Quarterback is the glamor position in the NFL. Not surprisingly, it is the highest paying position as well. Teams are desperate to find a franchise quarterback and it is deemed to be an essential building block of a successful franchise. The problem with finding a good quarterback is they command high salaries. Due to the NFL’s salary cap, committing a large proportion of available money to the quarterback constrains the ability of teams to find enough depth and talent to win. The Baltimore Ravens won their Super Bowl and then had to give Joe Flacco a $100 million contract. His contract resulted in them releasing several key parts of their championship team and a failure to make the playoffs the following year. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have been able to assemble talented rosters with great depth due to the small money they have committed to their quarterbacks. When both Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson sign their next contract, their teams may be forced to let go of some talented players to fit under the salary cap.
Given the importance of managing the salary cap it is imperative that teams do not over spend on any one player. This is more apparent for quarterbacks since they command the biggest salaries. This article lists ten Pro Bowl overpaid quarterbacks who have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl including as an alternate. Some of these quarterbacks cashed in on a few seasons of good play while others were paid for what they already accomplished rather than their future potential.
10. Drew Bledsoe – $103,000,000 with $14,000,000 guaranteed
In March 2001, the New England Patriots signed three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe to a ten year extension worth $103 million. Bledsoe had led the Patriots to a Super Bowl appearance after the 1996 season and he had been the face of the franchise since being drafted as the overall number one pick in 1993. His extension resulted in him having the biggest contract in NFL history at the time. The Patriots hoped Bledsoe would lead them to another Super Bowl and be remembered in the same breath as other Boston sports icons. The Patriots did win the Super Bowl the following season and their quarterback is unquestionably one of the most iconic figures in Boston sports history. However, that quarterback is Tom Brady, who replaced Bledsoe early in the 2001 season after Bledsoe got injured. Bledsoe got traded to the Buffalo Bills and made only one Pro Bowl after leaving the Patriots.
9. Michael Vick – $100,000,000 with $36,000,000 guaranteed
Michael Vick is the only player in NFL history who has signed two $100 million contracts. His first big contract was with the Atlanta Falcons when he was probably the most exciting and electrifying player in the league. While the story of his departure from the Falcons is well documented, he did have some success there. However, Vick’s second $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles was a little more curious. Vick signed a $100 million contract with the Eagles after being released from prison and at the age of 31. There had been many questions regarding Vick’s accuracy and consistency as a passer. Vick rarely played all 16 regular season games and since signing with the Eagles, he had trouble staying on the field. Vick eventually had to restructure the deal and lost his starting job to Nick Foles and left the Eagles after the 2013 season.
8. Alex Smith – $27,775,000 with $9,000,000 guaranteed
After spending his first eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season with the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith led the Chiefs to their first playoff berth in three seasons where they lost a heartbreaking Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts. While Smith has an impressive record over the last three seasons, there are persistent doubts over whether he is a franchise quarterback. Most view him as a game manager incapable of driving a team to Super Bowl success. Smith’s contract is probably fair compensation for his abilities but it is hard to put other Pro Bowl quarterbacks such as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning on this list given their consistent success.
7. Matt Schaub – $13,500,000 with $8,000,000 guaranteed
On March 21th, 2014 the Oakland Raiders acquired Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans for a sixth round pick. Schaub is 32 years old and has made the Pro Bowl twice, most recently in 2012. So why was he worth only a sixth round pick? The Houston Texans, and specifically Schaub, had one of their worst seasons in 2013. The team had Super Bowl aspirations and instead finished with a 2-14 record including 14 consecutive losses. Schaub set a dubious NFL record after throwing an interception which was returned for a touchdown in four consecutive games. Schaub could not hold his starting job for the entire season and appeared to lose all confidence. While his contract should not constrain the Raiders, it is worth noting he will not be playing with the likes of Andre Johnson or Arian Foster in Oakland.
