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Derek Carr seeking 35 million per year: Providing context around that figure

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

According to a report from ESPN’s Dianna Russini, Quarterback Derek Carr is seeking a contract in the realm of 35 million (or more) per year in free agency.

35 million would have been an nearly unheard of salary even 10 years ago. In 2013, the highest paid QB was Green Bay Packer Aaron Rodgers at 40 million followed by (then) Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford at 31 million. Accordingly, it is understandable if the yearly figure Carr is seeking has a degree of stick shock attached to it and may be offputting to some fans. However, Carr’s ‘ask’ is actually quite reasonable if we consider the context of the modern NFL. Specifically, we must consider the 2023 QB salaries, which is logged by Spotrac.

To better contextualize Carr’s ask, we must consider that there are three QB contract tiers.

  1. Rookie deals wherein salaries are kept low by design.
  2. “Placeholder” or backup QB deals. These are contracts given to a QB who may or may not start, but by no means “entrenched” as a multi-year starter. Examples of such contracts include that of Atlanta Falcons QB Marcus Mariota or New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston. Conceptually, these contracts fall under 15 million.
  3. Starting QB deals. While we could tier this system based on QB quality, I will not given that there is a steady increase of annual salaries in this tier. Conceptually, these contracts are over 29 million.

(Note: in further support of the parsing out of group 2 and group 3, there are 0 contracts that fall within the range of 16-28 million in annual average value.)

Given Derek Carr’s performance to date (multiple pro bowls) and his age (32 years old), Carr is a clear candidate for group 3. Accordingly, we must further investigate group 3 if we want to evaluate the degree to which Carr’s demands are reasonable.

First, there are 13 contracts that currently fall into this range. The number will likely raise to at least 15 after Carr and Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson agree to their deals for the 2023 season. For the sake of any arguments, we will assume Lamar Jackson’s contract will be at least 45 million per year given that is the value of his franchise tag.

Second, group 3 contracts range from 29 million (Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill) to 50 million (Aaron Rodgers).

Third, of the 15 expected contracts, a 35 million dollar contract would place Carr as tied for the 10th highest paid QB. This would position his contract as market value for a bottom-half entrenched starter. Notably, this deal’s average value would be 5 million less than the contract signed by Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, equal to contract value of Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, and less than 3 million more than Washington Commanders QB Carson Wentz and Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff.

Overall, if we assume that Carr is an ‘entrenched’ multi-year starter, then his contract demands seem quite reasonable. Whether the New York Jets see this contract as a good value is an entirely different question that we will only be answer to answer in due time based on what decision they eventually make at QB.