Analyzing the Green Bay Packers 2018 Offseason

2018 Green Bay Packers (Cap Numbers as of 1/26; source Over The Cap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)

2018 Team Cap = $184,403,050

Total Cap Liabilities = $165,025,417

Top 51 = 159,826,884

Dead Money = $4,718,533

Team Cap – (Top 51 + Dead Money) = Cap Space

Cap Space = $19,857,633

Rookie Pool = $8,864,072

Cap Space – Rookie Pool = $10,993,561

Draft Picks:

11 draft picks: 1/14, 2/45, 3/76, 3/101, 4/116, 5/152, 5/173, 5/175, 5/177, 6/189, 7/232

Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Team Needs:

  • CB, OL, WR
  • “They added a CB (Kevin King) in the 2017 draft, and it might be time to go back to the well at the position. The Packers could look to add competition along the offensive line. Randall Cobb is a potential cap casualty, so WR could become a priority.”

Team’s Free Agents:

Green Bay is at a stage of their franchise where they’ve become over invested in the passing game with Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, plus Jordy Nelson as their top three cap hits at 25.52% of the cap and the team extending Davante Adams to a deal that’s going to pay him a projected 5.87% of the cap in 2018 as their seventh most expensive player. This over-investment in one phase of the game is something I talk about often in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions. As a team gets heavily invested in one phase of the game, most typically passing because of the high costs of quarterbacks with about half of the NFL paying over 10% of the cap to their top quarterback, wide receivers, and left tackles, other phases of the game begin to suffer, which is what has happened for the Packers over the last few seasons. To this point, they have Pro Football Focus’ #1 left tackle for 2017 in David Bakhtiari, but there’s a large investment in the singular discipline of offensive passing. The Packers are one of the most well run organizations in the NFL, so this can happen to anyone and they’re still in their Super Bowl window. They even have the potential to expand it, if they can make the right moves this offseason.

The 2017 Packers might have looked a bit better on defense if Aaron Rodgers played the whole season, but as it worked out they were ranked 26th in points allowed at 24.0 per game and 22nd in yards allowed at 349 yards per game. Even if Rodgers was healthy, there is no doubt this team had defensive issues and has weak spots heading into 2018. The team needs that I have for the Packers start with cornerback as the number one team need, then the interior of their offensive line, wide receiver if they have to move on from Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson, tight end, safety, outside linebacker, defensive end, and back-up quarterback.

Cornerback is their biggest need and it’s also a need that could be solved for them right now if they were able to re-sign Casey Hayward in 2016. They were then unable to sign the versatile safety and cornerback Micah Hyde in 2017. This is a great example of what I mean about an over-investment in one phase of the game creating holes elsewhere on the roster, these are two of their biggest needs this offseason for a team that traditionally builds from within their roster and has been second in the NFL in draft picks from 1994 through 2016 with 204 to the Patriots 210.

I must acknowledge that part of the reason they couldn’t re-sign Hayward and Hyde was because the team has drafted so well, the top 10 most expensive players currently on the roster for 2018 were drafted by the team, so this is a case where they couldn’t re-sign everyone. Alternatively though, Hayward and Hyde were such good values that maybe the Packers should have planned out their spending better, rather than investing in both Cobb and Nelson. I’m just presenting both sides to this though because the Packers also drafted potential replacements for Cobb and Nelson in Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis, but they didn’t pan out as the team planned. Adams has panned out though, which has made Cobb more expendable in 2018.

Similarly, in the defensive backfield, the Packers drafted players like cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Kevin King who haven’t worked out as well as the team would have hoped. Maybe 2017 second round picks King and safety Josh Jones play at a similar production level to Hayward and Hyde after a season in the league and the Packers have a greatly improved secondary. The Packers haven’t replaced Hayward and Hyde yet, but in their defense, they’ve made the moves to deal with their departures and invested their draft picks wisely. Considering their track record of draft success and player development, it wouldn’t be surprising to see King and Jones become good NFL starters in year two as they learn more about being a pro and the organization understands more about how to use their strengths in their system. The team has to be hoping that 2015 second round pick Quinton Rollins, a cornerback who started 10 games for them in 2016, will return from an Achilles injury that cost him more than half of the 2017 season and continue to develop into a competent player for them.

Hayward was signed away by the Los Angeles Chargers on a three-year, $15.3 million contract, which is pennies for a player who was already one of the top 15 to 20 cornerbacks in the NFL when he left Green Bay and was Pro Football Focus’ #1 cornerback in 2017. Hyde was signed away by the Bills for a five-year, $30 million contract that’s a great value for a player with his versatility as a safety for the Bills and the Packers lost their slot cornerback from 2016. Hyde was a top 15 safety according to Pro Football Focus. Heyward’s contract is in the 3-3.5% of the cap range, which is low second tier costs for a top player at a position that can cost as much as 9% of the cap. Theoretically, the Chargers are getting a potential 9% of cap value from a player they’re paying 3% of the cap. Hyde’s cap costs will be in the 2.4-4% of the cap range, which is near the bottom of the first tier for the safety market, which peaks at 7%.

As I wrote in Caponomics, the NFL is about value and versatility and the Packers lost out on two valuable players who would have added versatility to their defense, but again they did make a strong attempt at replacing them with low-cost players. One thing regarding losing out on Hayward and Hyde, but having Cobb and Nelson is that I also believe that when a team has a truly elite quarterback, they should be looking to save costs at wide receiver as that quarterback can elevate the play of his wide receivers and a team wants to avoid becoming over-invested in one phase of the game. An elite quarterback can make lesser receivers produce at a higher rate with his arm strength and accuracy, while his decision making can elevate the receivers through understanding where to throw the ball on each play and the whole offense through knowing when to audible to the right play call versus each specific defense. I saw future cap issues coming when they signed Nelson and Cobb to such high costs within nine months of each other in 2014 and 2015. It’s hard to guess what the cap issue will be, but you can foresee the team losing productive players and having holes on their roster elsewhere on the roster when so much of the cap is allocated to one phase of the game.

Because the Packers are such a great organization, almost their entire roster has been constructed through the draft, so they have veterans who are on reasonable contracts mostly due to being signed to extensions prior to hitting free agency and being forced into bidding wars with the rest of the league. They have an expensive top 10 of their roster with 63.08% going to this group, but they have saved some cap space due to signing six of these players to extensions, while only allowing three to hit unrestricted free agency. The tenth player is Ha Ha Clinton-Fix on the fifth year of his first round rookie deal. The six signed to extensions are Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews, David Bakhtiari, Davante Adams, and Mike Daniels. One could argue that all six of these players are on contracts that are below what they would have received on the open market and even on contracts that are good values for the teams or more team friendly deals. With the Packers ability to draft well, they also have contributors on their rookie contracts like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Randall, Ty Montgomery, Jake Ryan, Aaron Ripkowski, Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez, King, Jones, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. These players are low-cost, so while some of them might not be high performers right now, they can cost as little as 0.30% to 0.50% of the cap and even if they’re just an average starter, the team could be getting 1.50% of the cap worth of value out of them because that’s what an average veteran starter in the NFL can cost.

Now, especially with safety Morgan Burnett hitting free agency, they’re going to have to try and find values in free agency or through the draft that can immediately come in and contribute for the two weak spots of cornerback and safety for a team that was 23rd in passing yards allowed, 29th in passing touchdowns allowed, and 29th in net yards per attempt allowed. In defense of their defensive backs, the Packers were 19th in sacks, so maybe they weren’t getting enough pressure on the quarterback as well, but that’s something they’ll likely end up having to solve through the draft because of lack of cap space, which we’ll get to later.

As it currently stands, the Packers are estimated to have about $11 million in cap space after paying out their 11 draft picks in their rookie pool. As I said, they’re traditionally a team that builds through the draft, but, with how many needs they have and the opportunity to extend that Super Bowl window, this might be the year to go out and get a first rate player like when they signed Reggie White, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers. Two of those signings helped the team win championships. This is a great example of how the right big signing can help win a championship with much of the rest of the team being built through the draft. Worth noting that the three of these players were signed by the Packers at ages 32, 30, and 34, so maybe the team has identified that certain elite players can a) continue to be productive into their 30s and b) can be had at a lower price than they would have been had at 26 or 27 when their earning potential is at it’s peak. Elite edge rushers and safeties can tend to have longer careers, so they picked players at two positions that had a reasonable chance of continuing to be productive.

The first move they can make to clear the cap space required to make necessary short-term improvements is to ask slot receiver Randall Cobb to either take a pay cut or be released as he’s not worth the 7.09% of the cap he’s about to be paid. As Bill Barnwell points out, Cobb would be entering a flooded slot receiver market with Jarvis Landry, Tavon Austin, Danny Amendola, Jordan Matthews, and Kendall Wright, which means after a down 2017 season, he might not be in line to earn much more than he’d be offered by the Packers on a pay cut. While Cobb’s down season could be attributed Rodgers being injured, he hasn’t been an elite first tier player since he signed his contract during March 2015. He was a first tier caliber player the year before with 91 catches for 1287 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he’s averaged just 68 catches for 697 yards per season with 14 touchdowns since. The Packers could clear $9,468,750 worth of cap space if they cut or trade Cobb, but extending him and keeping him on the roster at a discount that clears $7 million in space is also a viable option. A one-year extension through 2019 could accomplish that and give the Packers the chance to still have one of the best receiving groups in the NFL with all three. With Nelson and Adams on such expensive contracts though, it might be time to move on from him, especially if they can draft a receiver with the potential to replace him immediately in the first three rounds. I also think the signing of Adams to an extension that has him at 5.87% of the cap in 2018 was an indication that something will be done regarding Cobb. Clearing $7 million in cap space would give them about $18 million in cap space, while releasing Cobb would put them near $20.5 million.

Nelson is a player I’m more likely to keep if I’m the Packers because in the three years coming into his 53 catch, 482 yards, six touchdown campaign in 2017, he averaged 93 catches for 1363 yards per season with 35 touchdowns. Still, at 6.97% of the cap, that’s pricey for a player who had such a down 2017 and will be 33 in 2018, regardless of who was quarterback. I don’t think they’ll cut both Cobb and Nelson this offseason after a 2017 season where they didn’t have a chance to play their best football with Brett Hundley under center. When I appeared on Chris Harris’ Football podcast on January 11th. I had both Nelson and Cobb as potential cuts, but I think Nelson is the one who is more likely to sign an extension of the two because he probably still has something left in the tank, plus at an older age he could probably be had for a lower price on an extension. He’s more of a Green Bay institution at this point as one of the greatest receivers in franchise history, so I don’t think either side will want to part ways.

Nelson will turn 34 during May 2018, so it’s unlikely he could demand a contract over 4 or 5% of the cap, even after a great season, so they might be able to work out an extension that gives the team a bit of a break, while paying Nelson a reasonable expectation of his worth. Could he still be a first tier type receiver with near 1300-yards this season? Potentially, but after just 482 in 2017, even with Hundley at QB, I’m not sure how likely that is and the low-production might also scare teams off who don’t have Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback as they might think Nelson is a product of Rodgers being his quarterback. I could see an extension that converts Nelson’s $9.25 million salary for 2018 into a signing bonus, then prorates it out over the next two or three years to give the Packers a discount in 2018, while extending his costs into 2019 and 2020 where the team has a projected $73.5 and $130.6 million respectively. I think with Rodgers as his quarterback, Nelson could continue to give the team 4% of the cap worth of value, or around 900+ receiving yards per season, especially if they start to go younger at the position with the release of Cobb. Adams could be growing into the #1 receiver in Green Bay right now, so Nelson’s role might become the second receiver during this last contract and he’d be a good second option rather than relied on to be the #1 facing off with the opponent’s top cornerback each week. The game is about match-ups, so if Adams develops into the kind of player defenses have to focus their best cornerback on, Nelson could then be in a position to beat the opponent’s less talented second cornerback.

Maybe the team will clear $4 million in cap space through a Nelson extension, which would get them to $22-24.5 million. Regardless of how they deal with the situation they have at wide receiver this offseason, the Packers have a second round pick, two thirds, and a fourth, so I’d like to see them take a receiver in this window. I love Anthony Miller out of Memphis in this area as he could be a slot receiver, but could also be much more over time. He could be Cobb’s immediate replacement and at a far lower cost, probably as a second round pick, which would then allow the team to invest more in more pressing needs than keeping a first tier receiver in terms of cost, but who hasn’t produced like a first tier receiver in terms of production since he signed the deal.

