It’s going to take a while for Matt Ryan to count his new money, and plenty of folks will be counting along with him.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback just signed a five-year, $150 million contract extension that includes $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. Those are records, and Ryan’s deal is packed with records, including the $52.5 million he’ll earn in Year 1 and the even $100 million injury guarantees at signing.
But when records are set, our attention immediately turns to the breaking of those records. Ryan’s deal sets new benchmarks for quarterback contracts to come, and with Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and a slew of exciting young quarterbacks up for new deals in the next couple of years, Ryan’s deal is the new target for those players (and their agents) to beat.
As of now, there’s no reason not to expect the ceiling for quarterback salaries to continue rising. No one knows for sure what sorts of salary-cap growth and rules await the NFL beyond the 2020 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, but the fact that Ryan’s deal runs three years into that uncharted future indicates that the league isn’t overly concerned.
So with that in mind, here’s a year-by-year look at significant expiring QB contracts, sorted by when they expire (assuming all fifth-year options on rookie quarterback contracts get picked up). Hopefully, it gives you a roadmap to use as you follow the record-breaking deals to come.
Most likely to pass Ryan: Rodgers, obviously, but what’s interesting here is that Rodgers and the Packers seem to want to do the extension this offseason, with two years left on his current deal, as opposed to waiting until the 2019 offseason, as most of these other guys likely will. If Wilson has another MVP-caliber year in Seattle, he could be in a position next year to break whatever records Rodgers sets with his deal this summer.
2018 is a big year for: Prescott. Because Prescott wasn’t a first-round pick, the Cowboys don’t have the fifth-year option that the Eagles hold on Carson Wentz and the Rams on Jared Goff, Prescott's fellow 2016 draft picks. That means Dallas’ decision on Prescott comes sooner than those will, and he likely will be looking for an extension next summer in advance of the final year of his deal. It’s hard to believe he has anything to worry about, but if he declines at all this season, he might cost himself a chance to join the top tier of QB salaries.
Keep an eye on: Brady. The old guys on this list -- Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Rivers and Brees -- all could be in position to retire at (or before) the ends of their current deals. If any of them gets an extension in the next couple of years, it likely would be a short-term deal similar to the past two that Brees signed. But Brady is the only one who has played in the past two Super Bowls, and he just won the MVP award. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Brady get something significant added to his contract this offseason or next as a reward for continuing to perform at his historically high levels.
Most likely to pass Ryan: Cousins will be working off the highest number, as his current deal averages $28 million a year, while Wentz and Goff average more like $13 million, assuming fifth-year options in the $25 million range. But the pick here is Wentz, assuming a return to full health following his knee injury. He was in line to contend for and possibly win the league’s MVP award in his second season before he got hurt, and a return to that form would position Wentz as the most likely quarterback to set the standard when these extensions come due in two years.
2018 is a big year for: The Florida guys. The Dolphins didn’t draft a first-round quarterback, as many thought they might, but they can escape Tannehill’s deal at year’s end if they want. He is coming off a torn ACL and needs to produce at a high level to prove he’s worth his current salary, let alone another big deal. Bortles’ new contract keeps him safe for 2018 and probably 2019, as well, but he needs to show greater consistency to avoid a situation in which the Jaguars start thinking about better options.
Keep an eye on: Newton. If he’s to score another big-money extension two offseasons from now, when he turns 31, he’s going to have to continue to prove he can hold up. So far, so good, but as long as Newton keeps running as much as he does and taking more hits than any other quarterback does, there will be long-range concerns about his ability to last. Another two years of surviving the pounding will cement Newton’s case for a big late-career deal.
Most likely to pass Ryan: It’s based on a small sample size, but we’ll say Watson, who before his injury last year looked positively electrifying as the Texans’ starting quarterback. Of the young guys on this list, he has shown the most so far. And the two veterans -- Luck and Flacco -- have major question marks at this point in their careers.
2018 is a big year for: Flacco. The Ravens’ drafting of Lamar Jackson in the first round sped up the clock on Flacco’s time in Baltimore. They can get out of his deal with some cap relief after this year or with a ton of cap relief after next year. Flacco is scheduled to make an average of $21 million per year in the three years that follow 2018, and it’s hard to see the Ravens paying that unless his performance drastically improves and/or Jackson’s development is slow.
Keep an eye on: Luck. After missing the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury, Luck is still working his way back. The Colts are saying all the right things (even though Luck still has yet to throw a football, which feels like a key step), but until Luck is on the field and looking like his old self, there’s no way to trust it. Luck has half of his $12 million 2019 roster bonus fully guaranteed and the other half guaranteed against injury, but his $9.125 million salary in 2019 is not guaranteed, nor are his 2020 or 2021 salaries. This guy has to come back healthy this year or else he might not get to finish his current contract, let alone get a big new one.
Most likely to pass Ryan: Garoppolo! He has never lost a game! Keep that up and his current deal is going to look like the greatest bargain in sports history by the time he’s looking for a new one four years from now. Seriously, though, Jimmy G is only 26, which means he’ll be 30 when it’s time to do his extension. And there’s obviously no way to forecast the five rookies who have yet to play.
2018 is a big year for: Carr. He is a year older than Garoppolo, and he signed his first extension last summer. But Carr struggled a bit in 2017, and the Raiders signal-caller could use a bounce-back season if he’s to start justifying the faith the team put in him. New coaching staff, a franchise move in the works ... lots going on around Carr right now.
Keep an eye on: Jackson. Will the Ravens find ways to get him on the field as a rookie, even while Flacco is still there? Are they redesigning their offense in a way that will fit Jackson’s skills? And if so, how long will that take? Jackson offers breathtaking upside unlike any of his fellow 2018 first-rounders. But he also offers greater mystery about what he can become at the NFL level, which is why he didn’t go until the end of the round.
Expiring contract: Matt Ryan.