Top Heavy Spending in the NFL

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With contract restructuring and termination season just about a week away I wanted to look at the teams’ that have significant salary cap investments in a limited number of players. For each team I calculated the top three, four, and five salary cap hits on the team to compare and see just which teams are incredibly top heavy and which are not.

No team spends more on their top three players than the Detroit Lions who spend nearly $51.3 million on Ndamukong Suh, Matt Stafford, and Calvin Johnson. They are the only team that is over $50 million and it’s representative of what a poor job the Detroit Lions have done managing their salary cap, in particular the constant restructuring of Suh, a top level player but at a position that is not premier salary position. Suh’s $22.4 million cap figure is nearly $7 million higher than the next closest Defensive Tackle, Gerald McCoy of the Buccaneers. Suh has incredible contract leverage that is likely going to force the Lions into an extension that will dwarf that of Geno Atkins $10.665 million per year deal to bring this top three number down to a reasonable figure. It is doubtful that Suh or Johnson can ever do enough to live up to the contracts both will have.

Dallas’ top 3 of Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, and Brandon Carr come in just under $50 million. Romo’s contract is designed to be restructured and Ware should be forced to take a paycut. The Bears are nearly tied with the Cowboys due to the high cap figures of Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers. Peppers will be released and Cutler may be restructured for cap flexibility.  The Steelers and Buccaneers round out the top 5, both coming in at just over $44 million. The Steelers have limited ways to change their number without a number of restructures, but the Buccaneers could restructure the deal of Darrelle Revis and/or extend Gerald McCoy.

The average spend on the top 3 is $35.19 million. The teams with the least invested are the Raiders, Jaguars, Colts, 49ers, and Bengals. Most of those names are no surprise except the 49ers. The 49ers have one of the more unique rosters in the NFL in that they have a large number of mid cap players but no large cap players. That will change when Colin Kaepernick is extended, but that will still be just one of 53. The 49ers dedication to extending early and using their poor years to pre-pay charges for their star Patrick Willis has allowed them to build the deepest roster in the NFL.

When we move to the top 5 contracts the Steelers and Cowboys both leapfrog the Lions for the top two slots. The Steelers have $67.1 million tied up in just 5 players and they have players right outside the top 5 that also have pretty large cap charges. The team will need to make decisions on Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Heath Miller(who ranks 6th), all older veterans in the final year of their contract. This may also be the season Ben Roethlisberger gets an extension.  Dallas is at $66.6 million and we touched on them above. Their number five salary, Miles Austin, will be cut, but his replacement, Sean Lee makes close to the same salary. Lee’s contract will likely be restructured. The Lions, Bears, and Ravens make up the top five while the Buccaneers and Rams are both over $60 million.

What is interesting to note is that none of the seven top heavy spenders was a playoff team in 2013 and none had a winning record. The Saints are the only team in the top 10 to have made the playoffs last season or had a winning record. These are teams that need changes not large investments in the same group of players and they all need to keep that in mind when giving up more future flexibility to keep a mediocre team together.

Average spending on the top 5 players is about $50 million. That just lends more proof to the fact that the NFL is an extremely top heavy league when it comes to spending. This was predicted when the new CBA was signed and QB salaries began to skyrocket. $50 million represents 39.6% of the projected unadjusted salary cap.  With average dead money in a league year usually around $10 million that means the average team will spend 47% of the cap on 5 players and a number of individuals no longer employed by the organization.

3 of the bottom 5 allocations made the playoffs not just in 2013 but also in 2012. These are the Colts, 49ers and Bengals. The Colts are as much a byproduct of a bad division than anything else, but the other two teams have been put together quite carefully. The teams that are in the middle of the league were the most successful last season. From number 11 through 20 we have eight playoff teams and nine teams with a winning record. The Seahawks, Broncos, Packers, and Patriots have been successful for at least two years.