Since we’re on the offensive side of the football, tight end is a need they must address through free agency and the draft this year. Unfortunately for the Packers and for Jermichael Finley, he’d be nearing the entering his 31-year old season and might be a pass catcher who could be relied on to gain 700+ yards per season if he stayed healthy. He dealt with injuries throughout his time in the NFL, but from his second year in 2009 through his sixth year, he averaged 11 games per season with 43 catches for 542 yards and 19 total touchdowns. His 48.4 yards per game during this time averages out to 775 yards per 16-game season.

In his last two 16 game seasons, 2011 and 2012, Finley had 58 catches for 717 and 5 touchdowns per season. In his last six games of his career in 2013 before a neck injury ended it, Finley had 25 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns, he was on pace for 67 catches for 800 yards in his 26-year old season. That was in an offense that had Nelson, Cobb, and James Jones too. He was becoming one of the better tight ends in the league if he could have stayed healthy, so he could still be their starter if they held on to him and in a lower cost positional market as great tight ends can be much more of a value than receivers.

Instead, the team hasn’t had any consistency at the position since then and they’re looking for a new tight end to lead the group like they have the last two years as they thought the signings of Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett would finally be a short-term solution through free agency to help push these team into the Super Bowl. Tight end is one of the key spots the Packers should be looking to free agency for because tight end is a position that takes some time to develop and it’s a lower cost positional market, so free agency is less of a risk.

I had lunch with an NFL free agent tight end this weekend and we got on the topic of tight end play. In Caponomics I note that part of the reason tight ends take a bit of time to develop in the NFL is because they have to block for the run and run routes at a professional level, two distinctly different tasks. This tight end took it further, mentioning that they have to do that, but they also have to block people who specialize in stopping the run and rushing the passer on the defensive line, then they can run routes against safeties who specialize in covering receivers. Not only that, but a tight end has to learn multiple positions, he has to know the tight end spot, slot receivers, outside receiver, H-back, and even fullback. He has to understand the line calls, he has to understand which routes to run against which coverages. It’s a very, very complex position.

This need for a veteran tight end is part of the reason it’s so important to decrease the costs of Cobb and Nelson. As teams like the Patriots and Eagles illustrate, you need multiple mismatches in the passing game with the tight end being one of the most important and dynamic mismatches that a team can present. Richard Rodgers has been one of their starting tight ends over the last few years and is a free agent this offseason, but he’s not someone I’d be looking to re-sign if I were the Packers considering they’ve gotten very little out of him. Lance Kendricks is under contract for one more season, but he’s never been a leading tight end. Kendricks was signed by the Packers to be Bennett’s back-up and he’s best suited for that role in 2018 as well. Speaking in terms of mismatches, you want Kendricks lined up against a team’s second best coverage defensive back or linebacker, not the guy who covers the #1 tight end or TE1. Maybe they clear a little more cap space by signing Aaron Rodgers to a long-term contract extension, but with at most about $25 million in cap space after those receiver moves and multiple needs in free agency, they should probably go after the second tier of tight ends and look for a player who is likely to exceed his contract’s value. Trey Burton is the most intriguing name in this market this offseason as he’s shown quite a bit of production and ability in limited playing time, while he might be on a deal in the $5 to 7 million range during the prime of his career. By comparison, Jason Fitzgerald has Jimmy Graham at a projected $7 to 7.5 million per year and while he might be on the decline heading into his 32-year old season, Burton might be on the upswing heading into this 27-year old season. Burton also has the potential to be more of a long-term solution than Graham

While Burton was PFF’s 13th ranked tight end with a 75.6 rating and a nice stat line of 23 catches for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns in just 345 snaps, Graham was PFF’s 33rd ranked tight end with a 53.8 rating. Graham had 57 catches for 520 yards and, a very good, 10 touchdowns in 729 snaps. It’s not that Graham wouldn’t be a nice signing for the Packers or anyone else, he still could be, but Burton might provide more long-term and at a better price, which would be ideal for a Packers team that hasn’t had stability at the position since 2013.

Burton reminds me of Brandon Lafell when he was signed by the Patriots after four years in Carolina. It was the first time I realized how smart coaching staffs will look at a player’s production in a system where he’s getting less targets or snaps, then extrapolate that out to what would happen if he had an increased role. In his three years prior to being signed by the Patriots in 2014, Lafell averaged 43 catches on 72 targets for 639 yards and four touchdowns per season. His yards per reception were 14.9 and his yards per target average was 8.87.

The premise the Patriots were working under was that where other teams saw a 600-700 yard receiver, the Patriots saw a player who could produce the kind of 74 catch, 953 yard, and seven-touchdown season on 119 targets that he had for the Patriots in 2014. He had about 25 more targets with Tom Brady as his quarterback and he was asked to stick to his strengths as a route runner in that offense, which helped the team get almost 1000-yards out of a player who cost just 1.50% of the cap. That is at the intersection of the third and fourth tiers of the wide receiver market and typically a player who is likely to produce a 400 to 500-yard season at best. The Patriots got almost double the production value compared to his cost.

Trey Burton could be the same kind of player for the right team as he would be on a second tier contract for tight ends between one and a half and three percent of the cap. He only had 31 targets thrown his way in 2017, so what could his stat line look like if he got the 77 targets the Packers threw at Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks in 2017 as the Packers starter in 2018? He could end up being a 600-800 yard player behind the Packers receiving leaders like Adams and Nelson. As I note in Caponomics, “players in this [second] tier are great as a supplementary piece who can produce a mismatch against some teams, but who can’t provide the weekly consistency to build an offense around. Since the position takes time to develop, this tier is where teams will invest in a second contract player they believe could become a bigger contributor than he was previously as teams are willing to make a small risk of overpaying in an inexpensive market for the potential reward of a difficult mismatch. While top tier tight ends [between three and six and a half to seven percent of the cap] are the types that teams can trust to provide 800 to 900-yard plus seasons in a versatile pass catching group, second tier tight ends are the 400-yard plus type of players.” I also write, “targeting tight ends who have been underutilized, as second tight ends during their rookie contracts behind top tight ends can be a good strategy for finding production value at the position,” which is a mold that Burton fits.

Other potential signings at tight end could include Tyler Eifert, although his injury history is cause for concern. It’s up to whoever signs him to structure a deal that takes this into account, while also having a back-up who could start behind him, which is something I don’t think the Packers will have. What’s the price that makes it worth taking a chance on a player who has shown the potential to be a first tier tight end, but has played in just 24 of 64 potential games over the last four seasons? Is a one-year deal worth $3 million a good price? If Eifert is at that price, then it might be worth taking a risk on him no matter the situation regarding a team’s back-up. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is an interesting candidate, so is Cameron Brate who has the potential to be a highly valuable player just like Burton in that $5 million range. I think the Packers have to sign one of these tight ends, then also draft one in the middle rounds.

The Packers have four fifth round picks, which is a very good time to strike when it comes to tight ends. Here’s a draft success by position chart from Caponomics:

As you can see, tight end is the most successful position to draft in the fifth round out of any position and with the Packers slew of picks here, along with the depth of this draft at tight end, I’d love to see them draft two. I’d even draft two to present the opportunity to release Kendricks and gain $1,625,000 in cap space to use that more wisely than an investment in PFF’s 69th ranked tight end out of 71. I’ve already gone over the tight ends I really like in the last few write ups (which are linked at the bottom of this article), but just looking at Walter Football’s tight end rankings as a base for this, the tight ends who he has projected in the middle rounds is deep. Just to re-iterate what I’ve said elsewhere, I love Troy Fumagallli from Wisconsin and Adam Breneman from UMass, but the Packers will be doing much deeper work into this market and should choose whichever two late round players they think are best for their system.

Imagining that the Packers sign a tight end with a cap hit of $3 to $5 million in 2018, they’ll still have over $20 million in cap space after the wide receiver moves. The big need they have to solve this offseason, above all else, is cornerback, it was a huge hole in 2017. Damarious Randall was their best-ranked cornerback per Pro Football Focus in 2017 as the #81 ranked cornerback with a 70.9 rating. Their #2 cornerback was Davon House and he had a 50.4 rating as their 98th ranked cornerback. The inexperienced Josh Hawkins and Kevin King were equally bad with rankings of 107 and 115 while both graded under a 44.0 rating. Austin Gayle from Pro Football Focus has Malcolm Butler as the Packers “Dream Splash Signing” this offseason and I like that fit considering he’s still a good player and could be had for probably about $8 to $10 million a year after a drop in his PFF grade to 79.2 in 2017 from 88.1 in 2016 and his quizzical benching in the Super Bowl. The Packers being a team that looks for value and looks for the discounted player over the expensive one, this seems like a potential fit. An $8 million cap hit in 2018 would be 4.46% of the cap, which is a good second tier value for a player who has the potential to be a first tier player. Other signings could be Trumaine Johnson, Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller, Rashaan Melvin, or EJ Gaines. They could also be drafting a cornerback either with their first round pick or one of their other picks in the first three rounds, it’s an immediate need and Josh Jackson from Iowa could be available at #14. If they don’t want to go to free agency for a cornerback, then they should definitely be using the first round pick on a cornerback. If they believe they can get a true #1 cornerback in the first round, then maybe they can use the $8 to $10 million that might go to a free agent cornerback on an edge rusher, an interior offensive lineman, or they split it between both. Even if the young players already in Green Bay’s defensive backfield develop and improve in 2018, they need a potential #1 cornerback, which would then create depth and better match-ups down the line.

Say they spend $10 million on a cornerback, then the team has a little over $10 million in cap space. If Butler’s signed for $8 million, then they’d have over $12 million in cap space. At the safety position, they have to either re-sign Morgan Burnett or find a replacement. He could likely be had for a deal similar to the $7 million average per year that Darian Stewart got from the Broncos before the 2016 season. Say they re-sign him for that, which is probably what the Packers will do considering their homegrown philosophy, then they’ll have about $3 to $5 million in cap space to address their other needs. They should also be drafting a safety at some point in the draft considering their need for depth, their excess of draft picks, the way safeties can contribute on special teams, and the prevalence of nickel defense in the NFL.

With that $3 to $5 million left, the Packers need to solve some issues on the interior of their offensive line. Maybe they re-sign free agent Jahri Evans as he was their highest rated guard in 2018 as he could likely be retained for less than $3 million per year or maybe they find another replacement in a weak interior line class. Lane Taylor, exclusive rights free agent Justin McCray, and center Corey Linsley all had PFF ratings of 68.8 or below, so this is a spot that the Packers should be heavily focused on in the draft. It’s not a dire need though, Green Bay was Football Outsiders’ fifth best run blocking line, while they were the 28th ranked pass blocking line, which could be attributed to the loss of the mobility and pocket awareness that Rodgers has, plus both tackles, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, missing time during the season. This is why the Packers don’t necessarily need to make a big offseason investment on the line. The interior of the offensive line can be found in later rounds as the Patriots have proven over and over again, but it’s likely they should use one of their four picks in the first three rounds on an interior lineman, but also one of those fifth round picks.

With the signing of an interior offensive lineman, the Packers would have, at most, about $2 million in cap space, so they wouldn’t be able to make wholesale improvements to their front seven in free agency, but their front seven is better than one would think considering their issues in 2017 and it might be something they could supplement through the draft and with the right situational edge rusher for a few million dollars. They could make some more moves to clear cap space and hope to sign someone to a similar one-year, $3.5 million contract to the one Ahmad Brooks was on in 2017, but who will hopefully produce at a higher level. Players like Trent Murphy, Kony Ealy, Junior Galette, and Mitch Unrein might be candidates for this kind of contract. Maybe they can even use one of their 11 draft picks to trade for a younger and less expensive edge player.

For the edge rushers already on their roster, Clay Matthews is still a top player at his position and Nick Perry is a good player. Interior linemen Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, and Dean Lowery are all good starters. Linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez are top 25 starters at their position. Other than increasing the talent in their rotation, their front seven is in good enough shape to win with improvements to the rest of the roster, including an offense with Rodgers at QB and at defensive back because teams will be forced to play more of a shoot-out style of football against Rodgers, which will make opponents more one dimensional and the Packers will have a defensive backfield more prepared to stop the pass.

