Panthers wide receiver Robbie Anderson looks to be on the move following his dismissal from Sunday’s game by the Panthers coaching staff, with Anderson being traded to Arizona for the remainder of the season.
For the Cardinals this is an easy trade to make. Anderson will only cost them $690,000 on the salary cap this year and while he will cost $12 million next season, none of that number is guaranteed so they can walk away with no issues. They have not yet announced the trade compensation but it would be hard to believe that it would be much anything given how things ended in Carolina. Anderson should give them at least some insurance as a replacement for Marquise Brown who went down with an injury during the team’s loss to Seattle.
Carolina will carry about $10.2 million in dead money for Anderson in 2022 and another $9.7 million in 2023. Carolina, who was cap strapped earlier in the offseason and needed to make room to remain in the the hunt to acquire Deshaun Watson, had already paid out $11.765 million of Anderson’s salary back in the spring to help achieve that salary cap relief, so it is a big bill to pay for someone not on the team.
Anderson joined Carolina in 2020 on a two year, $20 million contract during free agency. Anderson had a softer than expected market so the Panthers took a chance and for one season it worked out with Anderson putting up a career best 1,096 yards and 95 receptions.
Even though it was not a one year “prove it” deal the Panthers treated it as such and quickly extended Anderson after the season to a new contract worth $14.75 million a season. This would be a disaster for the team as Anderson only had 519 yards in 2021. Rather than paying the original $8 million salary and then letting him walk after a poor season, the new extension saw the team pay $12.5 million in 2021 and then an additional $12.31 million this year. For that extra $16.31 million in cash and cap the Panthers got 6 additional games, 13 receptions, 206 yards, and a touchdown of production.
With the flurry of receiver contracts being signed I had a number of questions about Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson who is currently looking for a new contract before committing fully to the 2022 preseason schedule. The market has certainly exploded this offseason with 11 wide receivers signing new contracts worth at least $20 million per season. The rumor is the two sides are far apart on valuation which is not surprising since the Steelers have traditionally let many of their receivers walk when it was time to for an extension that would reach higher end numbers.
The first thing I wanted to do is to look at what would be considered a “top season” among recent NFL signings and compare it to what many would consider Johnson’s top season.
While I think Johnson does belong in the discussion with this group of players, he is a target monster compared to the other players but his numbers fall short in terms of overall impact with such a low yards per reception. Last season he ranked 12th in YPR out of the 14 players who had at least 130 targets per PFF in 2021. He was 29th among the 39 players with at least 100 targets in 2021. Of the 10 players with a lower yards per reception, 3 were tight ends and 1 is currently out of the NFL (Cole Beasley). The others were Keenan Allen, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jakobi Myers, Hunter Renfrow, Jaylen Waddle, and Robbie Anderson. All but Anderson would be considered “slot guys” and even he had over 200 routes out of the slot. Johnson had just 42.
Obviously there are other factors that can come into play regarding, that including poor QB play, but I could see how the Steelers may very well view his impact on the game to be more in line with the Hunter Renfrow end of the market vs the top end players but clearly that won’t get a deal done.
Johnson not looking to play without a new contract makes sense. While he has not had a good situation at QB this is arguably the worst it will be with Mitch Trubisky penciled in as the starter with first round draft pick Kenny Pickett and/or backup Mason Rudolph waiting in the wings. In the seasons when Ben Roethlisberger was healthy, the team generally threw the ball around 650 times a year. That fell to around 500 in the year he was injured. With that kind of drop, Johnson’s overall numbers could drop significantly which could impact him in free agency. His former teammate went through a similar struggle as a free agent which could also weigh on him.
Still it is hard to imagine him agreeing to a contract in the sub $20 million per year range. Here is the market breakdown of all the young receivers earning over $20 million a season and the relevant cash flow breakdown.
Other than Moore, whose contract predated the market growth that occurred in free agency, the numbers are all pretty similar. The APYs are all between $23.2 and $25 million a season and realistically the Brown contract is only worth $23 million if you take out the inflated final year, giving us a market between $23 and $24 million a season. Guaranteed salary is between $53 and $58 million. Most of our differences come in the cash flow breakdown where there are some differences between the players at the start of the deals.
I think the argument would be that Johnson is in the class of McLaurin and to quickly discount the other three players all of whom have had at least one Pro Bowl selection, a higher draft grade, and arguably better high end seasons. McLaurin’s career has been more consistent than Johnson’s and even though McLaurin did surpass Brown in the true APY number he is well under him in cash earned through two years.
If the Steelers would like to get a contract done they probably have to follow a similar model, likely exceeding the McLaurin annual value to hit in the ballpark of $23.5 million a season but not reaching his cash flow numbers. Maybe a deal that offers about a $20 million raise this season, $30 million by next year, and then $47 or $48 million over two years before it reaches it’s max value. This is also a situation where the team could look for the extra year of control and do a 4 year rather than a three year extension as well.
