Aaron Donald Signs Record Breaking $95 Million Contract

Aaron Donald hinted at retirement this offseason, but the Rams were able to get Donald back in the fold for the season by basically doing something unprecedented in the NFL- they literally just disregarded the three existing years worth about $57.3 million on his prior contract and signed him to a new contract worth $95 million per PFT.

This type of contract is very rare in the NFL and unheard of at these dollar figures. Generally when there is a contract issue between a player and a team the sides will often come to an agreement on adding incentives to the contract or moving salary from a future year into the current one. In rare cases there is a raise to appease a situation but usually that raise is for a year. The biggest raise I can think of was the Patriots $8 million increase for Tom Brady in 2019 when the marriage was about to break up in New England between Brady and Belichick. The biggest move for a non-QB was, I believe Jason Kelce last year getting $3.5 million bump. Here we have a raise that will average either $12.5 and $13.3 million a year (it depends on how you value the 17th game which did not count on the cap but was being paid regardless) with $60 million being virtually guaranteed at signing.

Donald is clearly a very special player, but this is the kind of contract that will likely cause headaches with most of the other teams in the NFL. Donald is 31 years old and was already the highest paid interior defender in the NFL. He had three years remaining on his contract which generally cuts off negotiations before they can even begin. The contract itself is filled with superlatives.

Donald’s $31.67M per year average salary makes him the first non-QB to earn over $30 million a year. He will earn $10.67 million per year more than the next highest paid interior defender. He will earn about $8.7 million more a year than Trent Williams who held the distinction of signing the largest contract (measured by true value, not the fake years for Davante Adams) for a player over 30 at $23 million per year. It is $11.7 million more a year than the next closest defender over the age of 30. On a salary cap inflated basis this is the biggest contract ever for a D-lineman at 15.2% of the cap, 1.7% more than Warren Sapp’s contract from 1998. Basically it shatters every norm that has been expected in contract negotiations and that is never good for teams around the NFL who have to deal with players who are not Aaron Donald but expect to be treated that way.

Donald and Aaron Rodgers, both represented by the same agency, have likely set a blueprint for more and more players to follow. Both players discussed retirement off seasons where they were personally successful and the team was also very successful. Both players set massive new contract highs with Rodgers topping $50 million a season to go along with Donald’s $31.7 million. These numbers were incredible raises over the existing contracts and at ages when usually players are devalued.

Whether by design or just something that they lucked into, I would definitely expect more veterans to follow suit if their prior team is coming off a playoff season. Perhaps that will lead to more and more teams no longer willing to sign five and six year extensions and instead capping off most deals at three or four years and fighting harder to reduce the cash flows paid on the front end of the contract. For example Donald’s prior contract paid $26.7 million per year over the first three new years and just $18.3 million per year on the final three years, making it much easier for the player to look for the big raise, which Donald got. Donald’s overall deal with the Rams, valued over the original six years, stands at $29.2 million a year, which would be quite the haul for a contract signed back in 2018.

Donald will also hold the rare distinction of being a veteran non-QB who was able to set the market twice in his career. I believe Trent Williams did it in 2015 and 2021 and depending on how you look at Lane Johnson in Philadelphia he may have done it twice. On defense I’m drawing a blank at least in the modern NFL. Darrelle Revis signed two top of the market contracts at cornerback (one in 2013 and one in 2015) but his first contract was worth more than his second one so that didn’t set the market again. Players like Ndamukong Suh, Von Miller, Mario Williams, etc…all signed massive deals off their rookie contracts but didn’t take that leap the second time.

I know my Twitter timeline is filled with salary cap comments about the Rams, but the with the lack of draft picks they have the both avoid the big outlaying of cash in the first year of rookie contracts as well as the expectation of big extensions on the horizon for top picks. Though this is a major raise for a player it is not the same thing as extending a player who had no existing salary. So their situation is a bit different than many other teams.

It will be interesting to see where the league goes from here and how they react to this contract. It will also be interesting to see how much this impacts Cooper Kupp’s ability to get a massive new contract from the Rams.

Breaking Down Dallas Goedert’s $57 Million Contract Extension

The in-season extension surprisingly keep coming with the Eagles signing tight end Dallas Goedert to a four year contract extension worth $57 million in new money with a maximum contract value of $59 million. The following is the breakdown of the contract per a league source with knowledge of the deal.

Goedert will earn a $10,218,660 signing bonus this year and will have his salary reduced from $1.246 million to $920K for the rest of the year. His salary cap number should increase from $1.789 million to $3.688 million as a result of the extension.