So through this article so far we’ve addressed potentially drafting one receiver, one cornerback, one safety, two tight ends and two interior offensive linemen. With 11 draft picks, some of them coming through compensatory picks due to players they drafted going on to bigger veteran contracts elsewhere, the benefit of great drafting, the Packers still have four picks after addressing those needs. They should address their defensive line with two of those picks to increase their ability to rotate linemen, then use the other two on an inside linebacker and potentially another running back in an attempt to ensure they have a rushing offense in 2018. Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Ty Montgomery could form a good three-headed backfield, but a fourth back could add necessary depth and prepare them for Montgomery’s free agency bid in 2019. A good draft pick at inside linebacker could prepare them for Jake Ryan hitting free agency in 2019 as well.

As stated earlier, the Packers are on the cusp of greatness still. They’re just a year removed from their NFC Championship Game loss to the Falcons and Aaron Rodgers is still one of the three best quarterbacks in the NFL, so that alone will help them compete for a championship. It’s up to one of the best front offices in the NFL to continue to make the homegrown moves with supplementary free agent pieces like the great organizations typically do. I think the Packers can make the necessary adjustments in their positions of need to compete for a Super Bowl in 2018, but potentially more well-rounded contenders like the Eagles, Cowboys, Rams, Saints, and Vikings could be road blocks for a Packers team that may have too much invested in the top of their roster to build a similarly well rounded roster.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

Other Offseason Overviews:

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

Philadelphia Eagles

If you want a chance at winning a free copy of “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” you can retweet this tweet. We will pick a random winner on Sunday 2/25.

Looking at the New York Jets 2018 Offseason

2018 New York Jets (Cap Numbers as of 1/26; source OverTheCap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)

2018 Team Cap = $193,970,542

Total Cap = $122,321,348

Current Cap Top 51 = $117,963,011

Dead Money = $2,918,337

Team Cap – (Top 51 + Dead Money) = Cap Space

Cap Space = $71,589,194

Rookie Pool = $9,660,917

Cap Space – Rookie Pool = $63,428,277

Draft Picks:

8 draft picks: 1/6, 2/37, 2/49, 3/72, 4/109, 5/159, 6/182, 7/235

Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Team Needs:

  • QB, RB, OT
  • “Upgrading the offense has to be the priority for the Jets. They need a QB, RB and WR. They also need to improve their offensive line, most notably at tackle.”

Team’s Free Agents:

The New York Jets offseason has one of two paths it will go down. First, there is the Kirk Cousins path, which includes likely shelling out $25 to $27 million per season to a quarterback who will then consume between 12 and 15% of your salary cap for the next five to six seasons. The second path is to take a quarterback with the #6 overall pick that the Jets possess or trading up to get into the first few picks to ensure selecting the right quarterback. As detailed in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, there are two main strategies for success in today’s NFL, there’s the expensive first-tier quarterback route that many teams use, then there’s the low-cost rookie contract quarterback strategy. The Jets will be deciding on which path they want to take over the next half decade this offseason and this choice will determine if they compete for championships or if they continue to be “the Jets.”

With the first-tier quarterback strategy, a team has a veteran quarterback over 10% of the cap, which typically leads to a team reliant on that quarterback to be an elite performer because of his high cost. If you add another higher cap hit or two to the quarterbacks high cap hit, like spending on a top wide receiver to further elevate the passing game like the Packers and Steelers currently are or a defensive end like the 2017 Chiefs did, then it can lead to some holes elsewhere on the roster that could become an issue come playoff time. These may not be glaring holes, but many times they’re slight inefficiencies or mismatches in vital areas of the game, which an elite NFL head coach and coordinator can exploit. When facing a team that’s spent it’s cap space in a more efficient and balanced manner, these teams leave themselves open to being exploited.

One of the big issues for teams across the AFC and the NFL the last couple years has been that the Patriots have hacked the system with Tom Brady just over 8% of the cap, which has allowed the Patriots to build out the best defense in the NFL in 2016 and one of the better defenses in 2017. Mind you, Brady is also still making a lot of money, but he and the team are also taking into account his likely decline as he goes into his forties. He’s made a lot of money in his career and he understands that building a team around him enhances his legacy, which I have a feeling is the same process that Drew Brees and the Saints are going through currently. I think that Brees will re-sign at a reasonable cap number that allows the Saints to continue to build their team in the current model they used in 2017 with rushing offense and defense playing a more significant role in their success, rather than trying to pass their way to a Super Bowl with inefficiencies in the other arenas. The reason there’s become almost these two styles of roster construction and that’s because the middle of the quarterback market is basically non-existent. Rookie contract quarterbacks who prove to be starters get contracts that pay over 10% of the cap if they just prove they’re a starting quarterback. So about half of the NFL’s quarterbacks are over 10% of the cap each year, while in reality there’s only a handful of quarterbacks who can be worth that kind of Quan as Rod Tidwell would say.

The second strategy is one that a few very successful teams used in 2017 like the Eagles, Rams, Jaguars and Titans. Even with Sam Bradford over 10% of the cap, the Vikings sort of executed this strategy as they’d already built out their roster with Teddy Bridgewater’s contract in mind with an elite defense and rushing attack, but then added Bradford after he went down. They then had Case Keenum lead them to the NFC Championship. The risk here is that you have to hit on the right quarterback, then you still have to build a complete roster around that quarterback, which also comes with inherent risks. You still have to spend the money around that quarterback well. The Jets will either have to have almost complete certainty that their choice for their franchise quarterback will fall to them at #6 of make a play to move up in the draft.

This strategy also leaves open the potential for using a lower-cost, bridge quarterback in the quarterbacks first few years and the Vikings trio of Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum may be at a price that makes that possible, while bringing Josh McCown back for another year wouldn’t be the worst option. McCown isn’t a great option at quarterback, but with an improved offense around him, which they should have with the cap space they have available to him, he could help the team compete and take a step towards .500 in 2018 with their 2018 first round pick at quarterback becoming the starter in 2019. If the Jets take a Bradford, Bridgewater, or Keenum and select a player in the first round, they could also trade the veteran for draft picks after the 2018 season, which is a strategy the Eagles and Chiefs have recently used with their veteran quarterbacks being bridges to the quarterbacks they drafted. If the Jets need to trade draft picks to move up into the top three to four picks to select the quarterback they want, they can then trade the veteran quarterback to re-coup some of the picks they lost in the trade to move up.

To this point, the Eagles gave up five picks to get two picks and move up to draft Carson Wentz. They then gained two more picks, even getting back a first round pick they used on Derek Barnett, when they traded Bradford to the Vikings after Bridgewater went down. The fourth-round pick they received from the Vikings was eventually traded to the Dolphins to acquire Jay Ajayi, so the Wentz trade worked out in more ways than one. I went over the impact the Bradford trade had on the NFC Championship on OTC two weeks ago.

Before going further, we should discuss the moves the Jets could make to clear even more cap space as that’s a vital part of this decision making process. So to start, after accounting for the money they’re estimated to spend on rookie contract currently, the Jets had almost $63.5 million in cap space. The biggest and most obvious move the Jets will be making is the release or trade of Muhammad Wilkerson, which will come after June 1st as his dead money cap hit will sink to just $3 million, which would save the Jets $17 million in cap space bringing their total cap space near $80.5 million. That’s the most obvious and the only certain release, but we’ll go into five more cuts that could happen. Wilkerson could be used to move up in the draft if a team needy for a defensive end, like the Colts, sees value in him, which is a possibility. He was also performing at a much higher level before he signed his five-year, $86 million contract, so maybe being traded to a team where he won’t have dead money to protect him from being released will help incentivize him to play better.

The first option is Buster Skrine who a lot of Jets fans and writers seem ready to move on from with the majority being in favor of instead re-signing Morris Claiborne if they want to have a veteran cornerback, better yet they should probably use some of that cap space to go after a top cornerback in free agency rather than settle for two players who weren’t great in 2017. Skrine was Pro Football Focus’ 85th ranked cornerback with a 65.7 rating, while Claiborne was their 99th ranked cornerback with a 48.5 rating. If they were to release Skrine, his $8.5 million cap hit would become a $2.5 million dead money charge saving $6 million in cap space, which brings their cap space to $86,428,277.

Offensive tackle Ben Ijalana is the next potential cut with a cap hit of $5,921,875 after being beat out by 2016 fifth round pick Brandon Shell at right tackle in 2017. He has a dead money charge of just $1.25 million, so he’d clear $4,671,875 to bring the team up to $91,100,152 in cap space.

Running back Matt Forte is the next likely cut as he’ll be 33 years old and there just isn’t much there running the football now that could make him worth his $4 million cap hit with just $1 million in dead money. Whether you want to spend that money on someone in 2018 or roll the cap space over into 2019 when the team is more likely to be competitive, either move is better than spending an extra $3 million on a running back whose best skill is receiving the ball, which Bilal Powell can do. The Jets need to draft a running back or select one in free agency who can give this running game a serious boost because whoever is at quarterback needs a rushing offense that ranks better in yardage production than the 19th they ranked in 2017. Powell is only signed through 2018 and he’ll be 30 this year, so they need to draft a running back even if they sign one in free agency. The release of Forte brings the cap space to $94,100,152.

Offensive guard James Carpenter represents the last of the highly probable cap casualties with the opportunity to save $4.7 million against his $6,805,000 cap hit with $2,105,000 in dead money. He was Pro Football Focus’ 60th ranked offensive guard for a line that Football Outsiders ranked as the league’s 29th ranked rushing line and the 27th ranked pass blocking line. The saving grace for Carpenter could be the lack of depth in the group of free agents on the offensive line this offseason. Worth mentioning that with many of these guys having dead money that will count against the cap, that’s not as much of a concern considering the huge allotment of cap space they’ll have to make moves around those dead money charges. The release of Carpenter would bring the cap space up to $98,800,152. If they decide to keep one of these players, other than Wilkerson who is gone, they’ll still have over $90 million in cap space.

One more potential release, but who I don’t think they’ll cut, is wide receiver Jermaine Kearse who has a cap hit of $5 million with $0 dead money against the cap having come over from the Seahawks in the Sheldon Richardson trade September. I think at 2.79% of the cap he could actually be a good value for the team coming off a campaign where he had 65 catches for 810 yards and five touchdowns with a 63.7% catch rate. He’s a great second or third option behind a legitimate #1 receiver with Quincy Enunwa and a WR1 they should be looking to add in free agency. Robby Anderson might no longer be with the team in 2018 after his attempt at conducting police outreach for the NFL by allegedly telling the officer he was going to have sexual relations with his wife, then, for lack of a better word, climax in her eye, which is just rude and not a great way to win friends and influence others as Dale Carnegie would advise. With Anderson’s penchant for douchebaggery, the Jets will likely keep Kearse on board.

With this $98.8 million in cap space in mind, we can take a look at the quarterback situation. I don’t think the Jets win the Cousins’ sweepstake and I don’t think they should want to either for two reasons. The first reason is that I don’t think Cousins will be worth the price tag he will receive in that $25 to 27 million per year range, so the Jets should refrain from making that move. They should instead invest in a lower cost quarterback in free agency, like Bradford, Bridgewater, or Keenum, even McCown, and draft their quarterback of the future. They should then use the cap space they have to make serious upgrades to the rest of their roster with glaring needs at running back, wide reciever, tight end, across the offensive line, then along their defensive front seven and their cornerbacks. Basically, the Jets need to improve their entire roster rather than invest a big chunk of change in a quarterback, who former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan says is a good player, but also added that he doesn’t see a “special” player when he looks at Cousins.

According to this NFL.com article, McCloughan added that when they first tagged Cousins in 2017, Washington was “building a roster around him to make him special,” which in my opinion then wasn’t possible because of the cap hits he had as well as the large cap figures they were giving to cornerback Josh Norman. McCloughan says that while Cousins is “talented” and he “works his tail off,” he warned that for Cousins to succeed, a team needs more than just a signal caller. “You just need to have some talent around him because you don’t want him to be throwing the ball 35 to 40 times to win the game.”

McCloughan promised the interviewer at 104.3 The Fan in Denver, the interview these statements come from that Cousins has definitely done his homework on the various potential situations around the league and will be looking to put himself in the best situation for himself as a player, which I personally think takes the Jets out of the running because they have so many positions and roles to fill. McCloughan says, “personally, knowing him, it’s not about the money. It’s about the right fit, where he knows he has stability, he has good coaches, he has good players, and he has a chance to be successful.” No matter who Cousins signs with he will be a rich man, but he wants to go somewhere that he’ll have success too. Considering the Jets have had five offensive coordinators since 2011, they don’t even have stability, especially with the unexpected firing of John Morton. With Cousins’ desire to play in a situation where he can be successful in mind, teams like the Cardinals, Broncos, Vikings, and Bills make much more sense than New York and each of those teams either have the cap space or could make cap space to sign Cousins if they want him bad enough.

