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The idea of a $50 million-per-year quarterback seemed outlandish when Super Bowl LII was played in early February 2018. It had been more than five years since the Saints made quarterback Drew Brees the NFL's first $20 million-per-year player in July 2012, and nobody had hit the $30 million-per-year mark.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was the NFL's highest-paid player at $27 million per year. Stafford's deal was 35% more than Brees'. The escalation of the quarterback market lagged slightly behind salary cap growth. The salary cap increased 38.47% from $120.6 million when Brees signed to $167 million by the time Stafford got his deal in 2017 as the start of the regular season was approaching.

$30 million per year was reached when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan signed a five-year, $150 million contract extension in May 2018. A lot has changed with quarterback pay since then. There are now 16 quarterbacks with contracts averaging $30 million per year or more.

The top of the quarterback market has more than doubled while the salary cap has only increased by 26.86% from $177.2 million in 2018 to currently $224.8 million. The $50 million-per-year quarterback is starting to become routine.

Jalen Hurts
PHI • QB • #1
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2023 has been a banner year for the high-priced quarterback. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts got the ball rolling by joining then Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the $50 million per year club. Hurts replaced Rodgers as the NFL's highest-paid player with the five-year, $255 million extension he signed during the latter part of April averaging $51 million per year. The deal is worth as much as $270 million because of salary escalators. There are $180 million in overall guarantees, of which $110 million was fully  guaranteed at signing.

Lamar Jackson
BAL • QB • #8
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The ink was barely dry on Hurts' contract before Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson replaced him as the league's highest-paid player. Jackson agreed to a five-year, $260 million deal averaging $52 million per year shortly before the start of the NFL Draft on April 27. There are $185 million of overall guarantees in the contract where $135 million is fully guaranteed. The $135 million fully guaranteed at signing includes an NFL-record $72.5 million signing bonus.

Justin Herbert
LAC • QB • #10
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Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert replaced Jackson at the top of the NFL salary hierarchy in late July when training camp opened. He signed a five-year, $262.5 million extension averaging $52.5 million per year. The extension's maximum value is $267.5 million because of $2.5 million of base salary escalators each in 2028 and 2029.

Herbert's deal has $193,738,375 in guarantees, of which $133,738,375 is fully guaranteed at signing. The total amount that can become guaranteed is $218,738,375. That's because $25 million of Herbert's unsecured $47 million 2028 base salary is guaranteed for injury on the third day of the 2026 league year (mid-March 2026). The $25 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2027 league year (mid-March 2027).

Joe Burrow
CIN • QB • #9
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The Herbert contract instantly became the salary floor Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. 2020's first overall pick received a five-year, $275 million extension averaging $55 million per year right before the start of the regular season. The deal is worth up to $281.25 million thanks to $1.25 million of annual incentives in the extension years (2025 through 2029). Burrow has $219.01 million of salary guarantees in which $146.51 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

The Bengals established a new contract precedent by giving Burrow traditional salary guarantees. Prior to Burrow, Cincinnati had been in the dark ages when structuring contracts for veteran players. The only guaranteed money in Cincinnati veteran contracts has been a signing bonus and/or a roster bonus payable within a few days of signing. The bigger deals have contained an unsecured third- or fifth-day-of-the-league-year roster bonus in the second and third years. The roster bonuses are supposed to be substitutes for additional contract guarantees. The overall guarantees in Bengals contracts have been less than comparable deals on other teams.

Patrick Mahomes
KC • QB • #15
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The Chiefs recognized that Patrick Mahomes' situation was going to have to be addressed. The 10-year, $450 million extension worth up to $475 million with incentives the two-time NFL MVP quarterback signed a little more than three years ago had become outdated. 

At $45 million per year, Mahomes dramatically raised the bar for quarterback salaries. The previous standard was the $35 million per year in the four-year extension Russell Wilson signed with the Seahawks in 2019. Mahomes got a 28.6% increase over Wilson's deal. Mahomes tried to outpace anticipated changing market conditions by being considerably ahead of the league's second-highest-paid player, Wilson.

