Chad Pemberton: Your fave team has nothing made if QB is old and overpaid
If the Baltimore Ravens proved anything with their two NFL championship runs, it's that you don't necessarily need a great quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
What you need is a serviceable to decent quarterback, an incredible supporting cast around him and a helpful dose of luck. Joe Flacco is the perfect example of a quarterback who played out of his mind for four games in the playoffs. I suppose every decent quarterback is capable of playing like a Hall-of-Famer for a few games in a row if you surround him with a quality roster.
This is the truth of the matter: Games are won from the trenches out. If roster importance was divvied out into a pie chart (offensive and defensive) line play would take up the biggest portion of the pie. However, if you assessed importance on a position-by-position basis, nothing would come close to equaling the quarterback position. This is why striking value at the quarterback position is of paramount importance.
Value is the operative word here. It's no longer enough to evaluate quarterbacks exclusively on the merits of their prior on-field performance. Age and salary cap hit are becoming increasingly relevant. What's more, because of the new collective-bargaining agreement, rookie quarterback contracts are now the best bargains in the league.
Take a look at Andy Dalton, who is entering his third year in Cincinnati. He has a base salary of just less than $750,000, his cap hit is right under $1.5 million and his on-field performance is in the 40-50th percentile. Sure, his on-field performance isn't sexy, at least not yet, but his price proposition is enough to make you adore what you have because of the extra money you can spend elsewhere to improve the other slivers of the roster pie.
Value propositions at the quarterback position such as Dalton, and there are many other examples, and Dalton isn't even the best one -- Russell Wilson ($681,085 cap hit in 2013), Colin Kaepernick ($1.3 million cap hit), Christian Ponder ($2.7 million cap hit), Ryan Tannehill ($2.8 million cap hit), Robert Griffin III ($4.8 million cap hit), Andrew Luck ($5 million cap hit), and Cam Newton ($6 million cap hit) -- are preferable to the hefty cap hits of 30-year-old quarterbacks who have already plateaued or completely fallen off.
Specifically, I'm referencing a group of quarterbacks who are all at least 30 years old, and who are entering at least their fifth season with the same team: Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick and Tony Romo. These quarterbacks are penciled in for a combined cap hit of $62,045,833 in 2013. That's a pretty crazy sum of money when you realize they're a combined 8-13 in the playoffs over the past nine seasons.
Simply put, these quarterbacks aren't good value anymore. They're as talented as they're ever going to be, and that means they're never going to ascend to the top of the quarterback pyramid next to the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers where they can carry mediocre or depleted rosters far into January. These quarterbacks need truly great supporting parts around them, and even that might not be enough.
This is where these quarterbacks find themselves, stuck in no man's land of careers that were never enough, never what we thought they could be. On the verge of extinction. Too old, too expensive. Quarterbacks, who were once the beacons of the future, being wedged out by time and inertia and the prospect of youth and hope.
Eventually this question will have to be addressed: How can a team continue to invest so much into a relatively old quarterback who returns so little when they have the option of going after a younger quarterback who is remotely comparable talent-wise at a mere fraction of the cost? How this question is answered will determine if the future for these dinosaurs is dim, or for the teams who currently employ them.
Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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