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Does Eli Manning Deserve to be the Highest-Paid Player in the NFL?

Do Eli Manning's stats merit making the New York Giants quarterback the highest-paid player in the NFL, a status he reportedly said he will seek?

by Eric Chemi, CNBC and Mark Fahey, CNBC /
Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants warms up prior to playing the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on September 8, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Getty Images

This week it was reported that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning wants to be the highest-paid player in the league.

Really? Do his stats deserve that type of income? We crunched the numbers to see where he shakes out compared to other top players.

Using ESPN's "Total QBR" measurement as a way of ranking quarterbacks with a single number, Manning has barely been able to crack the top 10 in any of the last five seasons. He's consistently ranked around 10th place, but never comes close to the top five.

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 Eli Manning of the New York Giants warms up before the start of a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 12, 2014, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rich Schultz / Getty Images

Specifically, comparing Manning's performance since 2010 with other highly paid quarterbacks shows that Manning is not really worth that type of dough.

While many football fans have strong opinions on ESPN's proprietary Total QBR statistics, it seems to be one of the best single statistics for generalizing about quarterback performance. The team that wins on QBR wins the game 86 percent of the time, which is better than turnovers or the NFL passer rating in terms of predicting wins, according to ESPN.

Big Crunch analysis found average Total QBR over the last five seasons also correlates moderately (a correlation coefficient of 0.63) with average annual pay among the top 30 highest-paid quarterbacks. Looking at the relationship between the QBR and the amount those quarterbacks are paid makes Manning's money grab seem all the more outlandish.

Eli Manning is currently the 17th best-paid quarterback at a little more than $16 million in the average year. That makes sense, because he's the 16th-best quarterback based on his average QBR performance in the last five seasons. If we stuck to the linear relationship above, Manning would have to have an average QBR of about 90 to justify his pay relative to the rest of the field — very far from his average of 56.

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So what exactly is Manning thinking? Why does he think he should be paid so much?

Because he can.

Entering the final year of his six-year contract, Manning's cap hit will be $19.75 million. If he doesn't sign a new deal, and the Giants use the franchise tag to keep him, he would get $23.7 million next year. That's the key number, because it would put him above Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who makes $22 million per year.

Mike Florio at NBC Sports, owned by NBC Universal along with CNBC, has a great analysis on this, breaking down the different options for both the Giants and Manning, in terms of what's possible. Manning has the leverage to ask for at least that $23.7 million number, which would then only go up the following year, giving him a two-year total of at least $50 million, based on the franchise tag alone. If they go through it in a different way, Manning could make $25 million next year and almost $55 million for the next two years.

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With numbers like that, it's no wonder Manning is trying to get as much as he can, if he's going to lock himself up for the long run.

Contract leverage is very different from actually earning your pay due to what you've done on the field. Manning has done a good job with one of these factors, the one that seems to matter more.

On Wednesday, some reality started to set in. Manning told reporters he never actually said that he wanted to be the highest-paid player. Manning's own father called him upset about the original report, not wanting his sons to look greedy and selfish. Let's see where his new contract actually shakes out.

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