance he fails to get along with this coach, they could look into dealing him in the summer of 2021. Not likely, but the final few years of his deal aren’t costly enough to scare away potential trade partners if it came to that.
Starter: Nick Foles | Signed through: 2022
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 4
Contract: Four-year, $88 million deal signed in March 2019, including $45.125 million guaranteed at signing.
The fun thing about an exercise like this is you learn stuff that surprises you. Such as: You could actually make an argument that the Jaguars are married to Foles for longer than the Packers are married to Rodgers. Foles has fully guaranteed salaries of $5 million in 2019 and $15.125 million in 2020, and a $5 million 2021 roster bonus that becomes fully guaranteed next March. So if they don’t cut him by the third day of the 2020 league year, they owe him a guaranteed $5 million in 2021.
The dead-money penalty for cutting Foles after 2020 would be only $12.5 million, so he’s easier to cut at that point than is Rodgers. But Jaguars would still owe the $5 million in 2021 cash, whereas the Packers would be free of financial responsibility to Rodgers in the unlikely event they move on after two more years.
Starter: Kirk Cousins | Signed through: 2020
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 5
Contract: Three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract signed in March 2018.
Deals don’t come a lot more straightforward than this one. The Vikings could cut Cousins after 2019, but they’d still owe him $29.5 million in 2020 salary. This is the rare NFL contract case where the word “guarantee” doesn’t need any qualifiers. Something truly drastic would have to happen for Cousins to not get two more years in Minnesota.
Starter: Kyler Murray | Signed through: 2022
Tier: Rookie first-rounder | Ranking in tier: No. 1
Contract: Four-year, $35.159 million, fully guaranteed contract signed this month. It includes a signing bonus of roughly $23.6 million and a team option for a fifth year.
Because he’s a first-round pick, Murray’s deal also will give Arizona a fifth-year option for the 2023 season. So he should be tied to the Cardinals for the next four or five years, even if he doesn’t turn out to be the long-term starter. But Arizona took a quarterback in the first round last year, too, and he’s not there anymore. So you really never know.
Starter: Matthew Stafford | Signed through: 2022
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 6
Contract: Five-year, $135 million extension signed in August 2017, including $60.5 million guaranteed at signing.
This year is the final year in which Stafford’s salary is guaranteed, but he is guaranteed a $6 million roster bonus in 2020 that likely keeps him in the Lions’ plans at least through that season.
Cutting Stafford after 2019 would cost the Lions $26 million against their salary cap (trading him would cost $20 million), while doing so after 2020 would bring only a $10 million cap hit. Expect Stafford to quarterback the Lions through at least 2020, though he’s not quite as safe as the guys ahead of him in his tier.
Starter: Ben Roethlisberger | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 7
Contract: Two-year, $68 million extension signed in April 2019, including $37.5 million guaranteed at signing.
The Steelers guarantee only the signing bonus for their contracts, so technically they wouldn’t owe Roethlisberger another dime if they cut him after 2019. That said, they would incur a $25 million cap hit by doing that, and they don’t have an obvious replacement on the roster.
Roethlisberger is 37 and coming off a 5,000-yard season, and his perennial hints about retirement seem to have ceased. There’s a pretty good chance he’s in Pittsburgh at least two more seasons.
Starter: Baker Mayfield | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Youngster on rookie deal | Ranking in tier: No. 1
Contract: Four-year, $32.683 million, fully guaranteed contract signed in July 2018. It includes a $21.85 million signing bonus and a team option for a fifth year in 2022.
By rule, it’ll be two more seasons before Mayfield and the Browns can discuss an extension. A lot can happen in that time, and no one knows what it will be. Early returns on Mayfield are obviously positive, and at this time there’s little reason to doubt he’s the long-term answer for Cleveland. The way he played as a rookie certainly guarantees him at least two more seasons here even if he takes a surprise downturn.
Starter: Sam Darnold | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Youngster on rookie deal | Ranking in tier: No. 2
Contract: Four-year, $30.248 million, fully guaranteed contract signed in July 2018. It includes a $20.078 million signing bonus and a team option for a fifth year in 2022.
As with Mayfield, Darnold is two years away from being eligible for an extension and likely three or four from a decision on a major, long-term commitment from his team. The Jets were pleased with his first-year development, and at this point his future will be largely determined by the team’s ability to build an offense around him and by the way he connects with new coach Adam Gase.
