A Look At NFL QB Contracts: What Alex Smith Should Expect


One of the main topics of the Kansas City Chiefs offseason thus far has been the contract status of quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has just one year remaining on the three year deal that he originally signed in 2012 with the San Francisco 49ers. After Smith’s performance down the stretch last season and in the playoff loss to Indianapolis many Chiefs fans are in favor of giving Smith an extension.

Last Wednesday, Jason Seibel (one of AA’s fantastic new editors) posted a great piece entitled “Chiefs Must Re-Sign Alex Smith To Create Cap Space“. If you haven’t read it yet, go give it a read. My original thought when reading it was that it wouldn’t be possible for an extension to lower his cap number, but after some discussion in the comments of that piece I must concede that it is possible (I would still argue unlikely, but I digress). Regardless, that conversation got me curious as to what the average NFL quarterback contract extension looks like.

I decided to do some more digging and basically looked at all the contracts for starting QBs that aren’t still on their rookie deal or one year “stop gap” contracts. That gave me 16 contracts to look at. Those include the contracts of Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Matt Stafford, Eli Manning, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez, Tom Brady, Alex Smith, and Carson Palmer.

I decided I wanted to see what year the contracts were signed, how old these QBs were when they signed, how many years they got, how big the overall contract was, the average per year, the guaranteed money, and the % of contract that was guaranteed. Here’s what I found:

First off, I should recognize overthecap.com for the contract amounts, it’s a great site and if the contract/cap situation of the Chiefs is of any interest to you at all, I highly recommend the site. The year signed and age when signed was simply a few minutes of good old google searches. I should also point out that not all contracts are created equal. The numbers above reflect the “new years” of the most recent contract that the QBs signed. So there’s a difference between Jay Cutler’s deal where he was literally about to hit the open market and an extension that was signed a year or two before the players current contract expires. The main difference is being able to spread the signing bonus out over more years.

Now, what can we learn from all those numbers?

First off, I think the averages are a good place to start. Starting QBs that signed new contracts were on average 29.6 years old (Alex Smith is 29 and will turn 30 before the season starts) and signed a deal for 4.8 years. In fact, 11 of the 16 contracts signed were for 5+ years. So I think there is a good chance that Smith would land a five year deal. The question is, will that be next year (already under contract) plus a five year extension or next year, plus a four year extension. I tend to think it will be the latter. So for the rest of this article I’ll be using numbers that would be based off Smith getting a four year extension (or five years total).

Next, the average total amount of the contracts signed was 81.2 million. This number was brought down by a handful of smaller contracts, but 10 of the 16 contracts were worth a total value of 88+ million dollars. After looking at these numbers I find it hard to believe that Smith will get a total value of less than 80 million over the five year span. 80 million over five years averages out to 16 million per year and the average of the contracts above is 16.2 million. However, quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger have contracts that are now over 5 years old. When those contracts are re-upped in the next year or two, you can bet that the average per year will go up. So a 16 million per year average is actually very low for 2014 standards when it comes to starting quarterbacks. You can see on the chart that the only contracts that have been signed since 2013 where the QB averaged less than 17.7 million are Carson Palmer’s (who is older and a bigger question mark) and Tom Brady (who took a HUGE discount to help his team after already having received a huge payday on his last contract).

So for the sake of this discussion let’s go with Smith getting 5 years/80 million total value for an average of 16 million per year average.

Now it’s time to talk guaranteed money. There was a wipe discrepancy in the percentage of the contracts that were guaranteed, ranging from 18.8% (Peyton Manning) to 78.3% (Matt Stafford). The low percentage for Manning makes sense given his neck concerns when he signed with Denver. Stafford’s deal had an abnormally high percentage because he was singing an extension with years still left on his old deal. Therefore not all that guaranteed money actually counts against the cap during the three “extended” years. It was distributed over those years plus the years he still had remaining.

Confused yet?

Bottom line is that the average percentage of guaranteed money was about 42.5%. If we go with our 80 million figure from above, that would give us 34 million guaranteed. That’s actually slightly higher than the 31.8 million in average guaranteed money that you see on the chart. However, I think that’s pretty realistic given the guaranteed money in recent contracts. In fact, for our estimated contract I’m actually going to round it up to 35 million guaranteed to make it a nice easy number to work with.

So now we have a contract for 5 years, 80 million, with 35 million guaranteed. Let’s say that part of that 35 million in guaranteed dollars is a 15 million dollar signing bonus. Signing bonuses are spread out evenly against the cap over the length of the contract, so that would be three million against the cap for five years. So how might Smith’s contract breakdown look given these numbers? Let’s try something like this (all numbers are in millions):

So in this scenario, Smith’s cap number for next season would go almost unchanged. His 2014 and 2015 salaries would be 100% guaranteed, assuring him of being the starting QB for the next two seasons. In 2016, he would still have 8 million of his 17 million cap hit guaranteed, making him a safe bet for still being a Chief that season but it would open the door for the possibility of looking elsewhere if things weren’t going well. Finally, his 2017 and 2018 salaries would be 0% guaranteed. That means that the Chiefs could cut him at that point and the only cap hit that they would take is the 3 million each year from his signing bonus.

I feel like after looking at the contracts signed by starting quarterbacks this is a fair place to start the discussion. So if Smith and the Chiefs do reach an agreement I think the 5 year, 80 million, 35 million guaranteed benchmarks will be a good measuring stick to compare the deal to. If the years/amounts are significantly less, then John Dorsey won the negotiations. If the years/amounts are significantly more, then Smith’s agent got him a very nice deal.

What do you think Addicts? Would you feel comfortable with KC signing Smith to a deal like the one I’ve outlined? After seeing what other QBs are getting do you feel like the numbers that I came up with are reasonable? Too high? Too low? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Also, if you missed any of them (or would like to give them another read) here are links to my previous Armchair Addict posts on the Chiefs offseason plans:

The Kansas City Chiefs Salary Cap Options

Kansas City Chiefs FA Targets: Jeremy Maclin vs. Golden Tate

Kansas City Chiefs Free Agent Safety Targets

Kansas City’s Top Free Agent Targets Should Be In House

Finally, as regular readers already know, I’ve been trying out and reviewing some devices from Verizon this season. I’ve already taken a look at the Droid Maxx phone and Fitbit Force wristband and now I’ve received one more: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 tablet. My initial thoughts are all positive. It runs fast on either 4G or through my wireless and has a great picture. I’ve already got my NFL Game Rewind account set up on it and see some film breakdowns coming in the near future. Look for more reviews in the coming weeks and give me a follow on Twitter for even more thoughts.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!

Follow me on Twitter: @LyleGraversen