6. Carson Palmer – $16,000,000 with $10,000,000 guaranteed
Carson Palmer was the first overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2003 NFL draft. Palmer played with the Bengals through the 2010 season and made two Pro Bowl appearances in 2005 and 2006, including being named the Pro Bowl MVP in 2006. Palmer led the Bengals to a division title in 2005 and suffered a horrific knee injury during the playoffs that season. During that season, he signed a nine year $119 million extension with the Bengals. His play since the injury has not lived up to his early success and potential. Since leaving the Bengals, Palmer has been the starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals. Palmer has put up good statistics for both teams but his numbers have not translated into any playoff appearances with either franchise and he has never won a playoff game.
5. Matt Cassel – $10,500,000 with $5,650,000 guaranteed
In March 2014, Matt Cassel signed a two-year, $10.5 million deal to stay with the Minnesota Vikings. This contract was surprising as Cassel was not an established started with the Vikings during the 2013 season. He appeared in nine games and only started in six. Cassel entered the NFL in 2005, but only started an NFL game after 2008 when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season long injury. Since 2008, Cassel has started in 68 games and only won 32 of them. He has had only two seasons where he has won over half the games he started. After his tenure with the Patriots, Cassel spent four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He made his lone Pro Bowl in 2010, but won only five of his last seventeen starts. Despite his failures with the Chiefs and their own team, the Vikings decided to resign him, even though they had other options on their team.
4. Jake Delhomme – $42,000,000 with $20,000,000 guaranteed
At the time Jake Delhomme signed his five-year, $42 million contract with the Carolina Panthers in April 2009, he had made one Pro Bowl, appeared in one Super Bowl and led the Panthers to the playoffs in three seasons. What was troubling about Delhomme’s contract was that he was 34 years old and had just come off of one of the worst playoff performances in history. In the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs, the 12-4 Panthers were defeated by the Arizona Cardinals. Delhomme lost one fumble and threw five interceptions during the game. Given his age and that horrific performance, it was a surprise that the Panthers committed so much money to Delhomme.
3. Jay Cutler -$126,700,000 with $38,000,000 guaranteed
Jay Cutler is probably the most talented quarterback in the history of the Chicago Bears. For a franchise renowned for their defense and special teams, acquiring a Pro Bowl quarterback in his prime from the Denver Broncos must have appeared like a godsend. Cutler has had an uneven tenure with the Bears. In his second season (2010), he helped the Bears host the NFC title game. Cutler withdrew from the game due to injury and received widespread criticism. Cutler has been a lightning rod figure with the Bears and has missed games due to injury which has cost the team and resulted in them missing the playoffs in 2011 and 2012.
In 2013, Cutler was having a strong season before again getting injured. Backup quarterback Josh McCown played well in Cutler’s absence, leading to a quarterback controversy in Chicago. Cutler regained the starting role near the end of the season and the team lost their last game of the season against the Green Bay Packers with a playoff berth on the line. Despite only leading the team to one playoff season and winning one playoff game throughout his career, the Bears gave Cutler a seven year extension in January 2014.
2. Daunte Culpepper – $102,000,000 with $16,000,000 guaranteed
After the 2004 season, the Minnesota Vikings signed Daunte Culpepper to a ten-year, $102 million contract. At the time, the contract did not seem that bad, as Culpepper was a three-time Pro Bowler and was coming off of a historic season. Culpepper is an example of a player whose play declined after getting paid. In his first two games of the following season, Culpepper threw eight interceptions and zero touchdowns. He suffered a knee injury in the middle of the season and had disagreements with the Vikings regarding his rehabilitation program. Culpepper was also involved in the infamous boat scandal and felt threatened by the play of Brad Johnson, his backup. Culpepper requested a trade during the season and was eventually traded to the Miami Dolphins after only the first season under his new contract.
1. Donovan McNabb – $78,000,000 with $40,000,000 guaranteed
Donovan McNabb was probably the best quarterback in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles. He led the franchise to five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. In 2002, he signed a twelve-year, $115 million contract with the Eagles. McNabb probably lived up to that contract as he made four out of his six Pro Bowls after the deal. McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins in 2010, which should have given the Redskins pause as the Eagles were a division rival. McNabb struggled in Washington and clashed with the coaching staff. He was benched at times in favor of Rex Grossman. Despite his uneven tenure, the Redskins rewarded McNabb with a $78 million contract before a Monday Night game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles won that game 59-28 and McNabb did not hold on to his starting job for the whole season.