Anything less than this I believe would make it hard for the Steelers to get a contract finalized given the way that contracts have recently gone. It would look like a big step back to drop below $20 million a season even if that happens to be where the Steelers view him at the moment.
As we move into the NFL preseason I wanted to take a closer look at spending in the NFL this year. Today I am going to look at the offense and see how teams are spending their money on each position. The numbers are based on the new money average per year of the top 30 players on offense.
Overall Spending on Offense
The average team has $121 million per year committed to the top 30 players on offense. The Browns lead the way, by far, in value placed on the offense- their contracts average $170 million per year. The Cardinals, Raiders, and Buccaneers are all closely grouped around $155 million each. The Panthers round out the top 5 at $146 million, though you can argue what the value of Baker Mayfield should be in this situation.
The teams with hardly any investment on offense are the Bears (A paltry $57.6 million), Steelers ($72.4 million), Falcons ($82.1 million), Bengals ($82.8 million), and Giants ($93.1 million). The Bengals number is in part low because they have key players obtained in the draft. The others are just sorting through things.
The Eagles lead the way with $65.7 million per year invested in their offensive line. That is nearly $15 million a year more than the Browns at $51.7 million. The Panthers, Lions, and Ravens are all around $50 million. The Patriots have the least invested with just $22.8 million spend on the offensive line. Seattle, who seemingly never spend on the line, is at $26 million while the Bears are the other team under $30 million at $27 million per year. The NFL average is $40.5 million.
With the recent swings in salary at receiver I was curious to see how this would play out. The current average per team is $31.5 million, which is about what Miami spends on Tyreek Hill (yes I know the number is inflated but its used in the calculations). Tampa Bay is up to $57 million on the year followed by Miami at $50 million, the Rams at $49 million and the Seahawks and Raiders at $48 million. The disparity at this position is huge with a $51.4 million per year gap between the top and bottom team, by far the most of any position other than QB. The Ravens spend just $5.3 million here followed by the Steelers at $10.4 million, the Colts at $11.2 million, and the Bears at $13 million.
Running back spend averages under $11 million a season and just two teams have over $20 million committed to the position- the Browns and the Saints. The Vikings and Panthers are both at $19 million while the Titans round out the top 5. The teams not wasting resources at this position are the Bears, Rams, and Eagles (all under $5 million), and Commanders ($5.5 million).
While the Patriots don’t have much invested in their offensive line they sure do have money invested at tight end with $27 million in contracts. They are the only team in the NFL that spends more on tight ends than they do on their offensive line. The Ravens have $22 million here as they are the lone team to spend more on tight ends than receivers. Miami is the other team over $20 million. The 49ers and Eagles round out the top 5. The Giants, Steelers, Bills, and Vikings are not even spending $4 million on the position.
QB vs non-QB Spending
I thought it might be interesting to see how much teams are spending on their offense relative to their spending on QB rather than looking at QB spending which is generally just dependent on one player. The following graph breaks it down.
Teams in the top right quadrant are the ones heavily invested in the offense. These are the teams with the expensive QB’s who are still committed to trying to invest in as many parts as possible around the QB. The Browns would be the primary standout here.
The bottom right identifies the teams with an expensive QB situation who have decided to maybe cut some corners elsewhere. The Packers would be a team with a giant gap as they have a fortune invested in Aaron Rodgers while ranking 29th in spending on the rest of the offense.
The top left are primarily teams with rookie QBs or questionable QB situations who are going out and spending on the offense. For Jalen Hurts this is clearly a big year for him and the Eagles. He has a ton of talent to work with and will be extension eligible after the season. The same can probably be said for Miami.
The bottom left quadrant are teams with low cost rookies/bad QB situations who are either heavily reliant on draft pick contribution or just punting on the offense this year. The Giants and Falcons on paper are the two worst situations while the Steelers and Bears are giving their young QB’s almost no help.
The following table has the spending breakdowns for each team. It should be sortable if you click on the header.
While there are still players to be signed in free agency and a few deals we are waiting on details for I think we can begin to assess just how much teams were impacted by the offseason. For each team I looked at their 2021 roster and calculated how much contract value was lost to other teams in 2022 via free agency or trade to determine how much value was lost to a team. I then looked at how much every team added in contract value for players who were not on their team last season. These were all calculated using annual contract values as the baseline for value gained or lost. If a player retired it is considered no impact since they no longer have an active contract. The same goes for players who we do not have contract details for or have yet to sign a contract. We will revisit these again in the summer when those are all taken into account. Here is a quick look at each team.
