Quarterbacks have benefited the most from the increased salaries that are the result of the league’s soaring revenues. For a while, Esiason led the N.F.L. with the highest annual salary of $1.2 million. This off-season, Dak Prescott signed a contract extension with the Dallas Cowboys worth $160 million over four years, with $126 million guaranteed, after a season-ending ankle injury. In Buffalo, Josh Allen inked a six-year, $258 million extension.
“You probably feel maybe less pressure to do whatever you’re told to do, and you get more courage to speak up for what you believe in and what you believe is best for the football team,” said Sage Rosenfels, a former N.F.L. journeyman quarterback.
But even with the most leverage among their N.F.L. peers, quarterbacks operate within a constrained system. They rarely arrive at free agency because of the franchise and transition tags that are standard practice, and young quarterbacks are often eager to reach lucrative contract extensions, with guaranteed payouts, rather than press for the freedom to test the open market if they’re unhappy with their teams.
Those gargantuan contracts further wed a quarterback to his franchise: Teams risk taking a huge salary cap hit letting go of a disgruntled passer, and front offices often can’t add free agents if the quarterback won’t agree to restructure his deal in later years.
“We’re getting to a point where the investment in that position is getting closer and closer and, in some respects, exceeds the dollar investments made into athletes from other sports,” Yee said, adding that teams want to see a return on their investment.
Steinberg previously represented quarterbacks like Steve Young and Troy Aikman and said those quarterbacks worked in a symbiotic fashion with their teams’ management.
“What’s become enhanced is that that position is so critical that teams will search in the draft or through free agency forever and still not be able to solve their problem,” Steinberg said. “So a team that has an incumbent quarterback, over time he almost morphs into another member of the coaching staff. A player that’s been there for years and years, teams want that input. They don’t have to take all his advice, but to not listen to him, they do at their peril.”