Normally I like to do things like this at the start of the NFL but with the mad rush of extensions right before the regular season began I decided to hold off until we were more current with all the contacts, but now that we are here we can do more roster cutups. The one I wanted to look at today was how old teams skew, relative to their average annual salary, at the top of the roster.
For this I looked at each team’s top 15 players annual salaries and then calculated the average age for each group. The graph is broken up into four quadrants. The top left quadrant represents the teams that trend more expensive and older. The bottom left are teams that are both young and cheap. The top right quadrant is where we get the older and expensive teams and the bottom right are those that are older but they don’t spend as much on those players. My feeling is the further off you are to the top right the more you have riding on this season. Those in the bottom left likely have the least riding on this year.
So a few takeaways. I think its safe to say that this is the Vikings year they have to win. They have more money invested in their top players and it is by a pretty significant margin- $10 million more than the next closest team. At an average age of 28.9 years they have moved slightly past the NFL average of 28.5 so in many ways its now or likely never for them, especially since the team is looking to be cap strapped next year without changes. I think you could argue similar things about the Rams as well but they don’t have the cap baggage next year.
The Patriots are the only team in the NFL with a top 15 that averages over 30 years of age. Even if you pull Brady out of the mix they average over 30. They are more or less the lone team in the NFL that seems to be following the older path of the NFL that solid veterans are better than unproven rookies even if the upside is not there. One of the key differences here though is that the Patriots group is cheap. The cost of $123 million per year is 6th lowest in the NFL. In the “old days” one of the flops using this strategy was signing players towards their 30+ years to large contract extensions that killed the teams. This is a more economical use of resources.
The Eagles may wind up representing that older philosophy by next year. They are the second oldest team in the NFL at 29.9 years and they are locked into some expensive contracts with void years to limit the cap costs. 12 of their top 15 will be 29 years old by years end.
The other teams in the older side of the bracket that I found a little surprising are the Titans, Cardinals, and Bills. Tennessee did really begin to go all in on more veterans the last few years in hopes of getting something out of Mariota and they need to make the playoffs this year. Arizona Im surprised has not purged more of their team. They have really relied on older player signings to round out this roster. The Bills are another team that I knew signed some cheap veterans to fill the roster but I didn’t realize that they still had so many that were also in their highest paid category.
On the younger end I was surprised by Atlanta. I look at the Falcons as an older team (they do have the oldest overall roster in the NFL) and one that has probably had their window close, but they wound up slightly under the NFL average with a top 15 of just 28.3 years old. They do have the third most expensive group behind the Vikings and Rams so clearly anything but the playoffs would be disappointing, but they are not as over invested in older talent at the top of their roster as I thought.
Once Dallas gets their extensions done they will skyrocket into a similar spot as the Falcons, but probably a year behind where Atlanta is now. Dallas is going to be in a win now mode starting in 2020 if they don’t win it all this year.
Houston stands out like a sore thumb. This is a team with huge amounts of cap room but also a reputation of being one of the cheapest teams in the NFL and it shows. They have a good team but I think you can argue they are wasting the peak of Watson’s years by not at least being closer to the league average in spending. They have the 5th least amount of money invested in their top 15 players. They will be an interesting team to watch next year in free agency. They could open the wallet and go after some good talent or they could pull a Grigson era Colts deal and look for cheap veterans with name value. With no expensive draft picks they should be spending next year.
Oakland being the youngest team surprised me only because I associate Gruden with looking at the older talent, but for the most part they have kept those contract numbers low so they don’t land in their top 15. They have a number of prime years free agent signings but those are balanced out by first round type contracts on the back end of their top 15 paid players.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.