2023 NFL Team Spending Estimates

With free agency approaching I started getting some questions about spending requirements this year. For those unfamiliar with the new CBA, the NFL requires teams to spend 90% of the salary cap each year within specific three or four year periods. One of those periods covers spending from 2021 to 2023, so this a year where some teams may be required to spend up. Give or take a few dollars the requirement would be $554 million in cash over those three seasons.

I went back and estimated cash spending for each team over the 2021 and 2022 seasons and then added in the 2023 numbers. Here is the breakdown:

Team2021-20222023 CurrentTotal

Most of the teams in the league are well above the minimum threshold. Really there are only three teams that need to spend up this year- the Bears, Falcons, and Cowboys. All three of these teams are this low because the spending valuations treat cash commitments made in February/early March as belonging to a prior league year so teams that do a lot of restructures for cap purposes could lose money to a prior valuation period, which is what I believe happened to these three teams. That rule also means that our spending period really doesn’t end in January of 2024 either. It means that teams have until the start of free agency in 2024 to make the numbers work. So that kind of takes Dallas out as a must spend in free agency team because they have a Prescott salary cap situation to work with and Micah Parsons possibly getting extended. So realistically we are looking at the Bears and Falcons having to spend a bit in free agency to hit their numbers. Both will also be helped by the draft (the 1st pick will earn around $26.7M).

Teams that will likely dip below the number will also include the Giants and Panthers and possibly the Lions simply due to cuts. None should be so far below that they cant easily comply with just their draft picks.

The fact that so many teams are so far over shows just how meaningless that 90% number is. I discussed that years ago prior to the new CBA that the spending requirements should be at least 100% if not more. A 1 to 1 cash to cap ratio would require $615.5 million in spending. That would at least come close to splitting the league in half with 13 teams already on track to compliance. This is something that needs to grow much more the next time around.

Another way we can look at spending is to look at historical trends for teams. While many teams will see their budget fluctuate year over year there is usually more consistency in three year windows. I looked back at team’s cash spending trends and determined what is the average three year spend relative to the salary cap. Since we have good estimates of what the team’s spent in 21 and 22 already we can get an idea of what teams may have budgeted for the year if they follow typical trends.

TeamAvg. 3Y SpendProj. BudgetCurrent PayrollAmount to Spend

While some teams will be impacted by salary cap constraints this should give us a much better idea of teams that will spend a lot just to meet their historical norms. Not surprisingly the Bears, Falcons, and Texans are at the top of the list. All three have purged their rosters due to the salary cap and changes at the top of the organization and should have a large war chest of savings that could be spent this year.

The Bengals come in at number 4, but I would expect much of that money to be put aside for Joe Burrow. If he is not extended this year then it will simply be used in 2024 to sign him. The 49ers and Raiders are both in an interesting spot. Both need a QB and both probably have the budget to pull off a big move though the 49ers will potentially be more hampered by the cap.

One of the most intriguing teams is the Ravens. They normally would only have an added $46M to spend and that alone is the going to be the cost for Lamar Jackson on a tag and way under what it would cost for an extension. So they are likely going to blow past their normal budget this year but I would wonder how much more they will really add to the team unless they can just have a massive spending year.

The Chiefs, who traditionally are among the lowest spenders in the NFL, don’t look to be in a position to spend much this year though they will get some relief if they cut Frank Clark. My gut feeling is they will focus on the draft anyway. The Chargers are a team that needs to fill some voids and is already close to their usual spending patterns. They have a QB extension on the horizon as well and that could all play a factor in some cuts this year. The Packers are already around their limit depending on what they do with Rodgers though the cap is an issue there. There is little to read into the Broncos since it is a new ownership group.

After that we get into the category of teams that may need to shed payroll. The Rams are slightly over their normal level and don’t have much flexibility with cuts. Trading players even if the cap ends up being a loss might make some sense. Miami had their big year last season so they are probably going to be less active this year unless desperation kicks in.

The Jets are already over their normal spending pattern but are interested in spending nearly $60M on Aaron Rodgers. They can free up some money with cuts but this is going to be a year where they go over budget if they do bring in an expensive QB.

The Bills, Jaguars, and Browns all look like teams that spent a lot in 2021 and 2022 with the expectation to cut back in 2023. I do believe the Bills will fit that mold this year and you will see more of a purge of the roster with a focus on finding low cost talent rather than the shortsighted Von Miller type signings. Jacksonville and Cleveland are interesting. Both have owners that show a lot of variance in spending and both need to improve from last season. The Browns may have a built in expectation for improvement with Deshaun Watson potentially going back to being a good QB. Jacksonville is a team that probably needs more holes filled and, like the Jets, could exceed their norms this year and put more brakes on in 2024.   

