Projecting an extension for Cody Whitehair

By: Brad Spielberger  

Throughout the 2018 off-season, the Bears were in talks for an extension with their 2015 second-round pick out of Florida State, nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Ryan Pace extended one of the players that he was personally responsible for drafting in Chicago for the first time. So far the returns have been positive. Early extensions such as Goldman’s enable teams to have a better understanding of both their roster and salary cap situation for the following offseason before that offseason arrives. Last year the Bears knew they wanted to keep Goldman around. Agreeing to a deal as he was entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract was the smart decision to move up the timing of his deal before the market increased.

This off-season is no different. 

By the numbers

The second-round draft pick at No. 56 overall for the Bears in 2016 was Kansas State interior offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. Like Goldman, the veteran interior lineman is entering the last season of a four-year rookie contract. 

At every step of the way during his tenure with the Bears, Whitehair has demonstrated exactly what the Bears were seeking when they drafted him three years ago: versatility and reliability. Whitehair has shifted back and forth between center and left guard multiple times already and has featured well in both spots. He has even handled some duties at right guard in emergency situations. That the veteran has missed only 25 total snaps in three years (per TheQuantEdge), demonstrates just how dependable of a player he is. 

Pro Football Focus deemed Whitehair’s rookie season third-best among all centers since they began recording statistics in 2006. Here is what the analytics database had to say about Whitehair’s second season in 2017: 

“Though tasked with playing guard to the tune of 259 offensive snaps last season, Whitehair still predominantly played center and played extremely well at the position in 2017. Whitehair ranked fifth in run-block grade (81.8) and fourth in run-block success percentage (17.6) in 2017.”

Whitehair was not only PFF’s third-highest-graded center in 2016, he was No. 13 in 2017, and No. 10 in 2018. At the initial peak of his accomplished career, he allowed a grand total of zero sacks and zero QB hits in 2018. This was while playing every offensive snap. 

Run blocking may have suffered a bit for the whole Bears’ offensive line unit in 2018, which will have to be mitigated in coming years. But it was Whitehair and the Bears’ collective pass protection that took a major leap forward. 

Here was PFF’s review of the whole season for the big men up front in Chicago: 

“The Bears finished the season with the league’s second-best pass blocking efficiency of any offensive line, and this was yet another team without a real weak link. Rookie James Daniels ended up earning their lowest grade at 62.3 overall, but Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie, and Cody Whitehair were all over 70.0.” 

All of these accolades are great, which brings up an important query: why are the Bears moving Whitehair to left guard after he was one of the NFL’s premier centers (according to at least one metric) in the last three years? It’s a multi-faceted answer.

First, James Daniels is the more natural center, as it was his college position. Second, Whitehair struggled mightily with shotgun snaps in 2018. Matt Nagy utilized the shotgun formation on 79 percent of all offensive snaps in 2018, which was tied for the second-highest percentage in the NFL. The Bears cannot afford to be stressing over quality shotgun snaps. It should be a routine exchange and the more natural center in Daniels gives them that drilled regimen.

What’s most important in Whitehair’s position shift is getting the rest of the Bears’ offensive line to ascend. PFF had complements for Charles Leno Jr. and his run blocking, but the rest of the big boys struggled mightily. Pairing Whitehair and Leno Jr. together on the left side is a calculated decision from Nagy, Pace, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery are elite change-of-direction running backs who need space to work with before they can create magic out of thin air. Thanks to the presence of these two dynamic backs, I expect there to be a heavy usage of counters and cutbacks to the left side behind Leno Jr. and Whitehair. 

Taylor Gabriel and Cordarrelle Patterson running jet sweeps from the right side to the left should also be a feature of the Chicago offense in 2019. According to SharpFootball’s 2019 NFL preview, the Bears ran the ball behind the center and to the left more than they did to the right in 2018. This may have had something to do with Kyle Long’s absence. An understandable point considering Long’s proficiency as a bruiser in the running game. But I see this trend continuing, and perhaps expanding, in 2019.

While purely speculative, one can also assume that the Bears did not want to put too much on James Daniels’ plate in Year 1. It’s difficult enough to be a rookie in the NFL. If Daniels also had to learn all of the cadences and snap counts of a brand-new offense (along with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky), it could have been a disaster. The shift from center to left guard for Cody Whitehair and vice versa for James Daniels in 2019 makes plenty of sense, and better suits both of their skill-sets long term.

Now what effect does moving Whitehair from center to left guard have on his contract? Many seem to believe that left guards get paid significantly more than centers, but that is not the case. 

Below is a table with the top-five free agent contracts in each off-season based on average per year for both left guards and centers:

Top Five Free Agent Signings by APY

As you can see above, only in 2018 did the top-five contracts at left guard have a higher average APY than those at center. This is primarily a result of somewhat of an outlier of a contract – Andrew Norwell’s $13,300,000 per year free agent deal with the Jaguars. Norwell may have proven to be a cautionary tale for teams looking to extend their guards to big deals: he missed five games in 2018 and did not play particularly well in the other 11. In the 2019 free agency cycle, Rodger Saffold, another second-round draft pick and perhaps the best comparison to Whitehair’s situation, was the only left guard to top $7,000,000 APY. However, Mitch Morse, Maurkice Pouncey, and Matt Paradis all topped the $9,000,000 mark at center, and technically these are Whitehair’s cohorts of the past three seasons. 

Saffold received an overall PFF grade of 73.2 in his 2018 season with the Rams, compared to Cody Whitehair’s 70.4. A discrepancy that small doesn’t mean a great deal, both were good players last year. Whitehair has the benefit of youth, as he is just 27-years-old whereas Saffold is 31. 

If we look at the centers specifically, Morse is 27 and Paradis is 29. Two guys more relatable in age to Whitehair. They also played the same position as the Bears’ interior swingman the past few seasons. That makes them a potentially better gauge of his true market, even though he is sliding over to left guard for 2019. 

Morse was drafted No. 49 overall in the 2015 draft, one year before Cody Whitehair was selected at No. 56. Morse played out his rookie contract with the Chiefs and became an unrestricted free agent this off-season. While Morse did play at a high level when healthy, he missed five games in 2018 after missing nine games in 2017. There are some concerns about his concussion history, as he has already been diagnosed with three, and he remains in the Bills’ concussion protocol as of today, August 21st.

Paradis, meanwhile, is a journeyman center that was selected in the sixth round in 2014 and eventually placed on the Broncos’ practice squad. He became a UFA in 2019 after playing on a second-round RFA tender for $2.914 million in 2018. Paradis also missed seven games in 2018, though he hadn’t missed a snap in three years prior to that. Managing a PFF grade of 79 was all the more impressive in a shortened 2018 season.

Below is a table with each of the four player’s PFF grades since 2016: 

PFF Grades

While PFF grades are not the end-all be-all authority on player effectiveness, this table demonstrates the type of impact that draft pedigree can have on contract negotiations. Paradis is the only player taken later than the second round. Though he grades out better than the other three players above, he will have received the smallest contract of the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I believe Whitehair will come out with the largest contract of his peers.

The largest APY signing at left guard in 2018 was Norwell with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Norwell was an undrafted free agent with the Panthers and played on a RFA tender in 2017 before agreeing to terms in Jacksonville. It should be noted that the Jaguars went on a spending spree in 2018, shelling out the fourth-most cash in the league. Norwell’s three-year PFF grade average prior to 2018 was a 79.37. Norwell’s $13.3M APY extension under the 2018 salary cap equates to $14,125,620.80 APY under the 2019 salary cap. Norwell received $30 million fully guaranteed at signing out of a $66 million total, which is roughly 45 percent. Rodger Saffold, Mitch Morse, and Matt Paradis all received similar guaranteed-at-signing percentages of around 45 percent. 

While Ryan Pace, Joey Laine and Co. have presumably attempted to negotiate a lower number by offering the extension a year early (a la Jaylon Smith in Dallas), Whitehair’s camp is still probably looking for top dollar. Pace had no problem making Eddie Goldman one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL last off-season after his third season. Expecting anything but a similar contract at left guard for Whitehair may be foolhardy. The goal for the Bears’ front office at this point should be to just keep the eventual number below Norwell’s.

Whitehair’s contract projection: 

Four years, $49 million ($12.25M APY), $22.5 million fully guaranteed at signing ($14.5 million signing bonus, $1.5 million 2019 base salary, $3 million 2020 base salary, $3.5 million 2020 roster bonus). 

In this deal, there will also be a 2021 roster bonus of $3.5 million guaranteed for injury only at signing. The roster bonus will become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year. Whitehair is currently due a $1,026,078 base salary in 2019 and the remainder of his rookie contract signing bonus is for $318,103. 

Below is a table with the full contract details, including a small $473,922 pay-bump to his 2019 base salary that becomes fully guaranteed:

Whitehair has too many positives working in his favor to not receive a strong, secure contract extension. He’s 27, a former second-round draft pick, extremely dependable and reliable, and capable of playing at a high level at multiple positions. The change of position in the contract year muddles negotiations a bit, but the left guard and center market are still pretty similar.

