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The Top Valued NFL Players of 2019

With the regular season finished up I thought it would be a good time to look back at our OTC Valuation metric to see who the top players were at each position. If you haven’t followed the OTCs value this year it’s a metric that combines various data including snaps, statistical performance, and PFF grades to assign a salary based on that data within the market for the position. You can read more about it and how you can access the OTC values here.

This is still a work in progress that we’ll tweak a bit during the year (there will be a note of which position in particular right below) and during the offseason we’ll hopefully go back and revalue some past seasons just to see how varied the numbers are from year to year.

Before we jump into this I would like to thank PFF for letting me work with their data this year to come up with this. If you don’t subscribe to PFF’s elite package it’s something I highly recommend. So without further ado here are our top players of the 2019 NFL season.

Quarterback: Russell Wilson, Seahawks, $29.25 million

Almost all season long Wilson trailed Lamar Jackson by a few million but Jackson sat for the final game of the year to rest for the playoffs and that was enough to tip the scales for Wilson who was able to play in 16 games. Wilson was dynamic this year and is the sole reason that the Seahawks were as good as they were. Wilson threw for over 4,100 yards rand for over 300 and had 34 combined touchdowns. One thing I will say is that the QB numbers at the top were somewhat down this year which in part is why Wilson’s value comes in under $30 million so this is something I may revisit this year to see if we made the value system too difficult  or not. Partially QBs are hard to reach their salary maximums because there is so much cheap talent in the draft that also produces at a reasonable level.

Runner Up: Lamar Jackson, $28.8M; Best Value: Dak Prescott, $28M over annual salary

Edge Rusher: TJ Watt, $21.3M

Watt was absolutely dominant this year for the Steelers. Watt played in nearly 87% of the teams defensive snaps en route to a 14.5 sack season in which he forced a league leading 8 fumbles. Per PFF he had 81 pressures on the year and was their highest graded edge rusher as well. Every time I watched the Steelers this year Watt seemed unstoppable. He is now eligible for a new contract and will become the highest paid defensive player in the NFL when extended.

Runner Up: Danielle Hunter: $20.8M; Best Value: Watt, $19M over annual value

Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, $19.3M

This was a two person race until Chris Godwin was injured late in the year allowing Thomas to pull away. Thomas was phenomenal this season. He was the top graded player by PFF in their receiving category and led the NFL with 149 receptions for 1,725 yards. He accomplished that playing with two quarterbacks this season and maintained over an 80% catch rate. And its not like Thomas is playing opposite all stars either to make things easy. He is simply un-guardable.

Runner Up: Chris Godwin, $17.2M; Best Value: Godwin, $16.4M over annual salary

Interior D-Line: Aaron Donald, $17.5M

This was not even close with Donald being worth about $2 million more than the next closest player at the position. The perennial All Pro finished the season with 12.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and 80 QB pressures. He led all interior linemen with 83.8% playtime. While one can argue the merits of paying Donald $5.4 million per year more than the next closest player you can’t argue that he is the best at the position by a wide margin.

Runner Up: Cameron Heyward, $15.5M; Best Value: Kenny Clark, $10.3M over annual value

Running Back: Christian McCaffrey, $15.6M

McCaffrey had such a ridiculous start to the year that he was in the early MVP discussions. McCaffrey finished the year in the 1,000/1,000 club rushing for a career best 1,387 yards and adding 1,005 receiving yards. Though the team fell apart late and McCaffrey’s performance became more of an example of why a dominant running back doesn’t really change the fortunes of a team it should not discount from a great performance especially on a team with a QB situation as bad as the Panthers. He will be looking for a new contract this offseason which should be a fascinating situation to watch unfold.

Runner Up: Nick Chubb, $12.8M; Best Value: Aaron Jones, $11.9M over annual salary

Left Tackle: Jake Matthews, $15.4M

Matthews was one of only nine left tackles to hit the 99% snap threshold and played the most snaps at the position being on the field for 1,189 snaps in 2019. It was that durability that saw him claim the top spot for left tackles in the valuation metric. On a per game basis Ronnie Stanley was better but Matthews played all 16 games compared to just 14 for Stanley. Per PFF Matthews ranked 5th best for pressures allowed per pass snap and was top 15 in penalties per snap.

Runner Up: David Bakhtiari, $15.1M; Best Value: Dion Dawkins, $10.6M over annual value

Cornerback: Richard Sherman, $14.7M

This was one of the more volatile positions with the top player constantly shifting around before Sherman came out ahead with a strong finish to the season as some others cooled off. Sherman solidified his place in the Hall of Fame with 3 interceptions, 11 passes defensed and only allowing a ridiculous 8.4 yards per reception with just 67 yards allowed after the catch, basically showing him to be attached to the hip of any receiver this year.

Runner Up: Stephon Gilmore, $13.8M; Best Value: Tre’Davious White, $10.7M over annual value

Linebacker: Luke Kuechly, $14.1M

There isn’t much left to say about Kuechly, who has been named to 7 straight Pro Bowls and deservedly so. At this point the only discussions about Kuechly should be where he rates among the all time players at the position. Just an all around terrific player Kuechly finished the season with 144 tackles and two interceptions while logging over 1,000 snaps on the season.