With Cousins likely out of the picture, we move toward one of the lower cost options I mentioned along with a first round pick at QB. The cap space should then be used to build up all these other positions of needs with the other draft picks then becoming supplemental pieces and players who eventually take over for the players taken in free agency. Going over the team needs we have basically every position except safety and defensive tackle are on the list of team needs.

First, the team does have some free agents they will want to re-sign. McCown could be one of them dependent on the strategy they have for addressing the quarterback position in the draft, but I would like to see them use Bradford, Bridgewater, or Keenum as the bridge instead to leave open the potential of receiving a draft pick in a trade after the season. Some Jets beat writers say Claiborne should be re-signed, while also saying Skrine should be gone. Since they covered the Jets more closely than I did, I’ll defer to their judgement and if he’s available for a similar one year deal worth $5 million, then re-signing him to be the veteran prescence at cornerback would be a move.

I’m of the mind they should instead use that cap space to sign a better veteran option. Trumaine Johnson would probably be at the top of that list as he’s been established as top cornerbacks for a couple years now. Malcolm Butler might be an option with a lower price after a down 2017 and maybe an even lower price after being sat in the Super Bowl. Bears cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are both good options with Fuller putting forth PFF’s 23rd best season for cornerbacks in 2017 and Amukamara being a second tier option. Rashaan Melvin of the Colts is another player who came on strong in 2017 with PFF’s 17th best rating at the position. Patrick Robinson is in that same category as PFF’s 4th best cornerback, but he’s a bit older heading into his 31 year old season, which might actually mean he could be a good value if his 2017 level of play can continue. Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines was PFF’s 13th cornerback and Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams was the 19th rated cornerback. They have so much cap space and so many good options in free agency that I think they’d benefit from going there rather than settling for re-signing Claiborne, but they have the cap space to do both as well if they want to. If they do sign a top cornerback to pair with Claiborne, then he might be improved in 2018 if he’s put in a position to cover a team’s WR2.

The Jets have two young tight ends hitting free agency in Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Eric Tomlinson. While Tomlinson is more of a veteran minimum guy that the Jets could want to re-sign as a viable third tight end behind 2017 5th round pick Jordan Leggett who is a talented and fluid athlete for his 6’5″, 258-pound frame. Leggett could be the tight end of the future if he develops after missing the 2017 season with a knee injury. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a very talented player who could be an elite tight end after dealing with substance abuse issues during his first few years in the NFL. He was a 2nd round pick for the Buccaneers in 2014 and started all nine games he played in his rookie year averaging 24.6 receiving yards per game, which is almost a 400-yard season stretched out over 16 games, a great season for a rookie tight end. He improved on that in year two with rookie Jameis Winston under center. ASJ had 338 yards in just seven games, which is 48.3 yards per game and comes out to 773 over 16, so he has the potential to be the top-flight type of tight end. In 2017 with Josh McCown as his quarterback, he had 50 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. As a tight end, he’s already in a low-cost market, but since he hasn’t broken out as a clear TE1 type of player, he will be even less expensive. There’s the potential that the Jets could re-sign him for something in the $3-4 million range, which would be a great deal for a player who could be a match-up issue at tight end that could produce 35 to 50 yards per game with better quarterback play and better weapons around him. His substance abuse issues may affect the market for him, making him even less costly.

Ever since seeing Seferian-Jenkins play at Washington in college, I’ve thought he has the size, skills, and athleticism to be a serious match-up problem in the NFL, a player with top tier tight end potential, which means more like a five to six percent of the cap production value that the Jets could get near two percent of the cap. So with this in mind, they could keep their tight end group in tact at a low-price if they re-sign the two free agents with Leggett as the long-term player.

Inside linebacker Demario Davis is the next Jet that should be re-signed. He was PFF’s 8th rated linebacker with an 87.3 rating and it’s such an inexpensive position that they could re-sign the 29-year old veteran to a contract in the $3-5 million range, which would be a good value for probably the best player on their defense in 2017. Two edge defenders they should re-sign if they can at a low-cost are Kony Ealy who should cost between $1-2 million per year, which would be worth it for a rotational 3-4 defensive end, plus outside linebacker David Bass who would be a good player to re-sign at the veteran minimum. Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa should be re-signed at a similarly low-rate in the $1-2 million range as he’s coming off missing 2017 with a neck injury. Interior defensive lineman Mike Pennel could be re-signed for $1-2 million a year.

Okay, so starting with $98.8 million in cap space, let’s see where we stand after re-signings. Let’s call the ASJ and Tomlinson re-signings worth $4 million in 2018. We’ll have Davis at $4 million as well, then add $6 million for Ealy, Bass, Enunwa, and Pennel. That brings us down to $84.8 million in cap space.

If they re-sign McCown or they sign Bridgewater, that will probably be in the $6 to 7 million range in terms of cost. Bradford could be a little higher between $8 to 12 million a year dependent on how confident teams are in his knee, while Jason projects Keenum could go in the $12 to 15 million range per year. To play this scenario out, I think Teddy Bridgewater would be the best option out of any quarterback on the market for the Jets and where they are as an organization in 2018. If they bring Bridgewater in on a two to three year deal worth $7 million per season, which I think it’s more likely they get him on a two year deal as he’ll want to hit free agency again as soon as possible, they’re down to $77.8 million in cap space. That’s a lot of space left to sign offensive linemen, edge rushers, a WR1, a CB1, and even a running back if they so choose. That’s enough space that they should even have money they could rollover to take another big step forward in 2019.

This situation provides them the opportunity to build a good roster around Bridgewater like he had in Minnesota before he went down with his injury. The Jets can sell Bridgewater on the opportunity to play on a roster that he could succeed with and elevate the perception of him around the NFL to cash in on his next contract. He’s an accurate, mobile, young game manager who could be the perfect bridge to whoever they hope to draft in the first round. As stated before, with a two-year contract, it would provide the Jets the opportunity to re-coup any draft picks they trade away if they move up into the first three to four picks to draft a quarterback.

Speaking to the idea of signing cornerbacks earlier, the Jets could take who they determine to be the best and the best value of the group mentioned earlier and sign them to a contract in the $10 to 14 million range. Let’s say it’s a $12 million cap hit in 2018, so the team is now at $65.8 million in cap space. For wide receivers they could sign Jarvis Landry as a quick, short passing option who can run every route, while being a chain moving pass catcher. The addition of Landry would make any quarterback better and with low-costs at quarterback, it would be affordable. Say he’s at $12 million as well in 2018, the team is then at $53.8 million in cap space. If they instead signed Allen Robinson to a one-year prove it deal, he could be on a one-year deal at about $10 million, which would put the team at $55.8 million in cap space. Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, and Paul Richardson could be had at a lower price, so they’re options as well. In my opinion though, if they keep Anderson on the roster with Kearse, then signing one of those three would add another receiver who does the same things well that their current receivers already do well. Albert Wilson of the Chiefs feels like a good low-cost option if they want to add a second receiver in free agency. If they don’t keep Anderson and they want an inexpensive deep threat, Brice Butler of the Cowboys could be a good low-cost option to bet on.

Looking at the interior of the offensive line, left guard Andrew Norwell of the Panthers has been one of Pro Football Focus’ best and most consistent guards over the first four years of his career and could likely be had for a maximum of $10 million per season. Ravens center Ryan Jensen could be signed for $7-8 million a year, Weston Richburg of the Giants might be a little cheaper. If they just made signings like those at those two positions in free agency, the line would be vastly improved and signings on the interior of the line are less expensive than signings at the tackles. There aren’t many good options at tackle in free agency either, so they may want to ride with Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell, then address the position in the second or third round of the draft. The hope will be that improvements on the interior of the line will improve the whole line. Say they make these two moves, they’ll have $37.8 million left in cap space to address edge rusher and running back. This is just an estimation of where the team could stand with moves that would make sense to give a picture of what the offseason could look like.

With that kind of cap space left they can go after more than one solid edge rusher, which is a huge need. The interior of their line is solid, Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Mike Pennel led an interior of the defensive line that Football Outsiders ranked as the sixth best defensive line against the run, but the edge rushers failed in producing pressure consistently, which had them ranked 25th in the NFL with an adjusted sack rate of 5.8%. McLendon might be the best value on the Jets roster currently slated to make 2.30% of the cap with PFF’s second highest run stop percentage at 12.8%, just behind Damon Harrison of the Giants at 13.4%. Williams wasn’t as good against the rush, but he was PFF’s 13th best interior defender in pass rush productivity with a 7.6 rating. Part of the reason that the Jets will find it so easy to move on from Wilkerson is that both of these players are playing at a higher level than him, so he’s not worth the price. McLendon and Williams form a versatile and talented tandem that can cause problems for any line in the NFL.

On the edge, the Jets best pass rusher was Jordan Jenkins who ranked 53rd in the NFL with a 7.9 pass rush productivity rating. As you can see, that’s higher than Williams, but edge defenders as a group have higher PRP ratings than interior defenders. They need help here, so they could go for an expensive player like the soon to be be 26-year old DeMarcus Lawrence who could cost $15 million a year taking the cap space left down to $22.8 million. Or they could go after Ezekial Ansah who might be a little less expensive due to turning 29 in May and some fluctuations in his play over the last two years, but will still be in that class of cost. Another defensive linemen they could consider who might be less expensive would be the soon to be 30-year old Adrian Clayborn of the Falcons who was PFF’s 19th rated edge defender and had 9.5 sacks in 2017. A red flag with Clayborn is that six of those sacks came against a Cowboys team that in their first game without left tackle Tyron Smith, so maybe the sack total was an aberration. He might be more like $8 million a year. Alex Okafor from the Saints could be in a similar range. For an outside linebacker, Trent Murphy of the Redskins could be had at something like $4 to 5 million coming off a season he missed due to injury. After addressing edge defenders, the Jets could have $15 to 25 million in cap space.

We still haven’t address running back in free agency, which is typically not a position I would go to free agency to address, but if the team could sign Le’Veon Bell to pair him with a low-cost quarterback structured roster, the team could really have a nice offense that could elevate the play of the quarterback, while still addressing defensive needs to build a roster that could compete in the playoffs. If they were to sign him, it’d likely be for about $15 million a year, but Bell just said on Twitter he wouldn’t even sign with the Jets for $60 million. Even though he grew up a Jets fan, he says it would take $100 million to sign with the Jets. Maybe he’s just joking around, but it seems like the Jets are off the table.

Let’s act as if he is still an option for the Jets and they could sign him. In that case, I would probably suggest against the big signing of Lawrence or Ansah and instead signing two or three defensive linemen who could play between 40 and 70 percent of snaps with fresh legs that can produce pressure, which is a strategy being used by some of the best organizations around the NFL. That strategy is, rather than invest heavily in one defensive lineman and play them 85 to 90 percent of snaps, instead sign a few less expensive players to create a deep rotation.

Since running back is such a fickle position to address in free agency, the Jets might be better served going for a lower cost option and finding their running back of the future in the draft instead. It’s worth noting that the Steelers gave Bell 742 touches in 27 games over the last two seasons with 582 of those being rushes. Averaged over 32 games, those 582 rushes become 21.5 per game, which is 690 over two years or 345 per season. They were quite literally running him into the ground and planned on discarding him after either 2017 or 2018 if they can fit him into the cap.

There is a reason that Bell is threatening to retire if the Steelers tag him again, he and his agent understand what they’re doing. They’re trying to ride him out on these franchise tag numbers rather than pay him the price that the multi-dimensional weapon that he is would garner on the free agent market. Google “running backs after 300 carries” and you’ll find plenty of analysis that indicates there are strong odds for a statistical drop-off in the year after a 300 carry campaign and in many cases that drop off can be drastic. Here’s an example from Tim McManus of ESPN:

Bell might not be the free agent prize that teams are hoping he is. While he’s obviously immensely talented, he might be due for a down year or an injury due to the abuse running backs sustain. He and his agent have good reason to be pissed off at the Steelers.

