How many quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl with a $20 million salary-cap charge?
There had to have been a few through the years, right? Peyton Manning? Ben Roethlisberger? Maybe Eli Manning?
No. Nope. Nah.
Peyton Manning played in the game once with a cap charge north of $20 million, but no team has won a Super Bowl with a quarterback counting that much against the salary cap. And since raw figures don’t exactly add up (the cap and player salaries have swelled over the years), maybe a better way to put this is that a quarterback accounting for more than 12 percent of the salary cap has never won a Super Bowl.
Not a Manning, not a Roethlisberger, not a Brees.
Of course, this is probably a coincidence to some degree. The rules are always changing when it comes to elite quarterbacks.
The door almost came off the hinges once: Peyton Manning was right there. He lost in the Super Bowl while accounting for 18 percent of the salary cap with the Indianapolis Colts, and he set the high mark for winners since 2000 this past season by leading the Denver Broncos to a title while accounting for 12 percent of the cap.
Elite quarterbacks (and what it costs to employ them) have and always will give their team a great chance to win — and that remains true here in New Orleans with Drew Brees — even if it means scraping a little bit at another position.
But teams need to be sure they’re structuring the salary to ensure those figures don’t get out of control, and that there’s always enough room to add talent as the contract and quarterback age.
“I’d say that a team should try to keep the quarterback cap charges at 10 to 11 percent and aim for a relatively steady cap structure,” Jason Fitzpatrick, who writes about the salary cap at OverTheCap.com, said when asked for an ideal range of how much to pay a quarterback.
History supports this point of view. Those figures sound ideal. Everyone would love to have a young, cost-controlled Russell Wilson or Tom Brady, or even a veteran Brady who is willing to keep his charges low.
But that’s never going to happen here in New Orleans with the Saints and Brees negotiating a contract extension that would keep him in town beyond the 2016 season. That’s not often the reality of having an elite quarterback. Again, the rules have to change.
A player like Brees isn’t going to settle for 10 percent of the salary cap, which translates to $15.5 million. That’s a non-starter. That figure likely would put him out of range to match the three-year cash values of Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers or Eli Manning. Those, one would assume, would have to be the floor for any new deal.
Considering Brees’ last deal carried an average annual value of $20 million, there’s little chance he’ll take anything below $19.9 million.
So, let’s say he wants something with an average annual value of $25 million. That would account for 16 percent of the cap. At $22 million, which is what Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is making, he would account for 14 percent of the cap.
Those aren’t outrageous numbers. And if the Saints structure it as a flat cost, instead of ballooning as it goes, those percentages likely would be pretty close to the sweet spot by next season. That $22 million would count for about 13 percent of the cap if it jumps by another $10 million to $165 million next year. At $25 million, it would be around 15 percent.
Those numbers would fall even lower in future years if the deal remains flat and the cap continues to swell. Looking at history, if Brees were to lead the Saints to a Super Bowl title with a salary counting somewhere in the 13 to 15 percent range, it would line up with what history says is the best practice. What we do know is that his current charge of $30 million, which counts for 19 percent of the cap, is not ideal.
So, the word Fitzpatrick used that makes a lot of sense is “steady.” Let him explain.
“Everyone should be looking at the (quarterback) as a fixed cost and building around that — not using the contract to take a one-year run at a free-agent spending spree,” he said. “If you do that, by the end of the contract you fall into the situation of an aging, high-priced quarterback with limited ability to surround him with talent.”
There’s an argument to be made that the Saints should be careful about giving the 37-year-old Brees a contract with a high signing bonus and a lot of guaranteed money. Doing the opposite would mean they could more easily walk away if things go bad before the end of, say, a four-year contract extension, which coincidentally — or not — would expire the same time as coach Sean Payton’s deal and when the current collective bargaining agreement ends.
Again, that’s being idealistic, and it’s hard to be idealistic when the player has all the leverage and using the franchise tag on Brees would cost more than $40 million since he has been tagged twice before. But that doesn’t mean things can’t be steady.
Sometimes it makes sense for a contract to balloon a little with the salary cap as it expands — as long as it’s done responsibly and not tinkered with to the point where a player counts $30 million in the last year of his contract. But in this case, if an extension is reached, it might make more sense to leave things flat so there’s always more and more room to add players around Brees as he ages and needs more support.
Brees has carried this team for a decade and, if an extension is reached, there’s going to come a time when he might need a little more help hoisting the load. If this extension happens, the Saints would be wise to make sure they have enough space to do just that.