Jason gave an excellent breakdown of NFL rosters last night as we prepare for the beginning of the 2017 NFL season. In turn, as a complement I thought I’d give a quick overview of OTC’s texture page, and provide a quick list of 32 observations, one for each team. You are encouraged to make your own observations by directly viewing the texture page.
As always, texture breaks down NFL contracts into five categories, determined by 2017 cap number. As a brief review, those categories are as follows:
- Elite: veteran contracts whose cap hits are in the top 32 leaguewide (top 1 per team; $15.075 million or higher for 2017).
- High: veteran contracts whose cap hits are in the top 33-160 leaguewide, (top 2-5 per team; $7.5-$15 million for 2017).
- Middle: veteran contracts whose cap hits are in the top 161-320 leaguewide, (top 6-10 per team; $4.06-$7.5 million for 2017).
- Low: veteran contracts whose cap hits are below the top 320 leaguewide, ($4 million or less for 2017).
- Rookie: all contracts signed by players as rookies or by players with three or fewer accrued seasons.
Dead money and cap space are also visualized. Keep these categories in mind as you read through the observations for each team.
The Bills are extremely top heavy and veteran heavy. They lead the league in the number of Elite and High contracts (top 160 leaguewide) with 8, taking up half of their 2017 cap. Conversely, they are tied for second to last in the number of players they have under rookie contracts with only 29. That’s not a good look for a team that on the surface appears to be in recent turnover with a new GM trading away incumbent players on rookie contracts like Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby.
The Dolphins have 23% of their salary cap tied up in just two players: Ryan Tannehill (on IR) and Ndamukong Suh. Their third highest cap expenditure is on another quarterback in Jay Cutler, and at $10 million, in today’s NFL that’s seen as almost a bargain given the Dolphins’ situation.
New England Patriots
As a percentage of the salary cap, the Patriots have the lowest dedication in the league to salaries under rookie contracts, at 48.4%. On the other hand, the Patriots also have no players with Elite cap numbers–not even Tom Brady. Instead, New England will try to defend its title with a wide array of veterans with Low cap numbers. The Patriots lead the league in this category as a measure of cap spending, dedicating 29.2% of their 2017 to them.
New York Jets
The consensus is that the Jets are playing for the future. If that’s the case, at least in the present they are going heavy on players under rookie contracts: 3rd in number and 4th as a percentage of the cap. On the other hand, they have a top 5 percentage of dead money in the league at 11%, thanks to long gone Jets Darrelle Revis, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Eric Decker–among many others.
In 2017 the Ravens will be paying for many players that are no longer on the team. The likes of Eugene Monroe, Dennis Pitts, Elvis Dumevil, and Jeremy Zuttah are sinking the Ravens with $19 million in dead money, 3rd highest in the NFL.
On the other hand, the Bengals are once again the league leader in lowest dead money, with only $1.3 million. As a result, they are able to get their money’s worth out of their best players while they’re still on the roster. The Bengals rank 2nd in number of Elite/High/Middle veteran contracts (top 320 contracts leaguewide) with 14.
Has there ever been a team that leads the league in dead money…and is 2nd in the league in cap space? That’s where the 2017 Browns find themselves, with 46.3% of their 2017 cap not being used on the 2017 roster. Clearly, the Browns are banking on their recent drafts to finally bring the team to glory, as they are tied for the league lead with number of players under rookie contracts with 45.
The Steelers are spending half of their cap on just 7 players. With that figure obviously a top five rank in the league, the Steelers make room for it by having only one player (Marcus Gilbert) with a Middle ranged veteran cap number at $7.3 million.
As a percentage of the cap, the Texans are spending the most in 2017 on rookie contracts, at 26.7%. That percentage would have been even higher had DeAndre Hopkins not agreed to an extension. Hopkins gives the Texans their only Elite contract on the 2017 cap–yes, even JJ Watt no longer has a top 32 cap number in the league, despite coming in at $14 million for 2017.
Much like the Steelers, the Colts are going big on Elite and High valued veteran contracts, holding a top five leaguewide figure as a measure of raw cap dollars at over $80 million on just 7 players. And much like the Steelers, the Colts offset it by holding only one Low veteran cap number: recent acquisition John Simon at $6.34 million.