This projection is a very nice payday for Whitehair, especially when considering that the extension is a year early as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. For comparison’s sake, Jaylon Smith of the Dallas Cowboys just became the fourth highest paid inside linebacker (based on APY) in the NFL after starting just 22 games since being drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft (at No. 34 he went 22 picks ahead of Whitehair). As I mentioned at the top of the article, Cody Whitehair has missed only 25 snaps in his three year career out of a possible 3,073… Jaylon Smith has missed 26 starts out of a possible 48. The inside linebacker and interior offensive line market have nothing to do with each other, but consistency brings huge value, particularly to a position that relies on the unit to develop chemistry. 

Whitehair becoming the fourth highest paid left guard/center in terms of APY would mean his APY falls around $11 million. This estimate of $11 million APY was essentially where my Whitehair projection began, but the more I dove into the (scarce) resources available to determine Whitehair’s market, the more that number moved upward. 

All of the Bears’ moves to clear cap space prior to the 2019 free agency period and most recently with Charles Leno Jr. were not for naught, as another draft pick will be rewarded before the 2019 season kicks off. This hypothetical move will take up roughly $3.4 million in 2019 salary cap space, lowering the Bears’ number to around $18 million (per the NFLPA Public Salary Cap report dated 8/21/2019)

Camp Holdouts Seeking Second NFL Contract Have Not Been Successful

With the rookie wage scale effectively eliminating bargaining ability for draftees, players seeking their second NFL contract often come to the negotiating table with big demands after feeling undervalued for their first four (or five) years in the league. This year there are plenty of veteran camp holdouts that want to boost their current contracts such as Julio Jones and Earl Thomas, but this article takes a closer look at the guys that have yet to sign a truly negotiated contract in their young careers.

Being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft can become a double-edged sword with the fifth-year option, which provides teams with an incredibly valuable tool to retain top talent at a discounted price. For first rounders, the initial rookie deals are far superior to those of their counterparts taken later in the draft. However, these later round players can then get a seat at the negotiating table for their second contract a whole season earlier. Teams exercising the fifth-year option is very similar to tagging a player; the player receives a fully guaranteed, one-year contract that is based off the market at their respective position.

As we’ll see with the first holdout below, although Le’Veon Bell was a second-round pick and thus not subject to the fifth-year option, he has now been franchise tagged in consecutive seasons. Monday, July 16th was the deadline for franchise tagged players to reach an agreement with their team on a new contract. A deal didn’t come to fruition for any of the remaining players that had received a franchise tag for the 2018 season (Bell, Detroit Lion Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Dallas Cowboy Demarcus Lawrence, and LA Ram Lamarcus Joyner).

Here is where the top holdouts currently stand:

Le’Veon Bell

RB Top 10 APY – $14,544,000 – $5,083,333 (Bell only one over $8.25 million)

Le’Veon Bell (Steelers): Franchise Tag – 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $14,544,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 8.04%

1/103 RB

Fully Guaranteed Money: $14,544,000

Age: 26

Steelers Cap Space: $5,483,820

For the second offseason in a row Le’Veon Bell has chosen to holdout from attending the Pittsburgh Steelers OTA’s after the club placed another franchise tag on him for the 2018-2019 season. Bell is set to make $14,544,000 this season on the tag, which by rule must be 120% of the previous year’s salary. The money becomes fully guaranteed whenever Bell signs the tag.

Le’Veon believes he should not be paid as a pure running back, and that any reference to the running back market is a mischaracterization of his contributions on the field. He may have a point: on top of leading the NFL in rushing attempts in 2017 with 321, Bell was also 10th in the league in receptions with 85, just 3 fewer than Julio Jones. Bell had 60 more offensive touches than the second highest player, LeSean Mccoy, who had 346 to Bell’s 406.

Bell had reportedly been seeking somewhere in the $17 million APY range on a five-year deal with a signing bonus in the $15-$20 million range to maximize his upfront cash flow. Last season’s biggest sticking point for Bell was guaranteed money, which the Steelers historically are not willing to shell out (Antonio Brown’s 2017 extension converted P5 base salary to signing bonus and includes multiple roster bonuses, but not a dollar of P5 base salary is guaranteed).

Bell had shifted his focus accordingly, but ultimately the two sides were unable to reach a long-term deal before the deadline on Monday, which prompted Le’Veon’s agent to say that this is likely his last season in Pittsburgh. At 26 years old for a running back there is probably one good payday left, and Bell clearly knows this. He aims to maximize his next deal which apparently will come next offseason from a team other than the Steelers.

43DE Top 10 APY – $17,143,000 – $9,125,000

Khalil Mack (Raiders): 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $13,846,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 7.61%

10/71 at 43DE

Fully Guaranteed Money: $13,846,000 – Fifth Year Option

Age: 27

Raiders Cap Space: $2,342,599

In 2015, Mack became the first player in NFL history to be named an AP All-Pro at two positions in a single season; defensive end and outside linebacker. Following this historic achievement and consistently elite production, the Raiders obviously chose to execute Mack’s fifth-year option, and that brings us to present day. For top ten draft picks, the fifth-year option salary amount is equal to the transition tag at the player’s position during his fourth season (so 2017 defensive end in this case, full list here).

As Khalil Mack watched the Raiders organization shell out a 10-year, $100 million deal to new head coach Jon Gruden, there is no question he wondered why some of that money wasn’t coming his way. Six months later, as Gruden & Co. have made so many head scratching moves it could lead to hair loss, Mack and the Raiders are no closer on reaching a deal. Mack is set to play this season on his fifth-year option of $13,846,000 and become a free agent heading into 2019. The two sides allegedly are not close because of what Joel Corry of CBS Sports describes as “sticker shock” in a recent article. As the quarterback market has continued to grow exponentially over the past year, the non-QB market has not kept up the pace. Mack and fellow 2014 draft-pick-turned-superstar Aaron Donald are not interested in topping the current market, they’re interested in blowing the roof off it. Additionally, although they don’t play the same position, they may be engaged in a game of chicken, as whoever signs a new deal first provides the other with the ability to use that contract as a benchmark.

As we saw with the quarterbacks, particularly Kirk Cousins, guaranteed money is a major focus in contract negotiations this offseason. Olivier Vernon and Von Miller have the premier defensive end/outside linebacker contracts, with Vernon receiving $40.5 million fully guaranteed and Miller $42 million fully guaranteed at signing. Cousins and recently-extended Matt Ryan both have double that amount fully guaranteed, with $84 million and $94.5 million respectively. Khalil Mack’s camp is likely doing all they can to anchor guaranteed money negotiations closer to the recent quarterback numbers than to the top defensive player numbers.

34DE Top 10 APY – $16,666,667 – $7,000,000

Aaron Donald (Rams): 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $6,892,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 3.85%

7/49 at 34DE

Fully Guaranteed Money: $6,892,000 – Fifth Year Option

Age – 27

Rams Cap Space: $2,206,614

It is not an exaggeration to say that if Aaron Donald ends up playing for his fifth-year option amount of $6,892,000 in 2018 it may be one of the more underpaid seasons for a premier player in NFL history following the standard four-year rookie deal (more on this later). The fifth-year option for a first-rounder outside of the top ten is calculated by taking the average of the 3rd through 25th highest salaries at the player’s position, in this case defensive tackle. Coming off Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2017, it still does not appear that Donald is going to receive the payday he deserves.

The Rams front office have shown with several offseason moves that they are certainly aware of how good they have it with Donald right now, and that they must capitalize before he gets a likely record-setting deal. With only 3.85% of the 2018 Team Cap allocated to Donald, and with Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters still playing on their rookie deals, the Rams have gone all-in for 2018. The trade for cornerback Aqib Talib, who is set to make $8 million this season, bolsters a secondary that was exposed at times last year. The acquisition of Ndamukong Suh on a one year, $14 million deal creates one of the scariest defensive tackle combos of all time. The franchise tagging of Lamarcus Joyner to avoid negotiating a big, long-term payday for now… I could keep going. All of this is possible because of Donald’s fifth-year option.

Donald deserves a monster contract, a fact he is keenly aware of, but he may have to forego getting it now for a very legitimate chance at a Super Bowl ring instead. There is not much money left to dish out in LA at this point.

WR Top 10 APY – $17,000,000 – $14,000,000

Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants): 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $8,459,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 4.77%

19/202 WR

Fully Guaranteed Money: $8,459,000

Age – 25

Giants Cap Space: $7,288, 664

Honorable Mention goes to Odell Beckham Jr., although it now appears he is going to participate fully in team activities. Coming off a season-ending injury in 2017 likely hurt Beckham Jr.’s bargaining power, but he has made it known he expects to be paid big money soon.

Let’s get back to this pesky fifth-year option, often a common thread seen every year with camp holdouts. What can first round draft picks do to avoid it?

Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Odell Beckham Jr. were all taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, and after remarkable starts to their careers they have all fallen prey to the exploitation of the fifth-year option. Beckham Jr. went 12th overall, Aaron Donald 13th, and then went a guy who did not have the same issue this offseason: Kyle Fuller at 14th overall to the Chicago Bears.