Introducing “New” Guaranteed Salary

We added a new feature to OTC today which I hope can paint guaranteed salary in a new light. For whatever reason when we discuss contracts we almost always use the new money averages when comparing contract values, but when it comes to guarantees we do not do the same. That makes the comparison between free agent guaranteed salaries and extension guaranteed salaries a bit difficult. So now we have a new table where we can view how much “new” money was actually guaranteed.

The way we calculate the new guarantee is by simply backing out any existing (“old money”) out of the guarantee . We don’t care if the salary was or was not guaranteed before since in about 90-95% of the cases it was virtually guaranteed already. Why do we say it was virtually guaranteed? Well if I am offering a player a contract extension worth $20 million a year, certainly I was going to be paying that player whatever his salary was in the current year even if it wasn’t guaranteed on a piece of paper. The exceptions are the few veteran players who signed an extension with two years remaining on their prior contract as it is possible that second year of “old money” was not virtually guaranteed in the event of a disaster season. Since that is a pretty small percentage of the NFL population we do not make that distinction in the calculation.

My hope is that this evens out the playing field a bit and puts a little more perspective on what is often given up in an extension since the focus is so much on the total guarantee rather than the percentage of the new contract that carries a guarantee. While there are reasons that extended players should be guaranteed less than a free agent this may help close some of that gap rather than just blindly putting out that in August that “player X signed a four year extension worth $100 million with $80 million guaranteed” with no context when the player was already set to earn $20 million in a season set to start four weeks from now. The real guarantee on that contract is $60 million if we want to compare apples to apples and that player probably deserved a bigger number.

There are going to be a few players who are off on the calculations, mainly players who have been traded and late season extension. This is something Ill iron out over time, but I think this will be a good tool for better discussing extensions signed this offseason and comparing them to some of the free agents contracts that come down.

You can view the new guaranteed table at this link. You can filter by team and position and sort by whatever column you choose.

The Salary Cap Impact of Trading for Aaron Rodgers

With the rumor mill circulating about the future of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers I received a number of questions today, mainly from Jets fans, pertaining to his contract and his salary cap charges if he were to be traded.  As I mentioned before when discussing Rodgers, his is a complex contract and the different “if’s and when’s” of the deal make it hard to present on OTC to cover all the various possibilities, so let’s break down the various costs.

A team who trades for Rodgers, as long as he is traded for prior to the regular season, would inherit Rodgers guaranteed 2023 salary, which is $59.465 million. If the team trades for him during the workout portion of the offseason that would be increased by $50,000, which is a workout bonus he will earn if he shows up for three days of the program. The team would also be responsible for a $49.25 million injury guarantee in 2024. That salary would be fully guaranteed if Rodgers is not released a few days following the Super Bowl in February.

Because these salaries are so large there is a great deal of confusion as to how a team could fit Rodgers under the cap, but that is where more of the complexity of the deal comes in. A team that acquires Rodgers (or the Packers if they keep him) has the option to pay Rodgers 2023 salary as a $1.165 million base salary and a $58.3 million option bonus. For salary cap purposes that option bonus is prorated across four years for a charge of $14.575 million per year. In 2024 the team has another option that allows them to split the salary up as $2.25 million in base salary and a $47 million option bonus, which for cap purposes would be prorated over three years at a charge of $15.666 million per year.

Rodgers also has a 2025 and 2026 season in his contract at very low salaries of $20.9 and $15.05 million. For all intents and purposes these are void years as there is no scenario that would see Rodgers playing at these salaries. My assumption is they were only included in the contract to make it easier to work out a retirement on the cap in 2025 and/or drive the APY on the contract lower so it would never look as if Rodgers received a $50M+ per year contract.  

Here is the breakdown of how the trade would look on the salary cap assuming that both options are exercised and he is traded before the workout period this year:

YearBase SalaryOption 1Option 2Roster BonusWorkout BonusSalary Cap Charge

As you can see the salary cap charges are very resonable for the 2023 and 2024 season and low enough in 2023 where arguably any team in the NFL could trade for him and absorb that hit.

The dead money in the deal could become concerning and there is no guarantee that Rodgers would even play more than this season for a team. If Rodgers decided he did not want to play in 2024 the team would sign him to a new contract that is really just for salary cap purposes. The contract would eliminate the 2024 option bonus and allow the team to carry Rodgers on the cap until June at a charge of about $16 million which would reduce to $14.575 million on June 2.  The team would be responsible for $29.15 million in dead money in 2025.

