It was only three weeks ago that the Los Angeles Rams further embarrassed the Las Vegas Raiders beyond what we thought could be possible for that organization, beating the Silver and Black 17-16 only two days after quarterback Baker Mayfield joined the team. On Wednesday, the Raiders made the first big move towards stopping the bleeding, benching quarterback Derek Carr less than a year after signing him to a three-year contract extension as a long-term duo with the recently-acquired Davante Adams.
The benching not only makes it clear that the Raiders are in the market for a new quarterback in 2023, it helps Las Vegas get one step closer towards trading or releasing Carr next year: If Carr were to get injured before the season, it could lead towards fully guaranteeing two years of salary.
Owner Mark Davis couldn’t take the risk.
The question I had at the time of Carr’s contract extension, a three-year, $120.5 million deal that was really more for show than a sign of faith, is the same as it has often been for the Raiders quarterback...Uhhh, why?
I think we can all understand the concept of a bad or terrible quarterback and how rough those stretches can be for some franchises. The Rams have had their share of struggles in history, from the players who came before Kurt Warner to the Austin Davis/Nick Foles/Case Keenum years prior to Jared Goff, and then the more Carr-like values of Goff and Marc Bulger. I set a very high bar for the quarterback position and why not?
As we approach another postseason, it’s looking more and more likely that while Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will sneak in for another year, joining Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, and potentially the next up-and-comer like Trevor Lawrence, the names on the outside looking in are hardly surprising.
And many of those franchises who will miss the postseason this year, including probably the Raiders, have gotten consistently bad or mediocre play from the quarterback position. Remarkably, many of those quarterbacks, like Carr, were paid quite handsomely or acquired in trade this past offseason.
Derek Carr - Three years, $120 million
Russell Wilson - Five years, $245 million (plus trade assets)
Aaron Rodgers - Three years, $150 million
Kyler Murray - Five years, $230 million
Deshaun Watson - Five years, $230 million (plus trade assets)
Matthew Stafford - Four years, $160 million (2021 trade assets)
Matt Ryan - Colts fully-guaranteed remaining $54 million over two years (plus trade)
There were other new quarterback contracts, such as the Falcons signing Marcus Mariota, the Bucs re-signing Jameis Winston, and the Steelers signing Mitchell Trubisky, all of which led to the quarterback being benched, but none of those compare to the massive deals of these seven quarterbacks. All seven have been either injured or disappointing and only Rodgers has a shot at making the postseason.
The 39-year-old Rodgers has had to win the last three games just to get Green Bay back to a 7-8 record but his play continues to be substandard (13 TD, 8 INT over his last eight starts) and especially so for a player who makes an NFL-record $50 million per season.
The Rams were under no obligation to extend Stafford, but coming off of a Super Bowl win and probably wanting to further justify the trade of two first round picks, felt it necessary to give him a raise and some assurances beyond 2022, given that it was going to be a contract year. Now the Rams are hoping that not only Stafford rebounds to his former self (10 TD, 8 INT in his nine appearances this season, lowest passer rating since 2014) and that they can support Stafford with a better supporting cast, but that he’s actually healthy enough to play in 2023.
Absent those conditions, the best that the L.A. Rams can hope for is that Matthew Stafford retires, something that he and his wife Kelly have made clear is not in their plans.
Well, that’s good, I like Stafford. Surely some people will take this as a sign that I’m criticizing Stafford or the Rams for making such a pact. But all we really need to take from these facts—that’s what these are, facts about quarterbacks, their contracts, and the abysmal returns on said deals—is that there has to be some lesson to takeaway from the ridiculously ironic seasons being had by the NFL’s most highly paid quarterbacks from the 2022 offseason.
The Browns traded three first round picks for Watson and gave him a fully-guaranteed $230 million deal and even before we talk about the off-field issues, what about the fact that Watson had not played a single snap in 2021 and that the Texans were 4-12 in 2020?
Or that the Broncos traded two first and two seconds for Wilson even though Denver was clearly not one quarterback away from competing in the AFC West and surely Wilson was not the high-profile acquisition that Rodgers would have been?
Or that the Packers, three years after drafting a quarterback in the first round, were so afraid of losing a 39-year-old quarterback that they gave him a $150 million contract to keep him into his 40s?
Or that the Cardinals felt that Murray should be paid like one of the five-best quarterbacks in the league even though he was injured in 2021, struggled immensely without DeAndre Hopkins, and was still two years away from even having the chance to become a free agent?
Or the Colts feeling that a 37-year-old Matt Ryan could be an upgrade to anybody or that they had any better of a supporting cast than the Falcons did during some very mediocre seasons—Atlanta hasn’t had a winning record since 2017...and then for no reason at all taking his $54 million with no guarantees and then FULLY guaranteeing the whole amount?
And I’ve already said what I need to say about Derek Carr, a quarterback who has been given more excuses by fans in the last nine years than any starter I can think of despite his CAREER postseason record of...0-1.
At least in the case of the Rams and Stafford, they were the defending Super Bowl champions. It wasn’t nearly as stupid as the Ravens making Joe Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL after John Harbaugh and Baltimore’s defense made him into a Super Bowl champion. But strangely you know which franchise looks the smartest out of the 2022 offseason?
The Baltimore Ravens.
Rather than give into what Lamar Jackson’s demands were for his next contract, the Ravens didn’t bend and they didn’t act out of fear. The Ravens knew they held Lamar’s rights for 2022 and that if they wanted to, they could franchise him again in 2023. Why not see what Lamar could do without Hollywood Brown this season and then go back to the negotiating table after another season? There was nothing to lose.
At worse, you’re talking about a difference a few million guaranteed or a little bit of salary, but the waiting game carries a lot more benefits than risks.
What do we know about Lamar Jackson now? For the fourth year in a row, Lamar has missed games. Jackson has played in 12 games this season, he has thrown 17 touchdowns, he has been picked off seven times, and he has very consistently been more of the mid-tier quarterback in the last three years than he has been the explosive and dominant MVP force that he was in 2019.
That’s not my opinion, that’s a fact.
Instead of starting down at a five-year, $250 million contract that is fully guaranteed, the Ravens can explore all their options in 2023. They can sign Lamar, they can trade Lamar, they can let Lamar leave in free agency and use the salary cap savings to improve the roster.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are screwed. The Colts have no way out. The Cardinals may need to fire Kliff Kingsbury because they can’t fire Murray. The Browns have so far gotten two touchdowns out of four games from Watson.
When Matthew Stafford’s situation looks good by comparison, you know just how bad the rest of the QB contracts really were.
In fact, what are the good quarterback contracts? Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen stand out as the only two who seem to be worth a $30 million price tag. Kirk Cousins ($35), Jared Goff ($33), Tom Brady ($25) at least don’t seem to be dragging down the average that much, although Goff is hardly a guarantee to be with the Lions for long after his latest rough outing. Carson Wentz ($32) can relate to being overpaid and underdelivering.
So, will the NFL learn anything from this? I doubt it.
The carousel will keep spinning in 2023 and more quarterbacks will get paid, perhaps ranging everywhere from Joe Burrow to Baker Mayfield. At least the Rams know they don’t have to get involved...or do they?