This is admittedly somewhat of a conspiracy theory, and although there can be huge upside, it is likely too risky a move to pull in the NFL… but bear with me here (no pun intended). Kyle Fuller looked like a rising star in his first two seasons with Chicago, then in year three the injury bug reared its ugly head (or did it?). Fuller didn’t play a snap in 2016 following a routine knee scope operation and there were rumblings, some coming from inside the organization, that he was healthy enough to have played at some point. Chicago has never won more than six games in the four years Fuller has been on the team, so his presence in year three of a rebuild (“rebuild” may be putting it nicely) would not have made a difference in the team’s overall success. After the 2016 season the Bears chose to decline Fuller’s fifth-year option for 2018 as concern arose about his desire to play in Chicago, injury concerns, or perhaps his toughness. After an outstanding 2017 season, and with zero returning starters at corner, the Bears were set on retaining Fuller… and now they had to pay top dollar. Did Fuller hold out of 2016 on purpose to avoid the fifth-year option and get a head start on his second contract? It is easy to say “of course not, because if he got hurt in 2017 than this huge gamble would have turned into a disaster.” Perhaps.

Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace decided to place the rarely-used transition tag on Fuller for 2018, guaranteeing $12.971 million for 2018 and providing Chicago with the “right of first refusal” to match any offer sheet the player may agree to with another team. A few weeks later, after Fuller signed an offer sheet with the rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears matched. Fuller received $18 million fully guaranteed in his four-year, $56 million deal. Mack, Donald, and Beckham Jr. will certainly surpass that amount barring something catastrophic happening this season, but for now it is Kyle Fuller that is in the best financial position. I’m not suggesting this is a route that rookies take to avoid the fifth-year option, nor am I suggesting that this is what happened, but it did work out pretty darn well for Fuller.

AFC South Positional Spending

The quiet season of the NFL league year is approaching as teams across the league are winding down or have completed their organized team activities (OTA’s).  Teams will complete their mandatory mini-camps in the coming weeks; giving the players and staff a short break before training camp begins in July.  The 90 man rosters are in place at this point of the league year.  There may be some back end roster churning prior to training camp but for the most part things are set.  How does each team compare in cap spending at the different position groups?

During the offseason NFL teams are allowed to maintain an active roster of 90 players, versus the 53 man roster count during the season.  Players on reserve do not count towards the 90 man roster count (ex. Jeff Allen with Houston).

Roster Building

This will serve as an examination of the team cap spending per position group.  There should be a big difference in the positional spending with two teams with quarterbacks on rookie contracts and the other two quarterbacks already on their second contract.  How does each team build their roster?  Have they invested in the trenches on the offensive and defensive line?  Does the team prefer to spend their cap dollars on the skill positions?  The difference in the type of contract at the quarterback will play a role in where the rest of the money is spent.  Two of the AFC South teams have new or relatively new General Managers; both of which are still retooling their roster to fit their specific vision.

Total Team Cap Spending

This is an high level view of the cap and cash commitments for the AFC South teams.

TeamCap SpendingCash SpendingCash to Cap Ratio
Houston Texans$156,343,474$164,665,9230.967
Indianapolis Colts$140,862,540$158,656,8730.988
Jacksonville Jaguars$190,680,879$226,544,8381.096
Tennessee Titans$172,584,724$184,547,2260.975

*Cash to cap ratio is a projection based on Top 53 calculation used during the regular season.  Cap spending is based on offseason Top 51 calculation.

Teams will generally attempt to match the cash spending to cap spending; trying to limit their prorated spending stemming from signing bonuses paid out.  Houston and Indianapolis have been transitioning to a strong cash or hybrid contract structure, moving their ratio closer to 1.00.  Jacksonville has a huge cash spend allocation for 2018 (and 2019) well beyond their actual cap spending which is why the number is well over 1.00.  For the 2018 league year Jacksonville is projected as the highest cash to cap ratio among all 32 teams.

As you can see the Jaguars are clearly the heavy spenders at this point of the league year.  Blake Bortles is on his second contract but only accounts for 5.6% of the teams salary cap spending.  Jacksonville has invested heavily in skill positions and in the trenches both in cash and draft assets.  This heavy spending has put the team in an interesting position for 2019 as the team is currently projected ~$11 million over the cap in 2019.  The team will be faced with difficult decisions in 2019 and 2020 on their high value veteran contracts.

On the other end of the spectrum is Indianapolis and second year GM Chris Ballard.  Ballard has brought in his cash model contract structure; and has quietly been rebuilding the roster.  It is very odd to see cap spending this low when the team has a player, Andrew Luck, accounting for 13.8% of the team salary cap spending for 2018.  The Colts were able to trade back in this year’s draft amassing a ton of draft picks inside of the Top 100 selections.  This is one factor contributing to the Colts low cap and cash spending.

Houston has a first year GM in Brian Gaine and came into a team cap situation is a healthy amount of cap space for 2018.  Houston did not have a first or second round draft selection for 2018 and has a large number of players on the roster that are on lower level contracts or came from the undrafted ranks.  Deshaun Watson is in year two of his rookie contract counting only 1.8% of the team salary cap spending.  Houston does have two players in line for big contract extensions with Jadaveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney.  Expect Houston to front load these two contracts similar to the DeAndre Hopkins contract.

Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson has quietly built a very solid roster.  Marcus Mariota is in year four of his rookie contract only counting 4.3% of the 2018 cap spending.  Tennessee has signed free agents the past two years to shore up the defensive back field with Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler to go along with two outstanding young players in Adoree Jackson and Kevin Byard.  Tennessee does have some players due for large contract extensions including Mariota, Taylor Lewan, and Rishard Matthews.

Offensive Cap Spending

Below is a table of the cap spending dollars per position group between the four teams.

Houston Texans$73,418,533$5,143,746$10,535,263$22,291,951$6,020,399$29,427,174
Indianapolis Colts$103,130,124$26,195,076$4,233,859$24,357,042$14,592,083$33,752,064
Jacksonville Jaguars$79,780,502$11,273,484$12,001,311$19,738,998$8,187,000$28,942,709
Tennessee Titans$82,740,702$10,221,654$7,378,990$17,663,757$12,166,739$35,309,562

Here you can see the stark difference it makes having a quarterback on a rookie contract for Houston and Tennessee; which allows a team to spend additional cap dollars on other positions group for a 3-4 year window with the quarterback premium position under market value.  Houston and Tennessee are ranked 30th and 27th, respectively, on cap spending at the quarterback position among the league.  Both teams make up for the difference on the defense.  Tennessee does have a large investment in their offensive line.  After Taylor Lewan signs an extension, which is expected to happen this summer, the Titans will have 4 starters from the offensive line on 2nd or veteran contracts.  This will bump up their rank into the Top 10 on offensive line spending.

Jacksonville is ranked 3rd in the league on runningback cap spending.  Leonard Fournette was the #4 overall draft in 2017; and that draft slot puts him as the 6th highest (based on APY) paid runningback despite being on a rookie contract.  Fournette’s APY at $6.79 million per year is just a spot of ahead of Houston’s veteran running back Lamar Miller and his $6.5 million per year contract.  Tennessee and Indianapolis runningback groups consist of players on lower level rookie contracts.

Indianapolis has the largest cap spending allocation at wide receiver among the four teams.  Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is the main contributing factor.  Houston is right behind at $22.3 million with the bulk of that spending on DeAndre Hopkins.  However when you compare these two teams against the rest of the league, Indianapolis and Houston rank 13th and 16th respectively in wide reciever spending.

Due to the lack of draft selections in 2018 NFL draft Houston brought in three free agents to help fill in the holes along on the offensive line.  Houston is looking at having four new starters along the offensive line; after ranking last in many statistical categories for OL play in 2017.  Indianapolis and Tennessee have invested draft assets and free agent assets in their offensive line the past few years.

Defensive Cap Spending

Quick review of this table clearly shows the dramatic difference in cap spending on defense between the teams, specifically Indianapolis and Jacksonville.  Jacksonville was a top overall graded defense in 2017 per Profootball Focus.

Houston Texans$93,712,886$22,603,191$26,642,045$13,454,914$31,012,736
Indianapolis Colts$51,822,429$19,058,597$18,450,040$7,066,329$7,247,463
Jacksonville Jaguars$122,757,899$60,309,276$14,837,451$18,392,633$29,218,539
Tennessee Titans$98,444,946$29,070,243$34,581,368$12,099,663$22,693,672

Jacksonville is heavily invested in their defensive line group, safeties and cornerbacks.  With veteran contracts on Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson on the defensive line; and A.J. Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church on the back end represents the majority of their defensive spending.  With the team projected over the team cap in 2019; difficult decisions will need to be made in these position groups.  The defensive line will command some serious decisions, Jacksonville in #1 in spending in the league on this specific position group.

Tennessee has a similar approach on the defensive side of the ball with 8 of their starters playing under a 2nd or veteran contract.  The team has continually added one or two high quality free agents through free agency over the past couple of years with players Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Brian Orakpo, and Johnathan Cyprien.  Tennessee is third in the league in cap spending on the linebacker position group (both edge and inside).

Houston spent many years, prior to 2017, of investing draft assets on the defensive side of the ball.  Jadaveon Clowney was the #1 overall selection in 2014, J.J. Watt, Kareem Jackson, and Whitney Mercilus were all first round selections.  Brian Gaine is the new General Manager in Houston; the roster turnover is still on-going as he and Bill O’Brien work to “align” their philosophies on the roster building aspect of the organization.  Houston is #1 in the league in cap spending on the cornerback position group, after bringing in free agent Aaron Colvin and making him the highest paid nickel back in the league.  The biggest change this year, versus years past, is the spending on the safety group.  Under former GM Rick Smith the safety group was routinely near the bottom of the league when compared to other teams in terms of spending.  With the addition of Tyrann Mathieu the Texans are now 11th in the league in safety spending.