The gap started closing much faster than expected. Mahomes' reign as the league's highest-paid player lasted less than two years as Rodgers became the NFL's first $50 million-per-year player in March 2022.

With Burrow completing the flurry of high-end quarterback signings this year, the Chiefs reworked Mahomes' contract to bring it more in line with there being four quarterbacks making more than $50 million per year. Rodgers dropped out of the $50 million per year club when he surprisingly took a substantial pay cut to allow the Jets to build a more competitive roster after his trade from the Packers. He was originally scheduled to make $108.815 million over 2023 and 2024. Rodgers reduced this compensation by $33.765 million to $75.05 million.

The Chiefs didn't add any new money to Mahomes' contract since he has eight more left on his contract. The deal still expires after the 2031 season.

Money was redistributed from the latter years so the deal is no longer extremely backloaded. Mahomes gets a $16.4 million raise this year with his scheduled 2023 compensation going from $40.45 million to $56.85 million. There's $45.8 million more in Mahomes' 2023 through 2026 contract years than when he signed in 2020. The bulk of the money, $34.3 million, is being taken from Mahomes' 2027 through 2029 contract years.

There are numerous ways to look at Mahomes' renegotiation. It's been positioned by Mahomes camp as him making $210.6 million from 2023 through 2026, which includes the $2.5 million of incentives earned from the 2022 season that were paid this year. From a pure cash flow perspective, his $208.1 million from those four years is just ahead of the $208 million in the first four years of Jackson's deal.

There are $208.1 million of guarantees in the renegotiated contract, which is the cash through 2026. $133.7 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

Another way is to value the deal is as a renegotiated nine-year contract for $417.05 million averaging $46,338,889 per year. This may not be the best approach because the deal will surely be revisited no later than 2028 when Mahomes is making $27.175 million.

Mahomes' original extension only had $113.85 million of new money through the first three new years (2022 through 2024) for an average of $37.95 million per year. With the adjustment, Mahomes has $136.8 million of new money at this juncture to bring the new money three-year average to $45.6 million per year. It's $46.7 million and $48.71 million per year, respectively, after four (through 2025) and five new years (2026).

The financial benchmarks for key contract metrics are as follows after this year's changes to the quarterback market.

  • Average yearly Salary: $55 million (Burrow-Bengals)
  • Overall contract guarantees: $230 million (Deshaun Watson-Browns)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $230 million (Watson)
  • Signing bonus: $72.5 million (Jackson-Ravens)
  • Three-year cash flow: $156 million (Jackson)
  • First three new years: $183,960,982 (Burrow)

The fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract averaging $46 million per year Deshaun Watson got as a part of his trade from the Texans to the Browns in March 2022 is a market anomaly. Watson's $230 million fully guaranteed at signing should stand for the foreseeable future unless another quarterback gets a lengthy fully guaranteed contract in the next couple of years, which is highly unlikely. Burrow's $146.51 million fully guaranteed at signing is the next best mark.

It won't be a surprise for someone, possibly Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Dak Prescott (Cowboys) or Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins), to top Watson's $230 million in overall guarantees as early as next year. Burrow's $219.01 million is already within striking distance. Mahomes' isn't beating Jackson's three-year cash flow in the renegotiated contract. He's at $151.35 million.

Burrow got an extremely player friendly structure from the Bengals. He has an unheard of 66.89% of his new money through his first three new contract years (through 2027). Burrow's first three new contract years average $61,320,327 per year. To put Burrow's percentage in perspective, Herbert and Hurts are at 60.98% and 60% after their respective first three new contract years.

High-end quarterback salaries have been skyrocketing at a remarkable pace in recent years. The market continuing to escalate is inevitable, but the rate of growth may start to slow. Mahomes was the catalyst for quarterback salaries taking off with his 2020 deal by raising the financial bar almost 30%. With Mahomes' contract just being addressed, it's hard to see another quarterback contract impacting the market the way the original Mahomes extension did. The best chance might be an agent using Burrow's average over his first three new years to justify $60 million per year.