5 worst NFL quarterback contracts

Which QBs are the most overpaid in the NFL, given their contract details versus production? Nathan Jahnke answers.

| 4 months ago
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

5 worst NFL quarterback contracts

Today we begin a series on the best and worst contracts in the NFL by position, starting with the most overpaid quarterbacks. For each player named, we give the years remaining on his contract, the average cap hit he has against the team for the remaining years of his deal, and the season in which the team can cut him and have more cap savings than dead money.

[Editor’s note: All cap numbers are from Over the Cap. To see the five best QB contracts, click here.]

1. Eli Manning, New York Giants

Years remaining: Four

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $22.3 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2019

At his best, Eli Manning was one of the top quarterbacks in the game, but the time where Manning’s play was elite didn’t last long. In 2011, he was the third-best quarterback in the NFL when you include the playoffs, but his PFF passing grade has been in decline every season since that point. In 2015, Manning recorded an overall PFF grade of 67.4, good for 26th-best out of 38 qualifying quarterbacks. At his best, the Giant was one of the best quarterbacks against pressure, but per Neil Hornsby, Manning has recently declined. He only had an NFL passer rating of 78.3 when under pressure in 2015, and it was even lower in 2014, at 65.4.

Prior to the 2015 season, the Giants gave Manning a four-year extension, which puts him among the top five quarterbacks in average cap hit per year. At that point, he was only playing like an average quarterback. They paid him like a top-tier QB, which looked more like a reward for him leading the team to two Super Bowl wins than paying him for what they expect him to do in future years. Because of that, the Giants are stuck with Manning for at least three more seasons, or will face a higher cap hit than cap savings if they cut him. Manning is 35, and if he continues on the path he’s on, he could become one of the NFL’s worst starting quarterbacks while getting paid like one of the best.

2. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Years remaining: Six

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $25.1 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2019

Joe Flacco is another Super Bowl-winning quarterback who is getting paid more-so because he won a ring, rather than for how well he’s expected to perform going forward. Early in his career, he was an above-average QB, though never likely a top-10 signal-caller. In recent years, he has been much more unpredictable, with three of his worst four graded seasons coming in the past three years. Flacco recorded an NFL passer rating of 83.1 in 2015, which was the worst for quarterbacks with at least 400 dropbacks. In 2013, he was at 73.1, which was the worst for quarterbacks with at least 600 dropbacks.

Despite the poor recent play, the Ravens put their faith in Flacco by signing him to a three-year extension, which puts him under contract until 2021. The Ravens are stuck with Flacco for four more seasons where his dead money would exceed the cap savings Baltimore would get by letting him go. At least there is some reason to believe Flacco could return to being an above-average quarterback—like he was as recently as 2014—but he has the highest average cap hit per year for any quarterback, and he has never played close to that level.

3. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

Years remaining: Four

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $23.6 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2018

This is another case of a good-but-not-elite quarterback getting paid like an elite signal-caller. The situation is worse now that Romo is 36, coming off a season full of injury and bad play, and is under contract for another four years.

In six of the last seven games Romo has played in, he’s graded very close to average, and in his most recent game against the Panthers, he was on pace for one of the worst games in the PFF era in just 22 dropbacks. In 2015, even when Romo wasn’t under pressure, he only recorded an NFL QB rating of 93.2, his lowest in the PFF era (since 2007). Romo is one of eight quarterbacks who has a cap hit above $20 million in 2016; in order for him to live up to his contract this next season, he would need to be just as good, if not better, than he’s been in recent years. It’s unlikely that a quarterback coming off an injury-filled season at his age will produce the best season of his career. Realistically, Romo will be overpaid for the next two years, and then the Cowboys could let him go in 2018 or 2019 if his performance declines.

4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $22.3 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Matthew Stafford has produced an up-and-down career, and that continued to be true in 2015. After five weeks of the 2015 season, he was by far the lowest-graded quarterback in the NFL; from Week 6 and on, he was just outside the top-10 in passing grade. If Stafford was able to maintain the momentum he gained from a solid 2013 season, then his contract makes sense, but since then, we’ve seen more bad out of Stafford than good. If he keeps up his recent inconsistency, then he deserves to be paid like an average quarterback rather than a top-10 one—and there’s a big difference between how those two kinds of QBs should be compensated.

Stafford’s contract isn’t as bad as some others at the top of the list, thanks to his very recent good play, his younger age, and the fact that the Lions could cut him next year if they really wanted to, even though it would leave some dead money.

5. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

Years remaining: Five

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $19.1 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Colin Kaepernick has been on a sharp decline since his 2012 breakout season. In 2015, he was one of the least-accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, with an adjusted completion percentage of 68.3, third-worst in the league. When he was under pressure, he averaged just 3.6 yards per passing attempt. If he doesn’t end up starting for the 49ers in 2016, he will easily be among the lowest values per dollar of all players in the NFL in 2015.