After calculating the number I broke each team down into groups with some quick thoughts on the strategies for the year.
The Big Movers
The clear big movers this offseason were the Browns, Dolphins, Jaguars, Broncos and Chargers. Each of these teams had a net positive gain over $40 million per year for 2022. Each had minimal losses with the exception of the Jaguars who lost over $40 million in contract value to other teams, which ranked 13th in the league. That was made up for by their massive spending spree which ranked 1st in the NFL at nearly $95 million per year. You can argue whether or not the contract values made sense for the players they signed but in the mind of the Jaguars they did. Miami’s number is a bit inflated due to Tyreek Hill counting at $30 million a season, but they would be top 3 even if we pulled him out. The Chargers and Broncos both made major moves. All five of these teams should have major expectations for this year.
The next tier of teams range between $20 and $30 million in added annual salary. Four of the five were playoff teams looking to get better. Those were the Steelers, Bills, Titans, and Raiders. The Raiders made the biggest splash by adding the 4th most value, a number somewhat inflated by the Davante Adams signing but they also purged their roster and had the 9th most amount of salary acquired by other teams, though one of those was a QB who never played last year. The other three were running it back with many of the same players in 2022 while adding a few names to the mix expected to put them over the top. The other team was the Jets who ranked 7th in contract value added and took a much more proactive approach to free agency this year compared to the prior two offseasons. The Jets will have expectations of being relevant late in the year while the Steelers should have the aspirations of the playoffs again. The other three teams are likely considered Super Bowl or bust type expectations.
The Eagles had a net gain of $14.9 million ranking 26th in salary gained and 32nd in salary lost. The Bengals were similar with a 22/28 ranking for a net gain of just under $12 million. Detroit, Baltimore, Tampa and the Giants all kind of fall in this range with the Giants and Bucs being slightly negative. These teams are generally just running it back with a few additions and subtractions. I would anticipate that expectations for these teams are the same as what they were last season.
Reshuffling the Deck
The Colts, Commanders, Vikings, and Panthers are the teams I would put here. The net impact of gains and losses is minor but the hope is a big change in direction especially the Colts. Indy added the 9th most contract value at $49.3 million but lost the 11th most at $48 million. Obviously a good chunk of that is the swapping of QBs but they are trying to make things work in the same type of budget. Washington added the 10th most and lost the 16th most and in some world are expecting Carson Wentz to make them a playoff team. Minnesota added the 14th while Carolina added the 12th most. Both teams had over $25M in payers leave the team. The strategies here seem to indicate that the teams treated the offseason as a way to get over the playoff hump.
A Bit of a Salary Cap Crunch
This set of teams lost between $15 and $30 million in value this year with some of it likely being salary cap related. The 49ers, Saints, and Patriots were all near the $0 cap room mark for most of the offseason. Only the Saints pulled enough levers to create a bunch of cap room but that was done in the attempt to trade for Deshaun Watson. Wisely they seem to be sitting on that money to carry over to next year’s salary cap mess. Each of these teams could have done more this offseason but decided to keep in check, basically keeping most of the players on the team but not signing new ones. Expectations are probably slightly lower than last year.
The Oddball Team
The Seahawks had a net loss of $29 million (not including Wagner) driven by the loss of their QB which would seem to signal a rebuild, but they did add over $37 million in salary, 11th most in the NFL, which is an oddball decision for a team that should be rebuilding without Wilson. I guess you could consider that reshuffling the deck but with some much money out I just did not have a place to put them so I added them here.
Here we have teams whose team composition was also changed for salary cap purposes but they also made a conscious effort to simply begin resetting the rosters. The Chiefs are already down $30 million and that number should grow once Tyrann Mathieu signs somewhere. Clearly they are looking ahead at decisions and pulled away from the stars they could pull away from and will likely do more of that next season when it is time to move on from Frank Clark. Atlanta is down $38 million as they are still purging a terrible cap situation. No team lost more than Chicago who had nearly $75 million in contracts playing on other teams in 2022. This is a complete overhaul for them. The Rams are down $46 million (that will change with the Wagner signing) but lost the 3rd most in value this year, one of just a handful of teams to lose three or more $10M+ players. These teams are all going to have lower expectations than last season, unless they draft someone who is thought to be an impact player.