The bigger charge would be if the team decided to walk away from Rodgers rather than allowing the guarantee to kick in. At that point they would lose their ability to June 1 him and instead would take on a cap charge of $43.725 million in 2024.

The dead money numbers get larger if Rodgers were to be on the team in 2024.  At that point the team would have sunk costs of $30.242 million in each of those two “dummy” seasons and likely a player no willing to play for $20 million in salary or simply not play at all. The cleanest option here would be retirement where they would do the same thing mentioned before about taking out all bonuses from that year and process him as a June 1 retirement and take on a $30.242 million cap hit as dead money in both 2025 and 2026. If the two sides part ways then the team would take on a massive $60.483 million cap charge in 2025.

As for the Packers, they would take on $40,313,570 in dead money if they were to trade him. This is the prorated portion of the contract that comes from his $40.8 million bonus received last season and the remaining proration from a $14.26 million bonus from 2019 and a $14.465 million bonus from 2021. These costs do not travel to the new team.

An interesting option for Green Bay would be to delay the trade until after June 1, which would allow the Packers to split the dead money up as $15,833,570 in 2023 and $24,480,000 in 2024. In that scenario they would be required to carry Rodgers until June 1 at his current Packers cap charge of $31,623,570, which certainly does not help for free agency but would when it came time to sign rookies.

While this would be a highly unusual approach, Rodgers would likely not be much of an offseason participant anyway and it would allow the Packers to defer draft compensation until 2024. While I have no idea what a trade package for Rodgers would look like, given his huge salary this year and age, I can’t imagine a team throwing the farm for him since he may very well be a one year rental. Recent trades for Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Matt Stafford were for much younger players who were likely to sign extensions with their teams. Each was a trade with a logical time horizon of four to five years, not one. The two sides could easily set compensation based on performance in 2023 and Rodgers roster status in 2024.

Rodgers does not have a no trade clause in his contract so the Packers can trade him with or without his permission, but one would think that any team trading for him would need assurances from him that he will play for them. If Rodgers would like to play for one of the teams in the veteran “QB hunt” he would probably need to make a decision sooner rather than later.

Right now teams in the market for a QB are going to monitor Rodgers situation, Lamar Jackson’s situation in Baltimore, Derek Carr’s situation with Las Vegas, and the free agency of Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.  Carr would be the first domino to fall with a trade either being agreed to right after the Super Bowl or his release coming that week. Teams would be free to sign Carr in February if he were released. Jackson’s franchise tag deadline will be March 7th. Teams will know at that point if Jackson will receive the non-exclusive or exclusive tag and if he were or were not to be available via trade. Free agency begins on March 15 at which point Brady and Garoppolo will be free to sign with any team they choose. Ryan Tannehill may also be an option at that point as well if he is released by the Titans. Team’s cant really sit and wait on Rodgers if these other options are in any way appealing only to have him decide he only will play for Green Bay in April.

Michael Thomas and Saints Agree To Restructured Contract

As discussed here as a strong possibility a few months back, the saints and Michael Thomas have agreed on a restructured contract that will pave the way for his release from the Saints in 2023. Field Yates first had the details of the restructure for ESPN.

The new contract will effectively turn the 2023 season for Thomas into a void year without it technically being one. Thomas will carry a minimum salary for 2023 and will have a large roster bonus due in 2024. If the Saints fail to release Thomas prior to the 3rd day of the league year that bonus becomes guaranteed. This is all procedural on the part of the Saints as this now gives them a two day window to declare Thomas a post June 1 release and spread the salary cap charge out over two seasons rather than taking the hit all in 2023.

This is a salary cap concept first put into practice by the Eagles a few years ago as a creative way to June 1 a player whose original contract would not allow a June 1 release due to salary cap considerations. Prior to this move Thomas’ salary cap number would have been about $28.2 million in 2023 and his dead money $25.452 million. Had he been designated a June 1 cut the Saints would have had a $28.2 million salary cap hold until June 2, which was not really feasible for the team. On June 2, the cap number would drop to $11.813 million and the defer $13.639 million to 2024, but the cap damage would already be done.

with the new contract the team will carry a $13.15 million cap charge once they exercise the June 1 designation. That will then reduce to $11.993 million on June 2 with $14.181 million hitting the 2024 salary cap, creating $15 million in cap room over the original contract. The reason for the slight difference in dead money between the two scenarios is because the Saints paid Thomas a $902,941 signing bonus as part of the restructure. This was not a payment for doing the team a solid but covers the 17th game check that he was entitled to as a benefit as part of the CBA which he would have lost due to the restructure. If Thomas is physically unable to play football next year he can qualify for a injury protection benefit though the structure of this leads me to believe he is healthy.

