Andy Dalton has started all 48 games for Cincinnati since his rookie season in 2011, including leading the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons – no small feat for a franchise with just two playoff appearances between 1991 and 2010.
His stats have improved each year, as well:
That’s why the 26-year-old quarterback is due for a raise from his$1.7 million cap hit, with team owner Mike Brown citing Colin Kaepernick’s deal with the 49ers (six years, $126 million with $61 million guaranteed) as the ballpark Dalton’s deal should be in.
“We tend to think our deal should be something in that range, not way beyond it,” Brown said.
Going by conventional statistics, Dalton’s regular season production has been way beyond Kaepernick’s to date.
However, Kaepernick has contributed more to winning, according to Brian Burke’s Win Probability Added metric, which measures each play in terms of how much it increased or decreased a team’s chances of winning the game.
WPA starts with a Win Probability (WP) model of the game of football. Every situation in a game gives each opponent a particular chance of winning, and a WP model estimates those chances. The model created here at Advanced NFL Stats uses score, time, down, distance, and field position to estimate how likely each team will go on to win the game. For example, at the start of the 2nd quarter, a team down by 7 points with a 2nd down and 5 from their own 25 will win about 36% of the time–in other words a 0.36 WP.
On that 2nd down and 5, let’s say there is a 30-yard pass, setting up a 1st down and 10 on the opponent’s 45. Now that team has gone from a 0.36 to a 0.39 WP. The WPA for that play would be +0.03.
If instead the quarterback throws an interception returned back to the line of scrimmage, the opponent now has the ball at the 25, giving the trailing team a 0.28 WP. The WPA for the interception would be -0.08.
Despite playing in 16 fewer games, Kaepernick has accumulated 6.45 WPA and Dalton just 0.96.
Based on some recent analysis on the historical relationship between QB performance and salary, and after adjusting for the rise of the salary cap, we can estimate Dalton’s market value using WPA. Specifically, teams spend $1 million for every 0.18 in WPA a quarterback generates. If we go with the assumption that the Dalton we saw in 2013 (1.68 WPA) is a decent barometer of his future performance, that would mean he is worth $9.3 million per year based on that level of performance. He would not only need to more than double his value to be in the neighborhood of Kaepernick’s 3.6 WPA, which is worth $19.9 million, but sustain it for the life of the contract. Since 2010, there has been just one QB who has maintained a WPA of 3.5 or more in each season: Aaron Rodgers. If we widen that net and see which QBs have averaged 3.5 WPA or more over that four-year period we can add Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Peyton Manning managed the feat in the three seasons he played over those four years and Andrew Luck has gone 2 for 2 since being drafted in the league.
We can look at it another way. Over the past three seasons, being in the top five for WPA has carried an average cap hit of $27.2 million, while a ranking of six to ten has been valued at $16.6 million. Dalton ranked 15th in WPA after the 2013 season — and that includes his playoff performance — placing his value between $7 and $11 million.
Dalton deserves to be paid as one of the better QBs in the league, just not as one of the best.