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Which NFL player is worth the highest salary?

  • By Around The League Staff
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Time for another organic email chain from the Around The League team:

From: Rosenthal, Gregg
Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 1:00 PM
To: Wesseling, Chris; Patra, Kevin
Subject: ORGANIC EMAIL CHAIN #16

So LeBron James opted out of his contract on Tuesday. It got the folks on NFL Total Access thinking: What NFL player would make the most money if he were available on the free-agent market?

We liked the idea so much that we stole it for an organic email chain. I'll let you guys answer it first, but we might as well rephrase the question: Which quarterback would make the most money as a free agent? Right?

KP: Young, franchise quarterback with no red flags, playoff experience and turns everything he touches into gold? Yeah, Andrew Luck will break the bank.

CW: No question we can narrow this down to quarterbacks, which eliminates Calvin Johnson and J.J. Watt. As Vince Lombardi once lamented, football would be the perfect team game if the quarterback wasn't so overwhelmingly important.

GR: I wouldn't take Luck; Aaron Rodgers is far more proven and in his prime. We're all assuming that Luck will be a top-five quarterback, if not the best quarterback in the league. But he's not there yet. Rodgers is playing at his peak and should still be in his prime for another three-five years.

The question makes me wonder: What would Rodgers or Luck get in the open market without a salary cap? They would have to be worth north of $50 million per season. If Everson Griffen can get $8 million per season, isn't Rodgers worth 10 times that?

KP: Can you really go wrong there if it were only, say, a six-year contract? Still I'd settle on Luck because I believe he still has room to grow. NFL players get paid for what they will bring to the table, not what they already did. I'll take Luck for the next decade.

And to answer your extremely hypothetical question: All the money. They would get all the money.

CW: I don't question that. With no salary cap, quarterbacks would shatter the professional sports' salary structure.

Knowing the way football executives operate, Luck might do even better than Rodgers. He has the prototypical quarterback's build, no history of injuries and has already shown the ability to put his teammates on his back and lift them to victory. Not to get overly wonky here, but Luck's 15-2 record in games decided by seven points or fewer is destroying the predictability of the Pythagorean expectation. He's a magician in close games (cue "The Final Countdown").

Considering Luck's age advantage and Rodgers' concussion history, I think Luck is the closest the NFL has to LeBron.

GR: Easy there. There is no NFL version of LeBron, but Rodgers or even Tom Brady would be closer than Luck. They have won MVPs and titles. It's weird that this debate is putting me in the position of picking on Luck. But we are still projecting with him. We're assuming he's going to be an all-time great. Rodgers already is one, so the decision isn't that hard for me.

I'd take Luck over Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton or anyone else from his era. But there's no need to bet on potential in this exercise. This question would have been a bit tougher a few years ago, when Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were in their primes. It's tough to pick them now.

CW: Unlike the NBA and MLB, NFL teams tend to share Jurgen Klinsman's philosophy that it's foolish to pay players based on what they have done in the past. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game. I just think many NFL general managers would deem Luck the safer choice to build around for the next decade.

KP: To spin the LeBron analogy another way -- since in his last deal he actually took less money and could do so again if he wants to play with another star -- if someone like Rodgers or Luck hit the open market and teams were clearing space just for a shot at them, which teams would be in the race?

GR: That question hurts my brain. But I think the right answer would be: Every team that isn't already paying their quarterback $15 million per season.

If we go non quarterbacks here, are there are any good options other than Calvin Johnson and J.J. Watt? I'd take Watt and it's not that close. He's the Andrew Luck of defensive tackles except he's already at his peak.

CW: I agree. Give me Watt over Megatron. Watt is just 25 years old and he's just one year removed from the best season I've ever witnessed from a defensive lineman.

KP: Poor phrasing on my part in that previous email. My point is that the premise of "most money" is pretty much moot when it comes to LeBron. He can decide where he plays and if the contract number hits the max or not. If LeBron wanted to play in Seattle, Adam Silver would ask him which team he wanted moved there.

Since we were playing make believe anyway, I figured why not open the door to a wildly irresponsible game of connect the imaginary dots. Like, say, for instance, toying with the fragile hearts of Oakland Raiders fans by suggesting Rodgers might decided to join former Packers exec Reggie McKenzie, come home to the Bay Area and play out his years wearing Silver and Black.

But that's fine. You make the rules, boss.

I'll stand for Megatron, since you two agree on Watt. In the two games without Calvin last year the Lions were pathetic in the passing game, magnifying his importance. Watt is the best at his position, but he was on the field producing and the Texans still lost 14 straight games (leaves self open for "Calvin went 0-16" counterpunch).

We constantly harp on the fact that quarterbacks make a team. Well, there is an argument that Matthew Stafford is only a top 15 NFL quarterback because he has Megatron to throw to. If the quarterback is the head chef of a football team then he needs a good sous chef. There is no better sous chef than Calvin Johnson.

GR: All this sous chef talk reminds me of my wife, who was a chef in New York. And how today is her birthday. And how I still need to get her something. Why am I on this email chain again?

Final tally:

GR: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

CW: Andrew Luck, QB Indianapolis Colts

KP: Luck

In the latest episode of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys discuss Rob Gronkowski's expected return to action and Cordarrelle Patterson's potential rise this season.

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