Despite their repeated adventures in free agency, the Jaguars actually have the most money tied up in rookie contracts. This is due to having four top five draft picks on the roster (Blake Bortles, Dante Fowler, Jalen Ramsey, and Leonard Fournette). At $23.2 million, those four players take up almost half of all Jaguars players under rookie contracts against their 2017 cap.
The Titans hold no contracts with Elite cap numbers (top 32 leaguewide), but they do hold 12 veteran contracts with High or Middle values (top 320 leaguewide); thus the aggregate puts them in the top five as a measure of roster spots. However, the Titans are also 4th in cap space, so they still have plenty of room to carry that over to the future and make more free agency moves or secure extensions on their own players.
The Broncos continue to show excellence in avoiding dead money. Even with the recent release of TJ Ward they have the second lowest amount of 2017 dead money in the league at only $1.7 million, mostly tied up in Ward and the recently traded Ty Sambrailo. As a result, the Broncos are ensuring their cap dollars go to their best players on the roster. They are tied for second in the league with 6 players under High valued cap numbers, and when Von Miller is added to the mix, they are 5th in the league with the percentage of cap dollars going to Elite & High (top 160) contracts, at 48.1%.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are 3rd in the league with percentage of the cap going to Elite cap numbers, all thanks to Justin Houston ($22.1 million) and Alex Smith ($16.9 million) taking up 23.1% of the cap. However, if the Chiefs are able to get Patrick Mahomes ready to start in 2018, Smith’s days of taking up Elite cap hits on the Chiefs may quickly come to an end.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are seen as the rebuilding team in the AFC West, and one piece of evidence supporting that is the fact that they’re tied for first in the league in number of players under rookie contracts at 45. In turn, they are dead last with number of players on Low valued veteran contract at only 7. The Chargers appear to be banking on a youth movement to resurrect their fortunes in the twilights of the careers of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.
Thanks to Derek Carr’s extension the Raiders can no longer free ride without any Elite cap hits, and thanks to previous free agency splurges they are now 2nd leaguewide in cap dollars tied up to Elite/High/Middle veteran contracts (top 320 leaguewide), with 13 players taking up 62.3% of their cap. That number will only rise further if they secure Khalil Mack on a rich extension in the future.
The Cowboys’ adventures in dead money continue, as they are 2nd in the league for 2017 in both absolute cap dollars ($21 million) and as a percentage of the cap (12.6%). The high amount of dead money helps to contribute to the fact that the Cowboys have only four players with Elite or High veteran cap numbers. Those four players take up the 4th lowest percentage of the cap in the league at 29%. However, with the team striking gold with Dak Prescott under a rookie quarterback contract, those are now cap proportions the Cowboys can afford.
New York Giants
Eli Manning ($19.7 million) and Olivier Vernon ($16 million) are chewing up 21.4% of the Giants’ 2017 cap, 5th highest among Elite (top 32 leaguewide) veteran cap numbers. However, the Giants are able to balance that with a high number of rookie contracts at 39 (a top 10 ranking leaguewide), and having the 5th lowest dead money against the 2017 cap at about $3.4 million.
With Carson Wentz on a rookie contract, the Eagles are able to avoid any cap charges from Elite veteran contracts. That means that in the meantime, they can load up on High and Middle veteran cap numbers, with 12 of them taking up over half of their 2017 cap. In turn, the Eagles are relying on veteran contracts as a whole. Only 29 of their 2017 contracts are being used on rookies, tied for 3rd lowest in the league.
The Redskins are the only team with three players (Kirk Cousins, Josh Norman, and Trent Williams) sustaining Elite veteran cap numbers against the 2017 cap. Those three players alone are taking up over a third of the Redskins’ total 2017 cap, easily the highest in the league. To make room for them, the Redskins must go very low on veteran players with High or Middle cap hits. They have only one player (Ryan Kerrigan) taking a High cap hit, and only three (Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Reed, and Shaun Lauvao) taking up Middle cap hits.
