Commentary

Best and worst QBs for the money

Which quarterbacks are helping or hurting their teams most based on their cap hit?

Originally Published: November 2, 2011
By Peter Keating | ESPN Insider
Cam Newton and Ron Rivera Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireCam Newton has been extremely impressive so far this season for the Carolina Panthers.

Well, on Sunday, we finally found out Cam Newton's great weakness: He can't kick field goals. Then again, he probably could if the Panthers asked him to. Every week, the rookie flashes new skills from his amazing bag of tricks, and he's leaving tracks across the leaderboards of all kinds of metrics. Newton has generated far more points by rushing (11.0) than any other quarterback in the league. But he also has more completions (24), attempts (49) and yards (816) than any QB on throws of more than 20 yards (QBR: 98.2). Against the Minnesota Vikings, Newton showed he can handle the blitz, too: He was 6-of-8 with three TDs when Minnesota sent five or more rushers.

There's something even more spectacular about Newton than these numbers, though: his bang for the buck. Carolina is paying Newton $22 million over four years, and while it's hard for many fans to see "rookie," "$22 million" and "extreme bargain" in the same sentence, that's just what Newton is.

To find out just how much of a bargain, I looked at quarterback value by comparing the benefits every starting QB generates for his team to his costs. For the former, I used expected points added, as estimated by QBR. (QBR haters, take note: You don't always have to evaluate players by their overall rating. In situations like this, expected points added, which are cumulative and expressed in points, are much more helpful than Total QBR.) For the latter, we'll use cap dollars; in any given year, it's the salary cap, not actual payouts, that teams have to manage.

(One word of caution: cap numbers are not official statistics. The figures we will use here are from various team-by-team estimates, based on players' salaries and signing bonuses. But if they're not exact, they're very close.)

Overall, teams get about 5.3 points for every $1 million in cap money that they spend on starting quarterbacks. But there's a huge variation in the value that individual teams are getting. Here are the best QB buys in the league:

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.