Any NFL GM can just go out and buy himself a championship by splashing big dollars around for a high-end QB like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. The true test of a GM’s skill in a salary-capped league is whether he can find top-level QB performance on a budget, leaving enough space to provide his passer with a strong supporting cast.
Seeing a bargain-basement, injury-replacement starter give a spark to the Commanders’ offense inspired me to ask: which NFL teams are getting the most bang for the buck from their quarterbacks? To quantify value for QB salary expenditure, I developed the QB Value Rating (QBVR). The QBVR is simply ESPN’s weekly Total QBR divided by a QB’s cap hit in millions of dollars, using salary figures from OverTheCap.
QBVR Leaders – Week 8
This is how the NFL’s starting quarterbacks ranked by QBVR based on their play in Week 8:
I am pleased to announce that, for the first time in years, Washington has a top 10 quarterback! Top 9 even. While Taylor Heinicke’s raw QBR of 55.3 ranked a respectable 15th amongst starting QBs in Week 8, adjusting by his modest $3.625M cap makes him the 9th best value at the position.
If you want to get really technical, it wasn’t actually the Commanders’ GM triumvirate of Marty, Marty and Ron who chose Heinicke to be the Week 8 starter. It was an injury to their hand-picked starting QB, Carson Wentz, that vaulted the backup into the spotlight. Be that as it may, he’s the starter now and the Commanders are getting great value for what they are paying him.
As good value as Heinicke may be, he was really no match in that regard for his Week 8 opponent, first-time starter, Sam Ehlinger, whose 66.9 QBR on a cap-friendly salary of $858,000 yielded a whopping QBVR of 78.0.
While Dak Prescott turned in the best performance in Week 8, as measured by raw QBR, that’s really just what you should expect when you spend $19M and change on a premium-priced starting QB. There’s no real skill in that. Heinicke’s QBVR of 15.3 represents a 321% better value than the Cowboys’ pricey thoroughbred.
Commanders fans might be interested in how our Week 8 starter compared to the “one that got away” last offseason. Aside from Deshaun Watson, who won’t see the field for a few more weeks, the premium veteran QB on the 2022 offseason market was Russell Wilson. Russell hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations of his $124,000,000 total guarantees to this point in his career with Denver. His Week 8 QBR of 36.7 ranked three spots behind Heinicke at 18th in the league. But his paltry 2.2 QBVR ranks 25th in the league. Heinicke was a 706% better value per cap dollar than Wilson in Week 8.
The Commanders’ front office dodged a bullet on that one. You can quibble about whether that was brilliant decision making, or Wilson’s agent refusing to take their phone calls if you like. The point is, by whatever process they followed, they avoided making one of the biggest blunders of the 2022 offseason. It sucks to be Denver.
The previous weekly QBVR leaders were:
Week 1: Davis Mills, Houston, QBVR 36.7
Week 2: Cooper Rush, Dallas, QBVR 100.9
Week 3: Cooper Rush, Dallas, QBVR 80.7
Week 4: Cooper Rush, Dallas, QBVR 93.4
Week 5: Skylar Thompson, Miami, QBVR 52.8
Week 6: Bailey Zappe, New England, QBVR 68.5
Week 7: P.J. Walker, Carolina, QBVR 81.0
QBVR Leaders - 2022 Season
The weekly QBVR leader boards are subject to a fair amount of jitter, since rookies and bargain priced journeymen can jump to the lead for one week based on a single good performance in an otherwise mediocre or poor season. That effect accounts for Davis Mills’, Skylar Thompson’s and P.J. Walker’s single weeks atop the leaders board. On the other hand, Dallas appears to really have something in backup Cooper Rush, who led the league in QB value for three weeks in a row.
To get a better idea of which teams are really getting the most value for their QB cap hits, it might be more informative to see how the QBs measure up through the whole season to date. The following table shows the QBVR season rankings of every QB who has started at least one game in 2022.
The real winners of the 2022 QB value sweepstakes are Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta, who have all managed to get top quality QB performances for bargain prices. Philadelphia will have to pay up fairly soon when their top tier QB reaches the ends of his rookie contract next season.
Everyone laughed at Pete Carroll when he decided to roll with Geno Smith and Drew Lock, after letting Russell Wilson go to Denver. It seems that old Pete is a better judge of QB value than pretty much everyone else, as former journeyman Geno Smith is now the fourth ranked QB in the league, and the Seahawks have gone from worst to first in the NFC West. Denver, on the other hand, has some hard questions to answer.