Looking at the future cap hits, it would appear Kaepernick’s contract is just as bad—if not worse—than others. However, compared to Matthew Stafford above him, Kaepernick is making a lot less this year, and the 49ers can cut Kaepernick next year with an acceptable amount of dead money and a lot of cap savings. If the 49ers choose to keep Kaepernick for multiple years, they can release him in 2019 or 2020 and have no dead money from the release. Other quarterbacks on the list have much higher cap hits in future seasons, and their teams would have more dead money if they released their respective QBs.

No Brock Osweiler on the list?

Three weeks ago, colleague Sam Monson named the Texans’ signing of Brock Osweiler the worst move of the offseason, highlighting the gamble Houston is making by giving a QB with such little NFL starting experience that kind of money. Despite that roll of the dice, Osweiler’s contract (averaging a yearly cap hit of $18.0 million for the next four years) was not bad enough to make this list, comparatively speaking.

For one, he outplayed everyone on this list in 2015. His 71.3 overall grade was good for 20th among quarterbacks, while the five quarterbacks on the list were all below 70.0. His cap hit is lower than all five quarterbacks in both 2016 and 2017, and the Texans would be able to reasonably cut Osweiler in 2018. Osweiler is also younger than the quarterbacks on the list, so there is an expectation of an eventual/continued decline for some of these quarterbacks that isn’t there for Osweiler. In order for the former Bronco to live up to his new contract, he would just need to play a little better than he did in 2015. It might not be the most likely scenario, but it’s certainly possible. The likelihood of others on this list living up to how much they are making is much more unlikely.

[More: See the five best quarterback contracts here.]

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • McGeorge

    The thing about Eli Mannings contract is the signing bonus was big enough (sunk cost) that his actual year to year salary is:
    2016: 18MM
    2017: 13.5
    2018: 16
    2019: 17

    Given how the cap is going up, paying somewhere between 13.5 – 17Mm/year for a starting QB is ok. The signing bonus is now a sunk cost and looking only at the new money cost per year, I think he’ll be with the team through 2109.

    • LovesBigFool

      Until the year 2109? WoW!

  • GM

    ROFL @ Kap’s contract even making the list. EVERY QB on this list has HUGE dead money consequences; how is this terrible again? You have to pay a QB when he’s on the roster and most of Kaps contract is incentive based. Of course he’s going to make a lot less, but in terms of former SB starter, his contract is a LOT less painful than ALL on here. Give me a break PFF, Osweiler is MUCH worse than Kap given the dude hasn’t even started ONE SEASON, yet he’s been given a hefty raise with years of commitment. Good luck with that Houston.

    • McGeorge

      Anther reason Kaps contract shouldn’t make the list is after this season he can be cut. Because he was injured his 2016 contract may have been guaranteed.
      So I agree that Kaps contract (14.5 payout this year, then cut) is hardly a disaster.

      • GM

        Agreed – context is everything. $14.5 million on a team who has cap space of $60million WITH factoring in Kaps contract. Shouldn’t even even be on this list at all. A “bad contract” is bad for the team and this doesn’t even scratches the 49ers ability to do anything this or next season in FA or extensions.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Not sure I agree with Flacco being listed. He is 75-47 as a starter so that has to be worth something. Cutler has a 7 year deal worth 18mill per and he has as many career losses as wins.

  • Jason

    Kevin Gilbride is on the PFF staff and is clearly SALTY that Eli Manning has improved leaps and bounds since Gilbride was fired and was clearly the problem all along.

    • GreenBay100

      Didn’t know Gilbride was on staff now. That’s interesting. I don’t see him trashing Eli though. They had a close relationship, didn’t they? Agree about his offense though. It was great if everything was perfect. A complete and utter disaster (esp for the QB) if it wasn’t.

  • Jason

    It’s no surprise that PFF purposely denegrates Eli ever since Gilbride was hired to the PFF staff. He’s bitter and mad that the Giants got rid of him and it’s been proven the last 2 years that his ridiculous high-risk system was the problem all along. Now he’s gotten PFF to grade Eli down in the new system to make himself feel better.

  • AC2

    PFF and Nathan Jahnke, word of advice. You’re wrong on Eli Manning so just move on. They are getting hammered from all corners and just won’t let it go. Director of Analytics…LOL.

  • GreenBay100

    Not a Giants fan and disagree strongly here on Eli Manning. This writer’s been really trashing Eli lately and not sure why. I’m a huge football fan and consider myself a very knowledgeable one as I coached as well as played. Jahnke’s take on Eli is inaccurate, to put it mildly.

    No one will be the least bit surprised to see Eli get some League MVP attention under this new McAdoo offense. He’s a very talented coach and has been wonderful with Eli. I think Aaron Rodgers misses him a bit tbh. I think it’s safe to say, those at PFF will be rooting hard against Eli from here on out. Goodness knows why.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The staff would probably be claiming Eli Manning was the best thing since sliced bread if the Giants had drafted Ezekiel Elliot….lol.