Final Thoughts

It is interesting to see the cap spending between each roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball with Indianapolis being last in the league by quite a bit.  Indy will roll over a large amount of cap dollars in 2019 allowing GM Chris Ballard to spend heavily on a few free agents to shore up the defensive group.  Jacksonville is the only team spending to their maximum giving the impression of “win now” mode.  Houston and Tennessee are sitting on a large amount of available cap dollars that they will attempt to rollover in 2019; which is surprising with having their franchise quarterback on a rookie contract.  The two teams should be leveraging that as much as possible during the 4 year window of having a quarterback accounting for less than 5% of the team cap.  As mentioned earlier Jacksonville will have to make some decisions on their veterans in 2019 to get back under the projected cap.

*Note each team still has a few rookies left to sign their contract which will affect the numbers slightly but not enough to change the overall outlook for the team cap spending for 2018.


The Bursting Wide Receiver Market Bubble

Brian Blewis just had a good article discussing the four Pro Bowl wide receivers who are entering the final year of their rookie contracts: A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton. This offseason, four other Pro Bowl receivers received new deals, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas were franchised, Randall Cobb resigned with Green Bay on a four-year, $40 million deal, and Jeremy Maclin signed a five-year, $55 million contract with the Chiefs.

What I think we’ll see in the coming years is that the wide receiver contracts of the 2012 and 2013 offseason were where and when the market reached it’s peak before falling down to it’s true value.

This is best illustrated in the contracts of Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, and Larry Fitzgerald. Excluding the franchise tag contracts of Bryant and Thomas, even with Fitzgerald’s restructure, they are the four highest contracts by average salary per year in the wide receiver market. Of course, the franchise tag contracts are up there because of these top of the market contracts. Andre Johnson’s was up there too before he was released by the Texans and resigned with the Colts.

On an average per year basis, Calvin Johnson’s contract is worth $16,207,143, Mike Wallace’s is $12 million, Vincent Jackson is $11,111,111 and Larry Fitzgerald’s is $11 million.

During this 2015 offseason, the three highest contracts were signed by Jeremy Maclin (five-year, $55 million), Randall Cobb (four-years, $40 million) and Torrey Smith (five-years, $40 million). These contracts are worth $11, $10 and $8 million a year. While none of these players are Calvin Johnson, I don’t think that Wallace and Jackson were ever seriously in the conversation for best receiver in the NFL either, they were both great receivers like Maclin, Cobb and Smith, but never worth their massive deals.

The year before Wallace signed his big deal with the Dolphins, he had 64 catches for 836 yards (13.1 ypc) and eight touchdowns in 15 games. Jackson had 60 catches for 1106 yards (18.4 ypc) and nine touchdowns. While Larry Fitzgerald was a great player, no one was worth the eight-year deal worth as much as $120 million that he received. In 2012, the first year of his new deal, he made $14.5 million, which was 12.05% of the $120.375 million salary cap that year.

Part of the reason why I think we’ve seen uncertainty with the Cowboys and Broncos in resigning two of the best receivers in the NFL, other than Bryant’s off the field issues, is that the receiver market has become very cloudy.
When I was in Indianapolis, I got the chance to see former Bucs GM Mark Dominik speak and be in a small group that spoke with him during a lunchtime break-out session. Someone asked Mr. Dominik something along the lines of what the easiest position to find and replace talent at is and Mr. Dominik said that position was wide receiver, to which I agreed.

There are a few reasons for this, first being that wide receiver is the position most reliant on another player, the quarterback. The wide receiver isn’t just reliant on the quarterback though, he’s also reliant on having an offensive line that protects the quarterback and gives him time to throw.

Another reason is that to succeed, a wide receiver has to be in a system that gives him a chance to succeed. The next reason is that every year it seems there is one deep wide receiver draft class after another coming into the league, this means that there is cheaper talent entering the market. Wide receiver is also a position where young players can make a real difference, which increases the value you receive from young players.

Last, it’s a position where players can contribute well into their thirties, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, and Reggie Wayne have been some of the best receivers in the NFL the last couple years with Wayne having 1355 yards receiving two years ago at 34 years old.

These reasons are all factors that can go into decreasing the value of the top wide receivers.

I can’t determine for sure if the decrease in the value of the top receivers the last couple years has been because the other deals were so out-of-touch with the market or that it’s a genuine decrease in the top of the market, but I do think that the wide receiver market will decrease moving forward on a percentage of the cap basis. I must stress, while Maclin’s $11 million a year contract is only $111,111 less than Vincent Jackson’s per year, Jackson’s was signed going into 2012 when the salary cap was $22.905 million less than it is in 2015. That’s a huge key to this whole discussion as these contracts were agreed to when the salary cap was in a much different place and wasn’t growing at a pace of plus $10 million a year. A $10 million per year contract in 2012 took up much more of the cap and the projected salary caps in the coming seasons than a $10 million per year contract in 2015.

Jordy Nelson signed an extension heading into last season for four-years worth $39.05 million, currently, he’s the 10th highest average per year contract in our table on Over The Cap at $9,762,500, just slightly behind the deal that Randall Cobb just signed.

In 2014, Nelson had a career year with 98 catches for 1519 yards (15.5 ypc) and 13 touchdowns. If he hit the open market, who knows what kind of money he could have commanded, but as with Randall Cobb, the Packers were able to come to an agreement that kept both sides happy, paid them what they’re worth and gave their team more of a chance at long-term success due to having the best receiving duo in the NFL at a reasonable cap hit.

Together, in 2015, they will take up 6.94% of the salary cap. If the cap moves up to $153 million in 2016, they will take up 11.73%. As you’ll see with most of the bigger contracts, the year one cap hit is lower due to the signing bonus the player just received.

So, even in year two when their cap hits bump up, they’re going to take up less of the cap together than what Andre Johnson took up in 2014 with the Texans, 11.76%. In 2015, Calvin Johnson will take up 14.35% of the cap, which is 168% of what Jerry Rice made in 1994 with the Super Bowl champion 49ers, 8.56%. Vincent Jackson aka Not Jerry Rice will take up 8.52% of the cap, while Mike Wallace will take up 6.91% with the Vikings after taking up an absolutely absurd 12.97% in Miami last year.

I always bring up these Super Bowl winners and the highest paid per position because I think with 21 Super Bowl champions in this salary cap era, it’s a large enough sample size to see patterns and understand what a team needs to spend their money on to win a Super Bowl. So if Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver ever takes up only 8.56% of the cap during the prime of his career, a year his team won the Super Bowl, then how can the Lions justify paying Calvin Johnson so much more? How could the Dolphins ever justify what they did with Mike Wallace?

As I often remind you guys in these articles, this is not an attack on the talents or the players themselves, I think Vincent Jackson is a great player, and he’s a great American for the work he does for our veterans, I love the guy, but as I often say when talking football, business or current events, financials and economics don’t care about our feelings or what we think should happen or what we wish would happen. That’s part of what interests me so much about the cap, it’s a lesson in finances and economics in itself.

What I think we’ll see over the next few years is that this market is beginning to settle back in line with the line of logic that I’m using when discussing Jerry Rice, a team just can’t win paying even the best receivers in the NFL so much more than Rice’s 1994 cap number. Frankly, there are more good receivers in the NFL today and it’s more important to have more than one good receiver with the prevalence of shut down cornerbacks, so I’m not even sure if a 32-year-old Jerry Rice playing today should take up 8.56% of the cap.

During that season, Jerry Rice had 112 catches for 1499 yards (13.4 ypc) and 13 touchdowns, but that team’s second leading receiver was running back, Ricky Watters, with 66 catches for 719 yards (10.9 ypc) and five touchdowns.

Their third leading receiver was TE Brent Jones who had 49 catches for 670 yards (13.7 ypc) and nine touchdowns.

Their second best wide receiver was John Taylor who only had 41 catches for 531 yards (13.0 ypc) and five touchdowns.

Their fifth leading receiver was Nate Singleton, a WR who only had 21 catches for 294 yards (14.0 ypc) and two touchdowns.

In 2014, the Steelers had similarly construction in the passing game, but with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 1000 more yards. Their top 5 receivers went WR, RB, TE, WR and WR, like the 1994 49ers, but the stats tell a story of how the game has changed.

Brown went off for a career year with 1698 yards and Le’Veon Bell was their second leading receiver with 854 yards, but Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant followed him with great seasons of their own.

Those three pass catchers combined for 1954 yards, which rounds out a dynamic group of pass-catchers. With Brown taking up only 3.40% of the cap after a 2014 restructure, Miller at 4.61% and young talent on their rookie contracts, the Steelers had a great group. Their receivers took up only 6.60% of the cap last season, which is mind-boggling for how good they were, but a sign of the times with three inexpensive, rookie deal skill players doing big things in their offense.

Roethlisberger and Steve Young were both the highest paid players on their rosters, which helps bolster the passing game of course. The Steelers got a huge pass game boost from young talent, which is part of the game we live in today, young receivers who come from the college game polished, educated and ready to ball out. This is part of what’s decreasing wide receiver costs and with the most heady receivers able to adjust and stay relevant into their thirties, receivers in their prime are getting squeezed on both sides by lower-cost options.

The Ravens traded Boldin after their 2012 championship season because he was deemed too costly for them and he’s been a 1000-yard receiver in San Francisco the last two seasons at the age of 33 and 34, while taking up 4.88% of the cap in 2013 and 1.78% last season.