Bringing it back to the Jets, or any other team interested in him, Bell could still be a valid option. Maybe he’s a freak like Marshawn Lynch and he can deal with that kind of workload, but lower cost options that could be starting running backs include Isaiah Crowell, Carlos Hyde, and Dion Lewis who could cost in the $4-5 million range, then address running back with a second, third, or even fourth round pick. Jerick McKinnon could be an option, while LeGarrette Blount or Alfred Morris could be signed as a goalline or short yardage back for a team that would be lacking one. Rex Burkhead could be versatile and inexpensive in the $1-2 million range. The second through fourth rounds are stacked with running backs every year and this year could have the following: Kerryon Johnson of Auburn, Derrius Guice from LSU, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb out of Georgia, Akrum Wadley from Iowa, LJ Scott from Michigan State, Ronald Jones II from USC, Royce Freeman from Oregon, Rashaad Penny from San Diego State, and Josh Adams from Notre Dame. Point being, there are a ton of options to choose from and they could even take two if they don’t want to go to free agency and feel it’s appropriate. This route will leave them with over $15 million in cap space to rollover into 2019 with another year invested in this improvement and a higher likelihood

If the Jets can address all of these needs in free agency with smart signings for players who fit their system, then the draft can become a place where they improve their team for the long-term. They could re-address positions of need through these selections, while using the second round pick gained from the Sheldon Richardson trade in a package to move up for the quarterback they desire. The Jets are in a position to succeed in a way they have not been in years, so it should be one of the most exciting offseasons in recent memory for fans of the downtrodden franchise. Hopefully for them the Jets make the right decisions.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

The NFC Championship and the Sam Bradford Trade

Sunday night’s game between the Vikings and Eagles was still in question with 3:26 left in the second quarter and the Vikings dropping back to pass on a 3rd and five from the Eagles 16-yard line. They were down just 14-7 and at the time Eagles fans were sitting on the couch hoping for a stop just to force a field goal. The Vikings had just had a 61-yard, 11 play drive that was about to culminate in some points and, outside of their first drive that was a 9 play, 75-yard masterpiece that cut through the Eagles elite defense, it was the best they’d looked all night. Eagles fans had reason to feel nervous.

On that play, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum dropped back to pass, reared his arm back to throw, and was poised to throw to either Kyle Rudolph on a corner route for a touchdown to Stephon Diggs on an in-breaking route for a first down. Both receivers had a step on their defenders, so it may have been a touchdown or first down. Instead, Eagles first round pick Derek Barnett came around the edge, almost unblocked, to sack Keenum and force a fumble, which was recovered by Chris Long of the Eagles.

The Eagles didn’t go into their two-minute offense and in some ways seemed content with taking the ball into halftime up 14-7 with the promise of receiving the kickoff to start the third quarter. They started the drive with 3:16 on the clock and ran just two plays before the two minute warning with both plays going for two yards. After the two minute warning though, back-up quarterback Nick Foles led a drive that seemed to provide him with confidence for the rest of the game in a NFC Championship performance fit for a star.

On 3rd and six Foles hit running back Corey Clement on a swing to the left. Clement made a beautiful spin move at the line of scrimmage that forced Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr to miss on the tackle, then ran for eight yards and a first down, while getting out of bounds to stop the clock. The next play Foles hit Torrey Smith with a wide receiver screen for 11-yards and a first down.

Foles didn’t connect on his next two passes with both of them amounting to throwaways in the face of good coverage down field. On 3rd and 10 though, Alshon Jeffrey ran a 15-yard dig and go route that cornerback Terrence Newman bit on, which resulted in a 53-yard touchdown that brought the score to 21-7 in favor of the Eagles.

The Vikings earned one first down on their next drive, but unfortunately for them, rather than pin the Eagles deep, Ryan Quigley’s punt went into the end zone and the Eagles started at their own 20-yard line. With just 38 seconds on the clock, if the ball was inside the Eagles own ten-yard line, it’s likely they would have taken a knee and went into the halftime. Instead, on the first play, Foles hit running back Jay Ajayi behind the line of scrimmage in the flat and Ajayi ran for 11-yards and out of bounds after acquiring the first down. Foles then hit tight end Zach Ertz on another beautiful double move where he ran a 9-yard out near the sticks that burned safety Harrison Smith for a 33-yard out-and-up, while he also got out of bounds. Now on the Vikings 33-yard line, they were already within kicker Jake Elliott’s range, but another pass to Ajayi resulted in a 13-yard gain that made Elliott’s kick a more manageable 38-yarder. He made the kick and the score was 24-7 at the end of the half with the red-hot Eagles offense and a confident Nick Foles getting the ball to start the third quarter.

In my pregame write up I posted on Saturday, I mentioned that along with advantages on the offensive and defensive lines, I thought the Eagles had too many offensive weapons for the Vikings to stop all game. In the first drive of the third quarter, Torrey Smith became a focal point of the offense—a player who was fourth on the team in catches and yards on the season with 36 for 430, but is a talented enough player to have 1128 receiving yards for the Ravens in 2013 and earn a five-year, $40 million contract with the 49ers in 2015. In the Eagles’ offense though, he doesn’t need to be the top receiver; he’s instead in a role more suited for a player of his caliber. While Ertz provides an elite tight end, Jeffery draws the attention of the opponent’s top cornerback due to his abilities as a first-tier caliber receiver, while Agholor provides dynamic ability out of the slot.

On the first two plays of the drive, Foles hit Smith for four yards on a hitch, then six yards on an in route and a first down. Ajayi ran for three yards on first down, then Foles hit Jeffrey for 10-yards and a first down while getting laid out by Barr as he threw. Ajayi then ran for five yards on first down, running back LeGarrette Blount had a run for -1-yard, then Foles hit Smith on another wide receiver screen for a first down, running the same play they ran towards the end of the first half.

With the ball on the Vikings 41-yard line and the team steadily marching downfield, Doug Pederson made a tremendous and unexpected call. (The value of great coaching is immense, as the success of Foles might not work without Pederson’s great game planning these last two weeks.) Corey Clement took a handoff and immediately pitched it back to Foles for the flea-flicker. Torrey Smith acted like he was running his cornerback, Trae Waynes, off and then moving in to block him, but he did it in a lackadaisical manner that receivers sometimes will when the ball is being run to the opposite side of the field. When Waynes’ eyes went into the backfield to see where the ball was under the assumption that it was a running play, Smith took off and used his most valuable resource, his speed as a deep threat to beat Waynes and safety Harrison Smith over the top for a 41-yard touchdown. The Eagles fourth best receiving option over the course of the season had 58-yards on the 75-yard touchdown drive, and the score made it 31-7 and put the game seemingly out of reach for the Vikings with 10:05 left in the third quarter.

Not many teams have a player of Smith’s caliber in that kind of role, which is something the Patriots have traditionally done well and a strategy more teams should be trying to implement through their salary cap construction. Rather than spend heavily on a quarterback and top receiver, maybe spend on your quarterback, but find depth in the pass catchers through building the offense around a lower cost tight end with multiple pass catchers at mid-tier costs.

Between the score that made it 31-7 and Barnett’s sack when the game was 14-7, the Vikings ran just six plays for 22-yards. The Eagles had three scoring drives to the Vikings one drive. It’s that kind of performance at the end of a half, while getting the ball to start the second half that has helped the Patriots win so consistently and it was a great sign for Eagles fans that their offense was able to capitalize on the mistake and blow the game wide open. The Patriots are adept at hitting a field goal at the end of a half, then taking the ball to start the second half and going down for seven points, scoring 10 points before the opponent’s offense has a chance to respond.

On the next drive the Vikings got the ball down to the Eagles seven yard line, but rather than have the ability to settle for a field goal in a closer game, the Vikings had to try to score a touchdown with about six and a half minutes left in the game because of the 24 point lead for the home team. Rather than kick a field goal and play football with over 20 minutes left, say if the game was 21-7 or 24-7 at the time.

Instead, the Vikings failed, the game was still 31-7 and the Eagles had the ball back. On the ensuing drive, the Eagles were moving the ball, then Foles hit Agholor for a 42-yard gain after he got behind Waynes on a scramble drill where he broke his route deep from its intended 10-yard out. Ajayi lost two yards on the next play, back-up tight end Trey Burton had a 12-yard catch for a first down, then Clement had a 14-yard rush that had 15-yard added to the end of it due to an illegal hands to the face penalty by Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly. Two plays later, with the ball on the Vikings five-yard line, Foles hit Jeffery for a touchdown over the middle of the field to make it 38-7.

The entire game was changed with Barnett’s sack fumble—and Barnett was drafted with a first-round pick that the Eagles received from the Vikings, along with a fourth rounder they used on running back Donnel Pumphrey, in exchange for Sam Bradford. This brings us back to a topic I’ve discussed many times on Over The Cap and will come back to many times in the future: the value of the quarterback.

We just watched an NFC Championship Game where both quarterbacks started the season as back-ups; Blake Bortles was in the AFC Championship Game as well, almost beating the greatest of all-time in Tom Brady. While Foles went 26 for 33 (78.8%) for 352 yards (10.7 yds/att) and three touchdowns and Bortles had a good game going 23 for 36 (63.9%) for 293 yards (8.1 yds/att) and one touchdown, Keenum was kept under pressure all game by an Eagles defensive line that goes seven deep. Bortles played poorly down the stretch though as the Jaguars offensive coordinator lost his nerve, became predictable, and went away from play action passing where Bortles had completed 91.7% of his play action passes on the day according to Pro Football Focus. Also according to PFF, Case Keenum was under pressure on 24 of his 50 drop backs. He ended the day completing 28 of 48 passes (58.3%) for 271 yards (5.6 yds/att) with one touchdown to two interceptions, while going 11 of 22 for 108 yards with an interception under pressure.

That interception under pressure was Patrick Robinson’s 50-yard interception returned for a touchdown that made the game 7-7. Chris Long hit Keenum’s arm while he threw, which caused his pass to not reach his target and instead fall into Robinson’s arms. The two biggest game-changing plays in this game, the interception that tied up the game early on as the Vikings seemed to be flowing on offense and a sack fumble when the Vikings had the opportunity to tie it up themselves, were caused by defensive pressure. While Foles had a great game, there are alternative strategies to success than the “you need a quarterback to succeed” school of thought that many people in the NFL and NFL media have adopted.

The key factor in this game was defensive pressure and it seems to be a key factor come playoff time. The Eagles got pressure on Keenum and the Jaguars vaunted defensive front didn’t get enough pressure on Brady as they only pressured him on nine of 42 drop backs, which is 21.4%. While Foles was kept clean for much of the day against a Vikings defensive line that wasn’t nearly as deep or explosive as the Eagles line, Keenum was under pressure all day with those pressures being deciding factors in the game. It kind of makes me question: what would this game have looked like if the Vikings didn’t trade for Bradford?

The Eagles started the 2016 offseason aiming for a three quarterback strategy, which I explain in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, as I had talked to members of their front office in November about the efficacy of a three quarterback strategy considering it was clear that Bradford was not the solution that would lead them to a Super Bowl. Rather than sign him long-term in an offense that thrives on mobility, the Eagles signed him to a flexible two-year contract that decreased dead money against the cap if he was traded. The deal gave Bradford the equivalent in guaranteed money that the franchise tag would have given him, while his potentially $23.5 million cap hit with the Eagles, which would have been over 14% of the cap signaled to me that they had no intention of keeping him beyond the 2016 season.

They signed Chase Daniel to a three year contract at $7 million per season, then they traded the Browns five draft picks in return for two and the right to move up to draft Carson Wentz, who has proven to be an ideal system fit for Pederson’s offense. This strategy was predicated on the understanding that quarterback is the most highly valued position in the NFL to the point where it’s overvalued—with the Eagles knowing they’d be able to trade Bradford to re-coup some of the picks they lost in the Wentz trade at some point with the hope being that he’d have a good season and, after the season, he would gain them something similar to the second-round pick and conditional pick the 49ers received for Alex Smith from the Chiefs in 2013.

Instead, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down just before the 2016 season with a devastating knee injury and the Vikings, thinking they had a Super Bowl caliber team, traded the Eagles that first round pick and what ended up being a fourth round pick as well. They received even more than the 49ers were able to get for a more proven Smith as desperation at quarterback causes teams to overpay in a way they’d never behave for another position. The Eagles in turn got to draft a promising defensive end who helped turn the tide in this NFC Championship match-up with the Vikings and a 2018 fourth round pick, which they traded to Miami for running back Jay Ajayi who was one of the Eagles most valuable players in this game with 99 offensive yards on 21 touches. With Wentz being down, Ajayi has turned out to be a most vital move as the depth and talent in the backfield are something Foles can lean on.