Runner Up: Demario Davis, $13.3M; Best Value: Jamie Collins, $10.2M over annual value

Right Tackle: Ryan Ramczyk, $13.6M

Ramczyk was about as good as it gets this season.  He led the position with 0 sacks allowed and was tied in pressure rate at just 3.03% per dropback. He was PFF’s top graded pass blocker and 2nd highest graded run blocker. The first round draft selection should become the highest paid right tackle in the NFL as soon as the Saints decide to extend him.

Runner Up: Mitchell Schwartz, $12.6M; Best Value: Ramczyk, $11.4M over annual value

Safety: Justin Simmons, $12.7M

Simmons has certainly peaked at the right time as he is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. Simmons finished the year for the Broncos with 4 interceptions, 11 passes defensed and 93 tackles. Per PFF his 53.2% completion against was 7th best in the NFL among players with over 500 snaps and he was the top graded safety in that group. Simmons was just one of four safeties to not miss a snap this year.

Runner Up: Anthony Harris, $11.9M; Best Value: Simmons, $11.9M over annual value

Guard: Zack Martin, $11.7M

Martin is universally recognized as the best guard in the NFL and has certainly proven time and time again to deserve the honor. Martin was the top graded pass blocker and third best run blocker by PFF. Martin was one of only a handful of players to not allow a sack all season. Not surprisingly Martin was named to his 6th straight Pro Bowl.

Runner Up: Brandon Brooks, $11M; Best Value: joe Thuney, $10.2M over annual value

Tight End: Travis Kelce, $10.9M

Another year another 1,000 yards season and Pro Bowl selection for Kelce. No player at the position is more consistent than Kelce. Kelce plays every game and basically every snap. He was the only tight end with over 90% playing time and finished with 12% more playing time than the next closest player at the position (Zach Ertz at 80.5%). While he may not be the most dynamic tight end, a distinction that goes to the 49ers George Kittle, its hard to argue against Kelce’s performance and durability year after year.

Runner Up: Darren Waller, $10.3M; Best Value: George Kittle, $9.3M over annual value.

Center: Ryan Jensen, $10.4M

The Buccaneers center was third in the NFL in snaps played and one of just six players to log 100% playing time at the position. Per PFF Jensen was the 5th best run blocking center and 4th best pass blocking center, which was the best combo in the league. Jensen was credited with just one sack and 15 pressures allowed.

Runner up: Brandon Linder, $10.1M; Best Value: Connor McGovern, $8.2M over annual value

Kicker: Wil Lutz, $4.9M

Punter: Jake Bailey, $3.1M

Long Snapper: Thomas Hennessy, $1.2M

Injury Adjusted Salary in 2019

The NFL has a number of reserve lists for players who miss time, the most prominent of which is injured reserve. So often every year we hear about how injured teams were and how they have so many players on IR, but sometimes that doesn’t always tell the full story. Sometimes a team has a large number of players on IR but they may not be expensive players and thus the loss not that big. Other times the player doesn’t land on IR until late in the season and his injury may have minimal impact on the season. So what I wanted to do was to create a salary adjusted IR list that would better put into perspective the actual magnitude of the impact of injury on a team’s roster.

To create the adjusted injury salary I first looked at every player who was on IR, PUP, and NFI and is still in the NFL as of week 16. I then turned to our friends at to get a listing of every player who was designated for return from IR or activated from PUP or NFI during the year.

For the next step I was originally going to assign games missed on reserve but then I realized just how often teams carry players in the slim hope they will get better only to put them on IR at a later date (see CJ Mosely of the Jets as a perfect example of carrying a hurt guy on the active roster for no real reason). So instead of games missed to IR, PUP, or NFI the list was based on snaps played. If a player who eventually landed on a reserve list did not play a snap in a given week I considered that a game lost due to injury. This isn’t perfect either as it overstates the value lost to injury for players who were benched for not being good and then got hurt later on, but I think it does a better job of capturing real weeks missed versus official weeks on reserve.

The player’s game total was then used to adjust the players annual salary to put into perspective the amount lost to injury. So for example a player with a $16 million a year salary that missed 8 games would have $8 million lost to IR. If that same player only missed the last three games of the year we would consider this $3 million lost to IR.    

So who lost the most to injury through last week? The Redskins with a staggering $67.3M in lost salary to players on reserve. The big impacts here were Alex Smith who spent the year on PUP and Trent Williams who sat out before being placed on NFI as soon as he reported. Jordan Reed was also a major loss.

The Jets came in at number 2 with $59.1 million lost to injury. Unlike the Redskins, who had time to plan for the Smith injury, the Jets did not have that luxury. They lost big money players in Mosley, Quincy Enunwa, Trumaine Johnson, and Avery Williamson while also losing a pretty sizeable number for Ryan Kalil and Brian Winters.

Number 3 is the Jaguars at $47 million though that number is a little inflated with Nick Foles missing some games due to being terrible. Rounding out the top 5 were the Steelers and Panthers who both lost their QBs early.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the super healthy teams. The Vikings have only lost an adjusted $2.1 million to injury this year. Now they did lose Adam Thielen for a few games and he never went on IR but this is a crazy total. Basically it’s a perfect storm for a good season.

