AFC South Positional Spending

The quiet season of the NFL league year is approaching as teams across the league are winding down or have completed their organized team activities (OTA’s).  Teams will complete their mandatory mini-camps in the coming weeks; giving the players and staff a short break before training camp begins in July.  The 90 man rosters are in place at this point of the league year.  There may be some back end roster churning prior to training camp but for the most part things are set.  How does each team compare in cap spending at the different position groups?

During the offseason NFL teams are allowed to maintain an active roster of 90 players, versus the 53 man roster count during the season.  Players on reserve do not count towards the 90 man roster count (ex. Jeff Allen with Houston).

Roster Building

This will serve as an examination of the team cap spending per position group.  There should be a big difference in the positional spending with two teams with quarterbacks on rookie contracts and the other two quarterbacks already on their second contract.  How does each team build their roster?  Have they invested in the trenches on the offensive and defensive line?  Does the team prefer to spend their cap dollars on the skill positions?  The difference in the type of contract at the quarterback will play a role in where the rest of the money is spent.  Two of the AFC South teams have new or relatively new General Managers; both of which are still retooling their roster to fit their specific vision.

Total Team Cap Spending

This is an high level view of the cap and cash commitments for the AFC South teams.

TeamCap SpendingCash SpendingCash to Cap Ratio
Houston Texans$156,343,474$164,665,9230.967
Indianapolis Colts$140,862,540$158,656,8730.988
Jacksonville Jaguars$190,680,879$226,544,8381.096
Tennessee Titans$172,584,724$184,547,2260.975

*Cash to cap ratio is a projection based on Top 53 calculation used during the regular season.  Cap spending is based on offseason Top 51 calculation.

Teams will generally attempt to match the cash spending to cap spending; trying to limit their prorated spending stemming from signing bonuses paid out.  Houston and Indianapolis have been transitioning to a strong cash or hybrid contract structure, moving their ratio closer to 1.00.  Jacksonville has a huge cash spend allocation for 2018 (and 2019) well beyond their actual cap spending which is why the number is well over 1.00.  For the 2018 league year Jacksonville is projected as the highest cash to cap ratio among all 32 teams.

As you can see the Jaguars are clearly the heavy spenders at this point of the league year.  Blake Bortles is on his second contract but only accounts for 5.6% of the teams salary cap spending.  Jacksonville has invested heavily in skill positions and in the trenches both in cash and draft assets.  This heavy spending has put the team in an interesting position for 2019 as the team is currently projected ~$11 million over the cap in 2019.  The team will be faced with difficult decisions in 2019 and 2020 on their high value veteran contracts.

On the other end of the spectrum is Indianapolis and second year GM Chris Ballard.  Ballard has brought in his cash model contract structure; and has quietly been rebuilding the roster.  It is very odd to see cap spending this low when the team has a player, Andrew Luck, accounting for 13.8% of the team salary cap spending for 2018.  The Colts were able to trade back in this year’s draft amassing a ton of draft picks inside of the Top 100 selections.  This is one factor contributing to the Colts low cap and cash spending.

Houston has a first year GM in Brian Gaine and came into a team cap situation is a healthy amount of cap space for 2018.  Houston did not have a first or second round draft selection for 2018 and has a large number of players on the roster that are on lower level contracts or came from the undrafted ranks.  Deshaun Watson is in year two of his rookie contract counting only 1.8% of the team salary cap spending.  Houston does have two players in line for big contract extensions with Jadaveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney.  Expect Houston to front load these two contracts similar to the DeAndre Hopkins contract.

Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson has quietly built a very solid roster.  Marcus Mariota is in year four of his rookie contract only counting 4.3% of the 2018 cap spending.  Tennessee has signed free agents the past two years to shore up the defensive back field with Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler to go along with two outstanding young players in Adoree Jackson and Kevin Byard.  Tennessee does have some players due for large contract extensions including Mariota, Taylor Lewan, and Rishard Matthews.

Offensive Cap Spending

Below is a table of the cap spending dollars per position group between the four teams.

Houston Texans$73,418,533$5,143,746$10,535,263$22,291,951$6,020,399$29,427,174
Indianapolis Colts$103,130,124$26,195,076$4,233,859$24,357,042$14,592,083$33,752,064
Jacksonville Jaguars$79,780,502$11,273,484$12,001,311$19,738,998$8,187,000$28,942,709
Tennessee Titans$82,740,702$10,221,654$7,378,990$17,663,757$12,166,739$35,309,562

Here you can see the stark difference it makes having a quarterback on a rookie contract for Houston and Tennessee; which allows a team to spend additional cap dollars on other positions group for a 3-4 year window with the quarterback premium position under market value.  Houston and Tennessee are ranked 30th and 27th, respectively, on cap spending at the quarterback position among the league.  Both teams make up for the difference on the defense.  Tennessee does have a large investment in their offensive line.  After Taylor Lewan signs an extension, which is expected to happen this summer, the Titans will have 4 starters from the offensive line on 2nd or veteran contracts.  This will bump up their rank into the Top 10 on offensive line spending.

