The other week I looked at how teams were set up financially on offense and today I’ll take a look at the spending on defense. The numbers are based on the new money average per year of the top 30 players on defense.
Overall Spending on Defense
The average team invests $102 million per year in defense, compared to about $120 million on offense. The Eagles lead the NFL with nearly $132 million being spent on defense. No team in the NFL has been more proactive on both sides of the football in utilizing the benefit of the “rookie contract window” than Philadelphia. The Steelers rank 2nd with about $130 million spent on defense. The Bills come in 3rd with $128 million followed by the Jaguars at $123 million and the Chargers just behind them.
The teams currently with the low cost approach are the Cardinals with $72 million, Cowboys with $74 million and Falcons with $75 million. The Giants and Bears round out the bottom five at just over $75 million and $78 million respectively. The Falcons, Bears, and Giants are all rebuilding teams while Dallas and Arizona have simply gone offense first.
There is always great debate between the Edge or Corner decisions so it is always interesting to see how these teams split. The Dolphins are at the top of the NFL with $47 million spent on cornerbacks. They are followed by the Ravens at $42 million. Those are the only teams with $40 million or more spent annually on cornerbacks. The Eagles are at $37 million, the Packers $35 million and the Bills $34 million. The Dolphins and Ravens have massive gaps between corner and Edge spending ($21.5 million and $25.5 million more per year on corners) while the other three are closer.
Punting on the idea that coverage is worth spending on are the Cardinals at just $7.2 million, Chiefs ($8.6 million), and Bears ($8.9 million). The Titans, Raiders, and Seahawks are all between $10 and $12 million. The Raiders and Titans have gone heavy at Edge and light here while the other three are just light at both positions.
The NFL average is $27 million on Edge rushers. The Chargers are tops in the NFL at just under $55 million per season, though it should be noted that they traded for one of the big contracts that make up that total. The Raiders are just under $52 million. The Eagles are at $46 million followed by the Jets at $42 million, and the Titans at $39 million. The Jets number shocked me but its because we are classifying JFM as an Edge and he easily could be classified as an interior defender instead.
The teams that seem to dislike the pass rush are the Falcons at a ridiculous $7.9 million, the Cardinals ($10.2 million), Giants ($13.6 million), Commanders ($14.5 million), and Panthers ($16.4 million). In Washington’s case and perhaps the Cardinals you can argue similar to the Jets above about positional roles deflating the value here.
Interior D-Line Spending
Not surprisingly the Rams with the massive Aaron Donald contract are number 1 with nearly $40.5 million invested in the interior. The Steelers are next up at $37.3 million followed closely by Tampa at $37.2 million. Indianapolis, Green Bay, and Philadelphia are the next three teams.
Miami is lowest in the NFL at $10.3 million followed by the Browns at $11.4 million, Texans at $11.5 million and 49ers at $11.6 million. The Cowboys round out the bottom five at $11.8 million.
Teams are nowhere near as aggressive at this position as others with just $14.6 million a year being spent on non-rush linebackers. It is no surprise that the Colts and 49ers lead the way in spending at linebacker as they are the only two teams with linebackers earning close to $20 million a season. Miami, Tampa, and Buffalo are all over $22 million.
The Bengals are barely spending a dime here with just $4.2 million spent per year. The Seahawks after shedding Bobby Wagner’s contract dropped from a top spender to a bottom feeder at $6 million. The Chargers, Patriots, and Ravens are all close to the Seahawks as well. This seems to be a good position for teams focusing on paying up at the corner and edge positions to pass on.
Finally we have safety where the Seahawks spend a ludicrous $35.9 million a year. It is 2.4 times the NFL average and nearly $11 million more than the next closest team (the Steelers). It is more than they spend on any other defensive position and is more than the combined total of the cornerback, edge, and linebacker spending on their own team. The Ravens are at $24.5 million followed closely by the Saints at $24.2 million and the Bengals at $24 million. A good chunk of the Bengals spending is allocated to Jessie Bates who has yet to sign his tender.
The Rams are at the bottom of the NFL at just under $5 million. The Buccaneers are 31st at $5.9 million followed by the Colts ($6.2 million), Falcons ($6.3 million), and Eagles ($6.4 million).
Offensive vs Defensive Spending
Here is a look at how each team’s spending on the top 30 on defense compares to the top 30 on offense.
Teams in the top right quadrant are basically spending everywhere on the team. The Eagles and Jaguars really stand out here since they have rookie QBs and are still in the top spending on both units.
The bottom right are the teams making offense a priority. If you see the Cowboys and Cardinals (and to a lesser extent the Raiders) lose in a bunch of shootout type games the blame is going to fall squarely on the GMs who constructed the teams. The Chiefs may fall into that category but will likely escape that scrutiny.
In the top left we have the teams who are heavy on defense and light on offense. For teams with rookie QBs this is expected. For teams like the Colts and perhaps the Vikings it should lead to some questions if their offenses are pretty dull this year.
Finally the bottom right are the teams just not spending at all. Chicago, Atlanta, and New York are all in complete rebuilds and are pretty much doing what is expected. The team that stands out here is New England. They are still more or less committed to the Brady era philosophy that you can just patch it all together and win, but with Mac Jones on a rookie deal you wonder if they are missing out on something here.
The team with the biggest gap between defense and offense is the Steelers who have $40.5 million more per year spent on defense. The next closest team is Chicago at $20.6 million and that will fall if they do sign Roquan Smith to an extension. The only other teams who spend more on defense than offense are the Bengals, Chargers, Ravens, Colts, and Eagles.
On the other hand Arizona is nearly $84 million less a year on defense than offense. The Browns are at $66 million, followed by the Raiders at $62.8 million, Panthers at $58.1 million, and Cowboys at a $57.4 million gap between defense at offense.
The following table should be sortable if you click on the headers.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.