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Who Will Be First?

We have now seen firsthand what it looks like to overpay for a player. Even Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted it himself. To commit so much money to one person makes me look into the future and question when is enough just that, ENOUGH? I wonder who will be the first team to say, “I was looking for a quarterback when I found this one” and then have the confidence to actually act accordingly on that theory. The results of the Dak Prescott contract might not be known for several years and they will go a long way in determining our answer. But as we sit here today, it makes me wonder.

Is it smart to pay a Tier 2 QB, Tier 1 money? Obviously, if the Cowboys go on and win a Super Bowl, then I think they made the right move. However, they would be the first team in history to do so after committing that much money against their cap at the QB position, while the rest of their team-does with less. It’s really a three-year trial in my opinion. The structure of the deal should put them right back in this box again to negotiate before Prescott gets to Year 4 of this latest deal. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys make the same mistakes they made this time and basically let the player control the timing and all the leverage points. Personally, I think they have to start executing a plan with options ASAP so it doesn’t happen again.

I think the Cowboys overpaid because they doubted they could do it again. Tony Romo was found as a free agent, Prescott was a 4th round pick. Some would say both were found with a bit of luck on their side. Other teams have used high first-round picks and there have been plenty of swings and misses over the years. Some teams just don’t have what it takes to identify and support the development of a QB and some years, that guy just doesn’t exist. I know this, you better grab one when you like him, even if it means having 2, at the right price.

When will somebody determine that the price is too much to subtract such a large cap allotment from the rest of your team to have a top paid QB at $40M plus? Teams win the Super Bowl every year with less committed, after all it’s the ultimate team sport. Its because of the way we were trained in the business. Those of us that run teams have all learned, with every fiber in our body, that if we don’t have a QB we can’t get it done so how could we ever let one go? Just pay them right. Problem is the money is getting to the CRAZY level. I think it’s about confidence in our evaluating ability, it’s about sticking with a process and its about finding a skill set to fit, what we do on offense when looking to fill your QB job.

It seems as though we have created a system of no middle ground. A quarterback in the NFL is either in his rookie contract or asking for franchise level money (Ave of the top 5 at your position). Paying crazy money to a QB who is middle of the road, by league standards, is now a topic for discussion not only on talk radio but in NFL buildings. Trust me, they are smart people and this trend is worrisome. Where do you draw the line?

A look ahead to identify the next guys in line makes for an interesting discussion. Everyone has an opinion. Buffalo QB Josh Allen has to be smiling as he sleeps at night since the Prescott deal came in. At his rate of improvement, Allen will be an MVP candidate each and every year in the near future and he will no-doubt demand and get the franchise-type money being paid to others right now. I get it, it is a no brainer. He will likely top Mahomes (the presumed best player in the league) on an APY basis. But not every case is a no brainer. The player that interests me most and who might be the test tube baby for our first paragraph question is Baker Mayfield IMO. Lamar Jackson, in Baltimore causes some consternation as well, because of his lacking consistent pure pocket passing ability and his style can limit a team in ways.

Nobody will dispute that the Cleveland Browns are trending up. Their playoff dismantling of the team formerly known as the Pittsburgh Steelers ☺ brought them street cred and hype going into the 2021 season. There is nothing wrong with expectations but the biggest question beyond next season that GM Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski have to answer is how will they treat the contract of their current QB? It’s a given that he and his agent will be asking for franchise type money which has now been defined as $40M per year.

Mayfield has limitations in size, arm strength, and at times in his decision making. Sure, he has been much better under Stefanski and his leadership and intangibles have become an asset (not a determent as they were early in his career), but is it good enough to win a Super Bowl? The fit is good with what Stefanski is running now on offense. The question I have is, is their run oriented, play action game, enough to get them deep into the playoffs? In a league-wide comparison of QBs, Mayfield doesn’t fit in the top 10 in production or skill set, much less the top five QBs. But he surely will think he should be paid like one. It really doesn’t matter that he was the first pick in the draft the year he came out. He was not taken by the current regime.

In a column last week, I suggested that if the Jets decide to continue with Sam Darnold as their QB, I would consider a bridge deal(before he plays another down) that raises his pay substantially but nowhere near Prescott’s $40M range. He has motivation to do so at this point and so should the Jets. It buys time for Darnold’s further development which will help set the table for parameters on a longer-term deal. I have also been saying from mid-season on that Mayfield and the Browns both would be well served to do the same. One option for the Browns is to do nothing, which puts Mayfield on the Kirk Cousins track of year-to-year franchise tags. When you talk about these franchise tags with QB’s, you are treading on thin ice to allow them to control the timing of the deals and as we all just found out, if we didn’t know already, timing is everything.

I believe the Browns, who are analytically inclined and very process oriented, might just be the team to call off the jam if the Mayfield contract talks are not in their design and ball park. I just might bet you a Starbucks coffee that the Browns will draft a QB within the first three rounds this year’s college draft. A hedge on the Mayfield bet, if you follow me. They are smart and they now have a GM who understands value and what options do for you as a team. History shows everyone is so scared to lose their QB, but I just think the Browns might have confidence to find another QB if need be. They just might have the guts to make a business decision to BE FIRST and use the balance of their money to build out the rest of their team while finding a QB that fits more to their salary liking.

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