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  • anonCamb

    Out of all the contracts on this silly list, I see zero issue with the one going to the 2xSBMVP, NFL Ironman, HOF QB in the top 10 all time list of passing, tds, and comebacks, who is coming off two years in a new offense where he posted better numbers than ever with one legit weapon to throw to and the last ranked defense, who also went to the ProBowl last year.

    Like more and more things written here on PFF, I’m just not buying what you keep shoving.

  • KMax

    ELI??? LOL. These stat geeks here at PFF crack me up. Guy is the most durable QB in the league. Came off one of the strongest statistical seasons of his career. Adjust nicely coming off ankle surgery last year and new offense. He’s not most overpaid. Man, people keep rippin on Eli when all he does is show up and lead that crap team. They spent a ton of money this off season cause their GM running scared of losing his job. So they’ll be competitive. But they always competitive with Eli. How Eli keeps gettin this kind of weird hate is too much now. Who the heck is Nathan Janke?

  • JayC

    Watched every snap Eli played last season and don’t see any evidence of decline. Not one iota. Arm strength and decision making are all there.

    He was a little tentative two years ago after his ankle surgery and adjusting to the new offense, but the arrow’s pointing up for him. Giants brought in some new talent on defense so that team should be able to hang on to the leads their QB gets them.

    Eli is not the most overpaid vet or a player that will make the Giants brass regret their decision. If anything, John Mara and co would probably laugh this writer out of the city. This reeks of saying something outrageous just for attention. If anything, PFF is declining with nonsense like this.

    Only Eli Manning can have a season where he threw 35 tds and 14 ints, games where he threw 6 tds in a loss, games where he threw as many incompletions as tds (4 in the Miami game), played every single snap (again)–only to have some wanker calling him the most overpaid player in the NFL.

  • MikeC4

    Going out on a limb here, but gonna guess the Giants ARE NOT gonna regret signing Eli to a new contract. Will go even farther out and say they don’t even think they overpaid for him. PFF sucks.

  • HTTRer

    Finally, someone is recognizing the fact that Romos contract is awful.

  • stuart

    how can Cutler or Tanehill not be on the list

  • Jeffmo

    Brock Osweiler is too light in the head to be an elite NFL signal caller. Ungrateful sort also. Nursed by the Bronco organization and then skipped town. Prediction is he is out of the NFL within three years.

  • PittsburghSports

    You are so stupid PFF.

  • Brad Bershad

    Manning has had a bad few years because the Giants O-line has been anywhere from awful to mediocre and in spite of that he hasn’t missed a start. Eli’s toughness is way underrated. Last year, they would have made the playoffs if the defense could make a stop in the final two minutes. Plus, his receiving talent has had serious injuries at the WR and TE positions. He shouldn’t be on this list at all, much less in the #1 spot.

  • Mia


    • phil

      Dallas would save some cash but wouldn’t win a game

  • Big Rob Version 2.0

    You guys sure have a boner for bashing Eli

  • MikeE

    K.Cousins 69.8% Completion percentage – 7.7 Yards Per Attempt
    D. Brees 68.3% – 7.8 (15 Games)
    R. Wilson 68.1% – 8.3
    B. Roethlisberger 68.0% – 8.4 (11 Games)
    M. Stafford 67.2% – 7.2
    M. Ryan 66.3% – 7.5
    P.Rivers 66.1% – 7.2
    A. Dalton 66.1% – 8.4 (13 Games)
    T. Bridgewater 65.3% – 7.2
    A. Smith 65.3 % – 7.4
    E.Manning 62.6% – 7.2

  • keepITreal

    This list is stupid. First of all, only about a dozen guys in the league can even play QB at a reasonably high level. These guys here, all of them make that list. They’re getting paid more so because of the fact that being an NFL starting QB is extremely difficult.

    Who are you going to replace these guys with? Oh, that’s right. Easier said than done. Teams spend years and years, even a decade or more, trying to find competent QB’s. In the years they spend failing to find this QB, their seasons are wasted.

    Romo is just as good as any top 5 QB. What, is Brees still supposed to be elite?? He throws MORE INTs than Romo (look it up). But because he won one Super Bowl, he’s untouchable? The only TRUE elite QB’s in the NFL are Brady and Rodgers, and Rodgers is only one Super Bowl ahead of Romo. Russell Wilson doesn’t have to score 30 to win games. If he did, he’d be buried in mediocrity. Luck is a turnover machine. How did he not make this list? Oh, that’s right. He’s a media darling. The Colts will be crippled for the next 5 years, thanks to Luck’s contract. But no mention of it here. Gee, I wonder why.

  • im_king_adrianx

    This list is a DISGRACE, Replace Romo, Flacco, and Eli with Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, and Andy Dalton, HOW IS JAY CUTLER NOT EVEN NUMBER 1, OH GOOD LORD