The winning blueprint in the NFL has been to find a franchise quarterback. But has that strategy shifted? And what does that mean for the Dallas Cowboys?
The Dallas Cowboys had a very successful 2020 NFL Draft with a rookie class that is value-driven and heralded as their best in almost two decades. But the story of the draft was the Green Bay Packers trading up in the first round to draft a quarterback with the 26th pick.
The Packers have a quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who is Hall of Fame worthy and is still playing at a high level. He is signed for four more years and has expressed a desire to finish the contract which makes the Packers decision to draft Jordan Love fascinating.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you don’t have one you have no chance. But could the Packers be the first franchise outside of New England to realize that being held hostage by a highly paid quarterback can be just as bad?
The motivation for drafting Love in the first round is something that only the Packers Front Office understands. I think this move is designed to make the Packers relevance sustainable for another ten years but there might also be a hidden deeper reason.
Rodgers will cost $21.6 million for the 2020 season according to spotrac.com which is a relative bargain for a quarterback at 10.9 percent of the salary cap. His cap hit rises to $36.4 million in 2021, $39.9 million in 2022, and $28.4 million in 2023.
On the other hand, Love will likely cost the Packers $12.4 million total over the next four years when he signs his contract with the Packers having a team option for a fifth cost-controlled year. Montez Sweat was the 26th pick in the 2019 NFL draft and signed a four year $11.6 million contract which was 6.8 percent higher than the four-year, $10.9 million contract Calvin Ridley signed in 2018 as the 26th pick in the draft.
I think the Packers will strongly consider trading Rodgers at the end of the 2020 season. This would be the same move the Chiefs made when they traded Alex Smith after the 2017 season and turned the franchise over to Patrick Mahomes paying dividends with a Super Bowl championship in 2019.
The Packers will absorb a $31 million dead cap in 2021 but will have three years after that with an affordable quarterback. There is risk with this strategy as it is still unknown if Love can be a competent and successful quarterback in the NFL. The Packers will have one year to watch him and decide before making their move.
The Packers won the Super Bowl in the 2010 season which was an uncapped season. The cap value in 2009 was $123 million and the value was $120 million in 2011. Rodgers made $6.5 million in 2010 which would have been 5.4 percent of the 2011 cap or 5.3 percent of the 2009 cap.
In 2013, Rodgers signed a five-year extension that saw him have caps hits of 9.5 percent in 2013, 13.2 percent in 2014, 12.7 percent in 2015, 12.4 percent in 2016, and 12.2 percent in 2017. The Packers made two conference championships in those five years, losing both times.
His next contract, which made him the highest-paid quarterback at the time he signed, had a 15.8 percent cap hit in 2019 when the Packers made another NFC Championship game. The Packers have made three NFC Championships in the last six years with a quarterback universally considered to be elite yet still decided to “improve” their team by drafting a quarterback in the first round.
So why is this relevant for the Cowboys? Dallas is about to pay their quarterback Rodgers-level money.
If my hypothesis is correct and the Packers are preparing to jettison their highly-paid quarterback after the 2020 season for a still to be proven rookie, the Cowboys should take notice. The Cowboys and every other NFL team should question why the Packers feel they can win by replacing a Hall of Fame-worthy quarterback still playing at a high level with a quarterback on a rookie deal.
Success in the NFL is defined by winning and the Packers have won more than the Cowboys of late. It has only been ten years since the Pack won the Super Bowl and they have more playoff appearances, more playoff wins including two head to head wins and more NFC Championship game appearances than the Cowboys in the past ten years.
Maybe this really isn’t such a big secret. Since the new CBA was signed before the 2011 season, four of the nine Super Bowl winners had quarterbacks on rookie contracts (Ravens, Seahawks, Eagles – Foles was only paid $1.6 million and Wentz was on a rookie deal – and Chiefs) with the other five winning quarterbacks being Tom Brady with three and the Manning brothers with one apiece.
Has the new winning blueprint become salary cap friendly competent quarterback play. This certainly would allow a team to fill other positions with really good football players when the quarterback is not making 15 percent of the cap.
Could the Dallas Cowboys get in front of the curve by not signing their quarterback Dak Prescott to a long term deal? Might the Cowboys be able to flip Prescott at the end of the 2020 season and dip back into the rookie contract quarterback pool?
If they do, they better be warned. The Green Bay Packers just might have their own Hall of Fame quarterback on the trade market at the same time.