- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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The Seattle Seahawks have won 36 regular-season games and appeared in two Super Bowls during the past three years, and a popular analysis has been to note the impact of their bargain at quarterback. Russell Wilson's salary-cap number has never exceeded $818,000 over that period, allowing the Seahawks to spend elsewhere to build a championship team.
Free agents such as defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, and market-level contract extensions for defensive backs Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, would have been more difficult to squeeze in if their quarterback -- like many teams' -- was under the terms of a veteran contract. At the moment, the Seahawks have an upper-echelon quarterback in place but the lowest cap commitment to the quarterback position of any team in the NFL.
That will change whenever Wilson signs a contract extension, and in truth it could be some time before another team replicates this advantage to such a degree. But the graph accompanying this post provides a snapshot of the teams that have a chance. Let's take a closer look at those teams and pull out a few other notable points as well.
No matter how well Teddy Bridgewater plays for the Minnesota Vikings this season, he won't be eligible for a contract adjustment until after the 2016 season. His 2015 cap number of $1.6 million is a big reason the team is able and willing to absorb tailback Adrian Peterson's $15.4 million hit. The Vikings have seven players on their books with cap numbers higher than $6 million in both 2015 and 2016.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans have cap certainty at the position for the next three years, albeit at a pricier level, after drafting Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, respectively, at the top of the draft. Winston's cap number will range between $4.6 million and $6.9 million over the next three years, while Mariota's will be slightly lower. The best way to view how they'll compare to other teams is to consider the graph from the perspective of the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, who drafted quarterbacks at No. 1 and No. 2 in 2012. Even with Andrew Luck at $7 million and Robert Griffin III at $6.7 million, both teams remain in the lower half of the NFL in quarterback cap commitments.
The Oakland Raiders will start second-year quarterback Derek Carr ($1.22 million) this season, but they are one team that could absorb an elite-level quarterback contract without changing their approach elsewhere. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, they have $16.9 million in space remaining for 2015 and are projected to have $67.8 million in 2016 (based on a $150 million cap), a number that would rise further, assuming the Raiders carry over some of their current surplus.
The Miami Dolphins finagled a low cap number for quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2015 ($4.9 million) via a contract extension, and in 2016 it is a below-average $11.6 million -- probably to help absorb the $28.6 million hit they will take on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Over time, however, the Dolphins will essentially be paying two players quarterback money. Tannehill and Suh will combine for cap hits of $40.2 million in 2016, $35.6 million in 2017 and $41.9 million in 2018.
The New England Patriots might have the healthiest entry on this graph when considered in context. Thanks to a unique contract restructure with Tom Brady in 2013, they rank at the NFL's midpoint even with a four-time championship quarterback who remains near the top of his game. Brady's cap number will be $14 million in 2015, behind 14 other NFL starters, and won't rise above $15 million before his contract expires after the 2017 season.
It's important to note salary-cap squeezes are less intense now after a $20 million bump in per-team limits since 2013. But during that time, quarterback raises have outpaced other positions. Even in this new era of surplus, there has never been more financial incentive to identify and start a promising young quarterback.