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How much will Taylor Heinicke be worth as an unrestricted free agent?

Not as much as most people seem to think

New York Giants v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of quarterback talk round these parts lately.

With Taylor Heinicke in the final year of his contract with the Commanders, a lot of that talk involves discussion of bringing him back on an appropriately priced contract.

One great disservice has been done by Spotrac, who use a fairly basic algorithm to estimate free agency values for selected upcoming free agents. Their computer algorithm projects Taylor Heinicke to be worth over $19m per year in the coming offseason.

Let me assure you that this is utter nonsense.

Here is where the number comes from:

Spotrac’s algorithm finds the 4 players who most closely match the statistical profile of the upcoming free agent, and then does simple averaging to arrive at a value. As you can see, the matches that Spotrac came up with are not guys like Heinicke who are career backups who got a significant number of starts due to injuries to starters (i.e., someone like Nick Foles). Instead, these are 4 players who were starters that struggled to some extent in their careers. Heinicke was undrafted. Bridgewater and Tannehill were both first-round picks, while Dalton and Garoppolo were both 2nd round picks.

But beyond the issues with comparisons, the use of a 4-year contract with an AAV of $29.5m with three 1-year contracts of between $3--7m each leads to a heavily skewed result, where Ryan Tannehill’s contract accounts for 4/7ths of the calculation.

I think the fact that this completely unrealistic number made its way into the consciousness of NFL fans over the past week or two has resulted in inflated estimates of Heinicke’s worth as an NFL quarterback.

First of all, I think a lot of people (not all) would agree that Taylor Heinicke is a solid backup, but not really a guy that any of 32 teams would choose to rely on as the starter entering the season. He should, therefore, be priced with backups, not starters.

Secondly, having spent basically his entire 8-year career with Scott Turner, Taylor Heinicke probably has more value to the Commanders than to any other team, where he would be just another 30-year-old veteran journeyman trying to learn a new system.

To get a better idea of what Heinicke’s value might be on the open market, let’s look at what other 30-ish veteran backup quarterbacks are being paid.

The guys who probably most closely resemble Heinicke in terms of background and skills are guys like Nick Foles, Colt McCoy, Case Keenum, and maybe Tyrod Taylor. Those guys are all earning between $3.1m and $5.5m per year on their current contracts.

The 5 guys on this list who are earning more than that were all first or second round draft picks who got their first NFL starting opportunities due to organizational decisions, not due to injury.

Looking at this list, I’d suggest that, in 2022 dollars, Heinicke’s core value is between $3m and $5m AAV, with upside to around $8m AAV if his 2022 performance convinced a GM somewhere that he is a viable starting option in the short to medium term.

Given that the salary cap will rise sharply in 2023 and is expected to continue rising in the years beyond that, I think we can inflate these numbers slightly, and put Taylor’s value as a free agent in the range of $4.5m - $10m per year, with the most likely contract value being in the range of $4.5 to $7.5m per year over 2 to 3 years.

Here’s the list of veteran quarterbacks that are earning more than Jameis Winston:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Russell WIlson
  • Deshaun Watson
  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Josh Allen
  • Derek Carr
  • Matt Stafford
  • Dak Prescott
  • Kirk Cousins
  • Jared Goff
  • Carson Wentz
  • Matt Ryan
  • Ryan Tannehill
  • Tom Brady

Personally, I can’t imagine a GM in the league that would put Taylor Heinicke into that company.

Taylor Heinicke likely offers more value to the Commanders than any other team in the NFL, and based on contracts for similar players, his realistic market potential is probably around $5m per year, with upside to about $10m (probably based on incentives for playing time, wins, playoff games, etc). I just don’t see him getting a contract that is more lucrative than that, and while I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get less, I would be shocked to see him get more.


What should the Commanders do about Taylor Heinicke in the 2023 offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Let him leave in free agency and hope for a late-round comp pick
    (147 votes)
  • 51%
    Offer him no more than $6m per year to return
    (778 votes)
  • 26%
    Offer him between $6m and $10m to return
    (408 votes)
  • 12%
    Offer him more than $10m to return
    (192 votes)
1525 votes total Vote Now