The Leonardo da Vinci painting “Salvator Mundi” sold at auction last November to an anonymous bidder for a record $450 million.
Nobody I know said: “I can’t believe the guy paid that much for a da Vinci. It’s not worth anywhere near $450 mil.”
Yet, I hear from people every day: “I can’t believe the Broncos would give Kirk Cousins $30 million a year. He’s not worth it.”
Even though it’s not their money.
Value of a painting or a quarterback is in the eyes of the buyer.
John Elway understands.
At three different junctures during his 16-season career with the Broncos, Elway became the highest-paid player in the NFL.
And I’m certain, because I heard it then, that people said in 1983, Elway’s rookie year: “I can’t believe the Broncos are giving Elway $1 million per year.”
In 1987 Pat Bowlen signed Elway to a six-year, $12.7 million contract, again putting the quarterback No. 1 among NFL players. “John has earned the right to be the top-paid player,” the franchise owner said.
Others said: “He’s not worth it. Elway hasn’t won a Super Bowl.”
Elway received a four-year deal for $20 million in 1993 and surpassed Dan Marino (five years, $22 mil).
“Not worth it,” the unwashed masses said. “He’s still not won a Super Bowl.” (Although he had gotten the Broncos three.)
Ironically, for the 1997-98 seasons, Elway took a significant pay slice (to just over $2.1 million per) in the short run (with payments stretched out) so the Broncos could sign free agents (defensive ends Alfred Williams and Neil Smith). Years later the Broncos were fined almost a million dollars, and lost a third-round draft choice, because of the deferred payment to Elway and Terrell Davis.
Nobody said back then: “Oh, John is worth more than $10 million a year.”
And the majority of Broncos’ backers were giddy when Elway signed Peyton Manning in 2012 to a five-year, $96 million contract (although only the first two years were guaranteed).
Both Elway and Manning were bargains at the price and obviously worth the money the Broncos spent because of seven Super Bowls (three victories).
Here were the seven highest multi-year contracts for NFL quarterbacks (in millions) until a couple of weeks ago:
- Matthew Stafford, Lions ($135)
- Derek Carr, Raiders ($125)
- Andrew Luck, Colts: ($122.97)
- Aaron Rodgers, Packers ($110)
- Cam Newton, Panthers ($103.8)
- Matt Ryan, Falcons: ($103.75)
- Andy Dalton, Bengals: ($96)
Then, Alex Smith was involved in a trade (which can’t be officially final until next month) from Kansas City to Washington and agreed to a $94 million contract.
The price of poke since has gone up. Jimmy Garoppolo, who could have become a free agent, re-signed with the 49ers for $137.5 million.
You could ask San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan if the team overpaid Garoppolo, who has started only seven games in his NFL career. In fact, you could have. Shanahan was in Denver over the weekend celebrating the anniversary of his father Mike’s restaurant. He’s beyond ecstatic.
And Kirk Cousins soon will become the highest-paid QB in the history of the game. But what has he accomplished? He shares a common bond with eight of the top nine. They haven’t won a Super Bowl. Newton and Ryan each have played in one, and you know the outcome. Aaron Rogers won one.
Cousins will get $150-$175 million from some team, and at least eight (Broncos, Jets, Browns, Cardinals, Jaguars, Vikings, Dolphins and Giants) are considering making an offer.
Value is in the eyes of the beholder.
Cousins is in the right place at the right time with the right arm.
The Jets are reportedly ready to give Cousins everything he wants – and guaranteed. The Vikings have the most-ready Super Bowl team.
However, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the premier pro football writer in the country, wrote Monday that he thinks Cousins will end up in Denver.
“He’s not worth the money, and the Broncos don’t have the money’’ is the response. Well, it would be Broncos’ money (not yours or mine), and they can come up with it.
Assuming the 2018 salary cap is $178 million, the Broncos have approximately $26 million (below average in the league).
If the Broncos trade or release Aqib Talib, Derek Wolfe, C.J. Anderson, Menelik Watson and Trevor Siemian, they will add almost $29 million (after dead cap losses) and have a total of $55 million to spend on Cousins and three or four other major unrestricted free agents on the offensive line, at wide receiver and on defense.
If the Broncos give Cousins a guaranteed signing bonus of $50 million (spread over five years), his annual salary cap hit wouldn’t be any more extravagant than their other expensive quarterbacks during an eight-year contract.
And “Salvato Mundi” probably will be sold for $1 billion in 2026.