Why non-elite QBs get elite contracts

Jay Cutler

Are you kidding?!

The Cincinnati Bengals signed quarterback Andy Dalton to a six-year extension Monday that could max out at $115 million. The fourth-year pro led the Bengals to nine, 10 and 11 wins his first three seasons and became the first quarterback to take the franchise to three consecutive playoff appearances. But that's also where the flame burned out. Dalton wasn't just bad in those games, all defeats. He was awful. He threw for only one score. He committed seven turnovers -- six of them interceptions. He led the offense to a total of two touchdowns, one more than Cincinnati's defense scored.

They did what?!

In January, the Chicago Bears signed Jay Cutler to a contract with a possible value of $126.7 million with $54 million in virtual guarantees. In March 2013,  Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo signed an extension potentially worth $108 million that included a reported $55 million in virtual guarantees. Those figures approach the $110 million -- including $62.5 million guaranteed --  that Aaron Rodgers  can earn from the Green Bay Packers by virtue of the extension he signed in April 2013.

Rodgers is a former league and Super Bowl MVP. Cutler is eight games over .500 for his career and has gone to the playoffs once, where he's 1-1. Romo is  1-3 in the postseason.

They got how much?!

In July 2013, Detroit Lions signal-caller Matthew Stafford signed an extension that averages $18 million a season and includes nearly $42 million in virtual guarantees; the sixth-year pro is 0-1 in the postseason. That same month, the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan inked a contract with an average of $20.75 million per year -- second only to Rodgers. Ryan is 60-34 in the regular season but 1-4 in the playoffs, with nearly as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (nine).

If those deals made your jaw drop, brace yourself, because the trend won't end anytime soon. Kansas City's Alex Smith, Philadelphia's Nick Foles, Carolina's Cam Newton and St. Louis' Sam Bradford all will be up for new deals in the next year or two. Their aggregate postseason record is 1-4.

The premium placed on quarterbacks has never been greater than it's been in the past decade. The league's emphasis on protecting and reducing contact against receivers has opened up the passing game, making for even more of a quarterback-driven league. Front-office personnel and coaches subscribe to the belief that you need a quality starter to consistently compete for a title. But since the pool of qualified talent is so shallow, they're willing to pay average or slightly-above-average quarterbacks as if they're elite.

"Teams are just afraid to say, 'Let's start again, because we literally do not have a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl with the quarterback that we have,'" said one club president, who was among a dozen personnel people, executives and coaches who spoke for this story on the condition of anonymity. "They'd rather have an average to above-average quarterback than wait to get a great quarterback. I think it's more than fair to say that the fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of the known."

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