The Bears are loading up on veteran contracts that take up a Middle range of cap dollars, as they lead the league with 13 of them, taking up over 42% of their cap. The good news for the Bears is that the high number of those veterans is not coming at the expense of rookies, as they are spending an above average percentage of their cap on them at about 21%.
The recent megaextension given to Matt Stafford won’t be felt as much on the 2017 cap, as he only(?) takes up 10% of the cap for this season. This helps to allow the Lions keep a relatively average number of contracts across the board in all other texture categories, with none of them being top five or bottom five.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers generally continue their typical trend of taking care of the best of their own, but this season they let a high number of their 2016 free agents walk in favor of compensatory draft picks for 2018. As a result, while the amount of cap dollars committed to Elite and High veteran contracts is still high, it is only 6th leaguewide now due to the inflation that a rising salary cap can inflict when a team stays pat with who they have.
Much like the Lions, the Vikings have a generally balanced distribution among texture, with none of the categories being top five or bottom five in the league. They do have Sam Bradford as their only Elite cap hit at $18 million in the final year of his contract, and should Bradford not come back in 2018 the Vikings’ texture could change considerably along with their quarterback situation.
The Falcons are 3rd in the league in cap percentage going to Elite, High or Middle veteran cap numbers, at around 61%. But given the season that most of their veterans gave them in 2016, that should be an acceptable cost of doing business in the NFL.
The Panthers appear to be filling out their 2017 roster with Low level veteran contracts, as they are 2nd in the league with such contracts (with a cap hit of $4 million or lower). However, such a high number is not coming at the expense of more expensive players (above average in most categories), nor at the expense of rookies (ranked right in the middle of the league in number at 35).
New Orleans Saints
The Saints remain contenders in high levels of dead money. This year, they are only(?) 4th in that category with $18.7 million. However, come 2018 they will match that number with just Drew Brees alone when his artificial void years kick in as he becomes a free agent. To prepare for at least another $18 million in dead money in 2018, the Saints appear to be loading up on Low level veteran contracts (highest in the league by number at 22), while generally eschewing rookie contracts, among the league’s lowest with only 30.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With no Elite cap hits on the books the Bucs look to be loading up on Middle level veteran contracts. They rank in the top five in all Middle cap hits, with eight players taking up over a quarter of their 2017 cap. Their rookie contract liabilities are average by number, but high by cap dollars spent, led by 2015 1st overall selection Jameis Winston at over $6.9 million.
Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald continue to take up a large slice of the Cardinals’ cap. In 2017 those two alone eat up 23.4%, 2nd highest among Elite veteran cap hits. Add in High level veteran contracts, and the Cardinals lead the league in both Elite and High cap hits, taking up 53.5%. To make room for those players, the Cardinals are below average in number of rookie contracts at 31, and are also dead last in the amount of money dedicated to Middle veteran cap dollars–solely taken up by the backup quarterback, Drew Stanton (at $4.15 million).
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have over half of their 2017 cap tied up in just 7 players on Elite or High veteran contracts–2nd highest in the league by percentage and 3rd highest by absolute dollars. This might help to explain why the team is in a contract impasse with Aaron Donald, a superstar who is unhappy being stuck on a rookie contract that is undervaluing his talent.
San Francisco 49ers
No team has more 2017 cap space than the 49ers, with 31.6% of their cap available. As such, it should come to no surprise that the 49ers are also dead last in cap hits from Elite, High or Middle veteran contracts in all metrics–they only have six such players under contract. Add on an above average amount of dead money at $18.9 million, and it should come as no surprise that the 49ers are building for a team to contend not so much in 2017 but afterwards. The good news for 49ers fans is that all of that cap space will greatly help them in pursuit of that goal.
The Seahawks are very much the opposite of the 49ers in texture. They lead the league in cap spending (both in dollars and percentage) on Elite, High and Middle veteran contracts (top 320 leaguewide). 13 players alone take up over $115 million cap dollars, an astounding 69% of Seattle’s 2017 cap. That spending comes at the expense of the Seahawks’ rookies, who are 3rd to last in the amount of dollars that they sustain on the 2017 cap, at only 14.7%.