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Paying quarterbacks big can make winning in the NFL hard

Finding a winning quarterback is a challenge, but winning with a quarterback after giving him big money is a tough task as well.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Finding a good quarterback isn't easy in the NFL and keeping a good quarterback is expensive. Many teams are faced with no choice but to open up the pocketbooks in a big way to keep an above-average quarterback from escaping in free agency, but paying so much can make building a winning team difficult.

In the last 20 seasons, only four teams won the Super Bowl with a quarterback eating up more than 10 percent of the team's salary cap. Steve Young owns the record for biggest percentage of a team's cap space for a Super Bowl winner when he received 13.1 of the pay for the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.

Yet, when the 2015 season begins there are 13 teams scheduled to pay their starter more than 10 percent of the $143.28 million salary cap set in March. That number could go up soon, too, if Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks receives the big payday that he's hoping for.

When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013, the team was aided by the fact that it was able to build a championship-level team while its rookie quarterback received just 0.56 percent of the team's salary cap.

With training camp and quarterback competitions it's tough to know, for sure, who the starting quarterback will be for some teams. With that, it's still unclear how big of a percentage of the cap will be dedicated to the starter for those teams. However, here's a look at the percentage of cap space dedicated to the highest-paid quarterback on each team:

Quarterback Team 2015 cap hit % of cap
Drew Brees Saints $26,400,000 18.43
Eli Manning Giants $19,750,000 13.78
Matt Ryan Falcons $19,500,000 13.61
Aaron Rodgers Packers $18,250,000 12.74
Matthew Stafford Lions $17,721,250 12.37
Peyton Manning Broncos $17,500,000 12.21
Philip Rivers Chargers $17,416,668 12.16
Ben Roethlisberger Steelers $17,245,000 12.04
Jay Cutler Bears $16,500,000 11.52
Alex Smith Chiefs $15,600,000 10.89
Colin Kaepernick 49ers $15,265,753 10.65
Tony Romo Cowboys $14,973,000 10.45
Joe Flacco Ravens $14,550,000 10.15
Tom Brady Patriots $14,000,000 9.77
Cam Newton Panthers $13,000,000 9.07
Sam Bradford Eagles $12,985,000 9.06
Andy Dalton Bengals $9,600,000 6.70
Carson Palmer Cardinals $7,375,000 5.15
Andrew Luck Colts $7,034,363 4.91
Robert Griffin III Washington $6,719,713 4.69
Brian Hoyer Texans $5,218,750 3.64
Ryan Tannehill Dolphins $4,873,364 3.40
Matt Cassel Bills $4,750,000 3.32
Blake Bortles Jaguars $4,694,275 3.28
Jameis Winston Buccaneers $4,609,323 3.22
Josh McCown Browns $3,916,666 2.73
Shaun Hill Vikings $3,250,000 2.27
Ryan Fitzpatrick Jets $3,250,000 2.27
Charlie Whitehurst Titans $2,500,000 1.74
Christian Ponder Raiders $2,250,000 1.57
Russell Wilson Seahawks $1,696,868 1.18
Nick Foles Rams $1,542,000 1.08

Players like Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr are likely to start Week 1 of the 2015 season, but they have backups with bigger contracts.

Nobody is eating up space like Drew Brees, though. Nearly a fifth of the salary cap for the Saints will be dedicated to the team's nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback, which is a bad formula, historically. However, there isn't much alternative for New Orleans, which has to cling to Brees if the team hopes to have any chance at a good year in 2015.

The rising salary cap has afforded teams more luxury to dedicate bigger contracts to quarterbacks without crippling the rest of the team. That means teams like the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins won't be hampered too badly by huge deals given to Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill, respectively, which will both balloon to register cap hits of more than $20 million in 2017.

Still, history has shown that teams not anchored by a big contract at quarterback are better positioned to win the Super Bowl. Yet it's the Green Bay Packers, with Aaron Rodgers accounting for 12.74 percent of the team's salary cap, who enter the 2015 season with the best odds to take home the Lombardi Trophy.

Rodgers seems worth it, though. There's plenty of justification for paying the NFL's reigning MVP in a big way. But when the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals are backed into a corner and forced to pay middle-of-the-road players like Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton, who has a base salary set to increase over the next five years, things haven't worked out as well.

Kaepernick has a 25-14 record as a starter, but his passer rating has steadily declined since taking over as a starter in 2012, and couldn't lead San Francisco to the postseason in 2014. Dalton has made the playoffs in each of his four seasons as starter, but has yet to secure a win and has a 57.8 passer rating in the four postseason defeats.

Paying quarterbacks in a big way certainly isn't a death sentence for teams like the Packers, but the difficulty to find a passer who can win games is handcuffing some teams into contracts that make a Super Bowl winning formula hard to find.