In 2022, Goedert has a $1.035 million base salary and a $3.215 million option bonus. These are both fully guaranteed at signing. My assumption is that the contract will carry two void years for cap purposes to bring the cap charge in 2022 to $3.72 million.

In 2023 Goedert will earn a $1.08 million salary and an option bonus of $12.92 million. He can also earn a $250,000 workout bonus. This is all guaranteed for injury and will become fully guaranteed in March of 2022. Goedert’s cap number should be $6.6 million.

Goedert’s 2024 salary is $14 million and he can also earn a $250,000 workout bonus. $6 million of this salary is guaranteed for injury and will become fully guaranteed in March of 2023. The cap number should be $19.52 million.

In the final year of the contract there is the same $14 million salary and $250,000 workout bonus. None of the salary is guaranteed. The cap number is also $19.52 million.

All in all it works out to $57 million in new money with $35.13 million in guarantees of which $14.877 million is fully guaranteed at signing and $29.12 million is virtually guaranteed at signing.

In my opinion this is a pretty solid contract for Philadelphia. Despite ranking 3rd in annual value, the one year cash flows will rank 5th, trailing market leader Mark Andrews by $12.25 million. His two year cash flow will rank 3rd trailing both George Kittle and Andrews by around $5.5 million. He will pull within $2.25 million of Andrews after three years and finally jump his contract in the final year of the contract. This was a good way of hitting a target annual value while keeping the cash flows in a class down from that target APY.

I would imagine the tradeoff for the Eagles was giving that guarantee on the 2024 salary but because the cash flows are team friendly up front I doubt that was a big concern for them nor was the player favorable vesting schedule since the overall guarantees will trail some other deals both in total and on a percentage basis. Because the Eagles did not have to go higher in the 2024 guarantee they should have plenty of wiggle room to bring the contract down in the event things do go south that year.

Analyzing the Trade Value of Deshaun Watson

Prior to this offseason there had only been just two notable trades centered around the quarterback position dating back to 2015 – the Nick Foles/Sam Bradford deal between the Chip Kelly-run Eagles and the St. Louis Rams, and the Patriots sending Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco in favor of a 40-year-old Tom Brady. Broadening the search, there was the Washington Football Team’s trade for Kyle Allen in 2020 as well as Ryan Tannehill going from Miami to Tennessee as a backup option to Mariota. Clearly, there was little-to-no star power involved.

Then, this past spring, we saw a slew of quarterback movement across the league. Five starting quarterbacks were moved in four separate trades – Matt Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, and Teddy Bridgewater. Each of these deals had vastly different repercussions, but taken as a whole, they set the market for future trades including the quarterback position.

With rumors swirling about a potential trade including the Texans’ Deshaun Watson prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline, I’ll dig into what his true value is.

I. 2021 Offseason Trades

The Rams mortgaged their future by trading away two future 1st round picks – which they are no stranger to doing – as well as a 3rd round selection in the 2021 draft, in order to go all in on winning a Super Bowl. They did so with the gusto to move on from Jared Goff – the quarterback who led the franchise to the Super Bowl just two years prior and had yet to play a snap on the added years of his extension. On the other side of that deal, the Lions sent away the corner stone of their franchise for the past 12 season in exchange for three Rams’ draft picks and the aforementioned Goff. Both quarterbacks were on deals that exceeded $134 million in total value, both with more than $57 million fully guaranteed at signing. However, Stafford, with only two years left and no guarantees in the final year, is nearing the end of that deal. On the other hand, Goff was entering the first of a four-year extension that included a fully guaranteed second year of $26.150 million. The difference in contract structure was certainly a factor in the Lions receiving such drastic compensation for the 33-year-old quarterback.

Notice, the Lions restructured Goff’s deal after the trade, resulting in $15 million in 2021 cap savings but $5 million increases to the cap hit in each of the 2022, 2023, and 2024 seasons. This was likely a calculated move due to the deflated 2021 salary cap and the expected boom in the seasons to come.  

In another trade involving a 2016 1st round quarterback, the Eagles severed ties with Carson Wentz for a conditional 2022 2nd round pick and a 2021 3rd rounder – which was flipped in order to help the team move up 2 spots in the first round of the 2021 draft to select Devonta Smith. The fractured relationship between Wentz and Philadelphia is well documented and a divorce made sense for all parties involved. However, like Goff, Wentz had yet to play a snap on the new years of his $128 million extension, of which $66.5 million was guaranteed at signing.

