BIG MONEY

Remember the NFL’s original $100 million dollar man?

Nine years later Matt Ryan’s new contract with the Falcons makes Michael Vick’s record-breaking contract look like a move into middle management.

Ryan is not alone, as five other quarterbacks signed lucrative contracts this offseason ranging from Matthew Stafford’s three-year $53 million extension to Joe Flacco’s new six-year $120 million deal.

Most know that round $100 million figure is misleading in football. A negotiated portion of that is guaranteed, which Drew Brees set the record last season getting $60 million from the Saints. Falcon’s owner, Arthur Blank, didn’t take Ryan all the way to Guinness but saw his five-year career worthy of $59 million in guarantees. Tony Romo received $55 million from the Cowboys, Flacco got $52 million from the Ravens, and the Lions gave Stafford $41.5 million (which now gives Stafford $83.2 million in guarantees since being drafted in 2009 while only twice playing a full season) and Aaron Rodgers pocketing $54 million.

Welcome to the new age.

That rundown doesn’t cover half of the things that go into these contracts. Other aspects include the payout in the first three years, prorating the signing bonus to lessen the immediate cap number and of course the renegotiation that will surely come before the expiration of the deal (see Tom Brady). A constant sports-talk radio topic has been how much more pressure is on these players with these large deals, especially Romo and Ryan with their combined two playoff victories?

That question is futile.

Besides the fact there is no way to monitor the stress caused by a pay raise on the mind of an individual, although Samsung may be able market an app for that in conjunction with Jay Z’s 2016 release The Declaration of  Hov, the question also ignores the real statement made from all of this money.

Not only is it impossible to win without a quality starting quarterback, it is unacceptable for management to put out a product lacking one.

This league is clearly not as physical as it used to be. With the reemphasis of the five-yard chuck rule post-2003 and the new defenseless-player penalties, moving the ball through the air has become the superhighway to the end zone. Before 2011 five quarterbacks in the history of the NFL had thrown for 40 or more touchdown passes. In the last two seasons four quarterbacks have reached that number.

What Adrian Peterson did last season to get Minnesota into the playoffs without a prolific passing attack was nothing short of historic. It also said a 2097-yard season from one of the five best athletic specimens in 40 years amounts to a narrow wild-card berth and a two touchdown defeat.

The Cowboys, Falcons and Lions didn’t pay for the best football player in the world; they paid for the most important position in professional sports. To not have a franchise quarterback in the NFL is to become the Arizona Cardinals. They went from one defensive stop away from winning a super bowl, to altering history by hindering Larry Fitzgerald’s career numbers with ghastly performance behind center.

The Bills and Dolphins have been scrambling since the late 1990’s trying to fix their situation post Kelly and Marino (we’ll see about Tannehill). Of the worst 10 teams last season only Detroit has a solidified quarterback situation and Kansas City hopes it found the answer. The rest is a list of quarterback competitions, young quarterbacks with huge question marks, Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders’ public service announcement for blowing a top-five pick at quarterback.

To cut bait with a quarterback and have no concrete replacement is franchise suicide. The Broncos pulled this off in 2009 and fell upwards due to blind luck. Phillip Rivers fell off of the map like Roy Jones Jr. and Peyton Manning suffered a career-threatening injury. It also doesn’t hurt to play in the league’s worst division.

Next offseason will bring a new crop of quarterbacks looking for an extension/new contract. Two that immediately come to mind are Jay Cutler and Josh Freeman. They are highly talented and have shown the ability to lead a franchise. However, the Bears have withered and died the last two seasons down the stretch, and in four years with Chicago Cutler has shown a propensity towards boneheaded interceptions and injury. Freeman has thrown 39 interceptions the last two seasons with the Buccaneers finishing nowhere near the playoffs.

These two teams are going to have to make an ulcer-creating decision. Do they stay the course with quarterbacks who while skilled will always make some bad decisions, or virtually start their franchises all over again and save themselves $53 million dollars.

In the modern day NFL they really don’t have a choice. They’re going to offer contracts similar to what quarterbacks commanded this past offseason, and the respective general managers will try to refrain from leaping out of the luxury box after goal line interceptions.