When you think about the most underpaid players in the NFL, your mind probably automatically gravitates toward players making at or near the league minimum. And yes, a player like Dez Bryant, who is signed to a five-year, $11.8 million deal, is severely underpaid.
But in my opinion, the most underpaid player in the NFL makes $18.7 million per season and received $54 million guaranteed with his last contract extension. That player is quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
It sounds ridiculous to say that someone making nearly $20 million every 365 days should be hauling in more, but I believe Rodgers—and players like him—should be making a lot more. A franchise quarterback is so incredibly vital to your team’s success that it’s highly unlikely—not impossible, as we saw last year, but highly unlikely—to win a Super Bowl without an elite player at the position.
We’ve seen Rodgers’ value demonstrated this year by his absence. With the most efficient passer in NFL history—yes, that’s what Rodgers has been—the Packers were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Without him, they’re mediocre at best.
As it stands right now, Rodgers is unlikely to play on Sunday. He did participate in some individual drills on Wednesday, but those around the team think he’s less than a coin flip to play. To give you an idea of how the Cowboys’ win probability will shift if Rodgers is able to suit up to keep backup Matt Flynn on the bench, I want to compare the two passers, along with Tony Romo, from a statistical standpoint.
There are various ways to measure yards-per-attempt. The blandest form of pure YPA can be a little misleading because it doesn’t account for aggressiveness. Tony Romo began his career extremely aggressively, and his YPA was at its highest. The problem was he was throwing a ton of picks, so it didn’t do all that much good. Recently, Romo has actually played too conservatively—minimizing interceptions at the cost of running an inefficient offense.
Net-YPA factors sacks into the mix. While sacks are frequently assigned to the offensive line, they’re actually more strongly correlated with the quarterback. There’s a reason Peyton Manning has “the best offensive line” wherever he goes; he makes them look like that.
Finally, Adjusted Net-YPA (ANYPA) is probably the most predictive stat we have in football right now. If you’re trying to predict the outcome of a game and you can look at only one stat, it should be ANYPA. That’s because it factors touchdowns and interceptions into the mix, weighting them according to their importance.
Looking at the numbers for each quarterback, you can see Romo is actually last in career YPA. Part of that is because Flynn just hasn’t played all that much, but you can see that Flynn’s numbers drop considerably once you account for sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions. That suggests that if Flynn were to play a less aggressive style of quarterback, his efficiency (in terms of YPA) would plummet.
Note that Romo has been one of the league’s premiere quarterbacks in terms of all three stats. The fact that Rodgers ranks so far ahead of him in two of them is amazing.
To better track the quarterbacks’ ability to lead their offenses without making mistakes, I charted their career touchdown and interception rates.
Not surprisingly, Rodgers has the highest touchdown rate and lowest interception rate. Romo ranks in the middle in both categories. Rodgers’ stats have been so impressive over the years because of the fact that he doesn’t throw interceptions. Again, it’s easy for a quarterback to post a high YPA when he’s being reckless with the ball. Not so easy when you’re throwing picks as infrequently as anyone in the NFL.
Finally, take a look at the completion rate for each quarterback.
Although scheme plays a big role in these numbers, there’s little doubt that Rodgers is an incredibly accurate passer. At this point, that’s probably Flynn’s biggest weakness—and the reason I think the Cowboys will take down the Packers if he’s their starting quarterback on Sunday.