Jason Fitzgerald

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.

Recent Posts by Jason

2021 Season Preview: The NFL’s Youngest and Oldest Rosters

For today’s look at the upcoming season I wanted to break the teams down by age. I looked at every roster (excluding the practice squad) and determined the average age on offense and defense. Here is what I came up with.

First of all I think the big takeaway is how young the NFL is in general. The average age in the league is just over 26 years old and the spread of teams is only between 25.5 years and 27.3 years. So we are talking pretty small differences here, but it is something to at least note when you start looking at your teams this year.

The teams in the upper right quadrant are the most veteran clubs in the NFL. They are above the average age on both offense and defense. Most of these teams would likely be classified as “win now” teams since moving from 27 ish to 28ish is not a good model in todays NFL. These are all the usual suspects of the Bucs, Bears, Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks, Raiders, Saints, and Falcons. Some are playoff teams from a year ago and others need to be this year. Inexplicably the Texans are in here as they take on a strange self inflicted rebuild.

On the bottom right we have teams with a veteran offense but a young defense. I would say that this should bring more predictability on the offense side of the ball and a lot of unknowns on the defensive side. Some of these represent teams that are building defenses in the draft while being happy with the offense. Here the offenses are probably going to hide the defense in most cases and if they can not that could be a problem area.

The top left are the teams that are old on defense but young on offense. Some of these are teams that have traditionally been stronger defenses like New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Baltimore. The teams in this quadrant are more unknown on offense and if they catch fire, in particular those with a young QB, they can probably surprise. If the offenses are terrible the makeup of this type of team is probably very concerning.

Finally, the bottom left are the most volatile teams. They are young on both sides of the ball and rebuilding their rosters. These are the teams that could stun this year and if they do have a very bright future because of how young the teams are. Most of these teams will get a pass if they play poorly if it is due to a 1st or 2nd year QB. The teams who fail here likely will in line for another rebuild before they ever move out of this quadrant unless the GM goes on a free agent spending spree as a last ditch effort to help the team.

Overall, the oldest roster in the NFL belongs to (no surprise) Arizona. They are followed by the Bears, Bucs, Texans, and 49ers. The Panthers will have the youngest team in the NFL followed by the Lions, Jets, Browns, and Bengals.

I also looked at how many positional players (excluding QBs) are at least 30 years old on every team. The NFL average is 7.8 players per team. Arizona doubles that with 16 players followed by the Bucs (15), 49ers (13), Bears (11) and five teams tied with 10. The Rams with just 3 players have the fewest followed by the Lions and Dolphins with 4.

Here is the data for each team.

TeamAvg. AgeDef. AgeOff. AgePos. Players
over 30
Football Team26.2925.5926.727

Breaking Down Mark Andrews $56 Million Contract Extension

The Ravens and tight end Mark Andrews agreed to a four year, $56 million contract extension Monday night which will make him, on paper, the third highest paid tight end in the NFL bit in reality the second highest paid tight end in the league. Per a league source with knowledge of the contract the breakdown is as follows.

In 2021, Andrews will receive a $10.163 million signing bonus along with a $920,000 salary, which is fully guaranteed. This is a raise of $7.5 million over Andrews’ prior $3.58 million salary (this includes a 17th game check Andrews would have earned). Andrews cap number should be $3.16 million.

In 2022, Andrews will receive a $15.5 million option bonus and a $3.5 million salary. Both are fully guaranteed at signing. The cap number in 2022 will be $9.4 million.

In 2023, Andrews will earn a salary of $7.5 million. The salary is guaranteed for injury and will be fully guaranteed in 2022. The cap number is $13.4M.

In 2024 and 2025, Andrews will earn $11 million in each season, split up between $7 million salaries and $4 million in roster bonuses. The roster bonuses will force a team to make an early decision on releasing  the player once the guarantees in a contract run out. In both years Andrews’ cap number will be $16.9 million.

Overall, it works out to $30.08 million guaranteed at signing and $37.8 million virtually guaranteed at signing due to the early vesting date on the 2023 salary. The full guarantee ranks third at the position behind Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith and the injury guarantee is second to only George Kittle. The four year length is stronger for Andrews than it is for Kittle.