Perhaps not surprisingly since the balance of power has shifted to the NFC so has the spending. 7 of the top 10 in top 5 player cap spending come from the NFC. The four NFC divisions all spend in total more on their top players than any division in the AFC except the AFC North. The North leads the way with over $221 million among the four teams committed to their top 5 cap charges. The South is second at $215 million followed by the East at $211 and West at $208 million.  The AFC North tops $215 million in spending and the next closest division is the AFC East with just under $198 million. That number will plummet in the AFC East when the Jets begin cutting players from their team. The AFC South only allocated $154 million in cap to the top 5 for each team, which indicated both the youth of the division as well as the lack of talent in it.

2014 Top Player Cap Charges Per Team

TeamTop 3
Cap Charges
Top 4
Cap Charges
Top 5
Cap Charges
Steelers$44,427,404$56,243,654$67,131,154
Cowboys$49,993,750$58,405,750$66,654,750
Lions$51,290,500$58,832,145$65,332,145
Bears$49,983,333$57,883,333$65,183,333
Ravens$43,200,000$53,700,000$62,450,000
Buccaneers$44,059,253$53,416,253$62,416,253
Rams$42,910,000$52,910,000$62,160,000
Saints$42,492,451$51,592,451$59,892,451
Jets$39,778,666$50,528,666$57,755,766
Giants$40,950,000$49,175,000$56,599,000
Cardinals$40,250,000$49,000,000$56,275,000
Seahawks$34,340,000$44,006,668$53,256,668
Chiefs$35,084,406$45,584,406$53,084,406
Broncos$36,100,000$44,100,000$51,350,000
Packers$38,500,000$44,900,000$50,000,000
Patriots$36,900,000$44,187,500$49,587,500
Panthers$34,620,000$41,720,000$48,728,113
Browns$30,561,228$38,761,228$46,936,228
Chargers$34,129,166$40,379,166$46,529,166
Falcons$33,910,000$40,235,000$46,285,000
Eagles$32,742,000$39,642,000$46,242,000
Bills$33,793,232$40,043,232$45,993,232
Texans$28,344,583$36,844,583$45,344,583
Dolphins$31,960,000$38,360,000$44,570,000
Titans$26,900,000$34,900,000$42,700,000
Redskins$28,357,883$35,377,883$42,138,299
Vikings$29,600,000$35,350,000$40,741,981
Bengals$26,300,000$32,564,394$38,764,394
49ers$22,994,713$30,044,713$36,981,379
Jaguars$23,925,000$29,819,599$34,868,228
Colts$20,946,122$26,071,122$31,137,790
Raiders$16,609,500$20,590,338$24,361,588
Average$35,186,037$42,974,031$50,045,325

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NFL Salary Cap Space Update: July 19

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We keep track of the salary cap (or at least try to) on an everyday basis, so I thought it might be good to do a weekly recap of the effects of the weeks cap moves as we make a turn towards training camp time where the transaction sheet will likely begin to pick up pace.

Moves from the Week:

Cincinnati Bengals– The Bengals signed DE Carlos Dunlap to a 5 year contract extension worth just under $40 million dollars and also locked up their first round draft pick Tyler Eifert to a standard 4 year deal. Dunlap’s contract was heavily frontloaded and cost the Bengals $5,418,200 in cap room. Between he and Eifert the Bengals spent $6,439,231in cap space.  There should be no worries as the moves left them with nearly $15.55 million in cap room, 7th most in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers– The Packers extension of S Morgan Burnett reduced their 2013 cap space by $1,650,000, the amount of Burnett’s proration attributed to his $8.25 million dollar signing bonus. With $14.67 million in cap room the Packers have the 8th largest amount of unused cap in the NFL.

Denver Broncos– The Broncos lost $2.72 million in cap room with the signing of LT Ryan Clady to a heavily frontloaded contract and vesting future guarantees. Already counting $9.828 million against the cap the Broncos agreed to pay Clady a $10.5 million dollar roster bonus to keep his future charges low rather than looking to build carryover cap space this season. Denver has $7.39 million in cap room.

Jacksonville Jaguars– The Jaguars came to terms with rookie WR Ace Sanders on a four year contract. Jacksonville lost $45,362 in cap room following the signing. The Jaguars still have $22.9 million in cap space, 2nd most in the NFL.