Additionally, the 2022 2nd round selection that the Eagles received only becomes a 1st round pick if Wentz hits certain playing time percentages in 2021 – a metric that is completely out of the Eagles’ hands and could fail with one snap decision by Indy’s management to bench the quarterback or a season ending injury, which Wentz is no stranger to.

The other two trades involved the Carolina Panthers and first year general manager Scott Fitterer. After signing Teddy Bridgewater in the 2020 offseason, the Panthers decided to bring in the much-beleaguered Jets quarterback, Sam Darnold, in exchange for a 2021 6th round pick and two 2022 picks – a 2nd and a 4th rounder. This move signaled the beginning of the end in Carolina for Teddy, who was moved just 3 weeks later to Denver in exchange for a 2022 6th round pick.

If you’re confused by the movement of all these players, have no fear. I’ve included a summary of each deal below to put everything into perspective.

TeamReceivedTeamReceived
Los Angeles RamsMatt StaffordDetroit LionsJared Goff
   2021 3rd (#101)
   2022 1st
   2023 1st
Indianapolis ColtsCarson WentzPhiladelphia Eagles2021 3rd (#84)
   2022 2nd*
Carolina PanthersSam DarnoldNew York Jets2021 6th (#226)
   2022 2nd
   2022 4th
Denver BroncosTeddy BridgewaterCarolina Panthers2022 6th

*Conditional; could become a 1st if Wentz plays in 75% of the Colts’ total offensive snaps or if Wentz plays 70% of the Colts’ total offensive snaps and the Colts make the 2021 season playoffs

Stafford and Goff are both former 1st overall picks. Wentz is a former 2nd overall pick. All three were playing on deals that were top 5 in total value among quarterbacks when signed. Bridgewater was no slouch himself in the business of football, having signed a three-year $63 million deal ($33 million of which was guaranteed at signing) in the 2020 offseason. Darnold was the only one of the five who did not force their former team to take a dead cap hit of $17 million or more by trading him, and that is only because he is still on his rookie deal.

II. Deshaun Watson

Looking at these five quarterbacks in comparison to Deshaun Watson, it is evident that the Texans could get far more than what the Lions got in exchange for Matt Stafford – overlooking Watson’s potential legal complications.

First, Stafford was already 33 years old when he was traded. In comparison, Deshaun Watson is just 26 and entering the prime of his career – making his situation more akin to Wentz, Goff, and Darnold.

However, those three vastly underperformed in the year prior to leaving their former teams. In 2020, Wentz put up career lows in passer rating and yards as well as career highs in INTs and sacks in just 12 starts. Similarly, Goff threw for career lows as a full-time starter in TDs and adjusted completion percentage on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air, a metric tracked by ProFootballFocus. He also regressed significantly in passing yards from 2019. Lastly, the former Jet threw for more INTs than TDs, was sacked a career high 35 times, had a career low passer rating, and won only two games in 12 starts.

On the other hand, Watson’s 2020 season was the best of his career, throwing for career highs in yards, TDs, and completion percentage while also nearly cutting his 2019 INT total in half. Not only were these figures career highs, but his 4,823 passing yards led the league. He did all that without his favorite target, Deandre Hopkins, after he was traded to the Cardinals in the offseason.

Watson’s statistics also exceed Stafford’s in every category – and most importantly, in the run game. Watson has proven to be a better passer when comparing the three seasons prior to (potentially) being traded. However, in the modern-day NFL, having a quarterback who can both throw with accuracy and have the ability to take off and run is of increased importance. That is exactly what Watson is. From 2018 through 2020, the only quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Watson were Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. Likewise, only Matt Ryan and Pat Mahomes topped Watson in combined passing and rushing yards over that period.

On top of being one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the league, Watson is one of the best deep ball passers in the league, ranking 3rd in adjusted completion percentage on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air in 2020 and 1st in 2019 among quarterbacks who threw at least 50 such passes. Keep in mind, all of this 2020 success took place with Brandin Cooks (in his first season with the Texans) and oft-injured Will Fuller as his top targets.

If that wasn’t enough, Watson is under contract through the 2025 season when he’ll be just 30 years old. That gives the team who trades for him the rest of this year and four more seasons with Watson under contract.

