Sunday, March 28, 2004

Should Tommy get a raise?
Here's what ESPN's Len Pasquarelli wrote Friday:
"...Look for Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox or his agent to start making noise again about the player's contract. Maddox was disappointed that Pittsburgh didn't upgrade his deal in 2003, but bit his tongue. That silence won't last much longer."
Here's what Maddox is scheduled to make over the remainder of his contract: $750,000 in 2004 and 2005 and $900,000 in 2006. Looking at list of quarterback salaries in 2002 (the last year I could find data), Maddox ranked 51st out of 103 -- and given that there are only 32 teams in the league, that means 19 backups made more than he did. In 2003 his QB rating ranked 18th out of 30 and his TD/INT differential ranked 17th best (plus 1).

I don't think anyone would argue that Tommy Maddox is overpaid and most people think he deserves a raise -- especially when he replaced a QB in 2002 that was making over $6 million. The question is whether the Steelers promised to rework his contract after they evaluated his 2003 season. And don't forget, Maddox signed with the Steelers in 2001, fresh off his MVP performance in the XFL with absolutely no prospects in the NFL. If he were still a backup, I'm sure his salary would be a nonissue, but given that he's now the starter -- and his backup makes more than he does (at least in base salary) -- he's sure to have a beef with the front office. But does he have a right to complain?

When thinking about what determines a QB's salary, the following are at or near the top of the list: TDs, INTs, QB rating and perhaps most importantly, winning percentage.

I took a look at data from the 2003 seasons to see if there was a relationship between salaray and performance at the QB position. Specifically, was salary a predictor of TD passes, interceptions, QB ratings or winning percentage. The thinking was that the more a QB is paid, the better his numbers should be. Of course there are other things to consider, like did the player improve over time, did the player switch teams (Plummer, for example), did the team overhaul personnel (i.e. rebuild) or did a big part of the offense miss a substantial part of the season (what would happen to the Vikings if Randy Moss went down, for example)?

In general, however, one would think that there should be a relationship between performance and pay, right? Well, when looking at the 2003 season, there was absolutely no correlation between salary and performance for the 32 starting QBs in the NFL. And when I say performance I mean TDs, QB rating, completion percentage, winning percentage and TD/INT differential. Now it could be the case that QBs have improved from one year to the next, and past performance certainly plays a part in salary. Knowing that, I decided to look at the 2002 statistics and compare any improvement/decline to the 2003 season. Again, no relationship between salary and performance.

Initially, I went through this exercise to come up with a model that would give an estimate of what Tommy should be paid based on his performance (and based on how his peers were paid for their performance). But given that there was no discernable relationship between salary and pay, it raises a new (and maybe more interesting) question, are QBs being paid what they are worth? I don't think anyone would argue that Peyton Manning is the most valuble member of the Colts, but why does Drew Bledsoe make over $5 million a year in Buffalo? And even though Mark Brunell enjoyed some success in the late 1990's, why has Joe Gibbs, in the minds of most NFL people, overpaid for his services -- especially when he has a young star-in-the-making, Patrick Ramsey making relatively little in comparison?

So getting back to the question of whether or not Tommy Maddox deserves a raise, I think the answer is probably 'yes.' If for no other reason than he's one of the lowest paid starting QBs in the league -- and he's been an above-average QB for the Steelers. I'm not saying the Steelers should break the bank, but maybe they should give him a contract with more performance incentives (which I think is better than upfront money anyway).

Of course, all this talk of more money assumes that the Pittsburgh front office promised to rework his contract at the end of last season. Now if that conversation never took place, the question becomes what would Maddox be doing now if the Steelers never gave him a chance? Or what if Kordell Stewart didn't go in the tank and was still starting in Pittsburgh?

I think the important thing to ask yourself if your Cowher and Company is, "How can we expect a player to go to battle every week (and after battling for the last two seasons) knowing that we don't think enough of his talent to pay him the median QB salary?" Of course if the Steelers don't think enough of Maddox to pay him more, that may be an indication they're willing to go with him one more season (or even go with Charlie Batch in 2004) and draft a QB early this April. Either way, this will be fun to watch.