Atlanta also deserves recognition for upgrading at QB, while saving millions on QB cap hit. Like Seattle, they have found unexpectedly good value in resurgent journeyman Marcus Mariota, while shipping the rapidly declining former MVP Matt Ryan to Indianapolis for a third-round draft pick. At least Indy is no longer starting Carson Wentz. More about him in a minute.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Heinicke’s first start against Green Bay wasn’t as good as his Week 8 performance in Indy. That brings his 2022 season QBR down and his QBRV with it. Even so, he ranks as the 15th best value QB on the season to date.
The QBs ranked above him are a combination of:
- Players on low value contracts who made a single start (Ehlinger, Thompson, Rypien)
- A top tier QB on a rookie contracts (Jalen Hurts)
- Veterans on budget contracts who have played unexpectedly well this season (Cooper Rush, Geno Smith, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Jacoby Brissett)
- Below average to average QBs with low cap hits (Davis Mills, PJ Walker, Mitch Trubisky)
- Rookies who have played OK for rookies (Pickett, Zappe)
Heinicke fits in near the top end of group 4. In two starts this season his play has been a bit below average (Green Bay) to just above average (Indianapolis) and he has a very affordable cap hit.
Now, in case anyone has read this far and not got it yet, don’t take QBVR too seriously. While it does show that Taylor Heinicke has been good value for what the Commanders are paying him, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would actually believe that he is a better value than Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert. It is not that precise.
That is because the value equation it represents is not linear. QBs with a QBR below somewhere between 35 and 40 are doing more harm than good to their teams and aren’t good value no matter what you are paying them. Conversely, QBs with a QBR above around 60 make such a difference that they are worth shouldering a substantial cap hit. Consequently, the 31.9 point difference between Tagovailoa’s and Heinicke’s QBRs means a lot more to a team than the $4.63M difference in their salaries. Any team would gladly pay that amount to upgrade their QB from Taylor to the 2022 version of Tua.
That is not to say that QBVR is completely meaningless. Where it is useful is in comparing players with similar cap hits or similar QBRs. And that brings us to our final comparison: Taylor Heinicke vs the guy second from the bottom of the season QBVR rankings.
Stoking the QB Controversy
To wrap this up, let’s see how the two QBs who have started for the Commanders compared in terms of QBVR throughout the first eight weeks of the 2022 season.
Through the first six weeks, with Wentz starting, the Commander’s got exceptionally poor value relative to their QB’s $28.29M cap hit. At Week 7 Heinicke took over, providing close to the same level of performance at 13% of the cap hit, resulting in a sharp uptick in weekly QBVR.
The next graph plots the Commanders’ league ranking by QBVR, week by week, through the first eight weeks of the 2022 season:
With Wentz starting, the Commanders’ rank fluctuated between bottom six and worst overall in terms of value for QB cap hit. At Week seven, Heinicke took over and shot up to 12th in the league. The following week he moved up further to 9th place.
There you have it folks. The Commanders may not have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, no matter which one they start. However, since Heinicke replaced Wentz as the starter, they are getting great value from their QB. Of course, any QB can have a good game or two, as P.J. Walker demonstrated last week. But Heinicke has been fairly consistent in his time in DC. His 46.8 QBR through two games in 2022 is pretty close to his 2021 season mark of 45.8. That represents great value for a $3.625M backup. You just wouldn’t want to be paying him $28M and change to be your starter, let alone someone worse.
I suppose the moral of this story is don’t pay a premium price and give up draft picks for a starting QB, unless he’s significantly better than your backup. Genius! Perhaps Jeff Bezos can swing it so that Pete Carroll picks Washington’s next starting QB.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to James Dorsett for editing, even though he hasn’t seen this version. And thank you Dan and Tanya for exploring options to make egregious personnel blunders are a thing of the past.
Which QB is really the best value?
This poll is closed
Cooper Rush - $845,000, QBR 60.8, how much do you think Dallas wants for him?
Bailey Zappe - $867,000, QBR 34.0, he’s going to get better
Jalen Hurts - $1,643,000, QBR 60.7, on rookie contract through 2023
Geno Smith - $3,500,000, QBR 66.6, the next late-career hidden gem?
Kenny Pickett - $2,558,000, QBR 38.6, rookie with franchise QB potential
Taylor Heinicke - $3,625,000, QBR 46.8, you can’t quantify grit and moxie
Tua Tagovailoa - $8,257,000, QBR 78.7, seriously
Josh Allen - $16,372,000, QBR 76.7, the pain doesn’t start until next year
Lamar Jackson - $23,016,000, QBR 63.7, uncertainty doesn’t bother me
Patrick Mahomes - $35,793,000, QBR 76.7, elite talent is worth paying for, $47M next year
Carson Wentz - $28,295,000, QBR 33.2, I don’t admit mistakes