Does a quarterback’s salary always dictate the quality of play their team will get from them? History says a resounding no. From 2000 to 2012, eight Super Bowls victories came from the team with the quarterback who was earning less money. For instance, in 2011, the Super Bowl winning Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers was paid $7.2 million while the losing Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was making $11.6 million.
We’ve learned over the years that you don’t have to spend loads of money (by NFL standards, of course) on a quarterback in order to be successful. After all, backups don’t make nearly as much as starters do, but their role is to be there in case of a serious injury. The hope is that the backup has what it takes to fill those shoes in a worst case scenario, and sometimes they do. For instance, in 2012 the San Francisco 49ers’ Alex Smith was knocked out with a concussion, but backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick was able to claim the starting spot and lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. While he didn’t win, it proved that even a backup earning less than $1 million, as Kaepernick was in 2012, can carry a team to the Super Bowl.
On the other hand, many people have questioned the merits of some quarterbacks who have won the Super Bowl in the past. Luck, a good defense and a strong running game can all take pressure off a mediocre QB, and it can sometimes be enough to earn them a Super Bowl ring. But regardless of a quarterback’s salary, or even talent for that matter, the fact remains, once a Super Bowl champion, always a Super Bowl champion. This list is dedicated to the top ten lowest-paid quarterbacks to have ever won the Super Bowl. All their salaries have been adjusted for inflation according to values from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the players are arranged in order based on inflation numbers. These numbers show just how the game has changed over the years. In fact, some of these players were paid less money than what it cost to get thirty seconds of ad time in the games they won.
10. Mark Rypien – Super Bowl XXVI – $1.5 Million ($2.57 Million Today)
Mark Rypien is the only Canadian quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl MVP award. The Calgary native won it all with the Washington Redskins in 1992. Rypien was not heralded as being a stellar quarterback, but his play made it so teams in the Canadian Football League tried to lure him into playing for them. CFL organizations were offering Rypien deals for up to $3 million US per year. However, he never signed any deals with the CFL and stayed with the NFL for the rest of his career.
9. Trent Dilfer – Super Bowl XXXV – $1 Million ($1.322 Million Today)
Trent Dilfer has 129 interceptions in his career and only 113 touchdown passes. However, he led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2001. While the team’s defense was particularly heralded for its work, Dilfer was also known for being a strong game commander when the Ravens had the ball. Amazingly, he is worth much more than he was when he played football. His net worth today is approximately $8 million.
8. Doug Williams – Super Bowl XXII – $600,000 ($1.187 Million Today)
Doug Williams is to this day the only black quarterback to have won the Super Bowl. He did so with the Washington Redskins in 1988. When he started with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a decade earlier, he was the lowest-paid quarterback in the league with a salary of $120,000 ($387,000 today). This was not only the lowest salary of any starting QB, but also behind 12 backups. Williams then left the NFL to join the United States football league, but returned in 1987 with the Redskins.
7. Joe Namath – Super Bowl III – $150,000 ($957,000 Today)
Joe Namath did not get paid much from the New York Jets in 1968. In fact, many AFL teams did not pay as much as other NFL teams because the AFL was a relatively new league in comparison. However, his win in Super Bowl III proved that the AFL could compete with the NFL, and that was a key part of what helped the two leagues to merge in 1970. Still, the Jets were heavy underdogs against the Baltimore Colts. Opposing quarterback Johnny Unitas earned around $200,000 at the same time.
6. Jeff Hostetler – Super Bowl XXV – $425,000 ($761,000 Today)
Jeff Hostetler won the Super Bowl with the New York Giants during the 1990 season after Phil Simms went down with an injury. He played the last two regular season games and started during the playoffs. He earned just half of what Simms earned that season. Interestingly enough, Hostetler was Simms’ backup a few years earlier when the Giants won Super Bowl XXI.
5. Bart Starr – Super Bowl I – $100,000 ($701,000 Today)
By today’s standards, Bart Starr wasn’t paid much in 1967, but the same could be said of many others in the game at the time. Starr got a $15,000 bonus for having won the first ever Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers that year, today’s equivalent of just over $100,000. In addition, Starr’s salary was more than twice the $42,000 one would have to pay to get a thirty-second television ad during the game that year.
4. Jim Plunkett – Super Bowl XV – $180,000 ($510,000 Today)
Jim Plunkett was the MVP of Super Bowl XV in 1981, playing for the Oakland Raiders. Plunkett followed it up with another Super Bowl just three years later. However, he had 34 more interceptions than touchdowns in his career and was dominated by opposing quarterbacks, even in the Super Bowls he played in. In 1980, Plunkett was earning half of the $360,000 made by Dan Pastorini, the quarterback he replaced following an injury that year.
3. Earl Morrall – Super Bowl V – $70,000 ($422,000 Today)
As a backup for the Baltimore Colts, Earl Morrall had played for a bit of the 1970 regular season while Johnny Unitas was injured. In fact, Morrall came in during the middle of Super Bowl V to replace Unitas. While the Colts did win, Morrall didn’t even have a touchdown pass. In fact, some players from that year’s Colts team refuse to wear their Super Bowl rings because they felt they played poorly in the game. Morrall’s $70,000 salary that year was $2,000 less than the cost of a thirty-second television ad during the game that year.
2. Tom Brady – Super Bowl XXXVI – $300,000 ($396,000 Today)
When Tom Brady replaced the New England Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season after an injury, Brady ended up taking over the Pats offense and brought them to their first Super Bowl victory. He won two more Super Bowls with the team and was named the game’s MVP twice. He lead New England to the big game two more times but lost to the New York Giants both times. His $300,000 salary from 2001 is a far cry from his current deal with the Pats where he is guaranteed $57 million for his services. What’s more is that a commercial during the first Super Bowl he won cost $1.9 million, a clear sign that Brady was a bargain for the team.
1. Kurt Warner – Super Bowl XXXIV – $250,000 ($340,000 Today)
Kurt Warner‘s rags-to-riches story has been told many times over. He went from working at a grocery store to trying out for the St. Louis Rams. In 1999, he came in as the starter after Trent Green was injured. He went on to throw for around 4,300 yards in the regular season and was the Super Bowl MVP for the Rams that year. Today, Warner makes about $4 million a year from his television analyst job and other speaking engagements. The amazing thing about Warner’s salary from the year is that a person could have paid for only a few seconds of ad space during the game with that amount of money. A thirty-second ad cost $1.1 million that year.