It’s worth mentioning that the Steelers signed Antonio Brown to a five-year, $41.7 million contract extension in July of 2012, the summer after his first 1000-yard season and the summer before they let Mike Wallace walk in free agency.

What smart organizations do is sign their cornerstones to contracts before they reach a price point that becomes restrictive for the team. Brown’s $8,392,000 per year contract makes him the 14th highest paid on the average per year basis, so they got the best receiver in the NFL last season, a guy who fits their system perfectly and is one of the best punt returners in the league for about the cost of Pierre Garçon’s March 2012 contract.

The Patriots did this with Rob Gronkowski by signing him to a six-year extension worth $54 million back in 2012, which makes the best tight end in the NFL the third highest paid one heading into 2015. The Texans did it with JJ Watt by signing him last offseason rather than let him get into the market that just paid Ndamukong Suh a ridiculous $19,062,500 a year.

That Steelers team shows how important it is to have four or five legitimate receiving threats in today’s NFL and it’s very difficult to accomplish that paying your WR1 more than 7-8% of the salary cap. Not only will it decrease the amount of money you can spend on other receivers, but it’ll push your wide receiver spending too high to build a strong team around it. And you need money to spend elsewhere because without a good quarterback, the wide receiver has no one to throw to him. Without a good offensive line, the quarterback can’t get the ball off to his receivers and without a good running back, the offense doesn’t have the kind of balance that let’s a receiver thrive.

One key point that I think should be made before we finish this up is that only eight of the 32 receivers that were the highest cap charge on their team were the leading receivers on their teams. These were AJ Green, Andrew Hawkins, Dez Bryant, Mike Wallace, Jordy Nelson, Steve Smith, Antonio Brown and Greg Jennings and two of those receiver, Wallace and Jennings were wildly overpaid for 862 and 742 yards respectively.  Only seven number one cap hit receivers had over 1000-yards receiving: AJ Green, Vincent Jackson, Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Steve Smith, and Antonio Brown.

Figure 1: 2014 Top WR Cap Hits

2014 Top WR Cap Hit

The question that this raises for me is if wide receiver is a position where 22 teams (68.75%) have a wide receiver who isn’t their highest paid leading the team in receiving yards, with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce leading the Patriots and Chiefs, then what are teams doing wrong in terms of judging talent? This includes the four teams who’s highest cap hit at wide receiver is a dead money player who is no longer on the team.

A few other questions that we should think about: are teams doing something wrong in judging wide receiver talent? Judging how a player will fit into his system? Are number one receivers seeing a decrease in their stats due to an increase in shutdown cornerbacks? Is receiver a position that you should build with players on rookie contracts to save cap space? All good questions with many more we could discuss. (As always, feel free to tweet me @ZackMooreNFL to continue the conversation.)

I also want to give you guys another figure:

Figure 2: Top WR Cap Hits for 21 Super Bowl Teams of the Salary Cap Era

Top WR Cap Hit (Super Bowl)

Of those 21 wide receivers, nine of them were the leading receivers on their teams that season: Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Isaac Bruce, Keyshawn Johnson, Hines Ward, Marvin Harrison, Hines Ward again, Marques Colston, and Anquan Boldin. As you’ll see, the average cap hit of these teams is 4.44%, which is 1.01% lower than the 5.45% that the 2014 teams spent on their top receivers.

Of the ten Super Bowl receivers who didn’t lead their team in receiving, excluding Donald Driver because 2010 was an uncapped year, they averaged 3.75% of the cap. The nine who led their team in receiver had average cap hit of 5.28%.

Of the nine receivers who were paid above that average of 4.44%, seven of them were the leading receivers on their team, Sidney Rice was injured and Amani Toomer had 760 yards that season. So Super Bowl winners that did spend a decent amount of money on their top receivers invested their money wisely, which I think is very important, wasting 5-6% of the cap on a player who underperforms makes things difficult.

Another important point is that only two receivers of the 21 champions are in their team’s Top 3 cap charges, Jerry and Sidney Rice. To be in the Top 3 cap charges for a team, that means that you typically need to make above 7-8% of the cap, which is a great indicator that you shouldn’t pay a wide receiver over that percentage because only 9.5% of Super Bowl teams have been able to have a receiver in their Top 3.

As with any other position, it’s important to not waste money and I think what’s above is some good information to think about in this discussion.

As more and more great receivers enter the league, teams need more than one good receiver for their offense, and receivers play into their thirties, there will be a larger supply of potential players to choose from, when supply increases, but demand stays the same, the cost of the product decreases. So, because of this, even as the NFL becomes more of a passing league, the cost of receivers will decrease.

As former Bucs GM Mark Dominik said, wide receiver is just to easy a position to replace. As much as it hurts, as a former receiver, it’s the truth. Watch the wide receiver market fall back to reality in the coming years.

A Note on Rutgers’ Legend Eric LeGrand and Joe DeFranco’s Industrial Strength Show


Eric LeGrand talking with my entrepreneurial mentor and fitness legend, Joe DeFranco.

I want to close this out with something positive, we had the incredible Eric LeGrand on Joe DeFranco’s Indistrial Strength Show yesterday and the podcast will be out Thursday. If you want to subscribe to the podcast, so it’s downloaded straight to your phone or iTunes, you can go here.

More importantly, please go to and donate to a great cause. Eric LeGrand is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. I’ve compared it like this, a guy like Brian Cushing has a path he can take to the NFL, he works hard, he’s gifted genetically, and he’s become one of the best players in the NFL, there is a protocol, a plan that he a gifted young kid can follow to become the next Brian Cushing.

There was no game plan to become what Eric LeGrand is today. There is no book he could have read, no podcast that he could have listened to, or even a person he could have spoken to and learned how to become the incredible young man that he is today.

If anyone deserves your love and support, it’s Eric LeGrand. So, go to and just give $1. Tweet at @ZackMooreNFL, @EricLeGrand52 and @DeFrancosGym to let us know and spread the word!

And, if you want to get my book…!!!!


If you want to purchase The First Annual Caponomics: Understanding NFL Roster Building through Super Bowl Champion Salary Cap Analysis, which has analysis like this in it, please e-mail me at, so that I can put you on our e-mail list for people interested in purchasing the book.


If you join our e-mail list, I will send you a chapter on the 2014 Lions and then the 2014 Patriots once they are completed. I will probably throw in a bonus chapter on the 2012 Ravens or 2013 Seahawks as those are coming along nicely.


I’m currently in the process of getting some legal stuff handled for the book and then I can put the pre-order up on Amazon, otherwise, it would already be up there. Thanks for your support and feel free to send me any questions or ideas to that e-mail address.

Analysis of Roster Building through the AFC/NFC Championship


I will eventually be including a video blog with this, while this piece is very long, I think there is some interesting information worth looking into. I will be breaking it down in a video blog in the coming weeks, discussing some of the cap details of each of these four teams and what it all means. For now, I hope you enjoy my commentary on the Final Four teams of this year’s NFL playoffs. As always, tweet me @ZackMooreNFL if you want to talk about this! 

Attached below are the salary cap figures for the final four teams as well as the percentage of this year’s $133 million salary cap that each side of the ball and each position take up. I haven’t broken the offensive line, defensive line or linebackers into their positions yet this year, but I think we can gain a pretty good understanding off of this just from looking at the table below.

You can click on this table to enlarge it. If you have a Mac, you can also hold down command and click on it to have it open in another window or tab.

Table 1

(Click on the table to enlarge it.)

Final Four FULL Table

I’ll break this down by just giving you guys some of the notes of what I gathered from the information above and I hope you guys will share some of your thoughts in the comment section.

QB Strategies

These teams are pretty good examples of the two main quarterback strategies of the new CBA. The Packers and the Patriots are a part of the big-money, elite veteran quarterback group, while the Seahawks and Colts have elite quarterbacks on their rookie deals.

Table 2


2014 QB Cap Percentages

  • As you can see from the table above, everyone from the Cowboys up have gone all-in on their quarterbacks, giving them big money and believing they can lead them to a championship. The Rams are the outlier here as they drafted Sam Bradford in the last draft before the new rookie contracts and show the excess and insanity of the way things were pre-2011. Paying quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning money before they even practice with your team created an insane value model that needed to be corrected, and it was. I believe that this new system allows teams to more easily compete with a rookie quarterback, which created more parity and allowed the teams to construct a roster with the parts that can help maximize their quarterbacks talent.
  • Low-cost QB model is what helped the Patriots start their dynasty in the early-2000s. Now, I know that Bledsoe signed a 10-year, $103 million contract before the 2001 season, which was the richest contract in NFL history at the time, but upon releasing him, they had Tom Brady at very manageable cap figures. Brady signed a new contract after the February 2002 Super Bowl win and Bledsoe was off the books at the end of the 2002 season. Brady only cost 0.47% of the Patriots salary cap during that 2001 Super Bowl season.

When the Pats won the Super Bowl after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, Brady took up 4.4 and 6.3 percent of their salary cap. To compare to this year, in 2003, the Patriots got Brady for the same relative cost that the Bills got EJ Manuel for this year and in 2004, his relative cost was around what Cam Newton cost the Panthers this year. Brady’s new deal basically put him around what the market value for a young quarterback on his rookie deal should cost, Andrew Luck currently takes up 7.4% of the Colts cap.