Thomas’ contract became a minefield for the Saints with massive amounts of restructures over the years and his body unfortunately broke down during the extension years and he missed multiple games for the team along the way. We now estimate the Saints to be about $39 million over the 2023 salary cap.

Looking Ahead to Potential EDGE Cuts in 2023

Last week we looked at possible cuts at wide receiver in 2023 and this week we will take a look at the EDGE position and see who could be some of the names on the move next season. For the most part pass rushers get paid to pressure the QB so what we did here was take a look at QB pressures as tabulated by PFF, adjusted it out to 17 games, and compared it to a players salary cap savings if they were to be cut. To limit the pool of players, only players who have at least a $5 million cap charge are shown. Here are the results as a graph.

The center lines represent the average pressures expected for players with at least a $5M cap charge and the difference between positive and negative cap savings.

If you are located in the top half of the chart odds are you are safe for next season unless you play on a really bad team that is looking to revamp or is facing massive cap troubles. Those in the top right are the ones who would have been the most in danger of release in 23 and odds are that their 2022 performance has protected them.

In the bottom right quadrant we have the underperformers, whether because of injury or ineffectiveness, who offer cap savings to a team. These are probably the names to watch closely. In the bottom left we have underperformers whose contract structures likely protect them at least somewhat from being cut.

To try to order the players a bit better I calculated the pressures per 2023 cap charge to see the value level of the player. Here were the 10 worst values based on 2022 (as you will quickly see this is a position where injury seems to be a high risk):

Romeo Okwara, Lions– Okwara has spent the entire season on PUP and was just activated this week. He has a $14.5 million cap hit next season and his guarantees have run out. Releasing him will save the Lions $7.5 million on the cap and given that the Lions will have multiple first round picks eating up cap room this would be a good place to save some money.

Harold Landry, Titans– I didn’t include Landry in the chart since he has no chance of being cut but this was certainly bad luck for the Titans as Landry missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Landry has signed a $17.5 million  per year contract in March and will have his 2023 and 2024 salaries protected so the Titans need to make sure his rehab really goes well.

Joey Bosa, Chargers– The Chargers have been decimated by injury this year and Bosa has only appeared in 3 games this season before suffering a torn groin. The four time Pro Bowler is not going anywhere but they can’t have a repeat of this next season when his cap charge umps to $31 million.

TJ Watt, Steelers– Essentially the same story as Bosa with Watt appearing in just 5 games so far this season. Like Bosa he is not in any danger you just hope if you are a Steelers fan that the injuries are a thing of the past next year.

Emmanuel Ogbah, Dolphins– Ogbah is currently on IR but only generated 15 pressures over 9 games as he had dramatically tailed off from his last two seasons. Miami opted to bring him back this year on a four year $65.4 million contract despite turning 29. His salary is fully guaranteed next year but we have seen the Dolphins in the past be willing to eat salary to make a move. At this level of play the Dolphins would be facing paying about $800K per pressure.

Cameron Jordan, Saints– Jordan is still a solid football player but his pressure numbers have dropped big from last season probably in part because the Saints are not very good this year and his opportunities have diminished due to that. Jordan will be 34 years old in 2023 and has a $23.7 million cap charge. The Saints don’t save much by releasing him unless they modify his deal soon but this is probably the right time for the two sides to split and Jordan to see if he can land with a contender.  

Tyus Bowser, Ravens– Another injured player making the list here with Bowser only appearing in 4 games so far. He has a $6.5 million cap charge next year and his release would save the team $2.5 million in cap room and $4.5 million in cash. He can help himself with a solid finish.  

Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers– This could be a fascinating decision for next year. Barrett is coming off a torn Achilles and will have a $21.65 million cap charge. While his numbers have been impacted by missed games his pressures were still on track to be down by 40% and this will mark back to back years with declines in this category. They actually lose cap space with a standard release but would avoid a $15 million salary. There could be a lot of options here including a pay cut.

Bud Dupree, Titans– Dupree is more or less the EDGE version of Kenny Golladay. This has been a disaster signing since day 1 for the Titans. Dupree has been injured and ineffective and there is really no value in bringing him back. The Titans would save $9.35 million if they cut him and will get a chance to earn back another $1.25 million on their 2024 salary cap if he signs with another team.

