Matt Ryan Becomes NFL’s Highest-Paid Player — Who’s Next?

$150 million.

That’s how much money Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will earn after signing a five-year contract extension to stay in Atlanta.

At $30 million per year, the former MVP is now the highest-paid player in the NFL, dethroning Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who signed a three-year deal worth $28 million per year in March. And a month before that, the 49ers inked QB Jimmy Garoppolo to a then league-record contract worth $27.5 million per year over five years.

Garoppolo earned a Super Bowl ring as a backup in 2014 with the Patriots — the closest any of these three quarterbacks has come to being a Super Bowl-winning QB, save for Matt Ryan at halftime of Super Bowl LI.

So how did all three players earn such rich contracts?

Well, that’s just the state of the NFL when it comes to salary cap distribution. As long as the game continues to emphasize elite quarterback play in a league where there’s a serious shortage of above-average signal-callers, teams will dish out major money to QBs regardless of whether or not they’ve ever hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy or started a playoff game (Garoppolo’s case, for example).

Keeping that in mind, which QBs are destined to overthrow Ryan by signing a record-breaking contract? Let’s find out who’s next to earn a big payday, and whether or not they’re worth the money.

 

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Current Contract Value: $110 million

Average Per Year: $22 million

Free Agency: 2020 UFA

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst reportedly wanted to wait for Ryan to sign his new deal with the Falcons before finalizing Rodgers’ extension. Now that Ryan is in Scrooge McDuck’s tax bracket, Gutekunst says a deal with Rodgers should be completed “soon.” As a two-time MVP, it’s safe to assume that Rodgers’ new deal will make him the highest-paid player in the league, likely around $100 million guaranteed. Even though he’s coming off of a broken collarbone at 34 years old, the MVP of Super Bowl XLV is quite deserving of the massive payday.

 

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

Current Contract Value: $87.6 million

Average Per Year: $21.9 million

Free Agency: 2020 UFA

When you’re 73-34-1 (including the playoffs) as a starting QB and have won a Super Bowl, you can definitely make a case for being the highest-paid player in the NFL. But Wilson, who has renegotiated his contract in the past to help free up money for the Seahawks, might turn down a historic contract in an attempt to give Seattle space to sign more playmakers. It also helps when you’re one of the NFL’s most marketable stars and making plenty of moola through endorsement deals. Considering all of those details, it would be shocking for Wilson to be sitting atop the salary food chain in a couple of years.

 

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston

Current Contract Value: $25.4 million

Average Per Year: $6.3 million

Free Agency: 2020 UFA

The #1 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft has shown a lot of promise during his first three seasons, but has also failed to lead the Bucs to the playoffs. It’s fair to wonder if Tampa Bay’s coaching staff has underserved him, but Winston hasn’t done himself any favors by consistently turning the ball over at inopportune times. Winston will have every opportunity this season to show why he was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2015, and if he does regain his old form, Bucs GM Jason Licht should reward him with the richest contract in NFL history.

 

Titans QB Marcus Mariota

Current Contract Value: $24.2 million

Average Per Year: $6.1 million

Free Agency: 2020 UFA

Although Mariota, who was drafted a pick after Winston, struggled last season, he did help Tennessee win their first playoff game since 2004. With an 18-14 record (playoffs included) as a starter during the last two seasons, it’s obvious that Mariota’s play is a big reason why the up-and-coming Titans are no longer considered a laughingstock. Turning a franchise into a contender sounds like enough to earn record-breaking money, but for Mariota, that might not be the case. It’s been documented how humble and competitive Mariota is, and if Titans GM Jon Robinson was able to sit down with his Heisman Trophy-winning QB and explain to him the benefits of accepting a “hometown discount,” Mariota could hold off on inking a historic extension and decide to sign a more team-friendly contract.

 

Cardinals QB Sam Bradford

Current Contract Value: $20 million

Average Per Year: $20 million

Free Agency: 2020 UFA

According to OverTheCap.com, new Cardinals QB Sam Bradford has made over $124 million in his career. How many games has he played across eight seasons? 80. That averages out to a little over $1.5 million per game for a QB who’s never had a winning record. We already know that he’s going to get signed by a desperate team the next time he’s a free agent. We also know that he’s likely to underachieve like he has during most of his injury-plagued career. If you’re reading this and you’re an NFL GM, we need you to promise that you won’t make him the highest-paid player ever when he does hit the market. The NFL’s already weird enough without that happening.

 

Panthers QB Cam Newton

Current Contract Value: $103.8 million

Average Per Year: $20.8 million

Free Agency: 2021 UFA

It’s been almost three years since Cam Newton and the Panthers came up short of beating the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. Since then, Carolina hasn’t won a playoff game and Newton has battled injuries, but the former MVP is still capable of embarrassing defenses with his arm and legs when healthy. If Newton continues to evolve as a pocket-passer and can stay out of the headlines with his off-the-field antics, the dual-threat QB could lead Carolina back to the Super Bowl before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Would the former #1 pick then become the NFL’s highest-paid player? It’s very likely.