We are about to hit one of the sweetest spot of the sports calendar. The 2015 NFL season is almost upon us. When that moment comes we can stop talking about 'Deflategate' and start talking about the battle being fought on the field and not in the courtroom. Well, maybe we'll have to hear about it a little, but actual football will be a nice distraction.
As we saw in last year's Super Bowl and the NFL Playoffs in general, you don't go very far in this era of the NFL without a great quarterback. The final four teams in the playoffs were led by Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Andy Dalton once again flopped for the Bengals in a playoff game, the Cardinals had about the worst injury luck in the world and Matthew Stafford showed promise, but couldn't get the Lions their first playoff win in 24 years.
While it takes more than a quarterback to get you to the Super Bowl, success usually begins under center. We saw how important it was to the Buccaneers and the Titans to get that position fixed, as they drafted quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota first and second overall. Every team scrambles to find the answer, and as a result many are paid handsomely before they even accomplish much, because when they do, their price tag is driven up that much more.
This offseason, we saw contract extensions given to Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson sign extensions. Wilson has proven the most of the bunch, but the others seem to be on the cusp of breaking out and if they do, their deals will look like bargains.
These extensions don't kick in for a while though, so they'll still be among the lowest paid quarterbacks for the 2015 season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top half of QB salaries in the NFL for this season. The list will be ranked based on the players' 2015 cap hits, all taken from Spotrac.com.
15 Cam Newton - $13 Million
Cam Newton cashed in with the Panthers after earning his second straight trip to the playoffs, and getting his first playoff win in last season's wildcard round. He signed a five-year, $103.8 million deal a couple of months ago. His actual salary for this coming season will be $31 million with signing bonus and a roster bonus, but his cap hit will be $13 million. The Panthers have been in salary cap hell for a couple of years, but they're in decent shape now, with their franchise quarterback at that price.
14 Tom Brady - $14 Million
Thanks to Tom Brady constantly restructuring his contracts, the Patriots are able to keep fielding a contender. When the reigning Super Bowl MVP, and arguably the best in the game at his position, is willing to play for well below his market value, it's a tremendous help to his team. It's shocking to think so many quarterbacks in the league are paid more than Brady, but I guess Super Bowls and being married to Gisele Bundchen is enough to make a man happy.
13 Joe Flacco - $14.55 Million
While many wouldn't put Joe Flacco and Tom Brady in the same stratosphere, Flacco has actually been somewhat of a thorn in the side of Brady's Patriots, as he always seems to play his best in the playoffs and against New England. Flacco has a Super Bowl MVP trophy to his name and he immediately cashed in on that with a contract extension, but this season will actually be a bargain year for the Ravens in Flacco's contract, as his $14.55 million cap hit jumps to over $28 million in 2016. Look for the Ravens to try to restructure Flacco's deal next offseason.
12 Tony Romo - $14.97 Million
Tony Romo's big contract extension a couple of seasons ago worth $108 million. The Cowboys restructured Romo's deal this past offseason, as they need cap space to give Dez Bryant a new contract and had already lost DeMarco Murray. Romo's deal now yields a cap hit just below $15 million for 2015. If Romo is anywhere near what he was in 2014, the deal will be a great bargain. The Cowboys are in a tight window to win a Super Bowl and this year might be their best hope, with Romo's cap hit climbing to $20 million next year.
11 Colin Kapernick - $15.26 Million
The San Francisco 49ers have had arguably the worst offseason of any NFL team, losing several key players to free agency and retirement. They also released stud pass rusher Aldon Smith, due to Smith being unable to stay out of trouble. Coming off a disappointing season, the pressure is on Colin Kaepernick to take a big step as a quarterback and the face of the 49ers. Another disappointing season and the Niners may very well regret handing Kaepernick that six-year, $114 million extension they gave him last year.
10 Alex Smith - $15.6 Million
Alex Smith is the Steven Koren of the NFL (for you Seinfeld fans). He doesn't show off, but he doesn't fall behind. It's an interesting debate as to whether Smith really is that valuable to the Chiefs. He doesn't turn the ball over a lot and rarely costs the Chiefs a game, but he's often not the difference maker in a win. He's also come up short when Kansas City needed him to make some plays to win, particularly in outings against Denver, who have gotten the better of the Chiefs in recent seasons.