With Wentz on a low-cost rookie deal, the Eagles have been able to eat the dead money that Bradford and the now departed Daniel have produced with the three players combining for 11.12% of the cap in 2017. And rather than hang on to Daniel, once Foles became available with the Chiefs declining his second year option, the Eagles signed him to a two-year deal that had a cap hit of just 0.96% in 2017. A very smart and, as we now see, important move for the Eagles to sign a player who knew Pederson’s offensive system that he was drafted to run by the Andy Reid regime when he and Pederson were in Philadelphia. In the trade to the Browns, they lost a first, third, and fourth-round pick in 2016, a 2017 first-round pick, and a 2018 second-round pick. They got back the 2016 first-round pick with the #2 pick that they used on Wentz and a 2017 fourth-round pick. Then in the Bradford trade they got back the 2017 first and fourth, which makes the Browns trade feel like they almost just lost the 2018 second-round pick, while the rest of the picks have been recovered with the only consequences being the loss of the pick and the dead money attributed to Bradford and now Daniel.

It’s an unfortunate situation for the Vikings because I can’t fault them for making the trade as, considering their 2017 season, they clearly had a roster that could compete for a championship, but they also made it happen with “journeyman” Case Keenum under center and Bradford on the sideline, injured again with his bad knees.

With Bradford at 10.78% of the cap on the Vikings bench after ceding the job to Keenum, that team could have been much improved around Keenum or another quarterback without that trade and without the expense of Bradford or the two picks they lost because of it. It’s unfortunate for the Vikings that Bridgewater got hurt because the roster had already been constructed in this run-first, defensive model that just needs an efficient quarterback already and Bridgewater was doing a good job in that role with a career 64.7% completion percentage and just nine interceptions in 2015. Bridgewater is accurate, he’s mobile, and he protects the football, which are three keys to victory with this kind of young, rookie contract quarterback, similar to what the Eagles have when Wentz is healthy. Pairing that young mobile quarterback with an effective rushing offense, as the Vikings, Eagles, and Jaguars did in 2017, is the key to success for a team built in this model. A good running game makes play action makes him more effective, which improves the odds of success for the quarterback with any distance created between his pass catchers and the players defending him increases his margin for error.

Instead of having Bridgewater at 1.31% of the cap with Keenum at 1.14%, the Vikings also had Bradford at almost 11% without those two picks. Together they cost 13.23% of the cap, rather than the under three percent of the cap that Bridgewater and Keenum with a rookie contract quarterback as the third stringer would cost. Just playing the scenario out, the Vikings may have been able to sign another offensive and defensive lineman with that money; maybe they sign another receiver as well so they have more options. Maybe they had the cap space to sign center J.C. Tretter to a contract, rather than starting 2017 third round pick Pat Elflein at center. Maybe the first round pick they gave up for Bradford is another offensive or defensive lineman and maybe the fourth rounder is a contributor on special teams. Maybe the Vikings might have had a better rushing offense if Dalvin Cook was healthy and this NFC Championship Game would have looked different as well? The Vikings had a formidable roster, but the Eagles clearly had a better one that was deeper at numerous key positions.

While it could have worked out, I’m typically against these kinds of short-term moves to win now, rather than the longer-term viewpoint. I understand the position the Vikings were put in, but philosophically, they could have traded the Chiefs for much less to get Nick Foles last year. Interestingly, Vikings GM Rick Spielman also liked Foles according to Ian Rapoport and it’s likely he could have gotten him for less and re-signed him for less, giving the team more cap room to spend on pieces around the quarterback. If Pat Shurmur could get this kind of season out of Keenum, he probably could’ve done the same with Foles. Both offensive play callers in this game illustrate the value of great coordinators and the importance teams must place in hiring elite creative problem solvers to their coaching staffs.

Bradford had a good season in 2016 with a 71.6% completion percentage and 258.5 passing yards per game with 20 touchdowns to five interceptions, but even with Bradford under center the Vikings only went 8-8. With all three quarterbacks on their roster free agents in 2018 and considering the roster construction and on-field strategy they already have in place that is built on running the football with Dalvin Cook coming back and defense, I would likely go for whoever the cheapest quarterback is between Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum. If Bradford’s knee is an ongoing concern, then I would cross him off that list. Same with Bridgewater. If they can sign Keenum to a three-year contract worth about $15 million per year, like Jason Fitzgerald has predicted here at Over The Cap, then that could be a good deal with him never breaching 9% of the cap. If Bridgewater is healthy and they can sign him to a two-year deal worth the $6 to $7 million that Jason predicted in that same article, that would be an even better deal as the Vikings would really be primed to continue building on this strategy for success.

The Eagles lost 7.48% of the cap in 2017 to Bradford and Daniel with Bradford also carrying $11 million (7.08% of the cap) in dead money in 2016, which was manageable because of Wentz being on the rookie contract. Outside of the dead money cap hits, they lost out on one more draft pick than they gained through the Wentz and Bradford trades. The ability for the Eagles to maintain depth on their roster and overcome dead money cap hits comes from the strong caponomics they used this season with no player making over Lane Johnson’s 5.89% of the cap heading into the season. Alshon Jeffery ended the season at 6.50% of the cap after signing an extension. Philadelphia’s balance has been maintained through a strong spread of spending that sees 26 cap hits over one percent of the cap, plus the ability to still draft Wentz and Barnett as difference makers at two very important positions. They had 18 cap hits over two percent of the cap with much of their roster depth coming in this area.

Nick Foles had a superstar caliber game, but the game turned on two great plays by Eagles’ pass rushers and the Vikings offense was off balance all night because of that pass rush as well. When a team has a rookie contract quarterback or doesn’t have an elite quarterback available to them, they must build their roster in this fashion. With first Wentz and now Foles performing at this high level under Pederson’s tutelage and a pass rush that produced pressure almost 50% of the time against the Vikings (after a season of producing pressure on 40% of all passing games) the Eagles pose a real threat to dethrone the Patriots as they’ve created a formula that can get pressure with just four pass rushers with seven defensive backs behind them, which has beaten Tom Brady before. The Jaguars almost beat the Patriots in Foxboro using this strategy that Tom Coughlin used to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice, so if the Eagles can produce at the same level they did against the Vikings, the city of Philadelphia may see it’s first Super Bowl champion.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

Breaking Down The NFL’s Final Four

The common line of thinking in the NFL is that you need a great quarterback to succeed, which has driven the league to the point where half the NFL every year pays over 10% of the cap to about half of the league’s quarterbacks. Every quality of quarterback is in this group, yet only one quarterback still in the playoffs is over 10% of the cap– and that’s Sam Bradford at 10.78% for the Vikings who went down with an injury and now isn’t even starting over the “journeyman” Case Keenum, who is paid 1.14% of the cap. Tom Brady has set an example with his cap hit between eight and nine percent of the cap this year and in 2016, which allowed the Patriots to field the best defense in 2016 and the best scoring defense in the NFL this year from week five on.

The other three teams in the NFL Playoffs Final Four have constructed a run-first, defensive model that’s taken awhile to catch on as teams are now copying the model the 2013 Seahawks used to successfully beat Peyton Manning’s top ranked offense that year. The league is a copycat league, but these trends take a few years to take hold as teams need time to re-construct themselves in the image of the roster they’re copying. While the Vikings are spending over 10% of the cap on Bradford, they had already begun the process of building this run-first, defensive model with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback before the injury; but because of the low-costs they had on offense, they were able to splurge a little on Bradford. As Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal realized in an article on the Vikings, their 40.1% of the cap spent on offense is less than all but two Super Bowl champions, the 2004 Patriots and the 2012 Ravens, two teams that also had some larger investments on the defensive side of the ball. When a team does have a first tier quarterback (over 10% of the cap) and high spending on defense, the team then has to find some serious values somewhere on the offense to compete for a championship with this model because there isn’t enough money to go around if you’re paying conventional rates for wide receivers and the offensive line.

It has worked out for the Vikings because they have just $9.3 million invested in quarterback Case Keenum, running back Latavius Murray, and wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen performed at the level of a first tier wide receiver in 2017 with 91 catches for 1276 receiving and four touchdowns, which is a performance that can typically cost between six and nine percent of the cap, but which the Vikings got for just 2.24% of the cap. Stefon Diggs performed at a level that could cost something like 4% of the cap with his 64 catches for 849 yards and 8 touchdowns, but he cost just 0.50% of the cap as he’s a fifth round draft pick on his rookie contract. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon created 945 and 991 offensive scrimmage yards, while consuming 2.27% of the cap, which is something that could cost four or six percent of the cap for an elite, complete running back.

Keenum is still being talked about in journeyman terms, but his 67.6% completion percentage with 22 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions, 3547 total passing yards for 236.5 yards per game and 7.4 yards per attempt was first-tier production. Most importantly, he was efficient: the Vikings had the ninth highest net yards per attempt passing, the second least interceptions in the NFL and the 11th most passing yards in the NFL. While he was very inexpensive, he still performed at a level similar to what someone at Bradford’s costs could produce, which reminded me of what Tom Brady did for the 2001 Patriots taking over for Drew Bledsoe who consumed 10.29% of that year’s cap. In fact, Keenum’s offense is more productive and more efficient than the Brady-led offense was that year. The Vikings also spent just 11.60% of the cap on their offensive line, which is very low for the whole group, but according to Football Outsiders they were the 19th best run blocking line in the league and the sixth best pass blocking line. They were able to piece together an offense that was 10th in the NFL in points scored and 11th in yards produced with many inexpensive and unheralded players, which is a big part of why Pat Shurmur will be the New York Giants’ next head coach.

This idea that you need a quarterback to great succeed isn’t unfounded; quarterback is the most important position at every level, but when a team over-invests in the position as some teams do, then the rest of the roster typically begins to have holes that are exposed come playoff time when your team plays a complete team like one that’s in the top 10 in offense in defense, top 10 passing and rushing, and so on. It’s rare that a team finds so much value as the Vikings have, which is why it’s critical to spend intelligently at this position. Even if a team hits on a quarterback at a 10%+ rate, it can typically create roster issues elsewhere and it typically also takes finding value at positions that supplement the quarterback, like wide receiver. Aaron Rodgers is unquestionably one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, but with a cap hit of 12.16% in 2017, plus Randall Cobb at 7.58% and Jordy Nelson at 6.92%, the team was highly likely to have a defense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL regardless of Rodgers’ health. A large investment in a small handful of “great” players also decreases the number of “good” players a team can have on their roster.

While Bradford was costly over 10%, the Vikings had 27 players over 1% of the cap, which is a good metric for measuring how many “good” veteran players a team has on their roster. Looking at the Super Bowl champions from 1994 through 2009, before the new CBA locked in the low rookie contract rates we see today, the average champion had 27 players over one percent of the cap. The new CBA actually created the unintended consequence of an increase in top end pay typically going to quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks, defensive ends and offensive tackles, while most of the “good” veterans in the middle have been priced out of the league by less expensive rookie contract players.

From 2011 to 2016, the average Super Bowl champion has averaged just 24.2 players over one percent of the cap. The 1998 Broncos had 31 players over one percent, the 2003 Patriots had 30, and the 2009 Saints used cap rollover to carry 32 players on their roster over this number. The Vikings have an older school approach that was made possible by their roster construction strategy leading into the Bridgewater Era and it seems almost unaffected by the one big investment in Bradford. They’ve gotten top tier production out of cornerback Xavier Rhodes at 6.24% of the cap, which is the bottom of the first tier for that market, while defensive end Everson Griffen gave them 13.0 sacks at 5.15% of the cap, which is actually a second tier price. Bradford was a good player for them in 2016, he led the NFL with a 71.6% completion percentage and gave them 258.5 passing yards per game with 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions, so he produced at a high level, so it’s not like he’s a wasted cap figure—he just go hurt, and Keenum has played at a similarly efficient level. The cap hits of Bradford and Rhodes consumed 17.02% of the cap for two good players fits right into the 16-18% range we want to see teams cap their top two player costs to provide themselves the opportunity to build out the rest of their roster as Minnesota has done. Their top three with Everson Griffen costs 22.17%, which is in line with what the Patriots have in Tom Brady, left tackle Nate Solder, and safety Devin McCourty at 21.62% of the cap, a good rate for three top of the food chain players.

Looking at the Super Bowl Champions data from my just released book Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, the top paid quarterbacks for the 22 capped champions have been all over the map, which caused me to seriously question the concept of most of the NFL deciding to pay quarterbacks franchise quarterback money over the last few seasons once they hit their second contract as long as they proved they were the team’s starting quarterback.

