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Comparing Andy Dalton's contract to the production value

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How does Andy Dalton's contract compare with the rest of the league? Are other quarterbacks being grossly overpaid for the upcoming season? Here's a look at how NFL quarterbacks are being compensated in relation to their production (QB Rating and yards per game).

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In the wake of the contract the Houston Texans just gave to a former Broncos quarterback, you can only wonder if the money was intended to secure Peyton Manning instead of Brock Osweiler. Either that, or the Texans are attempting to offer us a textbook example of what happens when you have a pocket full of cash and are desperate to acquire something.

About a century ago, the U.S. currency was taken off the "gold standard", and divorced from any intrinsic worth other than legal tender laws insisting that it be treated the same as money with real value. The result was that limits on government spending were only capped by how fast they could borrow it from the centralized banks of the Federal Reserve, and how fast the treasury could print it. There was no longer a hard cap limiting spending based on the amount of gold reserves you actually had on hand. It seems as if a similar phenomenon is now occurring in the NFL with the way teams are handing out big money contracts to unproven quarterbacks. Have the Texans and Redskins also found a way to create money from nothing?

Brock Osweiler’s new contract with the Texans is rewarding him with over $6.5 million for every career touchdown he’s ever thrown. In Washington D.C., Kirk Cousins is being paid nearly $20 million, primarily for not being RGIII. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton, has guided the Bengals to five consecutive playoff appearances, and just finished with one of the top quarterback ratings in the NFL, but seems to be a relative bargain in comparison.

Here is a look at the top 22 quarterback contracts in the NFL based on their average compensation for the upcoming season. The primary focus is on quarterbacks who are on a contract beyond their rookie contracts. So guys still on their rookie deals, such as Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota, are not included. Backups who fall well below these top 22 are not considered.

Name Money / Year
Joe Flacco $22,133,333
Aaron Rodgers $22,000,000
Russell Wilson $21,900,000
Ben Roethlisberger $21,850,000
Eli Manning $21,000,000
Philip Rivers $20,812,500
Cam Newton $20,760,000
Matt Ryan $20,750,000
Tom Brady $20,500,000
Drew Brees $20,000,000
Kirk Cousins $19,953,000
Ryan Tannehill $19,250,000
Colin Kaepernick $19,000,000
Jay Cutler $18,100,000
Tony Romo $18,000,000
Brock Osweiler $18,000,000
Matthew Stafford $17,666,667
Sam Bradford $17,500,000
Alex Smith $17,000,000
Carson Palmer $16,500,000
Andy Dalton $16,000,000
Nick Foles $12,270,000

Thanks to his Franchise Tag, Cousins is now the tenth highest compensated quarterback in the NFL, and by virtue of his new four year, $72 million deal with the Texans, Osweiler is fifteenth. The average contract for a starting quarterback seems to be set at $19 million +/- $3M, with the inestimable Joe Flacco leading the way with over $22 million per season, and the Rams’ somewhat starter Nick Foles at the bottom of the list. The Bengals’ Andy Dalton has the lowest average of any quarterback who has started a full season and ranks 21st in the league.

Average per year vs Quarterback Rating

I wanted to come up with a measure to evaluate how good, or bad a quarterback’s contract is, based on how they produced the prior year and what they will be paid for that output. For this measure, I compared the quarterback’s rating versus their compensation. While it’s an imprecise metric, it gives some sense of relative scale.

This shows how much money a team is spending on their quarterback compared to how the quarterback performed, measured by the quarterback’s rating in 2015. The lower the dollar amount, the more of a value the quarterback’s contract is, as it indicates more rating points per dollar, and better "play per dollar".

Name Money/ Year QB Rating Money / QB Rating
Andy Dalton $16,000,000 106.2 $150,659
Carson Palmer $16,500,000 104.6 $157,744
Nick Foles $12,270,000 69.0 $177,826
Alex Smith $17,000,000 95.4 $178,197
Matthew Stafford $17,666,667 97.0 $182,131
Jay Cutler $18,100,000 92.3 $196,100
Kirk Cousins $19,953,000 101.6 $196,388
Drew Brees $20,000,000 101.0 $198,020
Russell Wilson $21,900,000 110.1 $198,910
Tom Brady $20,500,000 102.2 $200,587
Sam Bradford $17,500,000 86.4 $202,546
Brock Osweiler $18,000,000 86.4 $208,333
Cam Newton $20,760,000 99.2 $209,274
Ryan Tannehill $19,250,000 88.7 $217,024
Philip Rivers $20,812,500 93.8 $221,882
Eli Manning $21,000,000 93.6 $224,359
Tony Romo $18,000,000 79.4 $226,700
Ben Roethlisberger $21,850,000 94.5 $231,217
Matt Ryan $20,750,000 89.0 $233,146
Aaron Rodgers $22,000,000 92.7 $237,325
Colin Kaepernick $19,000,000 78.5 $242,038
Joe Flacco $22,133,333 83.1 $266,346

