In what will probably be the hardest post of this series where we look at the 'value' of specific players across the AFC West division of the same position, right now we're going to delve into the quarterback position in the AFC West. This is going to be tricky because there is so much that goes into playing quarterback in the NFL that can't just be computed by throwing a specific dollar amount at this 'it' factor. But for right now we're going to go ahead and try and there's one reason that we can do this specifically, and that's because it's June and it's something to talk about.
It's always fascinating to look at the way players' contracts are structured and what that might mean for that player down the road. I think most Kansas City Chiefs fans are aware of the impending dollar amount that Tyson Jackson is due in 2013 and most have come to the conclusion that he'll either be restructuring that deal in the form of an extension, or he'll be released outright. I don't think it's the latter and I don't see a scenario in which Jackson doesn't sign a long-term extension with Kansas City. That being said you don't have to look too far ahead into the way that one of the quarterbacks in the AFC West' contract is structured and see something pretty similar to Jackson.
Carson Palmer signed a 4-year, $43 million extension with the Oakland Raiders when he was traded there in the middle of last season from the Cincinnati Bengals. When most people look at those numbers they just assume that he's making just under $11 million per year because that's what it looks like. But when you look deeper into the actual breakdown of the money you'll notice something very interesting. Palmer was paid just $2.5 million in base salary in 2011, but in 2012 his 'signing bonus' kicks in and is worth around $11.6 million. He's scheduled to make a base salary of $13 million in 2013 and $15 million in 2014. Throw in the $3.8 million cap hit on top of those salaries in '13 and '14, and all of the sudden you're looking at a total cap hit of almost $17 million in '13 and $19 million in '14. That's quite the number for a quarterback that isn't scheduled to make much in 2012.
Carson Palmer - Oakland Raiders
Palmer is scheduled to make a base salary of just $825k in 2012 with a cap hit of $4.7 million because of the $3.8 million pro-rated signing bonus of $11.6 million split evenly between '12-'14. This is the lowest number in the AFC West from both a base salary standpoint, and a cap standpoint. Palmer could easily be the best value in the AFC West if he plays like he's shown capable of playing, but the problem with Palmer is consistency. Last season was a hard thing to judge because of the situation he found himself in as he was traded mid-season, hadn't been with the team two weeks and is then thrown to the wolves against the Chiefs and was less-than-stellar in his debut.
But two solid games at home against the Chargers and Lions late in the season where Palmer went a combined 60-83 with 784 yards passing with three touchdowns to just one interception, that was the Palmer that most optimistic Raider fans hope they see this season. Not necessarily that same guy who threw seven interceptions to just four touchdowns in his last three road games in 2011.
If Palmer can set into this new offense and limit his mistakes he is going to be a steal for this team at the price they're paying him next season, but those contract numbers for 2013 and 2014 will be looming over him all season and he fights to earn those paydays.
Matt Cassel - Kansas City Chiefs
I'm sure this is going to be a popular topic. It's been well documented that Cassel's contract for 2012 is set to pay him just $5.25 million for the season with just a small bonus of $200k to also go against the cap, leaving a total cap hit of $5.45 million. That base salary of $5.25 million puts him #15 in the NFL for quarterbacks salaries for 2012. An average number, right in the middle, and right about where he'll end up at the end of the season in the quarterback rankings, in my opinion.
Cassel takes a lot of heat from Chiefs fans and they have every right to question his ability win the Chiefs a Super Bowl. He's a fantastically average NFL quarterback and history shows us that to win a Super Bowl it's very unlikely to be able to do that with an average quarterback. You need a guy that can carry your team if needed and most Chiefs fans don't see Cassel as that guy right now. His 2012 salary puts him right near the middle of the pack and I think it's average value for an average quarterback with average pay. No more, no less.
Philip Rivers - San Diego Chargers
We're really going to see what Rivers is made of this year as he's coming off a down year in which many excuses were thrown his way about an apparent injury that he played through, among others, but even a healthy Rivers won't change the fact that his best weapon ran to that rainbow in Tampa Bay where he found his pot o' gold. Vincent Jackson is no longer a Charger and that's music to the ears of each of the defensive coordinators across the AFC West. Robert Meachem, who San Diego signed after losing Jackson, does not command the respect that Jackson did and he's not nearly the player that Jackson had been for the Chargers.
Rivers will be the seventh highest paid quarterback in the NFL in 2012 with a base salary of $10.2 million with bonuses of $3.79 million for a total cap hit of just under $14 million. In the Chargers last four games of the season they had a 3-1 record as Rivers had 11 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions in those games. The problems that Rivers had early in the season must not be a sign of things to come if the Chargers want to see 'value' from Rivers compared to what they are paying him in 2012. He did have eight games in 2011 where he threw at least two interceptions. He's getting paid like a top 8 quarterback, it's up to him to go and prove that he is still deserving of that honor.
Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos
The highest paid quarterback in the NFL for 2012 didn't play a snap in 2011 and it coming off more surgeries than Joan Rivers. I don't see any way, other than a Super Bowl victory, that the Broncos can call the $18 million they're paying Manning in 2012 as good 'value'. I get that he's a future Hall-Of-Famer and all that, but to be the highest paid quarterback with his injury situation? It makes me think Peyton ran for the payday and the Broncos jumped at the opportunity to get away from Tebow and try and save some face.
Maybe that's completely wrong, or just partially wrong, but when talking about value and return on investment for play in 2012, it just doesn't look like the Broncos got great value in Peyton Manning.
In any case, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the AFC West has one of the most intriguing quarterback situations in the entire NFL this season. Can Rivers bounce back without Vincent Jackson? Can Cassel succeed with all the new weapons around him? Will a full off-season help Palmer grow in Oakland? What the hell is going to happen with Manning in Denver?