While much of the NFL was increasing pay in veteran quarterbacks to the point where the top 15 players at the position all make money in the same high cost range, it opened a huge opportunity for teams with low-cost quarterbacks, specifically players on rookie contracts—like Seattle, to use their quarterback’s low-cost years to build a team in the run-first, defensive model that’s worked. The two Steelers champions were built off the rookie contract of Ben Roethlisberger as well. The 2012 Ravens were able to take advantage of Flacco’s last year on his rookie deal. The 2003 and 2004 Patriots were able to take advantage of the low-costs of Brady’s early years. This is a model teams should be following to build up the roster during the low-cost rookie contracts that will allow him to lean on a good roster, then when the quarterback hits his prime and higher earning years, the team can be more reliant on that quarterback as they’ll have to be because of his higher costs.

This is the model being used by Jacksonville, Philadelphia, and the Vikings. Even though Carson Wentz was an MVP candidate averaging 253.5 passing yards per game with 33 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, the team had the NFL’s third best rushing offense, which created the balance that made Wentz a better player and keeps this team competitive with now under Nick Foles under center for the injured Wentz.

Jacksonville has built their model with Blake Bortles at just 3.94%, which allowed them to spend 27.00% of the cap on their defensive line, which is similar to the 28.18% the Seahawks spent on their defensive line in 2013. The Eagles spent 21.80% of the cap on their defensive line and the result was seven players with over 20 pressures produced in 2017 and they were the only team to generate pressure on more than 40% of passing plays. The four defensive lines that are left all have elite talent and depth; the Vikings might actually be the weakest in the depth department with just five defensive linemen with over 38% of snaps played, while the Eagles have seven playing over 40% of defensive snaps. With Shamar Stephens out for their game against the Eagles having played 38.59% of their defensive snaps this season, the Vikings depth might be tested and this lack of depth on the line may show with a weaker pass rush in the fourth quarter, so that’s a storyline to watch.

The 2013 Seahawks set a blueprint with a remarkable eight defensive linemen playing between 46 and 58% of snaps, which may be the start of a trend as coaches understand that the explosive and violent nature of the position makes it vital to have multiple good players who can perform at their highest capabilities, rather than a couple better players who can’t perform at their highest capabilities due to fatigue. The 2016 Patriots had six defensive linemen play between 44 and 65% of snaps. The 2017 Eagles have seven players between 40 and 65% of snaps. The 2017 Jaguars had Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Malik Jackson all playing between 73 and 78% of snaps, Abry Jones and Dante Fowler, Jr. played 46.96% and 44.83% respectively, while Marcell Dareus has played between 43.5% and 66.2% of snaps in his last seven regular season games for the team. It’s critical to create depth across the line to execute this low-cost, potentially lower-performing, quarterback strategy as the goal is to nullify the other team’s quarterback. If you’re playing a team with an elite quarterback, a general vision of your goal is to decrease or slow down his performance to the point where your quarterback can be more productive and/or more efficient. Your quarterback doesn’t necessarily need to out-produce the player in yardage, but the goal is for him to be more efficient with a rushing attack at his disposal that the elite quarterback might not have and a better defense than that quarterback. We saw this strategy succeed for the Seahawks against the Broncos while Manning threw for 280 yards to Wilson’s 206 yards, Wilson had a better completion percentage and 2.5 more yards per attempt than Manning. Wilson had 8.2 yards per passing attempt, while Manning had 5.7 per attempt. The Seahawks defense also gave up just 27 rushing yards, while their own offense created 135 on the ground. While Manning was only sacked once, the Seahawks constantly moved him off his first read, disrupted his processing, and forced two interceptions.

The Eagles executed this style of decreasing the quality of play of the other team’s elite quarterback against the Falcons with Matt Ryan completing 22 of 36 passes (61.1%) for 210 yards (5.8 yds/attempt) and one touchdown, while their back-up Nick Foles completed 23 of 30 (76.7%) for 246 yards (8.2 yds/att). The effect of great coaching like Doug Pederson’s game plan cannot be understated. As Danny Kelly wrote for The Ringer, Foles “leaned on dump-offs, check downs, and run-pass options,” which helped facilitate the win and put Foles in his comfort zone. Continuing, he wrote, Foles’ stats were padded by receivers and running backs picking up yards after the catch and he had an average depth of target of just 5.2 yards per Pro Football Focus, which was almost two full yards short of any other quarterback that weekend. They hope he is able to do a little more against Minnesota this weekend with much more accuracy on deep passes than he showed against Atlanta, while the defense maintains the same kind of pressure they put on Ryan. Minnesota is happy to have Case Keenum and his 55.7% completion percentage under pressure, which was second in the NFL in 2017 behind Jimmy Garoppolo and slightly better than Tom Brady at 55.5%.

In looking at past champions during the research process of writing Caponomics, I found something that should be common sense, but we’ve lost sight of with our acceptance in the notion that you need a great quarterback to succeed at all costs, which has driven the price of the market up to heights that make it hard to compete for many teams. As seen above, Steve Young has a record cap hit of 13.08% and only seven of the 22 salary capped champions have had a quarterback over 10% of the cap, yet half the league seems to do it every year. What the research has taught me is that Joe Flacco at 14.70%, Kirk Cousins at 14.34%, Matt Ryan at 14.22%, and Carson Palmer at 14.45%–and if you include any other large cap expenditures with those players–creates a situation where these teams can only compete for a championship if they get some kind extreme, unlikely value out of other parts of their roster.

The 2016 Falcons almost pulled off a Super Bowl win with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones combining for what would have been a record-setting 25.54% of the cap, with the previous record being Steve Young and Jerry Rice at 21.64%, because they had a defense almost entirely filled with rookie contract players. The probability of hitting on as many rookie contract defensive players as they did is very low and it was the lack of depth on defense that ended up doing them in with the Patriots running 99 plays during that game and wearing them out by the time the final whistle blew.

It was very helpful that Dan Quinn and the Falcons organization was able to look at the 2013 Seahawks as their defensive prototype as well because they had player prototypes in their head that allowed them to build out their defense with a lot of success. Along with Kyle Shanahan’s elite offensive mind, they’re an example of the extreme value produced by great coaches. Their young defense improved as the 2016 season went along, but they were still ranked 27th in points allowed, 25th in yards allowed, 28th in passing yards allowed, and 17th in rushing yards, which was exploited by a Patriots offense that was third in points scored, fourth in yards gained, fourth in passing yards, and seventh in rushing yards.

The four remaining teams this year have all been competent passing the football, but–outside of the Patriots at second in passing yards– the rest of this group is outside of the top 10. The Patriots were 10th in the NFL in rushing yards, while the Jaguars, Eagles and Vikings ranked first, third, and seventh with passing offenses that ranked 17th, 13th, and 11th in yards produced. The Vikings ranked first in both points and yards allowed, while their defense was second in yards allowed both passing and rushing. The Jaguars were ranked second in both points and yards allowed, while ranked first in passing and 21st in rushing, an issue that may have been remedied in a big way with the acquisition of Marcell Dareus mid-season. The Eagles were fourth in both points and yards allowed, while they were 17th in passing defense and first in rushing yards allowed giving up just 79.2 yards per game on the ground. The Patriots were fifth in points allowed, but may have some defensive weaknesses being ranked 29th in yards allowed with the 30th ranked passing defense and the league’s 20th ranked rushing defense. The Patriots did seem to right the ship a bit from a yardage perspective later in the season. Having the league’s fourth best redzone defense as well helped them.

Point being, all four of the teams left have complete rosters. Yes, each has some issues: the Patriots have some issues in yards allowed, the Jaguars have issues with Blake Bortles passing the ball, while Nick Foles and Case Keenum can perform, but leave us with some question marks heading into Championship Weekend. All four of these teams have coaches who have created strategies for success that can overcome the issues they do have and we’ll see on Sunday who can execute those strategies best. But none of them are really bad at any phase of the game.

My take is that the Patriots will move past the Jaguars as they will be able to make the Jags’ offense one-dimensional. While the Patriots don’t rank well from a yardage standpoint, they do have elite defensive backs who can cover a wide variety of match-ups, while the Jaguars don’t present match-ups in the passing game that should scare a backfield with McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Stephon Gilmore, and Malcolm Butler. I think the Patriots offense uses their running backs extensively in the passing game as a means to beat the Jaguars pass rushers and avoid throwing at their elite cornerbacks. The match-up of Danny Amendola versus slot cornerback Aaron Colvin will be an x-factor in this game, while it would surprise me if Jacksonville or anyone else figures out how to stop a healthy Rob Gronkowski. We’ve seen the Patriots execute this quick passing game to success in past playoff match-ups and we’ll probably see it again on Sunday. I think the Jaguars keep it close for the first half, but the Patriots find some advantages they can take over the course of the whole game, as they usually do.

Both the Eagles and Vikings will be facing better defenses than the ones they faced last week, and that’s not to say the Falcons and Saints don’t have good defenses, but both the Eagles and Vikings have elite defenses. My take is that the Eagles will be able to produce enough pressure with their pass rush to decrease Keenum’s efficiency as, while he’s performed well under pressure, he hasn’t seen a defense that produces as much pressure as the Eagles do. With the passing attack slowed down, the Eagles will also be able to stop a rushing attack that, while it ranked well over the course of the season, doesn’t scare me with neither Murray or McKinnon averaging over four yards per carry and ranking 23rd in the NFL in yards per attempt at just 3.9.

The Eagles on the other hand weren’t just third in the NFL in rushing, but they were also fourth in the NFL averaging 4.5 yards per carry. While the Vikings lost their best running back, Dalvin Cook, early in the season, the Eagles added their best running back, Jay Ajayi, midway through the year. Ajayi had 499 offensive yards in seven games and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount had 766 rushing yards and a light workload for him with just 173 carries, which has likely kept him a little fresher as the season has gone into January and provided the team a great, power back to close the game out in the fourth quarter, a very valuable tool. Undrafted rookie Corey Clement is the final piece with 444 offensive yards this season as he really came on in the second half the year and showed considerable explosive quickness. He and Ajayi combined for 8 catches for 75 yards against the Falcons, which will likely be a key against the Vikings to give Foles high percentage completions. They’ll look to execute screens, swing routes, flat routes, and other quick passes. They may even look to hit one of these running backs on a wheel for a big play after Minnesota spent the week watching Philly’s backs catch short balls, which could be a big play Pederson has circled on his call sheet.

I imagine it will be a low-scoring game that’s won in the trenches; I think the Eagles have the better offensive and defensive lines. While Jason Peters is out, which has affected their performance, the rest of their offensive line has been elite all season with Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson being three of the best in the league at their positions. The Eagles defensive line will dictate the way the Vikings are able to play offense, while the Eagles offensive line will allow their offense the time to throw the quick passing game and the push running the football to control the clock. I don’t see the Eagles receivers and tight ends having a quiet night either, they have too much talent across the offense for Minnesota to stop everyone–even with Foles at quarterback. That said, the Vikings are the NFL’s best defense and Case Keenum has had a very efficient season. This game is more of a toss up than the AFC match-up, but I’ll take the Eagles.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” and an NFLPA Certified Agent. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL.

Jaguars Trying to Emulate the Strategy of the 2013 Seahawks

As I was writing Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, which is now available on Amazon (paper edition/kindle), I realized there are two distinctly different styles of constructing a championship roster.

The first roster construction strategy is the obvious one, investing in a top tier quarterback, which means over 10% of the cap, and thus creating, by default, a quarterback centric roster due to the large investment. This is the most used strategy in the NFL with 15 teams with quarterbacks over 10% of this year’s $167 million salary cap.

The second strategy is to invest in a rookie contract quarterback and build a complete roster around him with the hopes that the rookie contract quarterback will perform at a reasonably efficient level to help guide that team to a Super Bowl. While the Eagles had 11.12% invested in Wentz including dead money charges to Chase Daniel and Sam Bradford and the Bears were at 11.54% with Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky, they still executed this kind of strategy that will allow them to take advantage of the rookie contract quarterback’s low cap numbers before they hit their second contracts. The Patriots have become such a deep roster over the last two seasons because of Tom Brady’s 8.87% cap hit in 2016 and his 8.38% cap hit in 2017 as the Patriots have adjusted for him being, theoretically, past his prime and paying him accordingly. During what we might consider prime years from ages 28 through 34, Brady averaged 10.94% of the cap.

Of the 12-playoff teams, those with quarterbacks over 10% of the cap are the Steelers, Chiefs, Vikings, Saints, Panthers, and Falcons. Those with top paid quarterbacks on rookie contracts are the Jaguars, Titans, Eagles and Rams. The Bills with Tyrod Taylor at 5.82% and Patriots with Brady are in this middle group of teams with veterans under 10%. The only other teams with a top paid quarterback who was still on their roster and making under 10% of the cap who weren’t on their rookie contract were the Jets, Bengals, Raiders, Bears, and 49ers.