With a cost of $150,659 per quarterback rating point, Andy Dalton leads the way as the best value among all quarterbacks who have signed deals with teams beyond their rookie contracts. Not only is his $16M average compensation the second lowest among all of the quarterbacks in our list, but his 106.2 quarterback rating was the second highest in the NFL last season.

Bengals’ former quarterback Carson Palmer finished as the second best value, with $157,744 per quarterback rating point. Russell Wilson, who led the NFL with a 110.1 rating finished 2015 as the ninth best value, at $198,910 per quarterback rating point, which took a hit due to his very high $21.9M compensation. The worst values are Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco, with the latter being paid $266,346 per quarterback rating point, which is almost double of what the Bengals are paying per rating point.

Average per year vs Passing Yards per Game

As mentioned above, the dollar per quarterback rating is not a perfect measure of value, as there are other factors playing into how well a quarterback performs for a team. Some quarterbacks are asked to pass the ball more often, so a quarterback in a heavy passing offense may provide good value by throwing for many yards, while lacking a great rating. As a second measure, we have the passing yards per game. In this metric, we look at how many dollars the quarterback is being compensated for in relation to their passing yards per game.

Name Money / Year Yards / Game Money / YPG
Carson Palmer $16,500,000 292 $56,507
Drew Brees $20,000,000 325 $61,538
Andy Dalton $16,000,000 250 $64,000
Nick Foles $12,270,000 187 $65,615
Sam Bradford $17,500,000 266 $65,789
Matthew Stafford $17,666,667 266 $66,416
Ben Roethlisberger $21,850,000 328 $66,616
Tom Brady $20,500,000 298 $68,792
Philip Rivers $20,812,500 300 $69,375
Matt Ryan $20,750,000 287 $72,300
Brock Osweiler $18,000,000 246 $73,171
Ryan Tannehill $19,250,000 263 $73,194
Jay Cutler $18,100,000 244 $74,180
Eli Manning $21,000,000 277 $75,812
Kirk Cousins $19,953,000 260 $76,742
Alex Smith $17,000,000 218 $77,982
Joe Flacco $22,133,333 279 $79,331
Tony Romo $18,000,000 221 $81,448
Cam Newton $20,760,000 240 $86,500
Russell Wilson $21,900,000 252 $86,905
Aaron Rodgers $22,000,000 239 $92,050
Colin Kaepernick $19,000,000 179 $106,145

In this metric Carson Palmer is the best value. He passed for 292 yards per game, and is only costing the Arizona Cardinals $56,507 for each of these 292 yards per game. Drew Brees, boosted by 325 yards per game, is the second best value at just over $61,000 per yard per game.

The Bengals’ Andy Dalton again ends up as one of the best values at the quarterback position in the NFL. He finished 2015 as the third best value in this category, but if you remove his last game where he only attempted five passes before leaving with an injury, he jumps up to the second best value in his cost to the team for his yards per game output.

Colin Kaepernick ranked as the worst value, costing more than $106,000 for each yard per game from 2015. With such a bad value, it’s interesting that teams such as the Browns and Broncos, who are desperate for a quarterback, are interested in trading with the 49ers for Kaepernick.

Conclusions

The first conclusion is that I like numbers, and tables. I also like choc chip cookies, but that’s neither here nor there. This post is for the folks who enjoy doing their taxes by hand.

The more relevant conclusion is that Dalton looks to be one heck of a value for the Cincinnati Bengals. You don't need a lot of numbers and tables to realize that, but it is interesting to see the simple evaluation with numbers seems to back up this claim. Dalton and Palmer were two of the best value players from 2015, and with Dalton signed through the 2020 season, he stands to be one of the best values for the next half decade.

Another interesting conclusion is that the contracts of Osweiler and Cousins are not as egregious as first suspected. Based on their yards per game, and quarterback ratings from 2015, the compensation they are receiving is actually about average as far as value goes.

Another conclusion is that Kaepernick and Flacco represent terrible values for their teams, in regards to what they are going to be paid compared to their production. In their cases, it shows how a contract can become inflated when a quarterback reaches a Super Bowl, leading to the team overpaying on a contract with a bad value.