Frank Clark, Chiefs– Clark took a pretty big pay cut to come back to the Chiefs in 2022 and he would need to do the same to come back next season. Clark’s current salary for 2023 is $21 million and his cap charge is $28.7 million. The Chiefs save $19.6 million on the cap by cutting him.

Though not among the worst values I think some names to keep an eye on will be Carl Lawson, Khalil Mack, Preston Smith, and Leonard Floyd.

Here is the full list of players. You should be able to sort them by clicking on the column header.

PlayerTeamProjected PressuresCap/Pressure2023 Salary Cap ChargeDead MoneySaved if CutSaved if Traded
Romeo OkwaraLions0$14,500,000$7,000,000$7,500,000$7,500,000
Harold LandryTitans0$18,800,000$30,200,000($11,400,000)$3,600,000
Joey BosaChargers14$2,188,235$31,000,000$38,000,000($7,000,000)$17,000,000
T.J. WattSteelers14$2,073,084$29,368,694$48,106,082($18,737,388)$1,262,612
Emmanuel OgbahDolphins21$816,471$17,350,000$21,000,000($3,650,000)$11,350,000
Cameron JordanSaints33$787,257$25,737,250$23,486,500$2,250,750$2,250,750
Tyus BowserRavens9$764,706$6,500,000$4,000,000$2,500,000$2,500,000
Shaquil BarrettBuccaneers31$694,652$21,650,000$22,850,000($1,200,000)($1,200,000)
Bud DupreeTitans30$678,992$20,200,000$10,850,000$9,350,000$10,600,000
Frank ClarkChiefs45$632,537$28,675,000$9,075,000$19,600,000$19,600,000
Randy GregoryBroncos27$598,142$16,100,000$22,400,000($6,300,000)$7,700,000
Khalil MackChargers52$522,734$27,400,000$9,000,000$18,400,000$18,400,000
Charles HarrisLions16$512,620$7,988,333$3,976,667$4,011,666$4,011,666
Leonard FloydRams44$500,949$22,000,000$19,000,000$3,000,000$3,000,000
Demarcus LawrenceCowboys58$447,633$26,000,000$35,000,000($9,000,000)$6,000,000
Bradley ChubbDolphins54$412,337$22,197,488$30,189,956($7,992,468)$11,407,532
Myles GarrettBrowns74$396,056$29,176,120$45,171,360($15,995,240)($5,995,240)
Chandler JonesRaiders54$360,372$19,400,000$25,600,000($6,200,000)$9,800,000
Carl LawsonJets47$327,986$15,333,334$333,333$15,000,001$15,000,001
Preston SmithPackers43$302,175$13,040,000$9,760,000$3,280,000$3,280,000
Von MillerBills64$293,412$18,705,000$40,175,000($21,470,000)$3,885,000
Maxx CrosbyRaiders75$272,790$20,482,000$20,400,000$82,000$10,082,000
John Franklin-MyersJets47$265,241$12,400,000$7,200,000$5,200,000$11,200,000
Matthew JudonPatriots72$243,699$17,607,222$11,214,445$6,392,777$6,392,777
Trey HendricksonBengals68$227,941$15,500,000$5,000,000$10,500,000$10,500,000
Brandon GrahamEagles43$227,365$9,663,000$18,311,000($8,648,000)($8,648,000)
Rashan GaryPackers50$219,189$10,892,000$10,892,000$0$10,892,000
Uchenna NwosuSeahawks60$214,454$12,760,000$4,750,000$8,010,000$8,010,000
Travon WalkerJaguars40$214,129$8,493,778$30,577,602($22,083,824)($9,776,288)
Brian BurnsPanthers75$213,256$16,012,000$16,012,000$0$16,012,000
Nick Bosa49ers88$203,328$17,859,000$17,859,000$0$17,859,000
Danielle HunterVikings67$197,046$13,120,000$18,860,000($5,740,000)($5,740,000)
Montez SweatCommanders63$183,211$11,500,000$11,500,000$0$11,500,000
Za’Darius SmithVikings89$175,537$15,666,666$3,333,334$12,333,332$12,333,332
Josh AllenJaguars62$174,738$10,892,000$10,892,000$0$10,892,000
Sam HubbardBengals58$172,166$10,000,000$6,000,000$4,000,000$4,000,000
Dorance ArmstrongCowboys43$164,706$7,000,000$3,000,000$4,000,000$4,000,000
Kayvon ThibodeauxGiants45$157,114$7,122,509$25,641,033($18,518,524)($7,856,512)
Aidan HutchinsonLions52$154,849$8,116,679$29,222,045($21,105,366)($9,248,350)
Jacob MartinBroncos33$153,453$5,000,000$1,000,000$4,000,000$5,000,000
Denico AutryTitans62$148,396$9,250,000$2,000,000$7,250,000$7,250,000
Deatrich Wise Jr.Patriots57$127,059$7,200,000$4,400,000$2,800,000$2,800,000
Josh SweatEagles48$125,751$6,057,000$19,042,000($12,985,000)($12,985,000)
Haason ReddickEagles57$117,476$6,657,000$26,122,000($19,465,000)($18,385,000)
Jerry HughesTexans61$102,599$6,250,000$2,250,000$4,000,000$5,000,000