Starter: Drew Brees | Signed through: 2019
Tier: Vet in contract year | Ranking in tier: No. 1
Contract: Two-year, $50 million contract signed in March 2018, including $27 million guaranteed at signing.
Brees’ deal technically runs through 2021, but the 2020 and 2021 seasons automatically void after this season and are only in the deal to allow the Saints to defray his signing-bonus charge into future years. No team buys on credit like the Saints do, and if Brees were to do an extension before this season started it likely would just add more dummy years and more future dead-money charges.
Brees has made it clear to the Saints that he’s taking it year to year at this point. He’s 40 years old, and the Saints have come agonizingly close to the Super Bowl two years in a row. So the way this season goes in New Orleans could decide how much longer Brees keeps playing.
Starter: Andrew Luck | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 8
Contract: Five-year, $122.97 million deal signed in June 2016, including $47 million guaranteed at signing.
Luck’s deal, which wasn’t much of a market-mover at the time, is now outdated. And after returning from his shoulder issues and playing at an elite level once again in 2018, he is set up to cash in big when it’s time for the Colts to extend him.
His problem? There’s no rush for them to do that, since they have him under contract for the relative bargain prices of $21.125 million, $22 million and $21 million over the next three years respectively. Of that money, only $6 million of his 2019 salary is guaranteed.
Indianapolis should have no reason to move on from the 29-year-old Luck before this contract expires, and it is likely to extend him in either the 2020 or 2021 offseason. But the team is in control here, and if something were to unexpectedly turn south, the Colts could escape this deal with ease. They’d incur only $6.4 million in dead money if they cut him after 2019, and none if they cut him after 2020.
Starter: Josh Allen | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Youngster on rookie deal | Ranking in tier: No. 3
Contract: Four-year, $21.183 million, fully guaranteed contract signed in July 2018. It includes a $13.486 million signing bonus and a team option for a fifth year in 2022.
Allen still has his skeptics, as questions remain about his ability to develop NFL-caliber accuracy. With his size and speed, can he fashion a career that mirrors that of Cam Newton? Questions still to be answered, and as with 2018 draft classmates Mayfield and Darnold he can’t be extended until after 2020. So we will all find out together.
Starter: Mitchell Trubisky | Signed through: 2020
Tier: Youngster on rookie deal | Ranking in tier: No. 4
Contract: Four-year, $29.032 million, fully guaranteed contract signed in July 2017. It includes a $19.72 million signing bonus and a team option for a fifth year in 2021.
The 2019 season is important for Trubisky, as a year from now the Bears will be deciding whether to exercise that 2021 option or begin looking elsewhere for their quarterback of the future. A second season with Matt Nagy as his coach should be helpful to Trubisky’s development, but if he flops, Chicago isn’t committed beyond 2020.
Starter: Dwayne Haskins (projected) | Signed through: 2022
Tier: Rookie first-rounder | Ranking in tier: No. 2
Contract: Four-year, $14.417 million, fully guaranteed contract signed this month. It includes a signing bonus of roughly $8.5 million and a team option for a fifth year.
This situation is crowded and complicated, so bear with me. As you can see, the monetary difference between the first pick and the 15th is fairly significant. Should Haskins flop, Washington could escape the deal in two or three years with little pain or keep him as a cheap backup. Haskins, like all first-round picks, has a contract that includes a team option for the fifth year. If he proves to be a capable starter, he should be around a while. If not … well, unfortunately, Washington fans have seen that movie before.
The main problem in Washington is that the team is still married to quarterback Alex Smith, who broke his leg in Week 11 last season and might not be able to play again. Smith’s contract calls for fully guaranteed salaries of $15 million this year and $16 million in 2020, and cutting him after this season would bring a $32.2 million cap hit. It’s certainly possible Smith and the team could reach some kind of injury settlement, but again — the next two years’ salaries are fully guaranteed, so why would Smith agree to take less than $31 million in any kind of settlement?
The team would have to figure out some creative restructuring of this deal to secure any kind of cap relief in 2019 or 2020. As for Case Keenum, he has a fully guaranteed $7 million salary this year, but the Broncos are paying half of it as a condition of the trade that sent him to Washington. So Washington is on the hook for only $3.5 million for Keenum, and that’s what it would absorb on its cap if he were cut. And finally, Colt McCoy is signed through 2019 and has $2 million in guaranteed salary, which means it would cost the team $2 million against its cap to cut McCoy. Look for Washington to try to trade either Keenum or McCoy this summer.