While many are going to point to the guarantee as the big deal with the contract the real strength of this contract is in the cash flow schedule. Andrews will blow away the position when it comes to up front cash that is earned. Here is the cash flow schedule of the top tight end contracts in the NFL.

PlayerYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5
George Kittle$18,000,000$21,700,000$33,750,000$46,000,000$60,000,000$75,000,000
Mark Andrews$7,500,000$26,500,000$34,000,000$45,000,000$56,000,000FA
Travis Kelce$4,250,000$11,750,000$25,000,000$40,000,000$57,250,000FA
Hunter Henry$17,000,000$27,000,000$37,500,000FAFA
Jonnu Smith$17,000,000$27,000,000$38,000,000$50,000,000FA

Andrews $26.5 million earned in the first new year of the contract is 22% higher than George Kittle’s which is a major jump. Even through year two Andrews will out-earn Kittle and will earn 36% more than Kelce which is why Andrews deal is far stronger than Kelce’s even if technically the annual value ranks below.

The first turn for the Ravens comes in year three when Andrews will drop slightly below Kittle and the gap between he and Kelce begins to shrink. He will fall a full $1M per year under Kittle if both make it to the fourth season and Andrews would have a chance in free agency or on an extension to catch up to or make out better than Kittle over the long term.

The Ravens have done contracts like this in the past where they commit very big amounts up front and in return do not set a new market high for a player. Here are a few examples of the way have utilized this concept.

Player% of Contract Paid 1st Year% of 3Y Cash Paid 1st Year
Marcus Peters48.8%48.8%
Mark Andrews47.3%58.9%
Kevin Zeitler44.4%44.4%
Ronnie Stanley42.3%65.5%
Marlon Humphrey39.0%63.1%

The cases are similar to Andrews’. Stanley is the 4th highest paid left tackle but earned the most in the first year. Humphrey is the 2nd highest paid corner but earns far more than the top salaried player by APY in the first year and is tops at the position. Peters is 9th in APY and 8th in 1st year cash while also being a rare player signed to a three year deal.

Andrews cash salary also far outpaces the alternative of the franchise tag. We project the tag to be around $10.7M for tight ends next year. Had he gone year to year Andrews would have been in line to earn $23.5 million by the end of 2023, none of which would have been guaranteed. He will earn more than two tags by the end of 2022 and $11.5M more by the end of 2023. A third tag would never be in play for a tight end.

When you look at the numbers in this manner the Ravens need Andrews to play through at least the 2024 season on the contract and most likely need this to wind up a true four year contract to get strong value out of the deal. That doesn’t make this a bad contract for the Ravens it just makes it a contract one they need to be right about.

For those curious about any outs in the contract if things went sideways the first real out year is 2024 when the dead money drops to $11.8 million. Even a trade the year before that would result in over $17.5 million in dead money. Andrews has $4 million roster bonuses in the 2024 and 2025 “out years” to ensure an early release if the Ravens needed to move on.

Salary Cap Space Update- September 7

Rather than putting a number of posts about restructures, I thought it would be good to just take a quick look at where teams stand with the salary cap as of Monday morning. Team’s have until Thursday to be under the salary cap for the year though almost everyone is now under the cap.

Last week we had about 7 teams that were over the salary cap and most made moves yesterday to get under. Field Yates of ESPN reported that, as expected, Dak Prescott, Julio Jones, Jimmy Graham and Carl Nassib have all restructured their contracts to create cap room for their respective teams. The first three were logical moves and the Nassib one just simply the Raiders needing to find money wherever they could.

Prescott’s restructure creates $5 million in cap room for the Cowboys which should move them to about $4M under when the season begins. There were other candidates but Prescott is clearly going to be in Dallas for a long time while there are probably more questions on Amari Cooper and Demarcus Lawrence.

Jones’ restructure opens up $11.2 million in cap room for the Titans who are now about $5.5 million under. Jones had almost no dead money in his contract after this season so this was an easy decision and easy contract to work with compared to other deals.

Graham’s contract restructure created $4.7 million in cap room for Chicago to get them to $3.7 million under. His contract expires after this season so basically they just borrowed from 2022 when their cap situation is a bit better to move under the cap.

