Need an example of how much one season can change the perception — and the contract — of an NFL QB? Look no further than Jalen Hurts’ 2022 campaign.
Hurts was a viable starter for the Eagles in 2021, but his future with Philadelphia was riding on how he produced last year. If Hurts had face-planted, the Eagles would have had the means to move up in this year’s draft to find a new signal-caller.
Instead, Hurts played like an MVP candidate and nearly guided Philadelphia to a Super Bowl win. His reward? A six-year, $255 million extension that contains $110 million in fully guaranteed money.
Which quarterbacks have the most on the line in 2023? Like Hurts, some signal-callers have a significant payday in mind. Others want to become long-term starters, while a choice few need playoff runs to cement their legacies.
Which NFL QBs Are Under the Most Pressure This Season?
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
No NFL quarterback has more money at stake this year than Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins already exercised his $23.2 million fifth-year option for 2024. But if Tua stays healthy and is as effective as he was for most of last season, he could secure $100+ million guaranteed on an extension with Miami.
Tagovailoa meshed perfectly with Mike McDaniel’s offensive system in 2023, ranking first in adjusted net yards per attempt (8.04) and third in QBR (70.6). His upside in an offense featuring Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle is massive. If he stays concussion-free, Tua can follow in the footsteps of Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, and Jalen Hurts and become the NFL’s next $50 million quarterback.
Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
Sean Payton’s job isn’t necessarily to fix Russell Wilson — it’s to win football games. Payton signed a five-year deal to become the Broncos’ head coach this season. He’ll want to get Wilson right, but his eyes are also on the future.
"The first thing Sean Payton asked Russell Wilson when he got to Denver was can I coach you hard..
Russell said absolutely you can and I'm excited about this Broncos team"
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) September 7, 2023
Wilson’s extension is structured in such a way that it might behoove Denver to bench him if he struggles this season — that way, Wilson won’t lock in any future guaranteed salaries by suffering an injury. Wilson has already made plenty of money in the NFL, but his future as a starting quarterback depends entirely on his 2023 performance.
Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
This season might be Sam Howell’s only opportunity to become an NFL starter. If he fails, not only will the Commanders bring in Jacoby Brissett, but Ron Rivera and the rest of Washington’s coaching staff will likely get fired. A new regime would probably want to bring in their own quarterback in 2024.
But Howell, who probably should have been drafted closer to the third round than the fifth in 2022, will have his chance this year. He’ll play in an Eric Bieniemy offense and be supported by a cast of characters, including Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel. It’s not the worst situation to be in.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Mac Jones was hardly a world-beater during his 2021 rookie campaign, but he was a perfectly league-average quarterback. That performance, combined with an elite Patriots defense, was enough to get New England to the playoffs in Jones’ first NFL season.
The bottom fell out last year when Jones took orders from Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, but new Pats OC Bill O’Brien is in town to save the day.
“We speak the same language,” Jones said of O’Brien. “He used to coach for (Bill) Belichick and (Nick) Saban, and I played for Belichick and Saban …
” … We speak the same terminology. Sometimes, I’ll bring up an old play, and everyone’s like, What’s that? And O’B’s like, ‘It’s this.’ We’re talking the same language. It’s fun.”
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
The Bears have removed all of Justin Fields’ excuses. General manager Ryan Poles spent the offseason buoying Chicago’s offensive line and acquired a new weapon — WR DJ Moore — for Fields to throw to. If Fields can improve from the pocket, his dynamic rushing ability will make him an MVP candidate.
At the same time, Poles acquired enough future assets from the Panthers by trading the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft that the Bears will have the means to replace Fields if necessary. The Ohio State product will get the 2023 season to prove his worth in Chicago, but this is a make-or-break year for Fields.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
The 2023 campaign might be Kirk Cousins’ final go-round in Minnesota. The Vikings seem to want to reap the benefits of a quarterback with a rookie contract. The club reportedly turned down an extension offer from Cousins’ camp this offseason that would have tied him to Minnesota through 2025.
“Did we score?”
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) July 14, 2023
Of course, Cousins could change the Vikings’ minds by leading the club to a playoff victory in 2023. But the rest of the league will be watching, too. Plenty of teams with quarterback vacancies could be interested in a steady option like Cousins next offseason.
Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
Jordan Love essentially bet against himself this offseason. Instead of forcing the Packers to decide on his fifth-year option for 2024, Love accepted a revised one-year, $13.5 million extension that will take him through next year. He mitigated the risk of Green Bay declining his $20+ million option, but Love also significantly reduced his potential upside.
Love also gave the Packers a potential out if he struggles in his first year as Aaron Rodgers’ successor. Green Bay will get an extra first or second-round pick next season thanks to the Rodgers trade, enabling the club to move up for a replacement quarterback if needed.
Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons
Like Howell, Desmond Ridder will become an outlier if he succeeds with the Falcons in 2023. Mid-round quarterbacks don’t have much of a track record as long-term starters in the NFL.
This could be Ridder’s one and only chance to secure a starting job. Atlanta made Taylor Heinicke the league’s second-highest-paid backup QB this offseason and probably won’t hesitate to turn to the ex-Commanders starter if Ridder struggles. And the Falcons would have to find a new signal-caller — likely a veteran — over the offseason if Ridder fails.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott is facing pressure in two separate ways. First, the Cowboys need to advance past the Divisional Round of the playoffs, something they’ve never done during Dak’s tenure. Given Dallas’ trajectory, anything less than a NFC title game appearance will feel like a disappointment.
Prescott also has a contract extension coming up. He’s already made plenty of money in the NFL, but he holds tremendous leverage over the Cowboys thanks to his nearly $60 million cap charge in 2024.
Dallas will have to extend Prescott in order to reduce his cap figure and create cap space. Can he become the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback on his next deal?
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen is already one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. He’ll be in the MVP conversation again in 2023, and his financial future is secured thanks to the six-year, $258 extension he signed with the Bills in 2021.
But the upcoming season might be Allen’s best chance to win a Super Bowl ring. He’s 4-4 in the postseason thus far in his career — an infamous Divisional Round loss to the Chiefs took out Buffalo in 2021, while the Bills got stomped by the Bengals in last year’s playoffs.
Allen is only 27 years old; he should have plenty of time to create an NFL legacy. But his cap charges will be over $45 million from 2024 on. The Bills might not be able to surround Allen with as much talent moving forward, so the time might be now.