The Rams were the major disappointment of the injury free teams. They are eliminated from the playoffs and only lost $4 million this season. So they were healthy and just didn’t perform up to expectations. The Bills on the other hand lost just $5 million and made the most of it with a playoff run. My guess is when the season is over the Bills are going to be considered to have checked a lot of the boxes for a “one season wonder” and this would certainly be one of those boxes. The Saints are the only other team under $10 million though they also lost Brees for a few weeks to a non-IR injury.

Here is a table with the totals and below that is a graph plotting adjusted salary lost to IR vs a team’s record. Not surprisingly the teams that are the healthiest are generally in the playoff hunt (teams in the top left quadrant). Those who are riddled with injury are mainly out of it (bottom right quadrant) showing how difficult it is to overcome injury.

The one team that looks real strange in the graph is the Bengals and in part that is because they kept their $15 million receive on the active roster all season even though he was never going to play. Why? Who knows but they really should be around $35M to $40M. That’s not an excuse for being so bad but they should be on the other side.

The teams like the Giants, Cowboys, and Browns were all pretty healthy this year so you would attribute their horrible showings to coaching, poor roster construction, or a combination of both. All three will likely be looking for a new head coach. On the other hand the 49ers should be given a medal for navigating more than average injuries and having one of the best records in the NFL.  

TEAM Salary Lost
Redskins $67,321,768
Jets $59,154,244
Jaguars $47,175,078
Panthers $45,282,028
Steelers $45,266,806
Dolphins $39,527,055
Broncos $36,353,233
49ers $29,415,389
Lions $26,473,099
Eagles $25,996,198
Texans $25,393,498
Chargers $23,444,789
Bears $22,858,638
Cardinals $21,948,023
Falcons $21,495,459
Titans $21,007,461
Bengals $20,587,906
Ravens $19,619,755
Colts $19,088,815
Browns $17,655,690
Seahawks $17,635,399
Patriots $17,297,012
Raiders $15,960,727
Cowboys $14,417,555
Chiefs $12,503,872
Buccaneers $12,472,319
Giants $12,205,607
Packers $11,260,100
Saints $8,470,811
Bills $5,027,248
Rams $4,000,491
Vikings $2,091,055
Avg. $24,012,723

The OTC Valuation Metric vs NFL Record

For this week I wanted to take a look at the OTC valuation and see how it compared to the NFL records for the season. For those unaware of our valuation metric, essentially it boils down a player’s value to his team based on the position he plays, his playing time, various statistical measures and Pro Football Focus grades. We publish weekly valuations free of charge on our valuation page while OTC premium subs have access to each week as well as the player’s overall value on the season. This is the first year we have done this and will likely tweak this a bit in the future after watching it play out on a weekly basis to fix what I think are some bugs in the system, but I think it should be a good tool to put a different type of way to read a team’s performance.

The following chart plots the teams win percentage through 13 games against the OTC valuation of all players on a teams roster through week 13.
The chart is sectioned off into quadrants based on the average NFL performance. Teams in the top right basically have a high value per the OTC metric and a good record. Teams in the lower right would be those with a below average record but high valuation. The top left are those with a below average value but a good record. Everything is bad with the teams in the bottom left. The chart does look skewed but that is because of the outlier that is the Miami Dolphins who have been, by design, in a class all their own this year.

Overall I thought this was a pretty good showing. The overall R2 of this is close to a 0.5 and more so than that most of the teams in the above average category are primarily the leaders in the race for the playoffs while the bad teams are indeed showing up as bad teams in the valuation metric.
The teams that are the most interesting to me are those in the upper left and bottom right quadrants as they are kind of bucking the trends. The Titans is probably a combination of a team taking advantage of a schedule and a late change at QB. Ryan Tannehill has played incredibly well for the Titans down the stretch but his overall value is compromised because he didn’t play for the first 5 weeks of the season. Its really his insertion into the lineup that has bumped them back into the playoff hunt and had he played all year I would anticipate them being in the above average category.

The other team there is Chicago who are more or less completely schedule dependent this year. They have one quality win (the Vikings) and the rest have come against the Broncos, Giants, Lions, Redskins, and Cowboys. Its similar to a team like the Jets getting some wins because they play the NFC East and the Dolphins despite a poor performance. Trubisky has of course played better of late so maybe they can jump into the other quadrant.

Dallas and Tampa are the oddest two teams in the NFL and clearly perform better on an individual level than as a team. We all know that there is usually some correlation between positions and the flow of games but in both cases we are not seeing results on the field. In Dallas’ situation I think some of the blame likely goes on coaching decisions. They have played very conservative at times and its cost them wins. Tampa just makes too many boneheaded mistakes that have cost them wins. Jameis Winston does a lot of good things but the bad things are often really bad and come at inopportune times.

The Panthers played competitive football until the last few weeks and have some good parts. The bottom fell out as the schedule stiffened and injuries piled up. My guess is they will float more to the left by the end of the season as their better players see the bench for more weeks.

Using the OTC Valuation to Look at 2020 Free Agency

With the end of the regular season quickly approaching many of us are already looking at free agency next season as an avenue to fix our favorite teams. Usually we turn to cap space and see “team X has X amount of cap space” and immediately identify them as a team that is going to be active on free agents, but sometimes cap room can be very misleading and it can just be tied to the fact that a team has a lot of work to do with their current roster. To put some of it in better perspective I wanted to turn to our OTC Valuation model to see what quality of free agents teams really have in 2020.

