In 2018, the Falcons signed Matt Ryan to a five-year contract with an annual salary of $30 million per year, which was the highest AAV of any quarterback (or player) in the league at the time. However, it didn’t take long for that number to be toppled by the next quarterback in line to be paid, and most recently, Mahomes rocketed past everyone with his record-breaking ten-year contract worth up to $503 million. That will undoubtedly set the cap for quarterbacks bargaining for new lucrative deals for the foreseeable future, but as these new figures come out, Ryan’s deal is already beginning to look like a bargain.
Following Mahomes’ payday, there are now eight quarterbacks earning a higher AAV than Ryan, and plenty more are set to come in the future, with quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson awaiting their new deals. And several of the names ahead of Ryan aren’t nearly as valuable.
You could argue Ryan is the most valuable quarterback making an AAV of 30+ mil outside of Mahomes and Wilson. Ben Roethlisberger has had an incredible career but is well past his prime. Aaron Rodgers has the name value, but Ryan has had more success over the last five seasons. Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins? That’s not even a conversation worth having. Carson Wentz has all the talent but has had his fair share of injury issues, and Dak Prescott, who is asking for $40 million in his next contract, can’t even sniff Ryan’s accomplishments.
When you look at the quarterbacks just behind Ryan in AAV, it becomes even more laughable. Ryan Tannehill at $29.5 million… Jacoby Brissett at $27.5 million?
This is why it’s generally never wise to judge a quarterback’s contract as terrible right when signed (unless you just don’t think he’s a franchise quarterback going forward) because the next guy in line usually sets the bar, even if he’s not as good. When Dak Prescott receives his deal in the $35-40 million range from the Cowboys, there will be people up in arms calling it preposterous for him to be the second-highest paid quarterback based on his accomplishments. But in a few years, he will be back towards the middle of the pack, and the contract won’t look nearly as absurd. That’s also why this Mahomes deal looks unbelievable for him right now, but by year six or seven, he could be wildly underpaid (as crazy as that sounds).
These NFL franchises have grown exponentially over the last half-century, and the money keeps pouring in. That’s not going to stop anytime soon unless something catastrophic happens (like, let’s say, a multi-year global pandemic). And as long as the NFL product keeps exploding, so are player salaries.
At $30 million a year, Ryan is already a bargain, just two years since signing his deal. The problem is Atlanta has continued to re-structure his contract to make cap space. So while Ryan’s only scheduled to make $35 million combined in the first two years of his new deal (2019-2020), he will make nearly $120 million from 2021-2023, almost $40 million a season. Still, that might be about average for what the top quarterbacks are hauling in, and the Falcons can always attempt to re-structure the contract each offseason as long as he’s still productive.