III. Trade Value

Now, determining what a player’s worth is in draft capital is much more difficult than determining how much he should be paid. There are many schools of thought – none of which are perfect. The three most popular include the draft pick value chart’s devised by Jimmy Johnson, Jason Fitzgerald and Brad Spielberger, and the football analysis website ProFootballFocus (PFF). Each of these charts have their own methods of analyzing the weighted trade value of all 250+ draft picks, yet they’re all means to the same end – trying to calculate the true trade rate of some of the most valuable commodities that NFL team’s control.

TeamTraded AwayTraded ForJimmy JohnsonFitzgerald-SpielbergerProFootballFocus
Detroit LionsMatt StaffordJared Goff   
  2021 3rd (#101)966610.194
  2022 1st+4201,0380.390
  2023 1st++1907790.246
SUM  706 (#26)2,478 (#3)0.830 (#10)
Philadelphia EaglesCarson Wentz2021 3rd (#84)1707550.237
  2022 2nd*+ OR 2022 1st+190   420779   10380.246   0.390
SUM  360 (#54) OR 590 (#32)1,554 (#18) OR 1,793 (#11)0.483 (#35) OR 0.627 (#19)
New York JetsSam Darnold2021 6th (#226)12530.055
  2022 2nd+1907790.246
  2022 4th+344810.109
SUM  225 (#73)1,513 (#19)0.410 (#45)

*Conditional +Value equal to the 16th pick in the following round ++Value equal to the 16th pick in the second round following the round the pick is actually in

A future year’s pick declines in value (similar to the time value of money) and is considered for draft value as a mid-round selection in the round following that in which the selection is actually in. Additionally, if a pick is two years down the line, it is valued as a mid-round pick two rounds following. This is why the Lions received less than the equivalent of two mid round 1st round picks in the 2021 draft across all three methods.

In fact, the Lions only received the equivalent of the 26th overall pick according to the Jimmy Johnson chart, the 3rd overall pick according to the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart, and the 10th overall pick according to PPF’s metrics. There is obviously a large disparity from the Jimmy Johnson chart to the other two. The same discrepancy holds true in both the Eagles and Jets trades. Even so, this analysis proves just how important it is to get picks upfront rather than waiting for them due to their rapid depreciation rate.

Analyzing the 2021 trades above we see that the Lions clearly got the most draft capital measured by each of the three value metrics – not even including the value that Jared Goff carries.

Considering that Watson is seven years younger than Stafford, under contract for an extra three years, and drastically outperformed the ex-Lions quarterback, Watson’s trade value could be more than two times what Stafford’s was. If this is true (and not taking into account the potential legal issues that Watson faces) then the Texans could expect to receive a package including 3-4 first round picks – especially if they are in future years – as well as multiple day two selections.

The team’s public demands do not look as outlandish now as they did before conducting this analysis. Still, given the rumors about Watson’s off field conduct, it may make more sense to structure this deal in way that is more similar to the Wentz trade, predicating which round selections will be given up depending on his play time percentage or roster status. If that is that case, Houston will likely push for more picks in order to raise the total value of the deal in the case that the playing time criteria is not met.

Only time will tell if a team is willing to take a shot on the fifth-year quarterback (who could be facing a league suspension or even criminal punishment) but if they do, Houston’s return would likely be like everything in Texas – much bigger!

Early ROI: 2021 Player Acquisition vs Wins

We are only three weeks into the season but I thought I would take a quick look at the return teams have gotten this year on their outside player signings. To count as an outside signing a player must have not been on the team as of the last week of the 2020 season and be in the league long enough to be eligible to sign a new contract, which more or less limits it to veteran acquisitions. Players acquired by trade and waivers (if they readjusted their contract) were included. The value of the players acquired is simply the sum of the contract annual values.

It is no surprise that the worst performing teams are all the winless teams. The Jets added $75 million in contract value this offseason and have been terrible through three games. They did lose their biggest acquisition(Carl Lawson) to injury before the season began but that likely would not have changed the outcome. The Jaguars spent $67 million and have also been a dud. They do not have the injury excuse. Detroit was at $61 million, but that kind of comes with an asterisk. They traded for Jared Goff’s big contract but probably do not view him as worth that value. The Colts and Giants were in the $45-$50 million range and neither looks good, with the Colts having a similar asterisk as the Lions due to the Carson Wentz contract.

New England was the biggest spender at over $90 million and has 1 win while the Texans spent similar to the Jets and have a victory. Washington was the other team to spend a good amount with little early return.

Of the teams over the average spending line, the Titans and Bengals are on the winning side of the ledger while the Broncos, Raiders, and Cardinals are all undefeated.

