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Ziperski: NFL’s Oprah moment

During this NFL offseason, we’ve witnessed some massive new contracts for quarterbacks, first with Kirk Cousins’ deal in Minnesota and then with Matt Ryan’s record-breaking, $94.5 million extension with the Atlanta Falcons. Following these deals, ESPN published an article predicting which players around the league might top Ryan’s contract over the next five years.

The fact that we’re talking about which players (emphasis on the plural) might sign deals north of $30 million annually demonstrates how crazy the league has gotten. ESPN names four players—Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson and Jimmy Garoppolo—they predict will sign such deals.

Only Aaron Rodgers is remotely deserving of that kind of money. He’s the best quarterback in the league and still young enough to play at a high level through a long-term contract. This isn’t to say that the other guys aren’t talented; Wentz (mostly) led his team to a Super Bowl this past season, and Watson and Garoppolo both showed real promise. But only promise: the two of them have combined to play only about a single season’s worth of games, and though they were impressive, the sample size is too small.

Players like Watson, Wentz, and Garoppolo have gotten away (or, over the next few years, will get away) with demanding insane contracts because they know front offices are willing to do anything to avoid watching their players jump ship and sign with competitors. These contracts aren’t entirely about talent; scarcity and risk-aversion certainly play important roles. But it seems like we’ve gotten caught up in our own Oprah “you get a car moment,” tossing out massive deals to anyone who’s displayed any kind of promise. Guys like Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan have been solid, dependable guys throughout their entire careers, perhaps flashing elite potential at times. Are they worthy of being handed salaries that make them the highest-paid players in the league? Not really, certainly not on talent alone.

The problem is that this phenomenon isn’t going to stop. Aaron Rodgers will sign his extension—which he will certainly deserve—at some point soon. And, inevitably, less-talented, non-elite players will follow suit, signing larger deals. In just a few years, Rodgers will yet again be in the middle of the pack on an annual basis. For the madness to end, one owner or general manager would have to take a stand in negotiations, refuse to budge, and likely watch another team overpay their player in free agency. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are slim to none. At the end of the day, general managers are unwilling to risk ending their front office careers.

So the cycle will probably continue. ESPN is probably right about which young players are due to pass Ryan in the next couple years. It seems crazy, at least to me, and I wish it would end. I’d like for players’ salaries to be commensurate with their worth on the field, for front offices to finally say enough is enough and stop handing out these ridiculous deals. It’s unlikely, for sure. But only time will tell.

 

Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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