All Eyes on the Draft
Finally we have the Texans, Cardinals Cowboys, and Packers who I would put in this class. Houston has signed the most players but rank just 24th in contract value added, so it is all minor adds. Their overall value lost is bloated due to Watson, who didn’t play last year, but it is also clear they just signed players to fill out a roster while focusing on the draft to completely rebuild the team. The Cardinals went all in last year and basically added nothing while losing $53 million to other teams. They are a cap mess as well and can not continue with the strategy of adding older veterans on one and two year contracts. They need the draft to go really well. Dallas just began gutting their team. They lost $60 million in contracts to other teams including the trade of Amari Cooper and added a paltry $4.2 million in outside free agents. Finally the Packers lost $68 million in contract value including Adams, Smith, and Valdes-Scantling while restructuring every contract under the sun and extending Aaron Rodgers to a massive contract just to comply with the salary cap. They need major hits in the draft this year. Other than Houston each of these team’s should have a downgraded outlook.
In a bizarre story the NFL has suspended Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for the entire 2022 season due to gambling on the NFL. According to the NFL an investigation uncovered that Ridley placed bets on NFL games during a five day period in late November.
Ridley’s career has taken a number of wild turns in the last year. Last year was supposed to see Ridley continue to build on his 1,374 yard season in 2020 to set himself up to be one of the highest paid receivers in the NFL in 2022. Ridley only played in five games and in late October was put on the non-football injury/illness list to focus on his mental health.
Ridley was set to earn $11.116 million this season from the Falcons and then hit free agency in 2023. His salary had been guaranteed. Ridley was rumored to be traded to a number of teams this offseason as the cap starved Falcons are in rebuilding mode.
Ridley should immediately be moved to the suspension list forfeiting his $11.116 million salary for the year. His contract will toll to 2023 but the guarantee in the contract should no longer be valid. Given the circumstances of the last two seasons, Ridley may be looking at having to take a contract much lower than that figure if the league agrees to reinstate him in 2023.
The Chiefs had traded for Brown last offseason giving the Ravens a 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th round pick in return for Brown and a 2nd and 6th round pick. The cost was high enough to where there was little doubt that Brown woud be tagged in 2022 if he was not extended. We are estimating the value of the franchise tag to be $16.658 million.
While Brown is still free to negotiate with other teams until he actually signs the offer sheet from the Chiefs, the cost of compensation attached to the tag (two first round draft picks) effectively prevents Brown from really testing free agency.
The cost of the tag will move the Chiefs over the projected salary cap for 2022. They have plenty of flexibility with the Patrick Mahomes contract and a few others to create cap space and should seriously consider cutting Frank Clark to open up cap room as well. Apparently the team is also negotiating with wide receiver Tyreek Hill on an extension that will lower his salary cap number for the year.
The franchise tag debate is always an interesting one. As a tool to negotiate a long term extension it is very useful. Ideally you get the extension done before the tag period. Where things get more dangerous for teams is when you are forced to restructure player contracts just for the purpose of tagging a player. That happens far too often. I would not be as concerned with that in this situation but in the case of Green Bay, Tennessee, and Tampa, who are all rumored to be using the tag this year, the risk factor is much higher for them.
Buccaneers starting guard Ali Marpet has decided to step away from the NFL, announcing his retirement after seven seasons in the NFL. Marpet, who was a Pro Bowl player this year, was scheduled to have a $12.775 million salary cap charge for the cap strapped Buccaneers. The team will have two options with his cap number from this point forward.
Marpet could be placed on the retired list tomorrow to officially remove him from the roster. The Buccaneers would carry $7.15 million in dead money on the salary cap for him, creating $5.625 million in salary cap space for the team this year.
The second option would be to renegotiate his salary down from $10 million to $1.12 million for the year and then carry him on the roster until June 2nd. This would simply be a procedural move to create the maximum cap room possible for the team. By proceeding this way the Buccaneers would reduce Marpet’s cap charge to just $3.895 million during free agency and then to $2.775 million after June 2nd. This strategy creates $10 million in cap room for 2022 and pushes $4.375 million in dead money to 2023.
As of today the Buccaneers are estimated to be about $2.5 million under the salary cap, though that number includes Tom Brady at a full salary cap charge. Brady announced his retirement a few weeks ago but there has been no movement from Tampa Bay on processing anything there. Given how many free agents Tampa has, maximizing cap room in 2022 would seem to be the proper move.
Marpet’s retirement leaves the Buccaneers offensive line in a state of flux. With Marpet leaving they lose about 90% of their snaps at left guard. Center Ryan Jensen is the top ranked free agent center. He played over 97% of the snaps last year for Tampa. Guard Alex Cappa is also a free agent and played every snap for the team.
In addition to potentially losing their entire interior offensive line the team will also have to deal with multiple potential free agent losses. Wide receiver Chris Godwin, cornerback Carlton Davis, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, tight end Rob Gronkowski, safety Jordan Whitehead, running back Leonard Fournette, and edge Jason Pierre-Paul are all free agents. Overall the team stands to lose 39% of their snaps in free agency, the fourth highest total in the NFL. Those numbers do not include the losses of Brady and Marpet which should vault them to the highest number in the league.