The following graph shows the spending and current record for each team. I’ll try to update this every few weeks.

2021 Season Preview: Teams with the Most Potential Free Agents

In our final look at the 2021 season I wanted to look at the free agent situations for teams in 2022. This can give us an idea of how invested teams might be in this season versus those with a bit more of a long term view of the future. To qualify for inclusion a player must be set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2022 and either have played at least 35% of the snaps last season, a contract APY over $3 million per year, or be a first round pick still on his rookie contract. This eliminates many of the lesser contributors.

I also looked at the projected cap space for next year for each team to see just how much cap that the team could use per player. Please note that the Eagles and Colts recently signed free agents whose cap numbers are not included in the calculations.

The top six teams in terms of players are the Texans, Buccaneers, Bears, Broncos, Colts and Raiders. The Broncos and bears skew the oldest in the group and may feature players who will not be back next year. The Broncos, Colts, and Raiders are in good cap shape to handle re-signing or replacing players while the Texans and Bucs will need to shift some money around.

The teams with the fewest number of free agents are the Bengals, Giants, Titans, Cowboys, Lions, and Rams. This is important for the Giants, Cowboys, and Rams who are all facing tight cap situations in 2022. Cincinnati and Detroit will have cap room to look outside the organization so those teams are less invested in their current setup.

Teams in bad shape for next year include the Packers and Saints (both with 9 free agents and projected to be $40 million over the cap), Vikings (10 FAs and $9.8M OTC), and Falcons (11 FAs and $1.3M in cap space). The 49ers are also in a bad position but the expected turnover at QB should move them to a better spot.

Here is the full list. You can sort the columns by clicking on the header.

TeamPlayersAvg. FA AgeEstimated Cap SpaceCap/FA
Texans1829.5$18,931,947$1,051,775
Buccaneers1529.9$19,060,975$1,270,732
Bears1331.0$31,589,310$2,429,947
Broncos1330.5$67,515,921$5,193,532
Colts*1329.4$52,030,973$4,002,383
Raiders1329.4$40,006,759$3,077,443
Chiefs1228.9$14,708,241$1,225,687
Dolphins1129.1$68,684,928$6,244,084
Eagles*1129.8$12,992,999$1,181,182
Falcons1128.7$1,248,401$113,491
Jaguars1128.7$64,647,735$5,877,067
Steelers1129.3$41,590,858$3,780,987
Browns1028.8$16,810,694$1,681,069
Ravens1031.2$20,169,013$2,016,901
Vikings1029.4($9,749,268)($974,927)
49ers928.4$2,982,191$331,355
Bills930.1$10,634,128$1,181,570
Chargers930.3$63,120,092$7,013,344
Jets929.2$60,232,616$6,692,513
Packers928.3($41,586,668)($4,620,741)
Patriots930.0$24,986,929$2,776,325
Saints928.4($40,971,294)($4,552,366)
Washington930.6$54,693,887$6,077,099
Cardinals829.8$15,414,416$1,926,802
Panthers829.0$37,823,433$4,727,929
Seahawks828.8$44,229,296$5,528,662
Bengals729.3$54,357,897$7,765,414
Giants728.9($574,809)($82,116)
Titans728.1$17,562,826$2,508,975
Cowboys627.0($22,188,214)($3,698,036)
Lions630.0$25,795,946$4,299,324
Rams629.0($185,406)($30,901)

Thoughts on TJ Watt’s $112M Contract with the Steelers

TJ Watt became the highest paid defensive player in the history of the NFL, signing a four year, $112 million contract that surprisingly contained $80 million fully guaranteed at signing from the Steelers who generally have some type of phobia around guarantees. PFT has the breakdown of the contract so I thought I could run some quick analysis on the contract.

Here is how Watt’s contract compares to the two prior top end players in terms of new money cash flows.

PlayerYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5
T.J. Watt$25,911,000$49,911,000$69,911,000$90,961,000$112,000,000FA
Joey Bosa$28,640,000$42,390,000$63,640,000$87,640,000$109,640,000$135,000,000
Myles Garrett$23,750,000$42,750,000$60,000,000$80,203,875$100,000,000$125,000,000

Outside of the earnings this year, which trail the Bosa contract, the numbers here completely blow away the market. His earnings through the first year outpaces Garrett by 16.8%. In the second year he has a 9.9% advantage over Bosa and then dropping down closer to the Bosa numbers where he will earn 3.8% and 2.2% more in years 3 and 4. Watt’s contract also has the major advantage of free agency after just four seasons giving him another crack at free agency before the other two players.