It’s important to note that the OTC valuation is not a free agent estimate. In some cases numbers may wind up being close, but the calculations are based on spending within the NFL, which includes rookies who make peanuts yet often provide the most production, not what production equates to as a free agent. So please don’t read this as OTC says Dallas needs $112M to sign all their free agents. It may but that’s not what the valuation measures.

It does give us an idea of the general quality of the free agent class for each team, however, with probably a safe assumption that Dallas will likely have the most expensive group of free agents in the NFL. For example Amari Cooper will get paid far more than $14 million and change as a free agent but his valuation is around $5 million more than the next closest free agent receiver so this gives a good relative gauge of the strength of a free agent group. For every Cooper there will also likely be a player with a high valuation that ends up millions less than his valuation for a number of reasons as well.

The other main negative for the valuation tool is that injured players like an AJ Green will count as $0. Green will earn a pretty penny as a free agent even after missing the entire season. Likewise Drew Brees missed significant time which drives his number way down below any expected value. So certainly this isn’t a perfect model but I think it should do a better job of helping understand free agent expectations and decisions than just looking at cap space or snaps.

Here is how each team stacks up in 2020. The X axis shows a team’s projected 2020 salary cap space (this is not adjusted to 51 players so it only counts players under contract in 2020) while the Y axis has the OTC value of all unrestricted free agents currently on a NFL roster.

2020 NFL Free agent values

The top right quadrant shows the teams with above average cap space but either a lot of free agents to re-sign or at the least a few big dollar free agents to re-sign. Essentially this means that the teams cap space is likely a bit of a mirage if they want to keep some of the team intact. For many the cap space will vanish with pre-free agency extensions or franchise tags. If these teams want to make big changes it also will mean having to step away from some of the current members of the team in free agency.

The two standout teams here are the Cowboys and Buccaneers. Dallas’ season is on life support while the Bucs has pretty much been over for a month. For Dallas they have major decisions. Dak Prescott, Cooper, Byron Jones, Jason Witten, Maliek Collins, Robert Quinn, Randall Cobb, Michael Bennett, Sean Lee, etc…Its going to cost a lot to keep the team together if they opt to go in that direction but you have to consider what is the ceiling with the group as well. Screams like a situation where a new coach may need to come in. Tampa has the big decision with Jameis Winston as well as if they want to continue relationships with Ndamukong Suh and Shaq Barrett among others. Similar questions as Dallas except there is no coaching change possible. Perhaps the players simply are not the right mix even if they are individually talented.

Arizona is the third in this group but they are more about volume than a few high projected players. Their top free agent is likely DJ Humphries with old veterans Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs as the next two. Arizona may go year to year with the veterans but Id anticipate them as a team more likely to turn over volume and go younger for depth.

The bottom right quadrant has the teams with a few key free agents but not much cap space to re-sign them. That either means some type of changes or finding a way to keep first year cap charges really low. That may be more difficult next year if no CBA is in place. The Panthers, Rams, and Saints are teams to look at here. The Rams have Dante Fowler, Michael Brockers, and Andrew Whitworth as some pretty expensive players to make decisions about. For the Panthers the list will include Gerald McCoy, Tre Boston, Mario Addison, and James Bradberry. The Saints are basically all about the QB position. For the Rams and Panthers who will likely be on the outside looking in they will probably have to pick just one or two to keep while letting others walk.

The bottom left quadrant are the teams without much cap space but not too many decisions to make this year. Most of these teams have either one or two valuable free agents to consider or a few depth players. For teams out of contention these are likely easier decisions to let a player walk like a Vic Beasley in Atlanta and for those in contention they will have to decide if its worth keeping that one player or adding a few other parts in free agency. For teams out of contention this is the most likely group to probably make cuts where one of the prime reasons is cap relief. For teams in contention this may be the group that kicks the can on more players than they should.

The top left quadrant are the teams that one would expect to be the most active in free agency. They have tons and tons of cap room and few on the current roster worth spending it on. For teams like the Colts, Bills, Raiders, and even Ravens this presents a great opportunity to not only add to a playoff contender but to likely be able to structure contracts in free agency that leave little dead money after just one or two seasons. For teams like the Giants and Dolphins (and Bengals if they ever spent) it’s a potential avenue to quickly add short term solutions to a team in desperate need of roster help.

For those interested in a table form of the data the following table includes the value of the free agents, value per player, projected cap space and a ratio of the cap to value. For premium members who want to break down into values for individual free agents you can filter our season long valuations by 2020 cash which will allow you to quickly scroll through a teams potential free agents.