Detroit Lions– The Lions gained $321,000 in cap room with the release of RB Jahvid Best and they will now carry $1.1 million in dead money on the 2014 salary cap. The Lions have $5.22 million in cap room.

Dallas Cowboys– The Cowboys gained  $225,000 in cap room when Josh Brent retired. Dallas can also go after his proration from the year, $11,889, though I can’t imagine they would do so.

New England Patriots– The Patriots released WR Donald Jones to save themselves from paying a $200,000 reporting bonus due at the start of training camp. Jones was set to count for $1.131 million against the cap in 2013. Releasing him created $576,250 in cap space pushing the Patriots to $9.79 million.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers– The Buccaneers traded troubled cornerback Eric Wright to the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional late round pick. The Bucs got off great with Wright as off the field problems saw his guarantees for 2013 void, which allowed them to push him into a paycut. With more legal troubles Wright was sent packing creating $945,000 worth of cap space in the process. Tampa has he 4th most cap space in the league at $19.22 million.

San Francisco 49’ers– The 49’ers were on the other end of the trade with the Bucs, taking on Eric Wright and his $1.5 million dollar salary. The addition of Wright reduced San Francisco’s cap room by $945,000. The 49’ers now have $4.49 million in cap room and limited space in 2014, fueling speculation that the team may cut CB Carlos Rogers, saving over $4 million in 2013 and $5.1 million in 2014, giving the team much more breathing room as they prepare for an extension with QB Colin Kaepernick after the season.

Three to Keep an Eye On

St. Louis Rams– With just $214,088 in cap room the Rams do not have enough cap space to function once the regular season begins. They will need to restructure contracts or make a few cuts to be able to function in the regular season.

Washington Redskins– At $1.4 million in cap space the Redskins have the 2nd least amount of space in the NFL. Once rosters expand to 53 and teams spend $1 million on a practice squad the Redskins will be forced to make moves to be cap compliant in September. They should have over $10 million in cap room in 2014 so they may look to push some money into next year if they do not want to make any cuts.

Houston Texans– Houston still needs to sign their first three draft picks, which will eat into their $2.8 million in cap room leaving them with around $1.6 million in room when the season begins. Add in two contracts and a Practice Squad and you get the idea- Houston can’t stand pat and do nothing over the next few weeks.

Click Here to View The Current Cap Space for All 32 Teams 

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Lions C Dominic Raiola Paycut Numbers

Per NFLPA records the Lions Dominic Raiola, whose renegotiated contract was reported weeks ago by various people, officially reduced his base salary from $4,050,000 to an even $1,000,000. His new cap charge should be $ 3,012,500 a savings of $3.05 million from his original cap figure. I have also seen reports of a potential $250,000 roster bonus however those reports also have a different base salary than I have listed so I do not believe that this bonus exists. If it does my guess is it would only be made available if he made the team out of training camp.

View the current 2013 salary cap page for the Lions

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Continuing the Purge Lions Release Kyle Vanden Bosch

The Lions continue their roster overhaul with the release of DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Vanden Bosch was signed to a 4 year, $25.75 million dollar contract in 2010 but never was able to give the consistent pass rush that the Lions had hoped for. Scheduled to count for $10.686 million against the salary cap in 2013, his release frees up $4.962 million in cap room for the Lions. Between the release of Titus Young, Stephen Peterman, and now Vanden Bosch the Lions have cut $11,039,666 in cash salary off their team and opened up $9,209,498 in additional cap space.

Will this be the end for the Lions?  They have, thus far, focused on releasing players with early season roster bonuses due near the start or free agency. Other players who fit that category would be TE Tony Scheffler and T Jeff Backus who would also bring savings of over $2 million in both cash and cap to the team.

Lions Continue Early Roster Purge- Release Stephen Peterman

Dave Birkett has reported via Twitter that the Lions will release starting Right Guard Stephen Peterman.

Peterman, in the final year of his contract, was slated to count for $3.278 million against the 2013 salary cap. The move frees up $3.25 million in cap room and will reduce their active roster cap commitments to about $123 million. I would expect the Lions to continue to be active in the coming days as they try to create cap room to have a workable free agency period.