Nassib’s contract was restructured for the second time this year. The Raiders in the last few days have restructured the contracts of Nassib, Yannick Ngakoue, and Nick Kwiatkoski to get under the cap. Currently we have them $750,000 under, but more likely they are $2.25 million under. They had recently signed KJ Wright to a contract with $1.75 million in likely incentives but I would guess they have a condition attached so they do not count on the cap.

The team that has the most work to do is the Giants who are around $6 million over the cap. They will likely need to look at some combination of restructuring the contracts of Jabrill Peppers, Adoree Jackson, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and James Bradberry to get under.

The Rams are listed as $1 million over but they redid Johnny Hekker’s contract already which should move them under. The Falcons probably still need to make a move as they are right around the salary cap limit. The other teams to keep an eye on are the Bills, Bucs, Dolphins and Colts.

Here is a snapshot of the cap space in the NFL right now. Remember that these are fluid and will quickly change as the season approaches.

TeamCap Space

2021 Season Preview: The Top Valued Rosters in the NFL

With the regular season about to get underway I thought this would be a good time to start breaking down the rosters in the league in some different ways. For today I wanted to look at which teams have the most expensive rosters in the NFL when valued by the annual contract value of the players on the team. These numbers will change (Mark Andrews for example signed a $14M contract as I started this) this week but for the most part should give an idea of who does and does not have a lot invested in their team.

The second thing I wanted to look at was how much cap space each team is projected to have in 2022. I used each team’s estimated cap room and added in the salary cap carryover estimates to come up with those figures. That gives us an even better idea as to who is and who is not “all in” on this season. While I did have time to add the Andrews contract to the APY calculation the Ravens cap calculations have not been updated for Andrews.

The most valuable roster is the Tampa Bay Bucs at $240M, about $35M more than the NFL average this year. The Buccaneers went off all their salary cap norms in order to keep this team together to try to repeat as a Super Bowl champion and it is reflected in how strong the roster, on paper, is.

The Bills come in at number 2 with a $239M roster led by their $43M quarterback, Josh Allen. The Bills are not a team that traditionally people would expect to see here but they were incredibly successful last year and probably kept a few guys they would not have if the 2020 season finished in the wildcard round.

The Browns at just under $235 million are number three and the expectations are going to be sky high. With a few potential big extensions on the horizon they may be moving into a firm hold on the top spots for the next few years if things go well this season, though I would expect the complexion of the team to look a little different.

The Cowboys are one of the rare teams with three $20M/year players not to mention an expensive running back. They rank 4th in the NFL at $234M. Dallas had a rough season with Dak Prescott sidelined for most of the year in 2020 and there is a ton of pressure on Dallas to dominate a weak division this year is Prescott is healthy.

Finally at number five we have the Colts at $230.5M. This is the team that surprised me the most. Part of their numbers are inflated by the presence of Carson Wentz who costs the team far less than his contract value but they have a good amount of middle class and upper level players on this team. They do not have the long term commitments other teams do, but this was a big change for the Colts this year who have a big payroll.

On the low end are three traditional higher spenders in the Falcons, Panthers, and Steelers. I am confident the Steelers number will shoot way up by Saturday if they sign TJ Watt to a big contract with what I would expect to be a $40M signing bonus, but they have clearly been impacted by their cap situation. The Panthers and Falcons are basically reeling from bad cap situations and drafts that have made it more difficult for them to really make the kind of additions one would expect.

The Chargers have the 4th lowest number which also surprised me. I wonder if they could have added a little more this year in free agency to surround their young star QB rather than waiting until next year. The Dolphins are number five which was not a surprise. They took a step back with some of their roster decisions from last year and did not replace them, clearly looking more at 2022 than 2021.

That brings me to my next point which is where we look at how teams value this year may or may not impact cap room next year.

The X-axis shows this year roster value based on the APY of all the players on the team while the Y-axis shows next year’s projected salary cap space (and it includes the early estimated for cap carryover). The lines represent the averages in the NFL. If you are in the top right quadrant it means you have both an expensive roster this year and cap flexibility next year. That is usually a good spot to be in because you have room to keep your free agents and if you do not have many free agents you have room to add. The Colts, Bears, Patriots, Washington, and Seattle show up here.

