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Defense might win championships, but the modern NFL is all about offense. These days, everything starts with a quarterback; whether you have someone with a rocket arm like Patrick Mahomes or unprecedented running ability like Lamar Jackson, those guys are driving the bus. Based on that importance, big-name quarterbacks always receive top-dollar.

NFL quarterbacks, like Russell Wilson, command massive salaries.
As of now, Russell Wilson is the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback. | Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

While there’s still plenty of time left in the 2019 NFL season, it’s never too early to start looking ahead. Which quarterbacks will be the highest-paid men under center when the first games of 2020 kick-off?

The recent history of quarterback contracts

In the modern NFL, a team is only as good as its quarterback. Since running backs break down so quickly and receivers are dependant on someone throwing them the ball, a solid quarterback is a franchise’s best shot at stability.

That reality has led to a bit of inflation in the quarterback market; when teams think they have the right guy, they’ll do what it takes to lock him down. Jared Goff, for example, signed a massive contract extension during the offseason; he still was tied down for two more years, but the Rams felt like he was their cornerstone. Similarly, Carson Wentz received a hefty raise from the Philadelphia Eagles despite his injury issues.

The NFL’s rising salary cap also influences quarterback contracts. With each passing year, each player’s average salary also rises. That forces teams to try to get ahead of the market, but also introduces an added element of risk. If all performances are equal, it will be cheaper to sign a quarterback right now than it will be next year; at the same time, though, a team could rush into a bad deal and be stuck holding a massive bag of guaranteed money.

2020’s highest-paid quarterbacks

Based on average annual salary, next year’s most expensive quarterbacks will be Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson. Wentz’s yearly average comes out to $32 million; Rodgers and Goff both clock in at $33.5 million, while Big Ben and Wilson land at $34 million and $35 million, respectively.

Within those five deals, you can see the risk and reward of the quarterback contract market. As discussed above, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff’s deals are looking like overreactions and risky gambles; the other three deals, however, show what can happen if you get things right.

This season, Rodgers and Wilson have played MVP quality football; while Roethlisberger has missed most of the year, Mason Rudolph’s struggles have shown the importance of having an elite quarterback. If you know you have a stud under center, it’s always better to pay him now and avoid kicking the can down the road.

How much will Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott get paid?

While the above contracts are already signed, there are a few elephants in the room. Tom Brady will technically hit free agency during the offseason; Dak Prescott will need a new deal, and the Kansas City Chiefs might want to tie Patrick Mahomes down as early as possible.

If we set Brady aside and assume he’ll stay in New England on a short contract, Prescott and Mahomes both have a shot of breaking into the highest salary bracket. The former quarterback is keeping the Dallas Cowboys offense afloat this season; Jerry Jones has said he’ll get a deal done, and it’s looking like he’ll have to shell out at least $35 million.

While Mahomes remains under contract through next season, both the quarterback and the Chiefs will be eager to get a deal done ASAP. The club will want to lock down their franchise quarterback as early as possible; after almost suffering a serious injury this season, Mahomes will want to ensure that he gets paid what he deserved. There’s been chatter over a 5-year, $200 million deal, which doesn’t seem far removed from reality.

Regardless of those deals, however, one thing is abundantly clear. If you’re an NFL quarterback, you’re going to get paid.