Jacksonville is ranked 3rd in the league on runningback cap spending.  Leonard Fournette was the #4 overall draft in 2017; and that draft slot puts him as the 6th highest (based on APY) paid runningback despite being on a rookie contract.  Fournette’s APY at $6.79 million per year is just a spot of ahead of Houston’s veteran running back Lamar Miller and his $6.5 million per year contract.  Tennessee and Indianapolis runningback groups consist of players on lower level rookie contracts.

Indianapolis has the largest cap spending allocation at wide receiver among the four teams.  Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is the main contributing factor.  Houston is right behind at $22.3 million with the bulk of that spending on DeAndre Hopkins.  However when you compare these two teams against the rest of the league, Indianapolis and Houston rank 13th and 16th respectively in wide reciever spending.

Due to the lack of draft selections in 2018 NFL draft Houston brought in three free agents to help fill in the holes along on the offensive line.  Houston is looking at having four new starters along the offensive line; after ranking last in many statistical categories for OL play in 2017.  Indianapolis and Tennessee have invested draft assets and free agent assets in their offensive line the past few years.

Defensive Cap Spending

Quick review of this table clearly shows the dramatic difference in cap spending on defense between the teams, specifically Indianapolis and Jacksonville.  Jacksonville was a top overall graded defense in 2017 per Profootball Focus.

Houston Texans$93,712,886$22,603,191$26,642,045$13,454,914$31,012,736
Indianapolis Colts$51,822,429$19,058,597$18,450,040$7,066,329$7,247,463
Jacksonville Jaguars$122,757,899$60,309,276$14,837,451$18,392,633$29,218,539
Tennessee Titans$98,444,946$29,070,243$34,581,368$12,099,663$22,693,672

Jacksonville is heavily invested in their defensive line group, safeties and cornerbacks.  With veteran contracts on Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson on the defensive line; and A.J. Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church on the back end represents the majority of their defensive spending.  With the team projected over the team cap in 2019; difficult decisions will need to be made in these position groups.  The defensive line will command some serious decisions, Jacksonville in #1 in spending in the league on this specific position group.

Tennessee has a similar approach on the defensive side of the ball with 8 of their starters playing under a 2nd or veteran contract.  The team has continually added one or two high quality free agents through free agency over the past couple of years with players Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Brian Orakpo, and Johnathan Cyprien.  Tennessee is third in the league in cap spending on the linebacker position group (both edge and inside).

Houston spent many years, prior to 2017, of investing draft assets on the defensive side of the ball.  Jadaveon Clowney was the #1 overall selection in 2014, J.J. Watt, Kareem Jackson, and Whitney Mercilus were all first round selections.  Brian Gaine is the new General Manager in Houston; the roster turnover is still on-going as he and Bill O’Brien work to “align” their philosophies on the roster building aspect of the organization.  Houston is #1 in the league in cap spending on the cornerback position group, after bringing in free agent Aaron Colvin and making him the highest paid nickel back in the league.  The biggest change this year, versus years past, is the spending on the safety group.  Under former GM Rick Smith the safety group was routinely near the bottom of the league when compared to other teams in terms of spending.  With the addition of Tyrann Mathieu the Texans are now 11th in the league in safety spending.

Final Thoughts

It is interesting to see the cap spending between each roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball with Indianapolis being last in the league by quite a bit.  Indy will roll over a large amount of cap dollars in 2019 allowing GM Chris Ballard to spend heavily on a few free agents to shore up the defensive group.  Jacksonville is the only team spending to their maximum giving the impression of “win now” mode.  Houston and Tennessee are sitting on a large amount of available cap dollars that they will attempt to rollover in 2019; which is surprising with having their franchise quarterback on a rookie contract.  The two teams should be leveraging that as much as possible during the 4 year window of having a quarterback accounting for less than 5% of the team cap.  As mentioned earlier Jacksonville will have to make some decisions on their veterans in 2019 to get back under the projected cap.

*Note each team still has a few rookies left to sign their contract which will affect the numbers slightly but not enough to change the overall outlook for the team cap spending for 2018.