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John Romano: With all the money thrown at QBs, is Baker Mayfield still a bargain?

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Football

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — All in all, you would rather have Patrick Mahomes.

Or Joe Burrow. Maybe Lamar Jackson, probably Josh Allen. As much as Baker Mayfield endeared himself to Tampa Bay last season, no one is suggesting the Bucs quarterback is among the very best in the NFL.

But how about when you consider contract value vs. onfield production?

Trevor Lawrence just signed a five-year deal in Jacksonville with more than $200 million in guaranteed money. Good for him. But is it good for the Jaguars? Furthermore, would you rather have Lawrence at $55 million per season for five years or Mayfield at $33 million for three seasons?

Sometimes, the answer is obvious. Kyler Murray at $46.1 million per season? Hard pass. Daniel Jones at $40 million? No, thank you.

But how about Jared Goff at $53 million? Or Kirk Cousins at $45 million?

A year ago, the mathematics were far simpler, as far as the Bucs were concerned. With incentives, Mayfield pocketed around $7 million and, for that, the Bucs got a division title and a first-round playoff victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. Along with a bunch of quarterbacks still on or near their entry-level deals — Brock Purdy, Tua Tagovailoa, C.J. Stroud, Jordan Love — Mayfield was one of the best bargains in the NFL.

Mayfield is the same quarterback, but his salary has obviously risen after his comeback season.

So is he still a bargain? Are the Bucs getting their money’s worth?

That would be yes. And yes.

There are a half-dozen quarterbacks (Burrow, Lawrence, Goff, Justin Herbert, Jackson, Jalen Hurts) averaging more than $50 million per season. By the time Love signs his expected extension in the next month, another nine QBs (Murray, DeShaun Watson, Mahomes, Cousins, Allen, Jones, Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, Love) will be above $40 million per season. Throw in Derek Carr ($37.5 million) and Aaron Rodgers ($37.5 million) and more than half the league will have quarterbacks making more money than Mayfield.

That’s a ton of money being thrown around for a lot of quarterbacks who have accomplished very little.

Carr, 33, has never won a playoff game. Cousins will soon turn 36 and has won fewer playoff games (one) than Mayfield (two) at age 29. Murray and Herbert are younger, but have a combined 58-68-1 record in the regular season and are 0-2 in the postseason. Watson and Prescott have enviable regular-season numbers but are a combined 3-7 in the playoffs.

The term “franchise quarterback” is thrown around often, but it’s far more rare than general managers want to admit.

 

There are only five active QBs who have won a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback and two of them (Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson) may not even be starters heading into 2024. Two others, Stafford and Rodgers, are 36 and 40, respectively.

That leaves Mahomes as the only Super Bowl-winning quarterback still in his prime. Or even close to it.

When you look at it that way, the Bucs have a veteran quarterback who is still under 30, has taken two teams to the playoffs, was in the top 12 in passer rating last season and is in the bottom half of the league in pay scale for QBs.

Not a bad investment, eh?

And this is not an idle question. While you may not care how much a team owner is paying his quarterback, the salary cap makes it a critical competitive question.

Watson, for instance, will be eating up 22% of Cleveland’s salary cap, according to overthecap.com. Murray takes up 18.2% of Arizona’s cap and Jones is at 18.4% in New York.

Because of the way his contract is structured, Mayfield will take up only 2.7% of Tampa Bay’s cap in 2024, although it will grow to 16.1% by 2026.

Even so, getting Mayfield signed for under $35 million per season is what allowed the Bucs to re-sign Mike Evans, Lavonte David and Antoine Winfield Jr.

What the Bucs have done is shrewdly navigated the distance between hotshot quarterback prospects on cheaper contracts and veterans who got overpaid when they reached free agency.

It’s true, Mayfield is not the best quarterback in the league. He may not even be the best quarterback in the state.

But the combination of talent, age and contract make him one of the more valuable quarterbacks in the NFL.

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©2024 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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