Let’s say we broke up the NFL’s quarterbacks into tiers.
First tier QBs are #elite. That list would include Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan. These are the guys who enter every season thinking that a Super Bowl trophy is possible, even if their team has weaknesses.
Second tier QBs are established starters who can raise their play to All-Pro level if they have a good team around them. Phillip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Dak Prescott.
Third tier signal callers need a lot of help to make noise – a good offensive line, good receivers, good running game and a defense, but they still are very unlikely to take their team deep in the playoffs. Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick.
Fourth tier quarterbacks are terrible and need to be replaced. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum etc.
Somewhere between the second and third tier are Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor and Sam Bradford. They don’t fit perfectly into one of those categories because they have good enough numbers to argue second tier but haven’t accomplished enough to prove they aren’t third tier.
And all three of them have their teams in limbo about their future because it’s difficult to determine whether they are actually capable of winning anything.
You don’t have to go very far to find proof that top quarterbacks run the league. The AFC has sent either Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger to the Super Bowl every year since 2001 except when Joe Flacco and the Ravens won the big game over the 49ers.
However, a handful of those second-tier QBs have made appearances or won the Super Bowl. Some might put Cam Newton and Eli Manning there. Brad Johnson. Jake Delhomme belonged in that area the year the Panthers made it.
But in the last 30 years, you can only come up with Rex Grossman and Trent Dilfer as third tier quarterbacks who have appeared in the Super Bowl, unless you argue that Peyton Manning was bad in his final year – but he’s still Peyton Manning.
All of this is a long way of saying that quarterbacks like Taylor, Cousins and Bradford put their teams in extremely difficult positions. Washington and Buffalo have taken similar approaches to handling their good-but-questionable quarterbacks.
|Kirk Cousins||Last 2 years|
The Bills signed Taylor to a contract extension after the 2015 season in which he went 7-6 with 20 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 99.4 quarterback rating. His agent was probably super pumped to announce a six-year, $92 million contract. The reality, however, was that his deal really just a one-year raise. Buffalo had an option built in to let him walk after 2016.
After a nearly identical second year as the Bills’ starter, the team and Taylor negotiated a new deal worth just $15.5 million guaranteed, less than what Mike Glennon will get from the Chicago Bears. Again, essentially a one-year deal.
Three years should be enough of a sample size to decide whether they can make the playoffs and have success consistently with Taylor. The Bills may draft a quarterback early this year as a potential replacement if things go poorly next season.
As for Cousins, Washington has signed him to franchise tags each of the last two years. While Cousins wanted a long-term deal, being tagged isn’t the worst thing in the world considering he’ll make over $40 million guaranteed. For Washington, tagging Cousins has its ups and downs. They aren’t locked into him as their future quarterback, but his deal also takes up a huge amount of cap space – the third most in the NFL.
Cousins led one of the league’s most prolific passing offenses last season, tossing for 4,917 yards at 8.1 Yards Per Attempt. But circumstances played a huge role in his success. Washington had a top five offensive line, three top-notch playmaking receivers and two terrific tight ends. And Cousins threw more passes when his team was losing than any other QB in the NFL. He also turned the ball over more than they would have liked.
So Washington decided not to lock themselves into a long-term contract with the 28-year-old Cousins.
Now, it should be noted that Washington and Buffalo are two of the teams most notorious for ineptitude. In this case, however, their approach makes sense if their sole goal is to win the Super Bowl. If both teams want to remain fairly relevant, compete for Wild Card spots etc., then they will need better from the QB position than they got in 2016. Why not make their quarterbacks prove they can get the job done before marrying them?
There are cautionary tales all over the league of teams with third tier QBs locked in place. The Chiefs with Alex Smith, Chicago with Jay Cutler, Miami with Ryan Tannehill.
Sam Bradford’s 2017 performance will likely be the determining factor in whether the Vikings agree to a long-term deal or attempt to mimic Washington and Buffalo’s approach (if Teddy Bridgewater can’t come back from his knee injury). If Bradford replicated his 2016 year exactly, then the Vikings would likely want to keep their options open. If a new offensive line and better running game help him solidify himself among the second tier QBs, a long-term deal would be likely.
Assuming the Vikings don’t sign Bradford to a long-term contract, it will be the No. 1 storyline of the 2017 season.