The Broncos Options with Russell Wilson

Following another poor performance by the Broncos offense I had a number of questions pop up regarding any possible outs in Russell Wilson’s recent $245 million contract extension and what would be the realistic timetable for moving on from Wilson. Much like Aaron Rodgers’ contract the deal is a bit complicated but there is far less chance of retirement or trade in this situation.

Wilson’s contract was very aggressive from the start. Wilson’s contract fully guaranteed him $124 million at signing, the highest level of any contract in the NFL other than Deshaun Watson’s and about $21 million more than Kyler Murray’s $103 million guaranteed at signing. There are more guarantees that he can unlock based on his roster status on certain dates in the offseason. These dates are all early in the league year and very friendly to Wilson.

2023 Salary Cap Scenarios

Wilson’s contract is similar to Aaron Rodgers’ in that he has guaranteed Paragraph 5 salaries which are backed up by option bonuses in his contract. If the option is exercised the P5 reduces accordingly.  If the option is not exercised than the P5 stays at the full amount. Since the expectation is that the option will be picked up the cap numbers we show illustrate the cap charges based on the option being included.

Wilson’s 2023 salary is technically $28 million and will reduce to $8 million when and if the option is exercised. The exercise date of this option is very early in the 2023 league year. Even if the Broncos were considering his release they would pick up the option just for cap purposes.

Things would be more complicated for 2024. Here we technically have a salary of $39 million for the season, all of which is guaranteed. $22 million of this would be moved into the prorated category early in 2024 if the team exercises the option. However, the option date is not until early in the 2024 league year so if Wilson were released in 2023 it would all accelerate onto the salary cap.

So without modifying the contract at all here would be the dead money associated with a release next offseason.

2022 Bonus$40,000,000
2023 Guarantee$28,000,000
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000
Total Dead Money$107,000,000

Obviously, no team is going to take a $107 million cap charge so any team considering this would instead use a post June 1 designation. There are multiple ways to do that. The first would be to not exercise the option and just June 1 him. Here would be the associated cap charges in 2023 and 2024 if they did that:

Category2023 Dead2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$30,000,000
2023 Guarantee$28,000,000$0
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$77,000,000$30,000,000

That reduces the dead money to $77 million in 2023 and allows the team to defer $30 million to 2024.

The next option would be to exercise the option bonus and then designate him a post June 1 release. While there are some rules about renegotiating contracts and post June 1 designations I do believe that exercising the option would be allowed. If I am wrong, then this scenario does not exist.

Category2023 Dead2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$30,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$16,000,000
2023 Guarantee$8,000,000$0
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$61,000,000$46,000,000

This can get the Broncos to a $61M/$46M split which is still massive. Just to put that in perspective the Broncos are estimated to have around $21M in cap room next year and this type of cut would reduce it by close to $40M (Wilson’s 2023 cap charge is currently just $22M).

In order to make the numbers work more efficiently I would assume that the Broncos would need to move up his 2024 option into 2022 by converting the salary to a signing bonus which I imagine they would have the right to do since most teams have auto conversion clauses. The reason they would need to do this in 2022 is that you lose the post June 1 designation if you modify the contract after the season.  

The Broncos have about $11M in cap room to work with this year so they could, if they wanted to, convert almost all of Wilson’s 2024 salary. Let’s say they converted $35 million of it to a 2022 bonus. The new breakdown of the contract from a cap perspective would be as follows assuming they exercise the 2023 option.