Team UFAs 2019 Valuation Value per Player Projected Cap Space Cap to Value Ratio
Cowboys 22 $112,146,000 $5,097,545 $87,836,022 0.78
Patriots 16 $102,116,000 $6,382,250 $49,017,540 0.48
Buccaneers 19 $82,024,000 $4,317,053 $90,948,813 1.11
Panthers 14 $74,134,000 $5,295,286 $42,204,270 0.57
Cardinals 25 $69,907,000 $2,796,280 $74,343,047 1.06
Rams 11 $61,934,000 $5,630,364 $26,041,744 0.42
Jets 22 $55,662,000 $2,530,091 $62,121,439 1.12
Titans 16 $53,323,000 $3,332,688 $48,683,683 0.91
Seahawks 16 $53,014,000 $3,313,375 $66,020,838 1.25
Broncos 13 $51,522,000 $3,963,231 $67,536,620 1.31
Chargers 16 $51,298,000 $3,206,125 $58,810,928 1.15
Saints 15 $50,638,000 $3,375,867 $23,019,762 0.45
Texans 20 $50,088,000 $2,504,400 $75,023,651 1.50
Ravens 16 $47,330,000 $2,958,125 $56,147,155 1.19
Chiefs 17 $46,120,000 $2,712,941 $21,788,974 0.47
Falcons 20 $43,475,000 $2,173,750 ($956,802) -0.02
Giants 16 $42,259,000 $2,641,188 $63,759,654 1.51
Bears 16 $42,244,000 $2,640,250 $13,931,529 0.33
Raiders 22 $41,091,000 $1,867,773 $73,105,496 1.78
Packers 12 $40,174,000 $3,347,833 $26,871,008 0.67
Colts 12 $39,589,000 $3,299,083 $108,838,649 2.75
Vikings 16 $37,290,000 $2,330,625 ($1,525,991) -0.04
Redskins 13 $34,633,000 $2,664,077 $50,006,253 1.44
Eagles 15 $34,256,000 $2,283,733 $42,217,338 1.23
Lions 14 $33,853,000 $2,418,071 $47,069,415 1.39
49ers 11 $33,543,000 $3,049,364 $16,116,234 0.48
Steelers 9 $33,438,000 $3,715,333 $4,970,081 0.15
Bengals 12 $33,269,000 $2,772,417 $64,068,262 1.93
Bills 12 $30,931,000 $2,577,583 $88,531,260 2.86
Browns 7 $27,060,000 $3,865,714 $50,193,215 1.85
Jaguars 15 $24,915,000 $1,661,000 $2,177,217 0.09
Dolphins 11 $18,993,000 $1,726,636 $102,852,083 5.42

Top Roster Salary Cap Charges vs Cap Space in 2020

During the Rams debacle last night I made mention of how much money they have tied up in the top players of their team, which was quite a lot. So with that in mind I decided to look at the entire NFL and see just how much each team has invested in salary cap dollars in 2020 just on the top 5 players on their roster. I also wanted to see how flexible teams are in that regard so to do that I wanted to look at how much teams could save by releasing any of those top players.

Now its important to remember that cap charges are always flexible. Based on rules in place it may be harder to manipulate those numbers next year than in a normal year if the CBA is not extended, but restructuring requires doubling or tripling down on a contract by pushing sunk cap costs into the future. In essence a short term solution. Teams could, in some cases, also open cap dollars via trades of these players, but for these purposes I didn’t include that because trades are still relatively uncommon and for many of these teams a trade is not a feasible cap option either due to sunk prorated costs.

So here is a graph that shows on the X axis just how much in salary cap in 2020 is tied up in the top 5 players on a team and on the Y axis we see how much a team can save with releases from this group of players. The release side of the equation only considers players that result in a gain in cap space if a player is cut, so for a player like Jared Goff who would cost millions above his cap number to cut he just gets a value of $0 because there are no savings since he likely would not be released for cap purposes. The average cap sunk into the top 5 is about $76.5 million and the average that can be saved is about $30.8 million.

The worst place to be in the chart is the bottom right quadrant. The bottom right are teams that are well above average in cap dollars committed to just 5 players and have generally no flexibility. At least for 2020 the same top players the team had in 2019 are likely going to be back in 2020. Generally these are the WYSIWYG teams. The Rams, Falcons, and Eagles stick out like a sore thumb.

The Rams have $108 million committed to Goff, Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Jalen Ramsey. They can only lop off $13.7M through cuts and that would simply be if they cut Ramsey which you know they are not doing. None of the others offer any savings.  Atlanta and the Eagles we have talked about here for a few seasons now. Atlanta has always walked a tightrope with their cap while the Eagles have pushed more and more cap to the future for some time. Basically the year that Howie Roseman came back into power they made a number of decisions that were going to lock them into a core group and they have kept with that philosophy. The Eagles would be unable to save a dime cutting any of their top 5 while the Falcons would save a measly  $4.95 million if they cut Desmond Trufant.

Each of these teams will have tough decisions as to whether or not they try to kick the can or just deal with it. None of them have good cap situations next year, all in the bottom third of the league in projected cap room and none look like real contenders at the moment.

You can argue about what is the next best spot. I’d probably lean top left though it depends on your roster construction. Generally these teams don’t have big numbers invested at the top and they have the flexibility to change up the mix. That’s great for bad teams like the Giants, Bengals, and Bucs that don’t have a good mix of players and great for the Ravens, Texans, and Colts who are all playoff contenders.

The top right means you have big money invested at the top but a lot of flexibility. So if you are a bad team it means you may have a chance to overhaul your roster and create some cap space in the process. However it also probably means you sunk a lot into 2019 and if it didn’t pay off its going to lead to two lost seasons. The Jaguars, Bears, Panthers, and to a lesser extent Redskins it that category. The most interesting team is the 49ers. Because they frontloaded certain contracts, in particular the one for Jimmy Garoppolo, and use late vesting guarantees they have a lot of flexibility with some pretty expensive players if things went south or they wanted to move on from one underperformer.