  • In 2007, the Patriots got Brady at an unnaturally low cap hit, one that only took up 6.7% of their cap due to him restructuring his deal to allow them to sign Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth, their three leading receivers during that undefeated campaign. Together, these three cost a relatively cheap $7.48 million, which was 6.9% of the cap that year.
  • I think that the lower cost for rookie quarterbacks has increased the parity in the NFL. It’s definitely made it easier for bad teams to turn things around by choosing the right quarterback. In 2014, year 3 of Andrew Luck’s career, his cap hit is $6 million. In 2012, year 3 of Sam Bradford’s career, his cap hit was $15.6 million. Luck had 1059 more passing yards and 19 more touchdowns, while completing 2.2% more of his passes. What’s more interesting is who both players were throwing the ball to. The millions that teams with young QBs save now compared to pre-CBA allows them to build a team around them, which increases their chance of success.
    • Bradford’s leading receivers were Chris Givens, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Lance Kendricks and Austin Pettis.
    • Luck’s leading receivers were TY Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, Donte Moncrief, Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Allen.

Build Around Your QB 

What I see as a major benefit to the lower costs of rookie quarterbacks is that it allows you to choose a quarterback that fits what you want to do and then construct your roster accordingly. If you’ve picked the right QB for your offense and he performs, you then typically have that player for the rest of his career considering that nine of the 13 teams that spend 10% (9.6%, but who’s counting?) or more of their cap on veteran QBs, drafted that player. This allows you to have stability at the most important position in football and construct your roster well into the future. Of course, teams that spend big money on their quarterbacks also build around their centerpiece as well.

As Jason pointed out in this piece on Super Bowl Titles and High Salary Quarterbacks, the first Super Bowl winning QB of the Salary Cap era was the highest paid in terms of percentage of the cap with Steve Young at 13.1%. So a lot of the high paying quarterbacks of the league are really restricting their team’s cap situation.

What you’re going to see throughout this is the importance of good scouting, the importance of making your draft picks count so that you can get a good ROI on low-round and undrafted players. With the limited amount of salary cap space that the NFL allows, the best teams all have some major difference makers making near the league minimum. That’s how the great teams separate themselves.

Defense…How to Stop The Other Team’s QB 

As many of you have seen through your own research on this site, generally teams are focusing their money on quarterbacks, the people who catch their passes, the people who protect their backside, people who rush the quarterback and people who defend the passes they throw.

Through analyzing the salary cap situations for the Final Four, you’ll see that this REALLY rings true for these four teams. All four teams spend about the league average on defensive backs with all four, except the Seahawks because Sherman’s cap figures increase next year, far exceeding the league average for cornerbacks. The Seahawks and Patriots both have two DBs in their top five cap charges and the Packers and Colts have two DBs in their top six. Everyone has their top CB in their top three cap charges, again, except the Seahawks, but Sherman will be their number one cap charge next season at $12.2 million.

All four teams have invested in their pass rushers as well. With the Seahawks and Patriots running 4-3 schemes, they’ve invested more in the DL and the Packers and Colts running the 3-4, they’ve invested more in their LBs. I combined linemen and linebackers into one category in Table 1 because I wanted to have a figure we could look at in terms of spending for the entire front seven, and differences between the 4-3 and the 3-4.

When you look at the spending for DL/LBs, you see that three of the four teams are right around the same spending figures with the Patriots lagging behind due to their lack of cap space. They Pats have compensated for this by making great draft choices at these positions, which we’ll get into below.

To finish this piece off, below is a team-by-team breakdown with some of my analysis on what each team has done from a salary cap perspective to get to the conference championship. It’s meant to be something to skim over, but please watch the video above for my breakdown of this, it should be much quicker than reading it.

Seattle Seahawks


  • By finding their franchise QB in the 3rd round, a player who fit perfectly with what they want to do at a low cost, the Seahawks have gone 41-13 (including playoffs) with Wilson over the last three years, while having the lowest QB group cap charge in the NFL at $2.2 million or 1.7% of their salary cap. Wilson passed Dan Marino this season and owns the NFL record for regular-season wins in the first three season of a career.
  • They spend their money on what they do well. Marshawn Lynch has a cap charge of $8 million and they’ve spent $19.74 million on their three best offensive linemen: LT Russell Okung, LG James Carpenter, and C Max Unger. It’s no surprise to me that the only “run-first” team left in the playoffs spends the most on their offensive line. The rest of the offensive line is built “the Seahawks way,” with young cheap players, three of whom came into the NFL as undrafted free agents. Lynch, Okung and Unger are three of the Seahawks top five cap charges.
  • By drafting Robert Turbin and Christine Michael in back to back years, they’ve mitigated the risk that one of them is a bust or gets injured. If Lynch leaves in free agency this year, I would not be surprised if the Seahawks draft a running back early in the draft. Even if Lynch stays, I wouldn’t be surprised if they drafted a running back later in the draft. They have a great eye for talent and with the way their offense is run, they’re not going to let themselves be without a couple good running backs for the future.
  • Wilson’s ability to run the ball is an example of why he beat out the much more expensive Matt Flynn in training camp 2012. They’ve become almost unstoppable on the ground this season with 408 more yards than the second best rushing team in the NFL and averaging a half-yard more per carry than the next team. Wilson had a league best 849 rushing yards (7.2 per carry), which is the best season since RG3 in 2012 with 815 and Vick in 2006 with 1039. Wilson also gave the Seahawks the 15th most passing yards in the NFL, 3475, over 100 more than last year when he had Golden Tate, along with a completion percentage identical to last year. All this for a cap hit just over $817,000 this year.
  • While paying Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin $14.3 million to not play last year, the Seahawks came to the realization that they didn’t need big money WRs to succeed. While they still take up 7% of the salary cap with their dead money, the Seahawks current receivers only cost them $6.6 million, 5% of the cap. They even traded Harvin this year to get rid of future costs, while getting a 4th or 6th round pick in return rather than just cutting him. They were easily able to trade him due to a cheaper player who can do many of the things he does in Paul Richardson. They let Golden Tate leave in free agency when Detroit offered him $31 million for five years and they resigned Doug Baldwin for a cheaper, and shorter, 3-year, $13 million deal. While they probably would have resigned Tate if they sorted out the Harvin situation previously, they’ve still found success these past two seasons using low-cost receivers. Due to the offense they run, an offense that requires receivers willing to be blockers first, they can find receivers who fit what they’re trying to do, who will be undervalued by the market.
  • The one bad contract that I thought the Seahawks had last year was Zach Miller’s. He was the highest cap charge on the team with $11 million, but he took a $3 million pay cut in 2014 and a $2 million one in 2015. The Seahawks even fix their mistakes more efficiently than most teams and when looking at his strengths, he fits the offense quite well as a blocking tight end.

Something worth considering for the future is that there are reports that Russell Wilson will become the highest-paid QB in the NFL this offseason, so many of the benefits they have now of having a top-QB for $817,000 will go out the window. I made a shocking discovery when researching Michael Vick’s 10-year, $130 million deal that he signed in December of 2004. It was the fourth $100 million contract in NFL history and one that is still the second biggest contract in NFL history, but with all the hype that surrounded Vick when he was with the Falcons, his stats weren’t even close to Russell Wilson’s.

In that 2004 season, Vick had a completion percentage 6.7 points lower than Wilson’s 2014 mark, he had 1162 less passing yards than Wilson, 6 less touchdowns and 5 more interceptions. Vick did have 53 more rushing yards and averaged 0.3 more yards per carry, but three less rushing touchdowns. In typical Michael Vick fashion, he did miss a game, while Wilson hasn’t missed a game in his career, partially due to his incredible, yet sometimes overlooked ability to slide, get out of bounds and generally avoid big hits. Whatever kind of contract they give Russell Wilson, the money couldn’t be more well deserved.


  • The Seahawks have the most well constructed salary cap situation of the remaining teams on the defensive side of the ball. The Seahawks run a 4-3 and they’ve spent their money on the people who rush the quarterback and the people who defend the passes they throw. They spend the sixth most in the NFL on their DL and have spent wisely on some of the best defensive backs in the NFL with Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. Their cap number for their DBs is slightly lower than their actual spending because Richard Sherman’s contract was signed this May and his cap number doesn’t go up until next year.
  • They only spend 45.3% of their salary cap on the #1 defense in the league, which is a testament to their great draft classes over the last few years. The Packers and Colts both spend more money on their defenses. That salary cap figure will go up as more and more of their defensive stars sign extensions and new contracts.
  • Five of the Seahawks top eight cap charges are defensive linemen or defensive backs with KJ Wright and Bruce Irvin checking in at numbers 10 and 11.
  • Kam Chancellor is the second highest paid safety on the team, but the eighth highest paid safety in the NFL. The Seahawks have set the trend with the way that the best teams are investing in their defensive backfield and it’s easily noticed through looking at their cap charges.
  • Just like with Wilson, the quarterback of the defense, Bobby Wagner, is a mid-round pick outplaying his contract in a big way. It looks like he will get an extension this offseason and it will be money well spent. Wagner was an All-Pro this year and the defense transformed with him back in the line-up. Over the last month, the Seahawks only gave up 33 points and Wagner was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in December. This year, his cap hit was just under $1.2 million.