The main blueprint that teams may be following for a quarterback centric team model is the 2006 Colts team that had 10.36% invested in Peyton Manning, then 16.25% of the cap invested in their starting offensive line with 6.77% consumed by left tackle Tarik Glenn and 4.71% in right tackle Ryan Diem. This team also had 6.27%, 5.00%, and 3.39% invested in their top three receivers of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley with the investment in the line and pass catchers intended to help the team win shoot outs with a sub-par defense.

The blueprint that teams using the rookie contract strategy is the 2013 Seahawks who had just 4.49% of the cap invested in their quarterback position with 0.55% invested in second-year quarterback Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn consuming 3.25% of the cap with his dead money cap hit. They used the money saved at quarterback to invest in a starting offensive line that cost 18.59% of the cap with left tackle Russell Okung at 7.76%, right guard James Carpenter at 1.69%, Max Unger at 4.88% in the middle, right guard JR Sweezy as the bargain at 0.40%, and right tackle Breno Giacomini at 3.86%. (As they transitioned into the second contracts of the stars that made up the core of that team on rookie contracts their investment in the offensive line decreased and we’ve seen the consequence of that as Wilson is routinely running for his life and they can’t create a conventional rushing attack.) They also invested in pass catchers like tight end Zach Miller at a Super Bowl record 8.94% of the cap, who was also a good run blocker, and wide receivers Sidney Rice at 7.89%, and Percy Harvin at 3.98%. One could argue that all three of those investments were poor, but in principle they were reasonable considering the low-costs at quarterback, the ability of good receivers to elevate a young quarterback, and the successful experience of the two receivers in Darrelle Bevell’s West Coast system when he was previously in Minnesota.

The key of that Seahawks team was their ability to run the football with an elite defense that excelled against the pass. With the savings at quarterback, as well as an elite cornerback group on rookie contracts consuming just 3.70% of the cap, they also invested heavily in their defensive line to the tune of a Super Bowl record 28.18% of the cap. With shut down defensive backs, this created a defense that gave up a league leading 172 passing yards per game and 4.8 net yards per pass attempt.

This is the cap construction example that the Jaguars have been clearly following over the past few years with Blake Bortles on his rookie contract and their quarterback group consuming 6.0% of the cap. Like that Seahawks team the Jaguars have 27.0% of the cap invested in their defensive line with big money cap hits being Malik Jackson at 9.28%, Calais Campbell at 6.29%, Dante Fowler, Jr. at 3.84%, Marcell Dareus at 3.43%, and Abry Jones at 2.40%. They’re assisted by a cap rollover that has extended their salary cap to about $206.5 million, which makes Jackson’s cap hit of $15.5 million only 7.5% of this higher cap figure. Similarly, the Seahawks had Chris Clemons at 6.64%, Red Bryant at 6.18%, Brandon Mebane at 4.23%, Michael “Man of the Year” Bennett at 3.90%, and Cliff Avril at 3.05% as a means of creating pressure on the quarterback.

Investments across the defensive line allow for teams to have a depth of pressure producers that allow for the team to play these linemen a lesser percentage of snaps that allows them to keep their legs fresh throughout the game and throughout the season. It may be a trend that the Seahawks helped popularize in 2013 with eight players playing between 46 and 58% of snaps. That’s a surprising stat at first glance, but it’s even more surprising when considering the amount of money they invested in players with two players over six percent of the cap and five over three percent. When a team invests heavily in a player, common logic would indicate they intend on them playing almost every snap, but that was not the case with this Seahawks team as they were able to make those kinds of investments because of their savings on many core rookie contract players.

The best pass rushing team in the NFL this year was another team that has executed well during their starting quarterback’s rookie contract, the Eagles. According to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, “the Eagles defense finished the year with 41 more total pressures than any other unit. Only team to generate pressure on more than 40% of passing plays.” As he aptly points out with Wentz down, “this is what can win them playoff games.” That Eagles team finished the season with seven players playing between 40 and 65% of snaps, which equals a depth of talent and fresh legs. I liked a Jon Gruden metaphor from October while he watched the Eagles: the fresh legs are like having relief pitchers with blazing fastballs. While the starting pitcher may wane in the later innings, the relievers can come in with fresh, powerful stuff.

The Jaguars didn’t have the same kind of spread of snaps, but the signing of Dareus was likely a part of a push to make them more balanced in this way. Over the course of the season Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Malik Jackson all played between 73 and 78% of snaps, Abry Jones played 46.96% and Dante Fowler, Jr. played 44.83%, while Dareus has played between 43.5% and 66.2% of snaps in his last seven games for the team.

I don’t have the Pro Football Focus metrics or the total pressures for the 2013 Seahawks, but they were eighth in the NFL with 44 sacks and the 2017 Jaguars were second with 55. Some of those Jaguars linemen played a lot of snaps for good reason: Campbell had 14.5 sacks, Ngakoue had 12.0, while Jackson and Fowler both had 8.0.

With the low costs at quarterback, teams with rookie contract quarterbacks are able to invest in a defense with an equation in mind. The idea is that their rookie contract quarterback won’t be in the position to carry a team to victory over the course of the season, unless they become a Wentz or DeShaun Watson type of player early in their career. Working under the premise that quarterback is the most important position on the field, the goal of these teams is to create a defense that decreases the opponent’s quarterback to the point where your “lesser” quarterback can outperform that elite quarterback you’re facing in the playoffs. Most importantly, with a good rushing attack and defense, the team is looking for their “lesser” quarterback to be more efficient.

The Super Bowl between the Seahawks and Broncos was a good example of this. Peyton Manning completed 34 of 49 passes (69.4%) for 280 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while Wilson went 18 for 25 (72.0%) for 206 yards and two touchdowns, but most of Manning’s production came toward the end of the game after it was already decided. While Manning threw for just 5.7 yards per pass attempt, Wilson recorded a much more efficient 8.2 yards per attempt. While the Wilson led Seahawks were ranked 26th in the NFL in passing yards in 2013, they were sixth in the NFL in net yards per attempt at 7.0, which illustrates some of that efficiency across the year. They didn’t ask Wilson to carry them, but because of the running game they had, it helped him elevate his play to a very efficient level.

For the Jaguars, Blake Bortles does not provide the same kind of efficiency that Wilson provided, but they did average over 20 more passing yards per game than that Seahawks team. They did have a higher performing offense with 366 yards per game compared to 339 for Seattle; they even ran for more yards per game at 141 compared to 137 as the NFL’s best rushing offense in 2017. The Jaguars defense is about on the same level as the Seahawks’ teams, but have a weakness as the NFL’s 21st ranked rushing defense, which they worked to fix with the trade for Dareus. The Jaguars were fifth in points scored with 26.1 per game and second in points allowed at 16.8. The Seahawks were eighth in points scored with the same rate of 26.1 per game and first in points allowed at 14.4.

Jacksonville has done a solid job replicating a strategy that worked before for that Seahawks team on the defensive line and on the back-end with shutdown corners and top performing linebackers. According to Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars three linebackers were all ranked in the top 30 players at the position with Telvin Smith ranked 7th, Paul Posluzny ranked 15th and Myles Jack at #30. Their cornerbacks are undoubtedly the best combination in the NFL with Jalen Ramsey ranked second with a 92.2 overall rating and free agent addition AJ Bouye ranked fifth at 90.4. Aaron Colvin is a pretty good slot cornerback as the 57th ranked cornerback overall with the 14th best passer rating against him in the slot at 86.8. The organization smartly signed two free agents at safety, one of the most affordable and longer lasting positions in the NFL, with Tashaun Gipson as the 11th ranked safety and Barry Church ranked 21st.

One issue that may come for the Jaguars in this playoff run is Bortles being less efficient than Wilson and Leonard Fournette, the powerful and high performing rookie, being less efficient than we’re led to believe by his traditional stats. As Scott Barrett pointed out on Twitter, if we remove his two longest runs of the season, Fournette would average just 3.29 yards per carry. Since October 19th, Forunette has averaged only 3.22 yards per carry. Barrett writes that, “both figures would rank last among all 32 running backs to see at least 150 carries.”

If Fournette, Chris Ivory, TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant can produce in the playoffs, this is a very dangerous team as Bortles can be relied on to perform at an average level and the team could win with their strategy for success. Those running backs combined for 742 receiving yards this year as well, which is another efficient and reliable way to move the ball. Bortles completed 60.2% of passes this year, had 7.0 pass yards per attempt, and 230.4 yards per game. There was some talk of Bortles “elite” play during December as he had a four week run where he completed 68.8% of passes for 9.11 yards per attempt and 321 yards per game with 9 touchdowns to 3 interceptions—but that was against a Colts defense ranked 28th against the pass, a Seahawks defense without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, a Texans defense derailed by injures and ranked 24th against the pass, and a 49ers defense ranked 22nd. He fell down to Earth with a 44.1% completion percentage, 158 passing yards, and two interceptions against a Titans defense in Week 17 that was ranked 25th against the pass. Bortles did have 322 rushing yards, which is another added dimension that could prove helpful as a quarterback with added mobility can extend drives on third down and extend plays in the redzone to find the open man.

Their wide receiver group is a group that isn’t talked about much, but which could be an x-factor in the playoffs as with Dede Westbrook and Allen Hurns now both healthy with Keelan Cole and Marqise Lee; they go into the playoffs with four receivers who averaged over 46 receiving yards per game. This is all without their assumed number one receiver Allen Robinson going down in week one with a torn ACL. Jacksonville has multiple players who could create advantageous match-ups for Bortles over the course of the playoffs. How much better could this Jaguars team be if Robinson was healthy? Although, that’s not a “what if” game that can be played in a league where everyone has suffered some kind of serious injury. How good could the Chiefs be if Eric Berry was healthy? What about the Patriots if Dont’a Hightower wasn’t on the IR? How would the Steelers defense look if Ryan Shazier was healthy?

With all of that said about their offense, this is a team that is going to need their defense to perform to the best of their abilities during the playoffs. I can’t foresee the Jaguars winning a Super Bowl if they’re forced to score 21 or more points in the four games. They’re going to need a performance like the 2013 Seahawks defense who gave up 15 points to the Saints in the Divisional Round, 17 points to the 49ers in the Conference Championship and just 8 points against a Broncos offense that was the league’s best and performed at a historic pace. Bortles and the offense are also going to have to play turnover free football and the defense is going to have to force some. They were 19th in the NFL with 23 turnovers, but second with 33 takeaways. The 2013 Seahawks were fourth in turnovers with 19 and the best in the league with 39 takeaways, a trend they continued in the playoffs with just one turnover and eight takeaways.

We’ll see over the next few weeks if the Jaguars can replicate the strategy the Seahawks used to win their Super Bowl. If they don’t, they may have to try to win with Bortles on the fifth-year of his rookie contract, making over 10% of the projected $179.5 million salary cap as a non-elite quarterback. With the cap rollover, they will still have over $16 million in cap space heading into the 2018 offseason, so they could still compete with this model. Key free agents, though, will be inside linebacker Paul Posluszny, wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, guard Patrick Omameh, and cornerback Aaron Colvin, so there will be holes to fill. We’ll see if one of the more analytics-focused front offices in the NFL is able to keep this success going.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, author of the upcoming book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” and NFLPA Certified Agent. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL.

Response to Mike Tanier’s Anti-Moneyball Article

No disrespect to Mr. Tanier, but his article titled, “NFL Moneyball is Hurting the Browns, Jets, Bills and Competitive Balance,” uses the same tone he uses with his Twitter politics and it’s created not only an inaccurate article, but an annoyingly inaccurate article that will confuse the many people who read that article to what Moneyball actually is, which compelled me to respond to it.

Continue reading Response to Mike Tanier’s Anti-Moneyball Article »

The Wolf Of Broad Street: The 3 Quarterback Strategy and Asset Trading

Last November, I spoke to a contact with the Eagles regarding the potential for a three quarterback strategy; up to that point in the season, it was clear to me that Sam Bradford was not someone they wanted to rely on as their quarterback of the future without another long-term option. It was a strategy I saw the 1989 Dallas Cowboys use when they selected Troy Aikman first overall in the draft and Steve Walsh in the first round of the supplemental draft. Rather than bet on one quarterback, they decreased the chance of being without a competent starter by acquiring two high potential guys.

Continue reading The Wolf Of Broad Street: The 3 Quarterback Strategy and Asset Trading »