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NFL's best (and worst) QB values

Rookies providing bargains, while Jets are tied to a financial anchor

Updated: December 6, 2012, 9:46 AM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN the Magazine

How fast is quarterback play changing in the NFL? Consider something I wrote -- accurately -- just 13 months ago: "The last time a team had a quarterback this young and this good this far below market value locked up for this long, his name was Tom Brady."

I meant Cam Newton. But since then, a couple of gentlemen named Griffin and Luck, who are even younger than Newton and just as cheap, have outperformed the Panthers QB. And what you might not realize is that they're just the tip of the iceberg: a whole group of fresh faces is rewriting the value proposition of quarterbacking.

Last year, I put together a simple way to measure quarterback value: by comparing his expected points added (EPA), as estimated by QBR, to his cap value. We use EPA because it's a counting stat, which means it accounts for playing time, and it's expressed in points. And cap dollars make sense because they include a player's salary plus the current year's portion of any prorated bonuses. In a given year, it's cap hits that teams have to fit under the salary cap, not the cash they actually pay out.

Last year, Newton generated about 16 points of offense for every $1 million of the Panthers' cap space he took up, an impressive number. The league's other best values included Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Schaub, just before they signed big extensions; Matt Hasselbeck and Jason Campbell; and Aaron Rodgers, who was on every leaderboard a stathead could create in 2011. Most of those guys perfectly fit the standard definition of the "value quarterback" -- veterans who happened to have productive seasons at cheap moments in their contracts. They were likely to regress or to get much more expensive -- which is why Newton's appearance atop the list was so exciting.

But now look at this season's list of best QB buys:

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