Category2023 Dead2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$30,000,000
2022 Bonus 2$7,000,000$21,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$16,000,000
2023 Guarantee$8,000,000$0
2024 Guarantee$4,000,000$0
2022 Carryover Loss$7,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$40,000,000$67,000,000

This would move the split to the more reasonable $40M/$67M category. Please note that the $40M in dead money is not the actual dead money but the effective impact on the cap. Technically the dead money would be $33 million but the team would lose $7 million in carryover which effectively makes the dead money $40 million. That would still be really hard to work on the cap but in theory it would be manageable. They could further reduce these numbers by also manipulating the 2023 P5 into a 2022 signing bonus as well but it would be a minimal change and they would lose almost all ability to recover any money if Wilson signed with another team assuming he has P5 salary offsets.

Still while this may be feasible on a piece of paper, paying a player $67 million in salary guarantees to go away would pretty much be the death blow for a general manager. While the timing of the Wilson contract extension was always a terrible one I’m not sure how much the new ownership really pays attention to that. $67 million to go away on the other hand….

With all that in mind it is hard to see a scenario where Wilson leaves the team in 2023. If anything, perhaps they trade for a young QB who has already been declared a bust (see Wilson, Zach) and hope they can find something there to compete with Wilson.

2024 Salary Cap Scenarios

The real decision point for the Broncos will come in 2024. If Wilson is on the roster on the 5th day of the league year in 2024 then his 2025 salary will also be fully guaranteed and that salary is large- $37 million. Currently that is only protected for injury. This is why bringing in some competition for Wilson in 2023 makes sense because if Wilson struggles again the team should bench him if only to protect themselves from an injury kicking in the $37 million in salary protection in 2025 as well as $4 million in 2026 injury protection.  

Here would be the costs associated with a regular release of Wilson in 2024.

Category2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$30,000,000
2023 Bonus$16,000,000
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000
Total Dead Money$85,000,000

Clearly this is a big number so again we would be looking at a post June 1 designation. Again you should have the ability to pick up the option for 2024 and then use the June 1 before the 2025 guarantee kicks in. If I am wrong about using the June 1 after the option is exercised they would simply move that option up into 2023 with a bonus conversion to essentially get the same impact here.

Category2024 Dead2025 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$20,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$12,000,000
2024 Guarantee$17,000,000$0
2024 Bonus$4,400,000$17,600,000
Total Dead Money$35,400,000$49,600,000

This gets the team a nice split across the two seasons and prevents the 2025 guarantee from kicking in. They could manipulate these numbers a bit more to change the split but this at least seems like a realistic option and they would likely recover a few million in 2024 salary if Wilson signed elsewhere.

2025 Salary Cap Scenarios

If Wilson makes it past the vesting date for his 2025 guarantees (the 5th day of free agency in 2024) to kick in then the numbers get worse for release due to that 2025 salary now being guaranteed.

Category2025 Dead
2022 Bonus$20,000,000
2023 Bonus$12,000,000
2024 Bonus$17,600,000
2025 Guarantee$37,000,000
Total Dead Money$86,600,000

Even with a June 1 split it would be ugly.

Category2025 Dead2026 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$10,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$8,000,000
2024 Bonus$4,400,000$13,200,000
2025 Guarantee$37,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$55,400,000$31,200,000

Both scenarios are worse than the 2024 release which is why I would look at Wilson’s 2023 season as being the determining factor. If he returns to playing around a Pro Bowl level you can risk the 2025 guarantee by bringing him back in 2024. If he plays in 2023 the way he has in 2022 there is no way you can justify opting into another $37 million in guarantees because of how ugly it would look to cut him in 2024.

One final thing. These numbers would all change if Wilson were traded, but I did not include any trade scenarios since I can not think of any logical reason a team would trade for him in 2023 or 2024.

The Best Free Agent Signings of 2022

With every team having played at least eight games I wanted to look back at free agency and look at how some of the signings have fared. For this post we will look at who, thus far, looks to be the best signings of the year (my selections for worst can be viewed here). Many of these signings were pretty under the radar when they happened which goes to show how unpredictable free agency is. In order to qualify, a player had to switch teams this year in free agency, so a free agent opting to return to his former team would not count (i.e. Geno Smith) nor would a contract extension (i.e. Maxx Crosby). 

10. Von Miller, Bills- 6 Years, $120M, $45M guaranteed

I was a little hesitant to include Miller because his contract is massive and there is a great deal of guaranteed money still to come for an older player, but Miller has certainly impacted the Bills defense and given them a consistent presence for their pass rush. Miller is on pace for 14 sacks and while there have been better value signings I think Miller has hit most of the expectations of the Bills so far. Probably not a contract for the long haul that works out but short term it has been a winner.

