CJ Stroud, Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis are the headliners of this year’s crop of NFL Draft quarterbacks. They’ve already cashed in on college’s blossoming NIL era, and now, as the league’s salary cap continues to rise, boosted by billion-dollar revenue streams, one of these signal-callers is poised to become the NFL’s first $60 million-a-year player.
“They wouldn’t be human if they weren’t fantasizing about what could possibly be,” former Philadelphia Eagles general manager Joe Banner said in an interview. “Time will tell whether this is a good class or a group of guys who were just picked really high.”
NFL scouts have questioned whether Young’s 5-foot-10-inch frame can withstand the punishment in the league, while other evaluators have raised red flags about Stroud’s reportedly low S2 Cognition test scores. (The S2 is an information processing assessment increasingly used by teams since the Wonderlic cognitive test was discontinued by the NFL prior to the 2022 draft.) There’s no guarantee the top signal callers will perform well at the next level, but if they’re successful, they’ll be able to capitalize on the escalating quarterback market.
“I don’t see a ceiling,” Banner added. “The contracts will keep going up, since the (salary) cap won’t be flattening out in the foreseeable future. So, we’ll see $60M [annually] before too long and eventually higher than that.”
Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, former Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco became the highest paid quarterback in NFL history when he inked a six-year, $120-million deal in 2013. The average annual salary benchmark for elite quarterbacks has increased 150% in the last decade.
The salary cap for next season is set at $224 million, and as the league pushes toward its $25 billion revenue goal, a $300 million cap looks inevitable, which will unlock more riches for quarterbacks.
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts last week signed the largest contract in NFL history in terms of annual value at $51 million per season, but he’s unlikely to hold that title for long. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrows has already begun contract extension talks while Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert will also command a top-tier salary.
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers was initially set to make a league-high $59 million this coming season; instead, the Packers have converted his $58 million option into 2024 salary, per ESPN. However, in three to four years, when this year’s draft class is eligible for a new contract, that kind of payday could be the norm. New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones showed this offseason that you don’t necessarily have to be a star to reap the benefits of the rising market.
“If you’re a good starter, when you’re [eligible], you’re probably going to jump some pretty [strong] quarterbacks,” Roc Nation Sports co-head John Thornton said in an interview. “It’s a team-by-team thing... Everybody needs a franchise quarterback, so if they feel like they have one, they’re going to pay no matter the cost.”
Well, not every team. The negotiations for Burrow and Herbert could be impacted by what former MVP Lamar Jackson receives from the Ravens or another team. Jackson’s push for a guaranteed contract, or something close, despite the injury risk from frequent, dynamic running, has implications that will make an impact on the future of the market.
Regardless of how this year’s draft shakes out, the teams that draft a quarterback will try to capitalize on the rookie wage scale set forth in 2011 by trying to win a Super Bowl while those passers are still relatively cheap, giving them leeway to spend big on other key positions.
And when the time comes, they’ll have to pay those quarterbacks dearly and while assembling a strong team around them.