The official start of NFL free agency is mere days away, meaning it's time for fans and the media to lend a hand to the league in its ongoing mission to suppress player wages. There's the annual freakout about middling players being "overpaid," and not-quite-accurate sermonizing about how championship teams are build through the draft, and not free agency.
This is dim for a number of reasons. First off, because as the salary cap rises each year, player salaries, especially on the open market, hike accordingly. So of course a free agent quarterback in 2017 is going to make more than even a quarterback of equal ability would have in 2016. There are other factors at play, but this is basic stuff that still somehow is repeatedly ignored.
The NFL says it uses the salary cap to ensure parity throughout the league, and it does do that to some degree, but it's also a tool of wage suppression. Most fans probably wouldn't care about how much a quarterback or a receiver was getting paid if it didn't factor into how much cap space that contract is eating up. The cap not only means there's a force keeping contracts from getting too high, it also creates an atmosphere where fans punish players for supposedly harming their team by taking "too much."
Not everyone cashes in during free agency, of course. Poor players, if they're signed at all, receive a relative pittance. Truly great stars seldom hit the open market in their prime, because their own teams lock them down with hefty contracts. The real sweet spot for NFL free-agent bucks is being just slightly above average at your position.
And so we arrive at the curious case of sought-after quarterback Mike Glennon, who is reportedly likely to receive in the neighborhood of $15 million per year in free agency.
Glennon is hardly an impressive figure for fans of quarterback-hungry teams. He's never come into a season as a team's Week 1 starter, though he did end up starting 13 games for the 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a much publicized falling out between Josh Freeman and Greg Schiano. Glennon played pretty well as a rookie for what was mostly an abysmal team. The same was largely true in 2014, when the Bucs had a new coach and a new starting quarterback. Glennon started onlyfive games, but he put up better numbers than No. 1 QB Josh McCown that year.
In the two seasons since, Glennon was firmly ensconced on the bench in Tampa, behind new franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. He's thrown 11 passes in that span. Yet Glennon is now receiving considerable interest in an off-season quarterback market loaded with high-profile veterans.
The Bears, in particular, appear to be interested. Chicago is coming out of the Jay Cutler era, with a star quarterback who never quite met expectations. So now they're sniffing around a career backup who is a dreaded 5-13 in the all-important QB WINZ department? It doesn't help that Glennon is lanky and, frankly, kind of goofy-looking. He doesn't fit the profile of a franchise passer.
Here's the thing, though: Glennon is actually pretty good.
Three weeks ago, Pro Football Focus rated Glennon the second-best free-agent quarterback going into the off-season, below only Kirk Cousins, who has since been retained by Washington with an exclusive franchise tag. That's well above Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has gotten more than his share of lucrative deals throughout his career. That list didn't consider Tony Romo, Colin Kaepernick, Tyrod Taylor, or Jay Cutler, who were—or, in some cases, still are—under contract with their teams. Glennon is younger than all but Taylor, and has that delirious quality called upside. Perhaps Glennon is never going to be Aaron Rodgers, but he could end up being a quality middle-of-the-road starter.
And $15 million per year is actually less than what mid-tier starting quarterbacks in the NFL make. A starting quarterback making $15 million in 2016 would have earned less than 23 other quarterbacks in the NFL. Starting quarterbacks don't come cheap, and the Buccaneers were already reportedly prepared to make Glennon the highest-paid backup in the NFL, with an annual salary besting the $7 million per year that the Eagles pay Chase Daniel.
Moreover, because Glennon has less of a public profile, he could be a useful signing for a team that plans to draft a rookie passer in the first round this year. The 2017 quarterback draft class is said to be full of projects that may require a few years to develop into regular starters. What is the harm in signing Glennon to be the default starter for a team not expected to compete in 2017 while a rookie learns the ropes underneath him on the depth chart? That seems plenty reasonable, and yet fans can't get past the dollar signs.