Quarterback is arguably the most important position in the NFL, as it’s one that entails a large amount of responsibility. The QB is responsible for calling plays and managing the offense as it goes down the field. They are one of the most instrumental pieces of any NFL team.
It’s estimated that the average starting quarterback in the NFL earns a salary of $15.2 million per year as of the start of the 2013 season. The second highest-earning position is the defensive end. Starting ends are getting salaries of $10.9 million per year on average.
It’s understandable that quarterbacks earn more money, but the total amount of money that they earn each year can be staggering. The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is the highest earner in the NFL with a $22 million base salary for 2013. The Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan is second with $20.7 million while the Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco is earning $20.1 million.
Even backup quarters in the NFL are earning handsome amounts of money. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Dan Orlovsky is earning $905,000 this year while the Cincinnati Bengals’ Josh Johnson is getting $947,500.
Why pay quarterbacks so much if not to get wins? Well, clearly not every quarterback in the NFL is going to be worth the money. Where a team’s record is concerned, there are some QBs who are making deceptively more money per win than others. Some of this is due to high salaries, but part of it is because of players being on bad teams that struggle to win.
For instance, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton is a great deal, as he’s won 25 games in his career while earning $4.1 million since coming into the league in 2011. Therefore, he is being paid $164,000 per win. Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson has 20 wins and has been paid $1.1 million. He is earning around $55,000 per win.
Not every quarterback is going to be such a bargain. Here’s a look at the five highest-earning NFL quarterbacks based on how much money they have earned per win over their career.
5. Mark Sanchez – New York Jets – $1.56 Million Per Win
While Mark Sanchez did lead the New York Jets to a 11-5 record in 2010 and two AFC Championship games, he has struggled to fulfill the demands of his team and of the New York media. His lacking effort in the last two seasons and his increased susceptibility to sacks certainly harmed him and his infamous “butt fumble” only made things worse. He has since been benched in favor of rookie Geno Smith, although he is still being paid $8.25 million this season and $13 million against the salary cap. Mark Sanchez is 33-29 for his career but his 33 wins have been extremely costly to the Jets. He has been paid $51.7 million by the Jets over his career. This leads to a total of $1.56 million per win. Meanwhile, Geno Smith’s salary is estimated to be around $1.25 million for his rookie season and he already has five wins to his credit.
4. Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals – $1.79 Million Per Win
Carson Palmer won the 2002 Heisman Trophy and was the top pick of the 2003 NFL Draft. He led the Cincinnati Bengals to two playoff appearances in the 2000s, but injuries caused him to lose a significant part of the 2008 season and have impacted his proficiency since. He struggled with the Oakland Raiders but is having a minor comeback with the Arizona Cardinals. Palmer has earned $106 million in his career but only has 59 wins. Overall, he has earned $1.79 million per win in the NFL. Much of this can be attributed to how Palmer sat out his entire rookie year in 2003. Still, he has struggled in recent years, taking a $5 million pay cut from the Cardinals this year versus the $13 million that the Raiders had given him. These values have inflated his total earnings and have made him one of the league’s more expensive players based on his personal winning history.
3. Matt Cassel – Minnesota Vikings – $1.95 Million Per Win
Matt Cassel was a backup for the New England Patriots who went 10-5 in 2008 after Tom Brady was injured for the season. He was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as their new starter the next year, but went a disappointing 4-11. While he did go 10-5 in 2010, he has struggled with injury problems every since. He has started some games for the Minnesota Vikings recently due to Christian Ponder’s own troubles. It’s clear that the Chiefs paid more than they hoped for Cassel who has earned $58.7 in his career and has 30 career wins, totaling $1.95 million per win. Cassel’s salary has declined in the past couple years. He got $12.25 million with the Chiefs in 2011 and then $7.5 million the next year. He’s getting $3.7 million from the Vikings this year. Ironically, this is $1.2 million more than what Ponder is earning and he’s started in more games for the Vikings in the first half of 2013 than Cassel has.
2. Sam Bradford – St. Louis Rams – $2.83 Million Per Win
Sam Bradford was the St. Louis Rams’ first overall pick in the 2010 draft. While Bradford did lead the 2010 Rams to a 7-9 record after a 1-15 disappointment in 2009, seven wins is the most that he’s gotten for the Rams in a season. Bradford has been a promising player in that he’s thrown for at least 3,500 yards in both seasons where he’s started all sixteen games. Still, injuries forced him to miss six games in 2011 and will sideline him for the entire second half of the 2013 season. As a result, Bradford has just 18 wins in his first four years in the NFL. He has earned $51 million from the Rams and therefore is getting $2.83 million per win. Of course, the high pay that comes with being the top draft pick in the NFL is a huge burden for a player such as Sam Bradford to live up to.
1. Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions – $3.38 Million Per Win
Matthew Stafford was chosen as the top overall draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 2009. He led the Lions to a 10-6 record in 2011 and helped them reach the playoffs that year. However, he had a slow start in 2009 as the Lions went 2-14. Then again, it was an improvement over the team’s 0-16 record from 2008. Stafford has 23 career wins and has earned $77.9 million from the Lions. Therefore, he has earned $3.38 million for each win. Despite this huge number, Stafford has been extremely active as he’s led the NFL in pass attempts twice in his short career. In addition, part of his expense comes from how he was injured for much of 2010 and only played in three games during that season. This could skew the numbers a bit but it’s still suggestive that the Lions might be paying too much, even for a franchise player.
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