One of the more ridiculous arguments to come out of the most recent NFL/NFLPA CBA is the idea that a team with a young quarterback has some sort of magical window during which time the team is uniquely poised to win the Super Bowl. Armchair GMs harrumph about cap hits and percentages, and they speculate about how locking a player up at a particular percentage of the cap performs contract alchemy, turning a lead roster into a set of gold jackets.
Interestingly, the quarterbacks to appear in the Super Bowl since the CBA do little to support this argument. Tom Brady has been there four times, and his salary has ranged from as high as 15% of the league cap in 2011-2012 all the way down to 8.6% in 2014-2015 (for all of these numbers, I’m using Over The Cap’s Average Per Year, except when otherwise noted). In fact, across the four seasons he made it to the Super Bowl since the CBA went into effect, he has averaged just over 12% of the salary cap and has a pair of seasons above the quasi-mystical “13%” range and a pair of seasons below it. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning has a pair of appearances (11.9% and 15.6%), while Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Eli Manning all appeared in Super Bowls while earning over 13% of their respective teams’ salary caps.
For the persnickety armchair cap guru, even if I shift over to effective per year average (EPY), those last three all come in north of 12%. In fact, the entire “argument” that a team has a window for success seems to come down to over-valuing the anecdote of Russell Wilson. Is Wilson a find? Yes. Was he a steal at less than 1% of the cap in both of his Super Bowl appearances? Absolutely. However, focusing on his cap savings is a strange emphasis.
Finding him in the third round also let the team spend draft capital in other places (not just dollars), and he was on a roster full of draft steals. His team was driven by a defense that played on the exact edge of aggressiveness allowed by the interpretation of the rules in effect at that time, and those interpretations have shifted. In short, there are a number of reason the Seahawks did well, and the roster savings on the QB were really just one of them. There are an equal number of explanations for why their success flagged.
I want to put it bluntly—of the nine quarterbacks to make it to the Super Bowl since the new CBA was put into effect, five of them (the majority) did so while earning big contracts gobbling up at least 12% of their teams’ respective caps. Only three of them (Wilson, Kaepernick, and Flacco) were on their first contracts, anyway; Flacco’s wasn’t even a price-controlled contract under the CBA, it was just an old deal. Since the new CBA went into effect, there is a greater frequency of appearing in the Super Bowl while being married to a Brazilian super model (4!) than there is to being on a price-controlled first contract first contract (2!).
To make another specious argument, since the new CBA, as many brothers of Cooper Manning have been to the Super Bowl as there have been rookies playing out their first deals.
Now, does getting a good player on a bargain contract help? Of course.
However, there is no window that closes with Mitchell Trubisky finishes his fifth season. In fact, I sincerely hope he lands some ridiculous deal. If he does, it will be because the team has been doing well enough that there is no need to start over. If MT10 (and whatever nickname he has by then, be it “Biscuit” or “Pretty Boy Assassin” or just plain-old “Mitch”) gets paid big dollars, that will not keep the Bears out of contention.
Bears fans need Trubisky to get paid in a few years. That’s a good result. Sure, we can hope he gives a hometown discount or whatever, but good players on smart contracts is what matters. If Trubisky signs a deal someday that makes him the most-recent quarterback to get a massive contract, that suggests that the window is open, not that it is closing.
The only countdown clock that has started on Trubisky’s path to success is the long wait until the start of the season.