Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich’s Monday announcement that the team was benching starting quarterback Matt Ryan in favor of Sam Ehlinger for the rest of the season was stunning.
When the Colts traded for the veteran in the offseason, I’m not so sure anyone expected a change like this to come before November. But then Ryan threw nine interceptions and coughed up 11 fumbles (both league highs) through seven games, leading Indy to a 3-3-1 record, and here we are.
Ehlinger will start Sunday against the Washington Commanders, with Nick Foles in as the backup. (Ryan is dealing with a shoulder injury.) It will be the first start of the 2021 sixth-round pick’s career, although he did appear in three contests as a rookie.
Today, with Ryan’s quick fall in Indy in mind, I’m evaluating the best and worst values at the quarterback position based on a player’s average annual salary and 2022 production.
Don’t worry, I will get back to my regular top-15 offensive player rankings next week. Until then, though, here are the five best and five worst QB values of 2022 through seven weeks of the 2022 NFL season:
NOTE: All contract information is from Over the Cap.
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Average annual salary: $43 million
Allen gets a healthy paycheck. But can you really put a price on this guy? He’s the sure-fire frontrunner in the MVP race as we hit the midpoint of the 2022 season, accounting for nearly 85 percent of the Bills’ total offensive yards with his output via the pass and the run. This usage mirrors what we saw Carolina do with Cam Newton during his 2015 MVP campaign, and it’s paying off in big ways for the 5-1 Bills, who are looking like a Super Bowl favorite, with the NFL’s top-ranked overall offense and defense. Allen is the sixth-highest-paid QB annually, thanks to the extension he signed last year, but he’ll be worth a lot more if he delivers Buffalo its first Lombardi.
Average annual salary: $1.5 million
The third-year quarterback is smack dab in the middle of the MVP conversation, leading the league’s only undefeated team entering Week 8. His numbers aren’t off the charts; he’s completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 1,514 yards and six TDs (against just two INTs) while rushing 77 times for 293 yards and six TDs. But he’s protecting the ball and making some big plays. Hurts is the same playmaker with his legs he’s always been. The biggest improvement I’ve seen in his game is in his pocket movement and processing abilities. He’s reading the defense and regularly getting the ball to the right guy in the progression, something he hadn’t done consistently in his first two pro seasons.
The Eagles are taking advantage of the 2020 second-round pick being on his rookie deal; Hurts’ cap figure for this season ($1.6 million) is below the cap figures for recently acquired contributors like A.J. Brown, Haason Reddick, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and James Bradberry. Hurts’ development in the offseason apparently had Philly thinking Super Bowl long before Week 1 (SEE: the Brown trade).
Average annual salary: $2.4 million
The 4-3 Ravens have yet to live up to their high expectations for this season. But all three of their losses came by four points or less. And without Jackson, they would likely be closer to a one-win team, with the defense underperforming thus far and Jackson accounting for 79 percent of Baltimore’s offensive yards (1,397 passing, 510 rushing). The 2019 NFL MVP, who’s playing out the fifth year of his rookie deal, sits fifth in the league in rushing yards and is often the most electric player on the field regardless of Baltimore’s opponent. He’s deserving of a monster contract with a lot of guaranteed money, and it’s something he’s determined to get.
Average annual salary: $3.5 million
Many questioned the Seahawks for heading into Week 1 with Geno Smith, the one-time Jets starter who’d become a well-traveled backup and had recently signed the latest in a series of consecutive one-year deals with Seattle, as their quarterback. Seven weeks into the season, the Seahawks sit at the top of the NFC West, and the QB they traded away sits in the cellar of the AFC West. Boy, it’s good to be Pete Carroll right now.
Smith went 11-18 with the Jets in 2013 and ’14. He waited years for his next chance to become a starting quarterback, and he’s taking full advantage of his opportunity. His 73.5 completion percentage leads the league, and he’s thrown for 1,712 yards and 11 TDs against just three picks, logging a 107.7 passer rating. With a 100-plus passer rating in four games this season, Smith, 32, has been the perfect leader for an under-the-radar team catching opponents by surprise. Sure, he’s had a host of playmakers to work with (DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Kenneth Walker III) but Smith is doing more than his part on a bargain deal.
Average annual salary: $7.6 million
Tagovailoa appears to be the key to new coach Mike McDaniel’s offense, with the Dolphins compiling a 4-0 record this season when Tagovailoa plays a full game. McDaniel’s system is heavily progression-based. It’s a perfect fit for Tagovailoa, who has great feet and balance; he’s so natural going through his progressions — the exact opposite of Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco. The Dolphins have a little more pep in their step when Tua is on the field, and the chemistry he’s built with Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill and Mike Gesicki has this team as an early-season darling.
It’s wild how quickly the narrative around Tua has changed since he was drafted fifth overall in 2020. In his first two seasons, he traded starts with a 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jacoby Brissett, respectively. Now, in Year 3 of his rookie deal, it’s clear this group can’t win without him; when he’s under center, Miami is one of the most exciting teams in the NFL. And it’s 100 percent about the system McDaniel put him in when he took over.
Average annual salary: $15.4 million
Average annual salary: $7.6 million
The Panthers are in a QB mess, and that largely falls on Matt Rhule, who was fired as head coach after Week 5. Rhule and Co. scooped up Darnold in April of 2021 after Darnold (the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft) fell out of favor with the Jets, and they made a similar move to grab Mayfield — who was drafted two spots ahead of Darnold by Cleveland — from the Browns this summer. Rhule presumably saw these two quarterbacks as the type that could run a college-style offense. Unfortunately, Darnold is a great athlete but seems to be slow when processing at the NFL level, while Mayfield, though better at processing, was given zero time to build any sort of continuity in this offense, thanks to the timing of his arrival (traded on July 6).
