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Monday, May 27, 2024

Record QB Haul Comes With High Hopes, Big Money, and No Guarantees

  • Six teams selected quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL draft, tying the 1983 class.
  • Most of the incoming rookies have already cashed in via name, image, and likeness deals.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The first round of the NFL draft is officially in the books, and a record-tying six teams have new quarterbacks to build their respective futures around. That’s the most since the talent-rich 1983 class (more on that below), but this year it took just 12 picks for those QBs to come off the board, as opposed to 27 four decades ago.

After the Bears, Commanders, and Patriots went mostly chalk with Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Drake Maye in the first three picks, the Falcons kicked off the second QB wave with the biggest shocker of Thursday night by taking Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8, despite having just signed free agent Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract (with $100 million fully guaranteed). The Vikings and Broncos wasted little time locking up their new franchise leaders in J.J. McCarthy and Bo Nix with the 10th and 12th picks, respectively.

Collectively, those six teams are committing roughly $175 million in guaranteed salaries to the rookie passers. What’s different in this new era of college sports, however, is that most of the top draft prospects have already made millions through name, image, and likeness deals and other endorsement opportunities. At the end of the 2023 college football season, On3 estimated the NIL values of the six QBs were between $1.2 million and $2.7 million.

Here’s a closer look at the league’s newest field generals, their new NFL contracts, and some of their endorsement deals.

No. 1, Bears: Caleb Williams

  • Contract: $38.54 million (all figures via Spotrac estimations over four years). After transferring from Oklahoma, the USC star earned $10 million through NIL deals while in college, according to The Athletic. Major brand partners have included Dr Pepper, Nissan, Wendy’s, Postmates, and Topps—all of which have benefited from the more than 500,000 social media followers Williams boasts.

No. 2, Commanders: Jayden Daniels

  • Contract: $36.85 million. The 2023 Heisman Trophy winner soared up NFL draft boards while leading LSU to a 10–3 record in the regular season. Along the way, and since leaving school, he’s racked up deals with Raising Cane’s, Bisquick, Neiman Marcus, Beats by Dre, and Powerade.

No. 3, Patriots: Drake Maye

  • Contract: $35.77 million. After the UNC standout’s successful 2022 season, a rival ACC coach claimed two schools offered Maye $5 million in NIL money to transfer. Tar Heels coach Mack Brown seemingly confirmed the rumor: “It’s uncomfortable for him,” Brown said. Still, Maye has put together an endorsement portfolio involving the likes of Raising Cane’s, Lowe’s, and Bose.

No. 8, Falcons: Michael Penix Jr.

  • Contract: $22.88 million. Washington’s former quarterback was able to ink a deal with school uniform partner Adidas, as well as pacts with Seattle-based Amazon, Panini, Beats by Dre, Sharpie, and Starry soda while leading the Huskies to last season’s national title game.

No. 10, Vikings: J.J. McCarthy

  • Contract: $21.85 million. Despite often playing second fiddle to Michigan’s strong defense and run game during last season’s national championship run, McCarthy was able to collect 465,000 Instagram followers and lock in endorsements with the Brady Brand, Bose, Beats by Dre, and Topps—and he even recently promoted the new Bob Marley movie on social media.

No. 12, Broncos: Bo Nix

  • Contract: $18.61 million. Already 24 years old, the former Oregon Duck and Auburn Tiger is the oldest quarterback of the first-round draftees. Nix became the first college athlete to sign a sponsorship deal with Google Shopping, and he also struck deals with 7-Eleven, Topps, Bose, Bojangles, Old Spice, and USAA.

Buyer Beware 

In 2020, four franchises selected quarterbacks in the first round, and they are all heading into next season with those same players starting under center. However, only two of the six QBs taken in the first rounds of the ’21 and ’22 drafts are still with their original teams.

So, even though a multitude of quarterbacks being selected on Day 1 of a draft is often the most exciting scenario for TV, that gamble carries a huge financial risk for NFL clubs. Four teams will be writing checks for quarterbacks that they recently drafted but are now wearing different uniforms this season: The Jets have an $8.45 million dead-cap hit tied to Zach Wilson, the 49ers $5.45 million for Trey Lance (after $8.3 million last season), the Bears $2.77 million for Justin Fields, and the Steelers $3.7 million for Kenny Pickett.

But this year’s QB-takers are surely hoping for the same success found in 2020. Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert have already signed contract extensions collectively totaling more than $500 million, while Tua Tagovailoa and Jordan Love are hoping to secure long-term contracts after having earned more than $80 million combined.

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