The bottom left has plusses and minuses. If you are a good team it’s a good place to be. It means while you don’t have much flexibility with this particular group of players you also don’t have a great deal invested in the top, so in theory you should have room to add more players or re-sign your own without issue. Now there are a few things to consider before patting yourself on the back if you are a Saints or a Patriots fan. The Saints have Drew Brees in the top 5 at an artificially low cost ($15.9M) and the Patriots don’t have Tom Brady at all ($6.75M). Both are free agents in 2020 but have millions upon millions in voidable year dead money they accrues if they are unsigned. Brees’ cap jumps to $21.3M if he isn’t retained or retires while Brady’s goes to $13.5 million.  Both will get big salaries if they stay so in reality both should be more over to the right. Dallas should be in position to retain their players while the other teams are in position to push some of their top 5 down. Overall Id lean towards this being the second worst quadrant but again it depends on the status of the team.

Finally just a quick guide to see how these teams stack up in actual cap space I plotted the top 5 cap charges against the estimated cap space for each team once they reach 51 players through futures contracts. Not much surprising here other than it really shows you how most teams are teams of haves or have nots. Teams with a lot invested at the top don’t have much cap room. Those without big investments at the top don’t really invest anywhere and have huge cap room. This is more just a weird way with how the league has gone which is seeing more and more teams with either the “go for it” approach with little future consideration or “punt the season away” approach with all consideration toward the future.

Looking at Value Above Replacement Level Talent

With all the talk of MVP candidates, valuable and non-valuable positions, where to go cheap and where to go expensive I thought I could use our valuation models to take a look at just where teams are deriving the most value over what would be a “replacement level” player. You can read about our valuations here but in general they are based on participation, statistical achievements and PFF grades and the market value in which the player plays.

So how did I define a replacement level talent as that can be tricky. I’m a contract guy so I went into the pool of players to try to best identify the kind of players, who actually participate, that are actually available. What is available talent?  Available talent in my mind is anyone who signed as an undrafted free agent, anyone who was available as a street free agent who signed for no more than the league minimum plus a minor bonus, and any unrestricted free agent who signed a contract that qualified for the minimum salary benefit. Why these players?  Because they are the only players who were freely available to the entire league.  Here is the breakdown of all players that fit that criteria who are on pace to play at least 75 snaps this year.

Position Players Total OTC Value Snaps Value/Snap Value/Player
Quarterback 8 $22,424,000 1,175 $19,084 $2,803,000
Right Tackle 4 $9,525,000 653 $14,587 $2,381,250
Running Back 28 $39,609,000 3,078 $12,868 $1,414,607
Left Tackle 9 $26,743,000 2,402 $11,134 $2,971,444
Guard 15 $36,045,000 3,879 $9,292 $2,403,000
Cornerback 39 $65,947,000 7,622 $8,652 $1,690,949
Tight End 23 $30,680,000 3,812 $8,048 $1,333,913
Edge 19 $24,378,000 3,053 $7,985 $1,283,053
Wide Receiver 48 $47,481,000 6,695 $7,092 $989,188
Linebacker 27 $37,760,000 5,483 $6,887 $1,398,519
Safety 15 $15,619,000 2,389 $6,538 $1,041,267
Int. D-Line 40 $38,996,000 6,042 $6,454 $974,900

While we are dealing with a small sample especially for many positions (in particular right tackle as well as quarterback and left tackle) this at least gives us an idea of what is truly available to NFL teams that is the alternative to simply letting a player walk in free agency and replacing him with the cheapest options available. Of course even hitting a replacement level requires some skill as there are dozens of players who make it that don’t play many, if any, snaps in a given year.

To calculate value above replacement I looked at the current OTC Value for each player and calculated what the value for the average 2019 replacement level player would be if the replacement player played the same amount of snaps as the “name” player. Here is the top ranked player at each position:

Position Player Value Above Replacement
Quarterback Lamar Jackson $19,154,436
Edge TJ Watt $17,063,498
Wide Receiver Mike Evans $15,746,498
Int. D-Line Aaron Donald $13,351,399
Cornerback Marcus Peters $9,925,903
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy $9,586,608
Left Tackle Ronnie Stanley $8,935,411
Safety Marcus Williams $9,138,263
Running Back Christian McCaffery $8,841,316
Guard Brandon Brooks $7,146,824
Tight End Travis Kelce $5,912,556
Right Tackle Ryan Ramczyk $3,389,942

Looking further I wanted to break down the groupings into players that provide the most percentage of value above replacement just to get an idea of what positions are the ones where perhaps the top end talent makes the most different. I was actually surprised, but perhaps should not have been, that among players with 150 snaps on the year it’s the edge rushers, receivers, and interior defensive linemen that dominate the lists. Top players here would be Nick Bosa, Amari Cooper, and Donald. This should have been apparent to me since those positions are often so draft heavy and there is usually a big gap in athleticism between those draft picks and the UDFA types but for whatever reason I was just assuming it would be QB. QB does jump to the top if we consider the amount of players that provide at least 25% value per snap.

Here is the breakdown of each position for players with at least 150 snaps on the year and the amount who provide at least 50% value above  and 25% value above a replacement player.

