Could Brock Purdy’s rock bottom contract deliver the 49ers the Super Bowl? | San Francisco 49ers
After leading the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game as a rookie last season and following that up by taking them all the way to this Sunday’s Super Bowl, quarterback Brock Purdy has made a mockery of the “Mr Irrelevant” label he was slapped with as the 262nd – and last – overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
This past regular season the 24-year-old ranked fifth in total passing yards (4,280) – one spot higher than his upcoming Super Bowl opponent Patrick Mahomes (4,183) – third in passing touchdowns (31 – again beating out Mahomes, who had 27) and first in passer rating (113.0).
Purdy’s standard of play ranks him among the NFL’s best in his position. He has proven to be anything but irrelevant. Yet his annual salary is still commensurate with his lowly initial draft selection. And that is a tremendous advantage for the 49ers.
Since Purdy assumed the starting quarterback role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense from Jimmy Garoppolo midway through last season, the Niners have a record, inclusive of postseason play, of 21 wins and just five defeats. They ended the 2023 regular season as the No 1 seed in the NFC, with a 12-5 record.
His total compensation for the season – salary plus bonuses – was $870,000, which tied for the lowest among all quarterbacks to have started Week 1.
Only two others – the Atlanta Falcons’ Desmond Ridder ($949,000) and Sam Howell of the Washington Commanders ($870,000) – also earned less than $1m for the year (we’re legally obliged to note here that $870,000 a year is very good money in nearly every other walk of life). Ridder fought with back-up Taylor Heinicke for the starting role in Atlanta through the second half of the season and is unlikely to be the Falcons’ No 1 quarterback in 2024. And Howell is almost certain to be usurped in Washington, with the Commanders owning the second overall pick in this year’s draft and said to be considering a new quarterback.
Purdy, meanwhile, ran the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson close in the race to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Mahomes, who earned $59.4m (the vast majority of which came in signing and roster bonuses) for the 2023 regular season, had already outearned Purdy for the year by the time he left the field after the Chiefs’ 21-20 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 1.
Each victory Purdy guided the 49ers to this regular season came at a cost to the team of just $72,500. Each of his 31 touchdown passes was priced at $28,065. And each passing yard he threw set the team back only $203.28. By contrast, Mahomes’ cost per regular season win was $5.94m (he missed their final game). His touchdown passes were $2.2m each. His passing cost the Chiefs $14,200 per yard.
Even Dak Prescott, who led the NFL in passing touchdowns, cost the Dallas Cowboys $861,111 every time he found the end zone. Tua Tagovailoa topped the league for passing yards, but at a per-yard expense to the Miami Dolphins of $1,016. Jackson, with 13, was the only quarterback to start in more regular-season victories than Purdy in 2023. But, when the Baltimore star’s annual salary and sizeable signing bonus are factored in, his league-high $80m earnings mean each win cost the Ravens $6.15m.
In a vacuum, these numbers may not mean much – the Chiefs are happy to pay Mahomes vast sums because his ridiculous talent has led them to the Super Bowl in four of the last five seasons. But Purdy and Mahomes play in a league with a hard salary cap, meaning the money the 49ers don’t pay their quarterback can be spent on talent elsewhere.
The 49ers boast a roster of all-league calibre players in every department. In the skill positions, they have superstar pass-catchers in receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, plus MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey at running back. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is an eight-time Pro Bowler and Trent Williams is the best offensive tackle in the NFL. The defensive unit includes two-time Pro Bowl selection Javon Hargrave at defensive tackle and elite-level linebackers in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, while defensive end Nick Bosa is one of the most feared edge rushers in the game.
McCaffrey and Juszczyk are the highest-paid players at their respective positions, while Warner, Kittle and Williams all rank in the top five in theirs, with Samuel seventh among wide receivers and Hargrave sixth among defensive linemen.
Having Purdy produce to such a high level on such a low salary enables San Francisco to adopt an approach to squad building that ought not to be possible under the confines of the salary cap. What’s more, with two years left to run on the quarterback’s current deal, it is sustainable, ensuring their window as Super Bowl contenders will remain wide open in the medium term, regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
Even with incremental yearly salary increases, the $1.1m Purdy is set to earn in the fourth and final season of his deal is still roughly just 5% of the NFL’s average for a starting quarterback.
In selecting Purdy with the last pick in the 2022 draft, the 49ers not only stumbled into a future franchise quarterback but also probably the best-value contract in all of sports.