Quarterbacks on rookie deals are a great luxury, and one that will expire soon in Indy and Seattle.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league and no matter how many great prospects come out of college, only a small handful will develop into players who can consistently win.
While the implementation of a rookie salary cap has eased the amount of risk and cap space team must allot to new signal-callers, paying a quarterback more than anyone else on your roster is almost inevitable with any small amount of success.
Cam Newton is just the most recent to sign a major deal — five years, $103.8 million with $67.6 million guaranteed in the first three years — setting the bar for soon-to-be-extended Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck. Teams must pay their quarterbacks, and it often must come at the expense of the middle and bottom of their roster.
The Colts and Seahawks remain in the sweet spot with their quarterbacks on rookie deals. As the first overall pick, Luck's rookie deal wasn't peanuts, even with the rookie salary cap, at four years, $22.1 million.
While the third-round pick Wilson enters the final year of his rookie deal that has paid him just under $3 million total. Even after leading his team to two Super Bowls and one title, Wilson ranks just 21st in salary on his own team!
The great advantage to hitting on a young quarterback is the small window where their salary is not going to overwhelm the salary cap. It allows teams to surround them with even more talent, especially via free agency. However, in the process this actually only sets the bar higher for the pay day the young quarterbacks will expect with their second contract because of the money being spent on the weapons around them.
Both the Seahawks and Colts were able to make splashy moves this offseason, with the Seahawks trading for Jimmy Graham and the Colts adding veterans like Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole. However, the imminent contracts of Wilson and Luck will force their team's hands when it comes to the rest of the roster.
Seattle will face a number of hard decisions as Wilson is not the Seahawks' only impact player due to hit free agency next season with Bobby Wagner, Russell Okung, Brandon Mebane, Bruce Irvin and Jermaine Kearse also entering the final year of their contracts.
Indianapolis has their own set of free agents that they will try to re-sign along with Luck, including tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, receiver T.Y. Hilton and left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
Can the Seahawks and Colts keep their quarterbacks without letting the rest of their young talent walk? Yes, the NFL is a quarterback-drive league, but at what price does it negatively impact the rest of the roster?
The New England Patriots have been a dominant team for 15 years while paying an elite quarterback, but Tom Brady's willingness to not break the bank and often restructure his deal has given the team enough flexibility to maintain their "building a balanced 53-man roster" philosophy. Not all quarterbacks are that willing.
The huge deals that Wilson and Luck will undoubtedly sign in the next year will have a major impact on their teams and take them out of the sweet spot they currently sit in. The long-term competitiveness of their teams won't necessarily depend on how big the initial dollar amounts are, but how flexible Wilson and Luck will be in the future when it comes to moving money around to open cap space.
The salary cap is designed to keep an even playing field, but not even the best quarterbacks in the game can keep their team consistently in the Super Bowl hunt by themselves. But once again it goes back to what got the teams in this position in the first place - drafting well. That is the only way to beat the cap, even if your quarterback is willing to take a team-friendly deal.
The coming contracts for Wilson and Luck will hit the reset button for their respective rosters, but if their teams are able to replace the cap casualties that are sure to follow with more cap-friendly rookies, both the Seahawks and Colts should remain competitive.
But with more money and potentially less talent around them, the pressure will surely mount on Newton, Luck and Wilson to deliver.