It’s a bit of a weird season in the NFL. Normally by Thanksgiving you have a good handle on who the playoff teams likely are and who are the bottom feeders, but this year it’s a bit wacky with the AFC a complete disaster to the point where you can’t count anyone out except the Browns. That makes it a little harder to really identify the teams that did poorly with their money this year since it wouldn’t be shocking if a team like the Dolphins made the playoffs even though the team is awful by any metric. That said we’ll try just that by looking at what teams spent in new money in 2017 on player contracts and make some judgments anyway.
Now when we talk about new contract money we are talking about new contracts actually signed in 2017. This does not include practice squad players or restructured contracts that saw no raise or were effectively a paycut for the player. It also doesn’t include traded players who did not sign new contracts (i.e. Jimmy Garoppolo) but does include players who were traded for that did sign new contracts (i.e. Julius Thomas). Dead money totals also include money spent on players who were signed in 2017 and cut in season.
So as I look through the list I think the two big spenders who have been happy with the way things went are the Jaguars and Steelers. The Jaguars spent nearly $97 million on new player contracts this year and are among the best teams in the AFC. The spending is nothing new to Jacksonville, who has spent like mad the last few years in hopes of improving, but this year it finally is paying off. Leonard Fournette has helped carry the offense while big ticket free agents Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye have helped transform the defense into one of the best units in the NFL.
Meanwhile the Steelers locked up Antonio Brown, Stephon Tuitt, and Alejandro Villanueva and also have Le’Veon Bell on the tag to take up a big chunk of their $87 million cash figure. The team also went out and made an aggressive pitch for Joe Haden who had been terrific before injury struck. The team also seemed to hit with a number of draft picks too. Pittsburgh poses the biggest threat to the Patriots so they should be happy with their spending.
In terms of efficient spending the Vikings, Rams, and Saints are just below the average and all are Super Bowl contenders this year. The Vikings spent on the offensive line and that paid off for them as have their extensions for their core defensive players. Their best signing is the re-signing of Adam Thielen who is having a career season and is one of the best bargains in football. Even Latavius Murray, who looked like one of the worst signings of 2017, is playing a role.
The Rams certainly hit with Andrew Whitworth and Robert Woods as their two big free agent signings. They added some depth players as well and also did a great job with their special teamers. Trumaine Johnson isn’t worth the price tag but that was a given when they tagged him a second time. Though the team is probably a good year away from being able to compete at a high level they should make the playoffs.
For the first time in a long time the Saints didn’t do anything too crazy in the offseason, other than the Adrian Peterson debacle, and after years of mediocrity the Saints look to be one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They had the big money item in Larry Warford and beyond that made some solid mid range pickups. Their best acquisitions have come in the draft where they found contributors to add much needed depth to the team.
The Eagles are way down on the spending charts and the current favorites in the NFC, but theirs is a more interesting story. The Eagles spent a fortune in 2016 and then solidified the roster with a number of 1 year kind of contracts. Those one year deals are almost always far cheaper than multi year contracts that carry the same APY. Philadelphia’s front office should be commended for identifying the weaknesses from last year and addressing them without going crazy in free agency. It can be difficult for a team to stand pat when things don’t go so well year to year, but the Eagles stood firm and it paid off.
The two teams that followed similar approaches to the Eagles were the Giants and Cowboys. The Giants spent big in 2016 opposites of the Eagles were the Giants who also spent big in 2016 but were very conservative in 2017 with the 7th least spent on the year. Obviously the payoff for New York wasn’t there as they did not self scout that well. Dallas is the lowest spender in the league while crawling out from a bit of a salary cap funk. They still have an outside chance to make the playoffs though.
One of the more interesting teams is the Patriots. The team spent over $94 million this year on new players though its debatable how much that spending really helped the team. Stephon Gilmore has been a disappointment, Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman are injured, and Mike Gillislee has been inactive for the last few games, but there are others who have chipped in. While they will likely re-evaluate some of the misses overall they have to be pleased with how the team has done, but at the same time probably think they may have wasted some money to get that result.
Finally we have the complete disasters. The Browns spent over $126 million on new player contracts this year. While the biggest number was on a slotted draft pick (Myles Garrett) they added a ton of payroll in Kevin Zeitler, Jamie Collins, Kenny Britt, Joel Bitonio, and Christian Kirksey. The team spent $13 million more than the next closest team and is a total disaster. They are a near lock for the 1st overall draft pick.
The Bears had the second most spent which also includes Mitch Trubisky’s slotted deal, but also includes the Mike Glennon mistake. Other additions/extensions were Akiem Hicks, Prince Amukamara, Charles Leno, Dion Sims, and Markus Wheaton. The Bears have had their moments but they threw a lot away this year.
The 49ers were another big spender with bad results though they had two first rounders accounting for a big portion of their spending. They added some names like Pierre Garcon, Malcolm Smith, and Elvis Dumervil on the veteran end that haven’t made a big difference. They also made moderate investments in Jeremy Kerley and Brian Hoyer, neither of whom are with the team.
Of the teams without the big draft spending the Redskins and Dolphins have to be the biggest disappointments though Miami still has a chance despite being one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Redskins did the 2nd tag for Kirk Cousins, extended Morgan Moses, and added Terrell McClain, Terrelle Pryor, and Stacy McGee. It hasn’t worked out great. Pryor is arguably the biggest disappointment in the NFL.
Miami just made mistakes everywhere. From the signing of Jay Cutler to the trade for Julius Thomas and the wild extension for Reshad Jones, Miami sunk deeper into a bad team, essentially locking them further and further into a bad roster. There are a few teams that continue to throw money into bad situations and Miami is one of those teams.
Here is the full list of 2017 spending.
|Team||Active Spending||Dead Spending||Total Spending|
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.