Position Players 50% VAR  25% VAR
Quarterback 36 27.8% 69.4%
Int. D-Line 111 39.6% 62.2%
Tight End 72 19.4% 61.1%
Wide Receiver 127 39.4% 59.1%
Edge 110 39.1% 58.2%
Linebacker 92 21.7% 43.5%
Safety 88 22.7% 39.8%
Left Tackle 41 12.2% 36.6%
Running Back 62 9.7% 30.6%
Cornerback 163 11.7% 27.0%
Guard 78 2.6% 19.2%
Right Tackle 37 0.0% 5.4%

Finally I looked at every player who has played at least 10 snaps this year to determine the total level of players who perform under the replacement level.

Position Players Neg. VAR
Quarterback 55 25.5%
Tight End 110 26.4%
Edge 148 35.1%
Safety 129 35.7%
Linebacker 150 37.3%
Left Tackle 59 40.7%
Wide Receiver 192 47.4%
Int. D-Line 170 50.6%
Guard 97 51.5%
Cornerback 222 55.9%
Running Back 119 60.5%
Right Tackle 49 65.3%

Again since that right tackle sample is so small I’d throw out that number entirely and while all of these really require a few years of data that one in particular I think needs far more as it doesn’t really pass the smell test.  The others are not surprising. There are a large number of replaceable running backs and that’s been something most have argued for some time. Cornerback may surprise some but probably should not. Teams have to employ a lot of secondary players many of whom carry more special teams value than value as a corner. While they are in on some defensive plays that is not their primary role. Guard is a position I would like to look at more. My feeling I’ve had on guard is that teams have overvalued the position in recent years. This happened back in the late 2000’s before teams realized that there really wasn’t much of a thing as high end play and that it’s more interchangeable. As salaries rise I wonder if that happens again.

Overall I think an early takeways are that quarterback, edge rusher, wide receiver, and interior defensive line are the positions you should aim to keep each year and mainly look in the draft for cheaper talent because the market isn’t there to find viable alternatives. Safety, tight end and linebacker are also positions to likely keep in house but there is limited reason to buy a high end player if there are other options open to the team in free agency. Left tackle is probably in the same category. I think at corner there is logic to having a top talent whether through the draft or free agency but from a depth perspective there is talent available and teams should be wary of overpaying. Guard, running back and perhaps right tackle are the spots where teams can probably think most of going cheap if an existing option becomes too expensive or they need to cut back somewhere to cover positions like receiver.

As I said above this is a pretty small sample but I think a fun topic to discuss and a different way to look at things and maybe better assess the way teams build their lineups. None of this means that it’s a given you can just drop a guy and find someone on the street better as well. Even though we are giving a baseline to replacement talent remember that the NFL signs hundreds of players off the street every year who don’t even make a team. There is also no guarantee that the replacement pool would play at the same level if they were given more responsibility the way many starters are. After the season is over I think Ill go back and retroactively look at 2016 through 2018 and see how the numbers change with a better sample of players to work with.

Here are the top 100 players on the season and as I do some more work on this after the season well probably add something along these lines to our premium OTC Valuation tool.

