February is decision time for NFL teams and their QBs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - One of the many ways to measure how important a good quarterback is for an NFL team is on display this month.

It is doesn't matter that the season is finished and no one will be competing for another six months. February is when teams set budgets and make decisions on how to spend their money for next season. The numbers for the quarterbacks make it clear how much each team is willing to spend on that position.

New England Patriots fans that feel Tom Brady is the best in the league can point to the salary cap numbers for 2013 as proof. This is the year Brady's income will match his status. By salary, Brady is ninth among quarterbacks for next year, at $9.7 million. However, the team reworked Brady's contract a year ago to make it more cap-friendly for 2012.

This is the year the reworked contract hits home. Brady's salary-cap number is $21.8 million, higher than any other player's in the league. But quarterback numbers across the league, as compiled by the spotrac.com website, are huge.

The New York Giants already have begun cutting players because of major cap issues. They have released running back Ahmad Bradshaw, defensive tackle Chris Canty and linebacker Michael Boley, moves that cleared almost $14 million of cap space. One reason the Giants had problems is because Eli Manning's cap number is $20.85 million.

The numbers for the signal-callers are high across the league. The Detroit Lions will be hit for $20.82 million for Matthew Stafford, the Denver Broncos $20 million for Peyton Manning and the Pittsburgh Steelers $19.5 million for Ben Roethlisberger.

How about the Oakland Raiders being hit for $15.5 million for Carson Palmer, which puts Palmer ninth among the QBs? Or the Arizona Cardinals being on the hook for $13.3 million for Kevin Kolb?

The New York Jets are not even in the top 10, which sounds as if it would be good news. But it's not. With one of the worst quarterback situations in the league, the Jets will pay their quarterbacks more than $15 million next season. Some $12.8 million is the hit for Mark Sanchez and another $2.5 million for Tim Tebow.

The Patriots still have some room with the $121.5 million cap for 2013, even with the big hit for Brady. But in addition to the heavy load for Brady, whose contract has two more years to run, the Pats are on the hook for $10.6 million for Vince Wilfork and another $10 million for Logan Mankins.

The good news is that those two, like Brady, are among the best at their positions in the league. The bad news is that those three alone will account for just over one-third of all the money the Pats have to spend next season.

Even with that, there is still $16 million to $18 million left to spend if the team so wishes. If the Pats decide they need more money by doing what some other teams are right now, cutting ties with their own players, there are not a lot of options.

One might be Stephen Gostkowski. The kicker has had a solid career. His career field-goal percentage, 84 percent, is slightly better than Adam Vinatieri's. But he missed 6 of his 35 field-goal attempts last season. His kickoffs were strong. Under normal circumstances, he would seem to be all set. But his cap number for this season is $3.4 million, the seventh highest on the team. It could be an issue if the team decides it needs to free up more cap space. Brandon Lloyd had a solid season with 72 receptions. But his cap number is $4.5 million, including a $3 million roster bonus due in March.

The Pats must weigh the value of their players against those on the market, along with what it would cost to obtain free agents. Players such as Dwight Freeney and Charles Woodson, two perennial All-Pros that have been much praised by Bill Belichick, hit the market over the weekend.

Ed Reed looks as if he will be available, too, one of a number of players the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens could lose because of salary-cap problems.

It makes for an important time, even without anyone taking the field.

(Contact Paul Kenyon at pkenyon@providencejournal.com.)

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