Just like on the offensive side of the ball with Wilson’s contract, the Seahawks will have to adjust in the coming years with the bigger contracts that Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman and Wright already have, plus the coming contracts for Irvin, Wagner and others. That’s a huge reason why Lynch might not be on the team in 2015 and why they got rid of Harvin. It will be very interesting to see how they keep these core players together and construct new pieces around them. With the way they’re handling things, I see them being good for a long time.

New England Patriots 


  • Of course, the Patriots spend a lot of money for future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and since he’s a great passer, they’ve developed an offense that plays to his strengths. Brady has always taken pretty cap-friendly deals, even restructuring his deal this year to give the Pats more cap room to sign other key pieces. In 2014, Brady’s cap number was $14.8 million, his new contract averages $11.4 million a year which means he has the 17th highest average salary per year of all QBs. The three-time Super Bowl champ and five-time AFC champ is humble enough to take a salary that is less than world beaters like Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford.
  • As I discussed in my article titled “The Patriot Way,” they’ve done a great job of replacing players with similar players to fit into their equation of what’s worked in the past. The running back position is the perfect example of this strategy in action. They spend only $4.5 million (3.4%) on the position, but they’re still able to get the array of different running styles they need to make their offense run smoothly. Their power running back coming into the year was Stevan Ridley, but now it’s LeGarrette Blount. Their Kevin Faulk pass-catcher is now Shane Vereen. They then have Brandon Bolden who could still turn into something, as well as low-cost Jonas Gray who has shown flashes of great potential. Lastly, they’ve got a fantastic rookie in James White who will step into some role next year and could potentially be the starter as he’s a great runner and pass catcher catching 39 balls his senior season at Wisconsin. So, for $4.5 million they have six talented running backs and a great fullback in James Develin. That’s part of the genius of the Patriots, they put together a roster with a handful of players who can fit what they need to accomplish for such a low-figure.
  • At wide receiver, they’ve spent the most of the four teams left on their receivers, but they don’t use much more than Amendola, Edelman, and Lafell, it’s because Matt Slater, a three-time All-Pro special teamer is a WR whom the Pats spend $2.9 million on. Without him in the equation, the Pats spend $9.5 million, their ability to use their array of RBs, WRs and TEs to keep pumping out 4000-yard years for Tom Brady. Like I said in the Patriot Way article, Edelman and Amendola have taken over the Wes Welker role. Lafell has taken over the Randy Moss role.
    • Lafell is another great example of the Patriots finding value where others don’t. For a three-year, $9 million contract, the Pats found someone who fits what they want to do perfectly. Check out this link at the 2:30 mark if you want to see his great block that many of us missed on Amendola’s first TD against the Ravens. Even at positions the Patriots need for what this offense has to do, the Patriots find a way to save some money.
  • In my research of the 2013 salary cap, I found that last season’s 12-win plus teams spend 6.6% of their cap on the tight end, while 12-loss teams spend 3.9% and the league average was 4.7%. Some teams overspent on their tight ends, but there was a correlation last year and this year between spending money on tight ends and winning. This year, it was only slight with 12-win plus teams using 4.6% of their cap on TEs, the average NFL team using 4.1% and 12-loss teams using 3.3%.


  • More importantly, I think we’re all beginning to see the importance of the TE position on the game of football. Gronk is basically uncoverable, while even the best receivers, guys like Calvin Johnson can get covered by the NFL’s best cornerbacks, there’s just no covering Gronk with a single guy. When you see him split out wide and go against corners, you realize that there’s really no defend him, defenses just don’t have a similar athlete, he’s 6’6”, 265, runs a 4.6 and makes catches like this. Guys like Gronk, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, and Travis Kelce create such size and speed mismatches that they can take over games where the defense doesn’t have a player who can cover him. If the defense has to double-team him, then it creates one-on-one matchups for your receivers. A great tight end who creates mismatches is an incredible weapon for an offense from what he does statistically and what he does to open up the offense. They picked up Tim Wright to fill the Aaron Hernandez role for a cheap $495,000 and use Michael Hoomanawanui as a blocking tight end for $1.4 million.


  • Surprisingly, the Patriots spend the least of the four remaining teams on their OL at $15.4 million, only 11.6% of their cap. They do spend it wisely with $13 million going to their starters who have played well this year since 4th rounder, Bryan Stork took over at center. Every one of their starters other than Dan Connolly started with the Patriots and three of their four backups did too.


  • The Patriots have spent the most money of all four teams on the offensive side of the ball, which has caused them to have the lowest cap figure for the defensive side of the ball at $52.6 or 39.5% of their cap.
  • The Pats have compensated for their lack of cap space to spend on the defensive line and linebackers by making great draft picks like Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. They also have Rob Ninkovich leading the team with 8 sacks, but only costing them $2.9 million.


  • They lost Aqib Talib in free agency, so they went out and got Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, further going with the spending habits that great teams have at the cornerback position. With Revis, like the three other teams left with their CB1s, the Patriots feel like they can shut half the field down to the other team, which is why they’re paying him $7 million this year.
  • The Pats spend almost $10 million (7.3%) less on their defensive line than the averaged 4-3 defense, but they’re right around the average for linebacker spending for 4-3 Ds.



Of the final four, the Packers spend the most on their quarterback and the most on their defense, which means that they have to find ways to keep costs down at other positions. For their total cap, the packers spent the whole $133 million, just over at $133.9 million to be exact, with 14.5% spent on their QBs, 52% spent on their defense 4.1% on specialists and 4.1% on dead money, they had only 25.3% left for the rest of their offense. Since they spent 14.3% on their offense line, they only had 11% of their salary cap to address their RBs, WRs and TEs. With Lacy, Starks, Nelson, Cobb, Adams and Boykin, they obviously did a great job doing that, so let’s take a look…

  • With Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn as his backup, the Packers spend the most on their quarterback position. Rodgers is the highest paid quarterback in the NFL averaging $22 million a year over the course of this contract and $17.55 this year.
  • John Kuhn was the 2014 NFL All-Pro fullback, but played only 18% of the snaps for them. He cost them just under $1.1 million.
  • The Packers have spent the least on their running back position at $2.9 million and have Eddie Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris, which actually gives then three talented running backs as Harris has shown good things in his limited time. Starks is one of the best backups in the league, running for 493 last year while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. With these three, they have just enough depth to deal with an injury, but also a great backfield for what their offense needs for cheap.
  • The Packers have a surprisingly low cost at wide receiver for a team that might have the best one-two combo in the league in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, plus a guy who has shown he could be the best WR3 in the league in Davante Adams. At WR4 they’ve got Jarrett Boykin for only $570,000, a guy who had 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns last year. The Packers pay $9.4 million to their WR group, 7.1 percent. This brought me to a further examination of the WR position where I noticed this regarding spending patterns:
    • Average: $12.9 million (9.7%)
    • 12-Win Plus: $10.9 million (8.2%)
    • 11-Win Plus: $12.3 million (9.2%)
    • 11-Loss Plus: $13.8 million (10.4%)
    • 12-Loss Plus: $14.2 million (10.6%)

I’m not entirely sure what to think of that, but thought it was worth noting. A pattern I saw with the Steelers and Packers was that they have one stud WR in Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson then a handful of young, very talented receivers who don’t cost a lot of money, all mid- to late-round picks. They Cowboys had Dez Bryant on the last year of his rookie contract, Terrance Williams (2013, 3rd round), Dwayne Harris (2011, 6th round), and Cole Beasley (2012, UDFA). Just like the Packers have their cheaper finds in Cobb (2011, 2nd round), Adams (2014, 2nd round), and Boykin (2012, UDFA). For a few more millions, the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd who was a first rounder in 2012, unfortunately for them, once Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton went down, they were rendered useless. The Broncos got Demaryius Thomas in the first round a few years ago, Emmanuel Sanders at a pretty good cost in free agency and Wes Welker who ended up being too expensive this year. While I don’t know what this all means, I wanted to leave it here for you guys to bounce around some theories and see what you come up with.

Analyzing this position, made me remember the simplest fact of capology (I guess that’s what we’d call it?), with a salary cap, wherever you spend money has to come out of somewhere else. This is what makes it hard for a team like the Dolphins to get over the hump when they’re spending 22.3% of their salary cap on wide receivers and 17.6% of it on Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, not exactly two guys who strike complete and utter fear in defenses or even joy in fantasy owners. With a 23-25 record since Ryan Tannehill took over, they’re not far away from being good, but they’ll have to figure out what they need to make the leap. Thankfully for the Dolphins, Jarvis Landry emerged this year, but they still have Hartline signed for silly figures through 2017. Hartline had 39 catches for 474 yards this year and had a $6.2 million cap charge.

By spending $29.7 million on their receivers this year, they spent $9.3 million more than the second highest team, the Lions, who have the best receiver of the last five years and an emerging superstar in Golden Tate. The Dolphins spend 7% more of their cap on so much less production and that’s a huge reason why they’re an 8-8 team.

  • They let Jermichael Finley go after the neck injury that ended his career, they went low cost with Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers and to a much lesser extent Brandon Bostick. Their total tight end cost was $2.5 million or 1.9% of their cap. Out of that, they got 51 catches for 551 yards and six touchdowns. Another playoff team, the Lions inked Brandon Pettigrew to a 6-year, $16 million deal, drafted Eric Ebron 10th over all last May, and have red zone target Joseph Fauria, but the $5.3 million they spent had only 41 catches for 392 yards and two touchdowns. While the Packers weren’t world beaters, they were efficient and got plenty of value for their $2.5 million.