PLAYER Position OTC Positional Value Position VAR
Lamar Jackson QB $30,834,000 QB $19,154,436
Russell Wilson QB $32,070,000 QB $18,367,505
Dak Prescott QB $29,734,000 QB $17,691,835
Deshaun Watson QB $29,771,000 QB $17,461,655
T.J. Watt Edge $21,567,000 Edge $17,063,498
Mike Evans WR $20,009,000 WR $15,746,703
Michael Thomas WR $19,638,000 WR $15,531,727
Joey Bosa Edge $19,752,000 Edge $15,488,046
Chris Godwin WR $19,963,000 WR $15,431,206
Danielle Hunter Edge $19,799,000 Edge $15,207,664
Aaron Rodgers QB $27,867,000 QB $15,137,802
Tom Brady QB $27,264,000 QB $14,916,487
Myles Garrett Edge $18,539,000 Edge $14,546,534
Everson Griffen Edge $19,195,000 Edge $14,499,859
Brandon Graham Edge $17,854,000 Edge $14,324,660
Khalil Mack Edge $18,834,000 Edge $14,322,513
Matthew Stafford QB $24,933,000 QB $14,264,901
Za’Darius Smith Edge $18,449,000 Edge $14,089,227
J.J. Watt Edge $17,755,000 EDGE $13,906,262
Carson Wentz QB $25,933,000 QB $13,814,498
Amari Cooper WR $16,901,000 WR $13,503,928
Chandler Jones Edge $18,978,000 Edge $13,476,381
Aaron Donald IDL $16,927,000 IDL $13,351,399
Nick Bosa Edge $16,134,000 Edge $13,123,680
Shaquil Barrett Edge $17,298,000 Edge $12,922,257
Cameron Jordan Edge $16,868,000 Edge $12,723,820
Justin Houston Edge $15,338,000 Edge $11,912,464
Dante Fowler Jr. Edge $16,039,000 Edge $11,894,820
Kyler Murray QB $24,457,000 QB $11,708,717
Derek Carr QB $22,380,000 QB $11,559,227
Calais Campbell Edge $15,401,000 Edge $11,512,338
Tyler Lockett WR $16,130,000 WR $11,470,550
DeAndre Hopkins WR $15,906,000 WR $11,445,126
Cameron Heyward IDL $14,625,000 IDL $11,423,739
Kirk Cousins QB $24,134,000 QB $11,252,128
Julio Jones WR $14,529,000 WR $11,089,376
Von Miller Edge $15,349,000 Edge $11,045,121
Gardner Minshew QB $22,871,000 QB $11,019,677
Courtland Sutton WR $14,658,000 WR $10,828,315
Cooper Kupp WR $14,743,000 WR $10,750,199
Grady Jarrett IDL $13,673,000 IDL $10,549,189
Jameis Winston QB $23,331,000 QB $10,544,549
Patrick Mahomes QB $20,008,000 QB $10,542,209
Kenny Golladay WR $14,272,000 WR $10,307,567
Matt Ryan QB $20,642,000 QB $10,088,407
Marcus Peters CB $15,247,000 CB $9,925,903
Fletcher Cox IDL $12,695,000 IDL $9,887,443
D.J. Chark Jr. WR $13,336,000 WR $9,868,008
Philip Rivers QB $22,347,000 QB $9,865,897
Marvin Jones Jr. WR $13,826,000 WR $9,790,647
Kyle Van Noy LB $12,603,000 LB $9,586,608
John Brown WR $13,407,000 WR $9,527,671
Jared Goff QB $21,793,000 QB $9,464,571
D.J. Moore WR $13,475,000 WR $9,425,463
Jadeveon Clowney Edge $13,296,000 Edge $9,247,639
Arik Armstead Edge $12,340,000 Edge $9,209,906
Preston Smith Edge $13,645,000 Edge $9,189,407
Luke Kuechly LB $13,656,000 LB $9,145,185
Marcus Williams S $12,976,000 S $9,138,263
Richard Sherman CB $13,421,000 CB $9,034,339
Ronnie Stanley LT $15,816,000 LT $8,935,411
Casey Hayward Jr. CB $14,136,000 CB $8,901,424
Allen Robinson II WR $12,716,000 WR $8,893,407
Christian McCaffrey RB $16,305,000 RB $8,841,316
Laremy Tunsil LT $15,075,000 LT $8,840,162
Brian Poole CB $13,391,000 CB $8,822,643
Demario Davis LB $12,663,000 LB $8,806,425
Bud Dupree Edge $13,324,000 Edge $8,620,875
Emmanuel Sanders WR $12,217,000 WR $8,607,167
Jamie Collins Sr. LB $11,710,000 LB $8,535,212
Jarvis Landry WR $12,549,000 WR $8,456,911
Terron Armstead LT $15,184,000 LT $8,414,748
Cory Littleton LB $12,681,000 LB $8,321,693
Keenan Allen WR $12,432,000 WR $8,290,267
Demarcus Lawrence Edge $11,229,000 Edge $8,058,982
Jimmy Garoppolo QB $20,538,000 QB $7,961,476
Justin Simmons S $11,844,000 S $7,914,733
Benardrick McKinney LB $11,560,000 LB $7,896,254
Matt Ioannidis IDL $11,054,000 IDL $7,891,464
Dalvin Cook RB $14,006,000 RB $7,854,895
Tre’Davious White CB $12,917,000 CB $7,838,164
Baker Mayfield QB $19,469,000 QB $7,808,520
D.J. Reader IDL $10,068,000 IDL $7,750,959
DeForest Buckner IDL $10,489,000 IDL $7,720,168
Kenny Clark IDL $11,310,000 IDL $7,695,674
Julian Edelman WR $11,803,000 WR $7,654,175
Jamal Adams S $11,465,000 S $7,646,877
Robert Woods WR $11,985,000 WR $7,609,230
Josh Jacobs RB $11,726,000 RB $7,556,632
Gerald McCoy IDL $10,103,000 IDL $7,514,884
Olivier Vernon Edge $11,126,000 Edge $7,484,871
Anthony Castonzo LT $14,668,000 LT $7,475,669
Aaron Jones RB $12,599,000 RB $7,464,500
Michael Brockers IDL $10,482,000 IDL $7,429,185
Tramon Williams CB $9,485,000 CB $7,408,474
Deion Jones LB $11,315,000 LB $7,403,331
Odell Beckham Jr. WR $11,563,000 WR $7,336,163
Andy Dalton QB $18,033,000 QB $7,326,733
Trey Flowers Edge $10,661,000 Edge $7,323,298
Marcus Davenport Edge $10,553,000 Edge $7,303,132

NFL CBA Suggestion Series

Earlier this year I partnered with my co-author of Crunching Numbers, Vijay Natarajan, to touch on 10 things that we thought should be worth looking at in the next CBA. Some may be a bit out of reach but its better to aim high than just settle for something because its easier. Here are the links to the 10 articles.

CBA Suggestion Number 1: Reducing the Length of Rookie Contracts to Two Years

CBA Suggestion Number 2: Revamp the Rookie Contract Rules

CBA Suggestion Number 3: Increase Mandatory Injury Protection

CBA Suggestion Number 4: Raise Team and League Wide Spending Requirements

CBA Suggestion Number 5: Reinstitute Salary Cap minimum Spending

CBA Suggestion Number 6: Salary Cap Amnesty Clause

CBA Suggestion Number 7: The Elimination of the Funding Rule

CBA Suggestion Number 8: Improve the Revenue Split

CBA Suggestion Number 9: Revamp the Franchise Tag System

CBA Suggestion Number 10: Increase Minimum Salaries