Starter: Derek Carr | Signed through: 2022
Tier: Prove-it time | Ranking in tier: No. 1
Contract: Five-year, $125.025 million contract signed in June 2017, including $40 million guaranteed at signing.
Carr’s 2019 salary of $19.9 million became fully guaranteed in February, but there’s nothing guaranteed beyond this season, and the dead-money hit if the Raiders cut or trade him next offseason is a manageable $5 million.
What this means is that this is the big season for Carr and his future with the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders. They didn’t draft a quarterback last month, which basically ensures that Carr gets to be the starter in 2019. But if he struggles and Jon Gruden falls in love with a quarterback in the 2020 draft, it wouldn’t be hard for the Raiders to make the switch.
Starter: Jimmy Garoppolo | Signed through: 2022
Tier: Prove-it time | Ranking in tier: No. 2
Contract: Five-year, $137.5 million contract signed in February 2018, including $48.7 million guaranteed at signing.
The bulk of Garoppolo’s guarantee came in the form of a $28 million roster bonus the team paid in 2018. His $17.2 million salary for 2019 became fully guaranteed April 1 of this year, but none of the remaining three years carries any guarantee at this point. The way the 49ers do their contracts, they have until April 1, 2020, to make a decision on Garoppolo, because that’s when $15.7 million of his $23.8 million 2020 salary becomes fully guaranteed.
Because they used a huge roster bonus and only a $7 million signing bonus, the Niners are well protected against dead-money charges — cutting Garoppolo after this season would cost them only $4.2 million against next year’s cap. The 49ers are the masters of the team-friendly veteran contract, which gives them all kinds of flexibility. They love Garoppolo, sure, but he has made only 10 NFL starts and is coming off a torn ACL. If he flops, they can look elsewhere without any problems.
Starter: Patrick Mahomes | Signed through: 2020
Tier: Youngster on rookie deal | Ranking in tier: No. 5
Contract: Four-year, $16.426 million, fully guaranteed contract signed in July 2017. It includes a $10.086 million signing bonus and a team option for a fifth year in 2021.
The reigning league MVP is not eligible to talk extension with his team until after the 2019 season, but it’s impossible to imagine a circumstance under which he’s not in Kansas City’s long-term plans.
The reason he’s behind Trubisky and the 2018 first-rounders in this tier is because this is not a value-judgment exercise about who’s better or whose future looks the brightest. This is an assessment of how committed each team is to its starter based on the cold, hard facts of the contracts.
And the fact is, in the ludicrously unlikely event that the Bears and Chiefs both wanted to cut their quarterbacks next offseason, Kansas City’s dead-money penalty of $5.226 million would be far less than Chicago’s dead-money penalty of $9.237 million. Ergo, contractually, the Bears are more married to Trubisky than the Chiefs are to Mahomes, who was drafted eight picks later.
Starter: Deshaun Watson | Signed through: 2020
Tier: Youngster on rookie deal | Ranking in tier: No. 6
Contract: Four-year, $13.854 million, fully guaranteed contract signed in May 2017. It includes a $8.216 million signing bonus and a team option for a fifth year in 2021.
Rinse and repeat what was written about Trubisky and Mahomes. Watson is Houston’s guy, for sure, at this point, but he can’t be extended until next offseason at the earliest. He was pick No. 12 in 2017, so his contract lags behind that of No. 2 pick Trubisky and No. 10 pick Mahomes. And fifth-year option prices are lower for players picked outside the top 10 than they are for players picked inside the top 10.
The dead-money hit for the Texans if they decided they didn’t want Watson anymore after this season would be $4.408 million, and they’d still owe him his fully guaranteed $1.177 million salary in 2020. Again, fantasyland stuff, but not all of these situations work out.
Starter: Jameis Winston | Signed through: 2019
Tier: Prove-it time | Ranking in tier: T-No. 3
Contract: Fully guaranteed $20.922 million 2019 salary on the fifth-year option, exercised in April 2018, from his 2015 rookie deal.
I’m a Bruce Arians believer, so I’m predicting big things for Winston this season. But on the off chance ol’ Bruce can’t help Jameis solve his pesky problem of handing the ball to the opposing defense, the Bucs are free and clear after this season. As long as they don’t extend his contract in the meantime.