9. Mack Hollins, Raiders- 1 Year, $2M, $700k guaranteed

Hollins is a standout special teams player and paid for that role but has developed into a vital piece of the Raiders offense. Hollins is playing 93% of the Raiders offensive snaps this year and is on pace for an 800 yard season. He has outplayed the far more expensive Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller when they have been healthy and has likely set himself up for a big raise in 2023 if he continues to establish himself as a number two receiver.

8. Ethan Pocic, Browns- 1 Year, $1.2M, $1M guaranteed

Many teams subscribe to the belief that center is a position that can get good production from lower cost players and that has certainly been the case for the Browns and Pocic, who the team signed in late March to compete for the job. He has been outstanding- PFF grades him second among all centers and we have him valued as the third best center on the season. His stock should increase significantly in next years free agent group, but for this year it was incredible value for the Browns.

7. Jacoby Brissett, Browns- 1 Years, $4.7M, $4.5M guaranteed

The Browns had no idea how many games Brissett would be needed for when they made this signing but they did a good job in targeting him. Brissett is earning millions less than what he earned as a Colt and even a few dollars less than his run with the Dolphins and he has had the best season of his career, averaging over 230 yards per game, a QBR of 61.5, and a PFF passer grade over 70.  While the Browns are only 3-5 he isn’t the reason for their record and is giving the team great value at his salary.

6. Steven Nelson, Texans- 2 Years, $9M, $4.5M guaranteed

While the Texans are slowly fading into oblivion Nelson is quietly having a Pro Bowl level season allowing around 10 yards per reception on a 60% reception rate. You can easily make the case that he has been a top 15 player at the position and the Texans have some terrific cost certainty with Nelson also under contract for the 2023 league year.

5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chiefs- 1 Year, $3.8M, $2.5M guaranteed

The Chiefs were interested in Smith-Schuster in 2021 and he turned them down to return to Pittsburgh but the Chiefs remained interested and took a chance this year and it has really paid off for the team so far. Smith-Schuster is second to only Travis Kelce in targets, receptions and yards and has shown a much better connection with Patrick Mahomes than any of their other free agents or draft selections. He is on pace for well over 1,000 yards  which will reduce the “value” in the contract (odds are he will earn at least $4.5 million in incentives) but this has been a major pickup for the powerful Chiefs offense.

4. Uchenna Nwosu, Seahawks- 2 Years, $19.1M, $10.6M guaranteed

The Seahawks envisioned an expanding role for Nwosu when they signed him away from the Chargers and he has already more than earned his contract for the year. Nwosu is playing 80% of the Seahawks defensive snaps and has produced 35 pressures, 8 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. He has just about matched his career high in every possible statistical category and he still has 8 games left in the season.

3. James Bradberry, Eagles- 1 Year, $7.3M, $7.3M guaranteed

The Giants tried to trade Bradberry this offseason and found no takers, allowing the Eagles to swoop in and take a one year flier on Bradberry to see if he could recapture what once made him one of the hottest free agent cornerbacks a few years ago. Bradberry has dominated since becoming an Eagle this year. His 38.4 passer rating against is the third best in the NFL and we have him valued at nearly $18M in production. This is arguably the best non-QB value free agent in the NFL with the only negative being that he is under contract for one season and will likely command a major raise next year.

2. Za’Darius Smith, Vikings- 3 Years, $42M, $11.5M guaranteed

Smith has been an outstanding pickup for the Vikings. His 46 pressures lead the NFL and he has 8.5 sacks on the year. I’m not sure anyone saw this coming as he entered free agency off injury and was making the turn to 30 this year. We have him providing the Vikings with $25M in value with his performance this year which is basically top of the line production for an edge rusher. The only reason I didn’t put him at number 1 is simply because of all the incentives in this contract. While nobody is going to complain about him earning them, his effective cap charge next year will be over $22M following adjustments and LTBE valuations on the cap.

1. D.J. Reed, Jets- 3 Years, $33M, $21M guaranteed

While all of the attention on the Jets defensive turnaround has been focused on the great play of 1st rounder Sauce Gardner, it has been the addition of Reed that has prevented the opposition from taking advantage of the matchups across from Gardner. Reed has been fantastic this year allowing under 9 yards per reception and building on his breakout season in Seattle last year and has yet to miss a snap. Reed is the 18th highest paid corner in the NFL and is ranked 11th in coverage by PFF and carries the 5th highest OTC CB valuation at just under $20 million. An incredible bargain paying immediate dividends for the Jets.