9 Jay Cutler - $16.5 Million
Oh how the Bears would love to get out of this one. Jay Cutler is in the middle of a seven-year, $126 million deal. There were whispers that the Bears were going to trade him to the Titans, but Tennessee opted to draft Marcus Mariota instead. Chicago can't cut Cutler yet, as that would result in $29.5 million ofn dead cap space. The Bears would have to wait until 2017 to release him, as the dead money would only be $2 million. The Bears have always seemed to blame everybody but Cutler and standing by him hasn't paid off. It's a miracle that Cutler is in the top 10.
8 Ben Roethlisberger - $17.24 Million
This one's less of a surprise, especially since Big Ben's value to the Steelers has increased, with their defense not being what it once was. His cap hit will jump to over $23 million in 2016, as Roethlisberger signed a four-year, $87.4 million deal with Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger just led the Steelers to an AFC North division title, but they were knocked off by the Ravens in the wildcard round.
Whenever a quarterback has two Super Bowls, he deserves to be among the league's highest paid quarterbacks.
7 Philip Rivers - $17.4 Million
Philip Rivers rejuvenated his career in the 2013 season when Mike McCoy took over as Chargers head coach. While San Diego faded down the stretch last season due to injuries, Rivers has been the heart and soul of the Chargers for the better part of the last decade, especially after many departures of star players like Vincent Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. There were whispers this past offseason that the Chargers were entertaining the idea of trading him, but the two sides just reached an agreement on a four-year extension worth $83.25 million.
6 Peyton Manning - $17.5 Million
Now the NFL's all time leader in touchdown passes, Peyton Manning will be going for the NFL's passing yardage record this year, as he sits just over 2,000 yards behind Brett Favre. With the way Manning has shot out of the gate in the early chunks of the season, he should have that record by mid-October. This year could very well be Manning's last, but then again, we've said that many times before. Even if he's lost a step, Manning is still an elite quarterback and undoubtedly deserves to be on of the highest paid.
5 Matthew Stafford - $17.7 Million
After a tough couple of seasons, Matthew Stafford had a nice bounce back year in 2014, leading the Lions to 10 wins and their second trip to the playoffs in four seasons (good for Detroit). While he's yet to win his first playoff game, the next few years look very promising for the Lions, who have a great receiver tandem in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate and their defense coming off a spectacular season. We'll see if Stafford can bring the offense up a level, as Detroit will have to find a way to minimize the effects of losing Ndamukong Suh.
4 Aaron Rodgers - $18.25 Million
Many will argue that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game, and it's a solid argument. He is constantly the difference maker for the Packers and is easily the biggest reason that they have owned the NFC North in recent years, despite Detroit being arguably the more talented team. With other quarterback salaries continuing to rise, Green Bay's deal with Rodgers is going to look like one of the best bargains in the NFL very soon.
3 Matt Ryan - $19.5 Million
Matt Ryan has yet to take the Falcons to the mountaintop, often flirting with success, only to see victory snatched from his team. The Falcons have made it to the playoffs four times in seven seasons with Ryan, but have only gone 1-4 in those playoff games, losing the 2012 NFC Championship to the 49ers. The Falcons could have won the NFC South last year, but were embarrassed by the Carolina Panther in the Georgia Dome in Week 17. Atlanta will hope to get more out of Ryan and company in 2015.
2 Eli Manning - $19.75 Million
Nobody can take away Eli Manning's two Super Bowl titles, but his stock has taken a hit the past few years. While he's dangerous when he does get to the playoffs, he doesn't lead his team there often enough to be considered elite. He will have Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. this season, which should increase his stats significantly. Manning cut his interception total in half in 2014 (14) from his 27 two years ago, but will have to make more plays for the Giants to snatch the NFC East from the Cowboys.
1 Drew Brees - $26.4 Million
The Saints were dismantled this offseason thanks to salary cap issues and Drew Brees is now left without Jimmy Graham, who was often his safety blanket whenever he was in trouble. At 36 years old, time is not on his side and the competition in the NFC South is getting stronger, while the Saints seemed to get weaker this offseason. He'll want to cut down on the 17 interceptions he threw last season which led to many close losses by New Orleans.