Brees will help Ryan, Freeman, Newton

When New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees signed a five-year contract that averages $20 million a season, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman and Carolina’s Cam Newton each fell a rung on the ladder of average salaries for NFL quarterbacks.

They probably all smiled. Despite their temporary tumbles, all three will benefit from Brees’ new deal at some point.

Brees passed Peyton Manning’s previous league-high average of $19.2 million. He’s also $1.8 million ahead of Tom Brady and nearly $4 million ahead of Eli Manning. No quarterback is going to benefit more than Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. He’s been averaging a relatively meager $12.7 million a season and it’s already well known that he’ll have an extension coming sooner rather than later. When Rodgers' extension comes, look for his average per year to be worth as much as or more than what Brees got.

Rodgers has similar statistics, a lot of victories and is a lot younger than Brees. Obviously, not every quarterback is as good as Rodgers, Brees, Peyton Manning or Brady. But every quarterback who gets a contract extension going forward is going to get more money than he would have before because the salary bar has been raised significantly.

Ryan is tied for No. 14 at $11.25 million per year. You can argue whether Ryan is truly elite, but I feel pretty confident in saying he’s better than the 14th-best quarterback in the league. There already have been some rumblings that the Falcons would like to get a contract extension done with him sooner rather than wait until his current deal runs out in 2013.

If they do it soon, I look at the list and don’t think it’s a stretch for Ryan to be in the top five when it comes to average salary per year. Philadelphia’s Michael Vick is No. 5 at $16 million per year. I think Ryan’s a better quarterback and has a better future than Vick. Funny, but the Falcons already reached a similar conclusion back in 2008, when they drafted Ryan to take over for Vick.

If the Falcons wait until after this season to work an extension, they run the risk of Ryan driving up the price tag. His statistics have improved steadily and the only knock is that he hasn’t won a postseason game. Suppose this is the year Ryan suddenly wins some postseason games, maybe even a Super Bowl? Then the price tag suddenly jumps closer to $20 million a season.

Freeman’s contract also is up after the 2013 season. He’s averaging $5.24 million a season (No. 22 overall). There was some talk early last year that the Bucs would try to extend Freeman after a very strong 2010 season. That didn’t happen and Freeman and the Bucs took several big steps back last year. It might be wise for the Bucs to wait a bit and see how Freeman is fitting in with the new system brought by coach Greg Schiano. But the coaching staff already sounds like it’s very high on Freeman. If he gets off to a fast start, I say go ahead and try to sign Freeman to a deal that averages $10 million to $12 million a year. If they wait an entire season and Freeman truly does bounce back, he could be looking at somewhere around $15 million.

Then there’s Newton. He’s No. 21 at $5.506 million. The Panthers caught a bit of a break last season when they drafted Newton No. 1 overall and new limits went into place on what rookies can earn on their first contract. Newton’s current deal runs through 2014. That means there’s no rush to extend him. But let’s say Newton goes out this season and improves on a stellar rookie season -- and Carolina plays a little defense and wins a few more games. Then Newton becomes one of those players who eventually could be looking at $20 million or more per season.