The left quadrant are the teams likely playing with house money in 2021. They have low valued rosters this year and a lot of cap space next year. This includes the Steelers, Chargers, Panthers, Bengals, Jets, Jaguars, Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, and Lions. The closer you are to the mid line (Raiders, Lions, and Ravens) the more pressure there should be on this year while the further you are the more the teams were likely looking at 2022.

The bottom right are the teams who are all in. They have high valued rosters and below average cap space. The Packers, Saints, and Cowboys are the three who clearly are all the most on this season. The Vikings and Cardinals also both sneak in here and are two teams that should have a ton of pressure to deliver. Arizona in particular has the makings of a team that could make in season changes if things fall apart. The Chiefs, Texans, 49ers, Browns, Bills, Bucs, Titans, and 49ers are all here.

Finally the bottom left is a rough spot. These are teams who don’t have the high valued rosters and do not have good cap projections for next year. These teams are likely a WYSIWYG situation for two years which can be very difficult if the team winds up flopping this year. The Giants and Rams are right at the edge of this while the Falcons and Eagles are in a bad spot.

The other thing interesting about this is how many teams are on the two extremes. Todays NFL has definitely embraced the idea of playing for the future more than the present where teams are basically given the ok to not maximize their roster with a faint hope of winning and being more realistic about their fortunes. That does allow more teams who project to be good to load up in a given year rather than losing those free agent players to the “bad teams” in the league. Not sure if this is a trend that continues but it has come more into focus the last few years.

Here is the list in table form.   

Team2021 Roster Value2022 Cap Space
Football Team$208,935,428$54,645,531

GM Review: John Dorsey

This summer one of our interns, Aaron McKinney, worked on a project toward developing different ways to evaluate the performance of NFL front offices. He opted to go back and look at the career of former Chiefs and Browns General Manager John Dorsey. Aaron went back and graded out Dorsey’s performance in the draft, free agency, and the trade market, utilizing contract data, trade charts, and PFF grading to help quantify the results.

Since Dorsey had such a long history in the NFL this project wound up a very long and in depth piece and we thought that it would be fun to share with the OTC community as a pdf document. If you have any questions you can contact Aaron direct at ammckinn@hotmail.com or let me know via email or on Twitter and Ill pass along the questions to him.

You can download a copy of Aaron’s work below.

OTC Podcast: September 4, 2021

In today’s OTC Podcast:

  • Previewing the 2021 NFL Season
  • Answers to all your questions from the week

Listen on Google Play Music

Thanks to Adam Hehrer for the podcast edits. You can follow or contact Adam on Twitter @Defiantslave

Salary Cap and Contract Dollars Lost to the Reserve Lists

With final cuts out of the way, the actual rosters of teams begin to take shape now that the short term injured reserve is available to teams to utilize. In order to potentially use short term IR teams had to carry players on the 53 man roster for a day until placing them on IR. With the IR lists now largely set I wanted to look at just how much teams are losing to the various reserve lists (IR, PUP, NFI, and Left squad) in week 1 of the season.

At the top of the list is the New York Jets with $33.27 million in contract value and $29.1M in cap room sitting on the sidelines. A good chunk of that is from Carl Lawson but they do also lead the NFL with 13 names. Alex Lewis and Jarrad Davis are the other bigger names for the Jets.

The Patriots come in at number 2 with just under $26M in contracts on reserve and just over $26M in cap space on reserve. Stefon Gilmore is the big name for New England. Gilmore is on the PUP list and unhappy with his contract. If he is unable to play this year expect more unhappiness as he will lose his free agent status in 2022.

The Packers rank number 3 and it is almost all for one player- David Bakhtiari- who makes up $23M of the $24.7M in contract charges. His cap number is much lower however so they are not top 3 in cap lost to the reserve lists. Rounding out the top 5 are Saints ($22M/$13M) and Steelers ($20M/$14M).

The healthiest team so far is the Chargers with just $1.39 million in contract value on reserve, well under the league average of $10.8 million. Buffalo is next with $2.75 million while the Texans have $3.4 million sidelined.

Here is the list as of September 2. This will change as settlements are reached in the coming days with players who do not fit into the future plans of teams and have minor injuries.

TeamPlayersAPYSalary Cap
Football Team6$4,617,242$2,436,409
NFL Average7.1$10,800,511$8,431,744