An ankle injury sidelined Mayfield ahead of Week 6; before that, he completed 54.9 percent of his passes for 962 yards with four TDs and four INTs in five starts. Darnold, who started the season on injured reserve after suffering a high ankle sprain in August, was designated to return last week, but he has not yet been activated. Based on annual average, the Panthers have around $23 million invested in Mayfield and Darnold (along with the picks it cost to acquire them). Meanwhile, P.J. Walker, who’s making a whopping $895,000 in 2022, looks likely to keep the starting job in Week 8 after leading the Panthers to a stunning divisional upset over Tom Brady and the Bucs on Sunday. Carolina will be back to the drawing board at QB this offseason.
Average annual salary: $30 million
Ryan has looked every bit of his 37 years in seven games this season. Frank Reich’s acknowledgment Monday that the Colts would have replaced him with Sam Ehlinger regardless of Ryan’s Grade 2 shoulder separation speaks volumes. For too long, Indy has tried to solve the problem of replacing Andrew Luck by throwing money at quarterbacks. Case in point: Whatever happens with Ryan going forward, his contract runs through next season, carrying a dead-money hit of $18 million in 2023. I think this is the end of the road for that approach — or at least, it should be.
“Our poor production on offense is not on one person — it’s not on Matt Ryan — but we also know, as Matt and I talked it through, as head coach and quarterback. As head coach, ultimately it doesn’t matter, I’m judged on wins and losses,” Reich said Monday. “Quarterback’s judged on points and production and turnovers. We understand that’s how it is in this league.”
Even at his age, Ryan still should be able to move efficiently enough in the pocket, make good decisions and protect the football. I haven’t seen enough of any of those things this season. He’s completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 2,008 yards with nine touchdowns and nine picks, but it’s the turnovers that have really prevented the Colts from closing out games and even being competitive in some cases. In Sunday’s loss alone, Ryan threw a pair of picks, including a game-altering pick-six that led to the Titans sweeping the Colts for the second straight season.
Average annual salary: $50.3 million
Thanks to a contract extension he signed in March, the 38-year-old Rodgers is currently the highest-paid player in the NFL, in terms of annual pay. It’s safe to say the uncharted territory he’s entered this season is not the kind one would hope to associate with that kind of compensation. With the Packers at 3-4, Rodgers is under .500 through seven games for the first time in his career. I realize Green Bay traded away Davante Adams, the best wideout in the league, in my opinion, but I still expected more from the back-to-back MVP. Rodgers’ 2022 passing marks are all the lowest in his 15 seasons as Green Bay’s starter: 228.1 pass yards per game, 6.5 pass yards per attempt, 1.6 pass TDs per game and a 94.9 passer rating.
Rodgers has not thrown for 300-plus yards or three-plus TDs in any game this season. And if it’s possible, the quarterback seems to have even less chemistry with his young wideouts now than he had Week 1, which was a big concern that I wrote about back in Week 2. This 23rd-ranked scoring attack has been anemic for several weeks now — even after Rodgers publicly asked for things to be “simpler” in Matt LaFleur’s offense — as it’s gone away for drives and even quarters at a time. The frustration is building week after week, and though there’s a long way to the finish line, this Packers’ offense is just as concerning as it was seven weeks ago. Again, that’s not something I would expect from a unit led by someone with Rodgers’ pay and pedigree.
Average annual salary: $32 million
The Commanders pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the weekend, but it was Taylor Heinicke who led them to glory, not their marquee offseason addition at QB. Wentz was placed on IR on Saturday after having surgery on his right ring finger and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. That’s not why Wentz is on this list, though. Rather, it’s because of Wentz’s underwhelming performance before the injury: 62.1 percent completion rate, 1,489 yards, 10 TDs and six INTs while taking a league-high 23 sacks through six weeks.
Wentz had the best season of his career in 2017 (Philadelphia’s Super Bowl-winning season), and he has yet to play even close to it since, despite multiple teams hoping he’ll return to that MVP-caliber form. Heinicke, whose average pay checks in at some $29 million less than Wentz’s, already has half the wins Wentz did after making just one start this season. This QB situation is one to keep an eye on when Wentz returns from IR.
Average annual salary: $49 million
Filling in for Wilson, Brett Rypien completed 52 percent of his passes for 225 yards, zero TDs, one INT and a 56.9 passer rating in Denver’s 16-9 loss to the Jets. That’s not great. What’s even worse is the fact that Rypien’s performance is comparable to what we’ve seen from Mr. $49 Million. For the record, Rypien is making $965,000 this year. Wilson inspired plenty of hype when the Broncos traded for him this offseason, but the first six games of Wilson’s career in Denver were abysmal. He posted a 5:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while the offense ranked last in the NFL with an average of 15.2 points per game in that span. Now Wilson is dealing with a partially torn hamstring.
I’m starting to question Wilson’s ability to adjust to new systems. For the first nine years of his career, he worked with two offensive coordinators (Darrell Bevell from 2012 to ’17 and Brian Schottenheimer from 2018 to 2020). Remember when Wilson couldn’t quite make it work a year ago during Shane Waldron’s first season as offensive coordinator in Seattle? Waldron seems to be doing just fine with Geno Smith this year. Wilson, on the other hand, hasn’t seemed to settle in with new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett, even after being “joined at the hip” with Hackett in the offseason, and despite a talented group of weapons. I think we’re finally seeing the 33-year-old Wilson’s shortcomings through a magnifying glass now that he’s lost some of his playmaking ability with his legs.
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