Starter: Marcus Mariota | Signed through: 2019
Tier: Prove-it time | Ranking in tier: T-No. 3
Contract: Fully guaranteed $20.922 million 2019 salary on the fifth-year option, exercised in April 2018, from his 2015 rookie deal.
Remember when Winston and Mariota got drafted and people said stuff like, “They’ll always be connected.” Wow, did that turn out to be true. They’re next to each other literally every time we do a list like this.
Mariota hasn’t shown an ability to stay consistently healthy, and Ryan Tannehill is a better backup option than the Titans had last season. You wonder about Mariota’s leash with a coaching staff that didn’t draft him.
Starter: Jared Goff | Signed through: 2020
Tier: On the verge of commitment | Ranking in tier: No. 1
The fifth-year options on 2016 rookie deals are guaranteed only for injury until the start of the 2020 league year. That means, if Goff is healthy and the Rams don’t want him after 2019, they can rescind the option and make him a free agent at no cost to themselves.
Realistically, Goff is in line for a multiyear extension that would supplant the 2020 option year and keep him in Los Angeles for the long term. And the Rams have a little bit of history of doing those extensions early, as they did with former first-round picks such as Todd Gurley and Robert Quinn, each of whom got extended in the summer before his fourth season. So watch out for a possible Goff deal this offseason that would move him into a different tier.
Starter: Carson Wentz | Signed through: 2020
Tier: On the verge of commitment | Ranking in tier: No. 2
Contract: Four-year, $26.676 million, fully guaranteed contract signed in May 2016, plus a 2020 team option worth $22.783 million that was exercised in May 2019.
The Eagles want Wentz around for the long term as well, but his health history likely means they’ll wait until after the 2019 season to talk about an extension. As the Rams do with Goff, the Eagles have the right to rescind the option and move on after 2019 as long as Wentz is healthy. But if he’s healthy, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that they would do that.
Starter: Lamar Jackson | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Youngster on rookie deal | Ranking in tier: No. 7
Contract: Four-year, $9.472 million contract signed in June 2018. It includes $8.055 million in full guarantees, of which $4.968 million was a signing bonus, and a team option for a fifth year in 2022.
Jackson sits behind the three 2017 first-rounders even though he was drafted a year later. This is because he was the 32nd pick and his contract is therefore much smaller and not fully guaranteed. The dead-money hit for Baltimore if it cuts Jackson after this season would be $4.180 million, less than what it would be for Trubisky, Mahomes and Watson, all of whose contracts are fully guaranteed.
Baltimore is all-in on Jackson, obviously building a speed-based, run-first offense around his unique skill set. If it doesn’t work, the dead-money penalties two offseasons from now aren’t too severe, and his contract isn’t even fully guaranteed. Of all the 2018 first-rounders except Josh Rosen, he’s on the most contractually shaky ground.
Starter: Cam Newton | Signed through: 2020
Tier: Locked-in vet | Ranking in tier: No. 9
Contract: Five-year, $103.8 million extension signed in June 2015, including $31 million guaranteed at signing.
Newton is coming back from his own shoulder issues, which casts at least some doubt on his short- and long-term future in Carolina. Contractually, the Panthers are in an excellent spot here, as Newton is guaranteed no money in either of the two remaining years of his contract and scheduled to earn just $16.2 million in salary this year and $18.6 million in 2020.
The Panthers would carry just $8.5 million in dead money if they were to cut Newton before the 2019 season, and just $2 million if they cut him after it. Assuming he bounces back healthy and performs well this season, Newton will be in line for an extension next summer. But as with Luck, the contract means the team is in control.
Starter: Josh Rosen (projected) | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Prove-it time | Ranking in tier: No. 5
Contract: Four-year, fully guaranteed $17.598 million contract signed in May 2018 when he was drafted by the Cardinals. It includes a $10.878 million signing bonus and a team option for a fifth year in 2022.
This is the steal of the century for the Dolphins if Rosen turns out to be a starter. Arizona has already paid the signing bonus, which means Miami owes him only about $2.08 million a year for the next three years. And sure, it’s fully guaranteed, but who cares? Owner Stephen Ross makes that kind of money in concession sales on one sweltering Saturday at the Miami Open tennis tournament.