As a point of reference two franchise tags would have cost the Steelers about $40 million between the 2022 and 2023 seasons.  He will instead make close to $70 million. A third tag would have cost the team at least $31 million or the value of the QB franchise tag. That probably would have brough the three year number between $71 and $77 million. He will make over $90 million on this contract so this destroys the franchise tag outcomes at every stop.

It is worth pointing out that Watt appears to have given up the rights to the 17th game check this year based on Florio’s contract breakdown. That was worth $593,471 so it is not an insignificant number. If you factor that in you would take that out from each year’s cash flows. (edit- he will receive the extra check it just was not included in the original article)

Watt is the first non-QB to crack the $30M three year metric. That is a big milestone for the defensive players. This would make him the 9th highest paid in terms of three year cash behind Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Ryan Tannehill.

In terms of guarantees the Steelers gave up their long standing tradition of not guaranteeing any part of the contract beside the signing bonus. That was the big surprise to me even though it is a point that mainly means nothing for either side. My contention all along was that the Steelers would offer a contract close to $30 million a season but with only the signing bonus guarantee, which I assumed would be around $50 million.

They completely broke with tradition, doing full guarantees on the 2021, 2022, and 2023 salaries. Even Ben Roethlisberger only received some injury guarantees in his contract with the Steelers. I would have thought as part of a tradeoff Pittsburgh would at least get a five year contract but instead they just did four, which again is also a surprise. There do not look to be any early roster bonuses in the contract so I guess in that sense they may have gotten some deferrals on the cash payouts in 22 and 23 compared to what they would do in a normal contract. The P5 salaries are paid out over a longer term now while the roster bonuses would have seen larger front end payouts. I would also guess they offered a bigger bonus this year in lieu of guarantees and saw a concession there as a better cash option for them.

I would anticipate that this will mark the end of the Steelers being able to argue that they can not do guarantees in their contracts in the future. It probably will also put the Packers and Bengals, the two other teams who do not use guaranteed salaries, on the spot in the near future and make it more difficult to stick with the past. This year marks a new era for the Steelers’ contracts who used void years for cap relief for the first time ever as well. Welcome to the 20’s I guess.

By not getting the fifth season (nor apparently including a dummy year) the Steelers wont have the ability to spread out cap charges to the max extent in the future. Its not a big deal for next year but would be a bigger issue in the future. Perhaps they are banking on not needing to touch the contract outside of 2022 when he will have a $31 million salary cap charge.

Ultimately Watt will rank 1st in annual contract value, 1st in full guarantees, 1st in three year salary, tied for 1st in signing bonus money, and 4th in total guarantees among EDGE players. He is also the only EDGE to earn at least $17.5 million a season and be signed for just four years instead of five or six years. It’s a terrific deal for him and one that the Steelers have to hope they can build around in what will likely be the post-Roethlisberger era.

2021 Season Preview: The Top Valued Rosters in the NFL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the list in table form.   

Team2021 Roster Value2022 Cap Space
Buccaneers$240,292,912$17,705,903
Bills$239,820,694$9,671,350
Browns$234,600,340$16,220,828
Cowboys$233,923,144($26,336,770)
Colts$230,506,587$50,745,817
49ers$229,537,502($705,005)
Packers$229,043,092($42,291,668)
Texans$226,489,450$17,186,505
Chiefs$226,057,503$14,744,908
Saints$223,564,507($34,848,209)
Titans$219,451,261$5,280,904
Patriots$214,631,588$25,450,039
Bears$211,305,216$32,180,299
Football Team$208,935,428$54,645,531
Vikings$207,775,286$354,622
Cardinals$207,301,031$15,479,081
Seahawks$207,079,698$45,002,863
Giants$204,564,577($5,509,570)
Rams$203,859,828($3,446,940)
Broncos$201,938,948$69,140,221
Raiders$198,743,884$32,743,314
Ravens$197,362,413$28,904,667
Lions$195,629,566$26,627,024
Jets$192,734,981$65,241,653
Jaguars$192,035,176$63,412,768
Bengals$190,695,441$54,357,897
Eagles$185,284,317$13,344,552
Dolphins$184,658,265$68,032,762
Chargers$174,982,241$63,367,314
Steelers$171,273,687$70,318,102
Panthers$167,814,016$38,112,811
Falcons$163,230,593($930,706)