The commitment is so light, Miami could bench Rosen for Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or draft a QB in 2020 and not feel it. Best-case scenario, Rosen plays like the top-10 pick he is and the team picks up his fifth-year option in 2022.
Starter: Philip Rivers | Signed through: 2019
Tier: Vet in contract year | Ranking in tier: No. 2
Contract: Four-year, $83.25 million contract signed in August 2015, including $37.5 million guaranteed at signing.
Rivers gets $11 million in non-guaranteed salary this year, plus a $5 million roster bonus that has already been paid. He has no contract beyond 2019, though it seems likely he and the team will negotiate an extension at some point this summer.
Rivers is 37 and coming off a 2018 season that saw him throw 32 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and complete 68.3 percent of his passes. Unless he wants to hang ’em up sometime soon, there’s no reason to think the Chargers are about to be done with him.
Starter: Tom Brady | Signed through: 2019
Tier: Vet in contract year | Ranking in tier: No. 3
Contract: Two-year, $41 million extension signed in February 2016, including $28 million guaranteed at signing.
Brady has $14 million in non-guaranteed salary coming this year, plus another $1 million in per-game roster bonuses if he plays all 16. There’s a decent chance The Patriots add a year or two and a hefty signing bonus to Brady’s deal this offseason, but he turns 42 in August, which puts him in uncharted quarterback-age territory.
He’s not a guy we should doubt, but we also can’t know for sure how much longer he plans to play. Whatever happens or doesn’t happen with his contract this summer will be telling.
Starter: Andy Dalton | Signed through: 2020
Tier: Prove-it time | Ranking in tier: No. 6
Contract: Six-year, $96 million extension signed in August 2014, including $17 million guaranteed at signing.
All of the guarantees in Dalton’s contract have long been paid, so his $16 million salary this year and his $17.5 million 2020 salary are NFL funny money. The contract was signed long enough ago that Cincinnati isn’t even carrying dead signing bonus money. The Bengals could cut Dalton today and not owe him another penny.
Zac Taylor expresses his excitement about coaching the Cincinnati Bengals and shares how they can be successful.
Obviously, they’re not going to do that, but the fourth-round pick of NC State’s Ryan Finley by a team that just hired a young, QB-focused coach is a mild eyebrow-raiser. If Finley shows enough development this season — or if the Bengals bottom out and get a super-high pick in next year’s draft — they could decide to show Dalton the door as soon as next offseason.
Starter: Joe Flacco | Signed through: 2021
Tier: Prove-it time | Ranking in tier: No. 7
Contract: Three-year, $66.4 million extension signed with Baltimore in March 2016, including $44 million guaranteed at signing.
As with Dalton in Cincinnati, Flacco has no more guaranteed money on his contract. The Broncos can keep him if they want and pay him $18.5 million this year, $20.25 million in 2020 and $24.25 million in 2021, but they could also cut him at any time and owe him nothing.
They drafted Missouri’s Drew Lock in the second round, so the clock is ticking and Flacco is under pressure to perform and hold off the rookie. Kind of like he was in Baltimore last year, and you can see how that worked out.
Starter: Eli Manning | Signed through: 2019
Tier: Vet in contract year | Ranking in tier: No. 4
Contract: Four-year, $84 million extension signed in September 2015, including $36.5 million guaranteed at signing.
If you don’t know where things stand with Manning and the Giants, you just haven’t been paying attention to NFL offseason news. The Giants say they’re committed to Manning as their starter for 2019, but they also drafted Duke’s Daniel Jones sixth overall, so it’s clear they’re not committed to the 38-year-old Manning for very much longer.
He has had no talks with the team about an extension, and it’s possible, if he and/or the team struggle, he could cede the starting job to Jones at some point during the season, as Kurt Warner did to him in 2004. The end of the Manning era in New York is nigh. The remaining question is whether he gets (or even wants) an opportunity to play somewhere else in 2020.
Starter: Dak Prescott | Signed through: 2019
Tier: On the verge of commitment | Ranking in tier: No. 3
Contract: Four-year, $2.7 million contract signed in 2016, plus a $1.305 million performance-based escalator that raised his 2019 salary from $720,000 to $2.025 million.
Prescott was in the same draft as Goff and Wentz, but he was a fourth-round pick. Only first-round contracts have the fifth-year option, which means Prescott is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. The Cowboys have been very public about their desire to extend Prescott’s deal this summer, and there’s no reason to doubt that they will.