  • Over the last two years, there hasn’t been much of a correlation between team records and what teams spend on their offensive line, but the Packers are right around the OL average and the 12-win plus average which is the same. The Packers spent $19 million on the OL (14.3%) and $16.4 million of that is spent on their starters. Josh Sitton (LG), TJ Lang (RG), and Bryan Bulaga (RT) are three of the Packers top 11 cap charges totaling $15.3 million. These three are a huge part of what helps make the Packers a balanced offense and help along David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley who are two mid-round picks from the last two seasons. Everyone of these last four teams seem to have one low-cost, later-round offensive lineman on their rookie deal who alleviates a lot of salary cap pressure for each of these teams.

To finish off with the Packers, these first three teams all have good fullbacks. Unfortunately, Seattle lost their replacement for Michael Robinson early in the year, Derrick Coleman, so they picked up Will Tukuafu. The Patriots have former Brown defensive end, James Develin and the Packers have John Kuhn. While fullback is no longer a huge position, so much so that the Colts don’t even have one, it’s important that teams who use one have a good one and I think all three teams have done their best to find guys who fit their offense well.



  • Like I said above, the Packers have spent the most money of the four remaining teams on their defense at $69.1 million, 52 percent of the cap. In fact, they spend the most in the NFL on their defense, their linebackers and their defensive backs. Twelve of their 18 highest cap charges are defensive players, they’re spending the second most on their DL/LBs and the most on their DBs of who’s left.
  • With Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, the Packers have two great pass rushers at their OLB spots for a combined 18 sacks at $14.5 million. They got Peppers at a huge discount from his $14.4 million deal last year, $3.5 million. Matthews is still one of the best OLB in the NFL. With AJ Hawk, Brad Jones, Nick Perry and Sam Harrington, the Packers might have the deepest linebacker group in the league.
  • They’ve put their money in pass rushers and pass defenders, just like I alluded to before I discussed teams individually. They were in the top 10 this season in interceptions, sacks and passing yards because of it.
  • Their top three tacklers were defensive backs, Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Tramon Williams combined for 306 total tackles. Micah Hyde, Sam Shields, and Casey Hayward combined for 147 more. Their defense pays these DBs to make plays and they do.






  • Colts are an example of the way the new CBA allows teams that draft quarterbacks high in the first round to have the cap space to construct an offense around him that he can succeed with. The Colts spend $9.8 million on their QBs, but only $6 million of that is invested in Andrew Luck, while $3.75 million is invested in his veteran tutor and capable QB, Matt Hasselbeck. An interesting fact is that Luck has cost the Colts $18.7 million the last three years, while Manning has cost the Broncos $58 million. This year, Luck’s cap hit was just over $6 million while Manning’s was $17.5 million. While we can have a debate over who’s the better quarterback at this point in their career, we can see the obvious value created by the extra $11.5 million in cap space that the Colts have, especially when you’re building around a young QB.


  • Of course, looking at Luck’s strengths, they’ve invested in pass-catchers rather than running backs, but the running backs they have invested in fit what he does well. While Ahmad Bradshaw has been injured for all, but 13 games of his two seasons in Indianapolis, he was a very good signing for what their offense needs and he was cheap. He signed a one-year deal for $2 million in 2013, but after his neck injury, the Colts got him for a mere $855,000. Through the first nine games of the year, he averaged 79 scrimmage yards per game.
  • Boom Herron was a great low-cost pickup for the Colts in October 2013 that’s paying off now. Due to his suspension during his senior year at Ohio State for selling a jersey, pants and shoes he had worn in a game, his went trended down leading into the draft and the Bengals drafted him in the 6th Their loss was the Colts game, big time. In the six games after Bradshaw’s injury, Herron averaged 73 scrimmage yards a game, only six less per game than Bradshaw and for only $570,000.

Herron’s a great example of something I spoke about with the Patriots, finding guys who fit what you need and are undervalued by the marketplace. In the Colts’ two playoff games, Herron has 118 yards per game, 59.5 rushing and 58.5 receiving, he has 18 catches on 19 targets and two rushing touchdowns. He’s been a major X-factor in both of their wins and has probably played himself into a multi-year deal, maybe a four-year deal that averages around $1.75 million per year. If I were his agent, I’d do my best to have him stay in Indianapolis as I think it’s the perfect offense for his skill set.

  • They also still have Vick Ballard, their 2012 fifth round pick who ran for over 800 yards in his rookie year, but has missed the last two seasons with a torn ACL and a torn Achilles. He’ll be back next year for the last year of his rookie deal and will only cost the team $696,140 against their cap.
  • I think that they didn’t sign someone to a long-term deal in 2014 because they knew that in the 2014 draft of the wide receiver that they could find someone for cheap like they did with Donte Moncrief. They drafted him in the third round, two picks before the spot where they drafted TY Hilton in 2012, and they cost the Colts only $1.3 million. They did take a one-year flyer on Hakeem Nicks for just under $4 million, a well-calculated risk to get a player with WR1 potential, but who has regressed significantly since the Giants 2011 Super Bowl winning year. Their highest cap charge at $6.2 million was, of course, Reggie Wayne. While I can’t say that I would’ve done anything differently than the Colts did, it’s interesting to note that the two guys who cost $1.3 million had 114 catches for 1789 yards (15.7 ypc) and 10 touchdowns on a 63.3% catch rate, while the two that cost $10.2 million had 102 catches for 1184 yards (11.6 ypc) and six touchdowns with only a 55.4% catch rate.


  • I love what the Colts did at tight end the same year they drafted Luck by taking his teammate from Stanford, Coby Fleener, in the second round and Clemson’s Dwayne Allen in the third. By doing this, they mitigated the risk of injury in an attempt to ensure that Luck would have two players at a position that proves to be more important in the NFL every year. They’re also, arguably, the best tight end tandem in the NFL with their 80 catches for 1169 yards (14.6 ypc) for 16 touchdowns together out-pacing Rob Gronkowski’s 82 catches for 1124 (13.7 ypc) for 12 touchdowns. Essentially what they’ve done is get All Pro TE production out of two mid-round picks who cost them $2.3 million this season.
  • The Colts spend the second least out of the Final Four group at $17.4 million which is $3.4 million less than the league average. Their three highest paid linemen are RT Godser Cherilus at $3.9 million, LT Anthony Costonzo at $2.5 million and G Joe Reitz at $1.4 million. They put the rest of their line together with cheap options, but the fact that they used 10 different linemen into 11 starting combinations means that this is something they’ll need to address this offseason. When Cherilus went down in December and Reitz moved to take his place, the interior line became Jack Mewhort at LG, Khaled Holmes at C and Lance Louis at RG. Together, those three combine to earn $2.1 million with Mewhort being a second rounder this year, Holmes a fourth rounder last year and Louis coming over from Miami. Like the rest of these teams, their backups are made of low-cost players they’ve drafted. The other issue is that their second highest cap charge for the offensive line, tackle Donald Thomas, was a $3.75 million charge, but tore his quad early in training camp and missed the whole season. This has seemed to be one of the biggest issues I’ve seen this year, offensive line injuries. In baseball, you can never have enough pitchers. In football, you can never have enough linemen.

The Colts are another team that are doing what worked for them in the past.




  • The Colts spend the second most of these four at $67.1 million, 50.5%. Just like the Packers, as a 3-4 defense, they’ve spent most of their money at linebacker and defensive back, but they do spend almost $4 million more than the average 3-4 defense on their defensive line. With this, they were the 11th best defense in total yards, 12th in passing yards, 18th in rushing yards and 19th in total points allowed.
  • While they were an average defense, they did it without their highest cap charge at $8 million who is also their best defensive player, Robert Mathis. Last year, Mathis had 19.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles, BOTH of which led the league. He also added 59 tackles and one safety. Their third highest defensive cap charge was Arthur Jones at $5.6 million, another pass rusher and he also missed quite a few games, playing in only 9 games. Without these two for most of the year, Erik Walden and Corey Redding had to take over the full load combining to make $8.65 million, while having 90 tackles and 9.5 sacks.
  • At linebacker were their two leading tackles, D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman, Jackson made $4.75 million and Freeman made only $576,000. Freeman is an interesting case as he was signed by the Titans as an UDFA in 2008, then played three years in the CFL before being signed by the Colts and having a combined 415 tackles the last three years. Since 2014 is the last year of his contract, he’s sure to be getting a salary bump this offseason, but a great job by the Colts evaluating talent and getting a three-year starting linebacker for cheap. Jackson had 166 tackles and 4 sacks. The Colts’ sack leader this year was outside linebacker, Jonathan Newsome with 6.5. He was drafted in the fifth round this year and had a salary of $464,000. Bjoern Werner started as well and had 50 tackles and 4 sacks at a cost of $1.8 million.
  • Their secondary is where they spend the most money at $24.6 million or 18.5% of the cap. Vontae Davis is their highest cap charge other than the injured Mathis at $6.25 million. Three other DBs were in the teams’ top 14 cap charges with corners Greg Toler and Darius Butler, along with safety LaRon Landry. Again, proving the new wave of great teams understanding that the players who rush the quarterback and those who defend the pass are the players who you want to pay. Their defensive backs are some of their leading tacklers, similar to the Packers 3-4 defense with Mike Adams ($635,000), Toler, Davis, Landry and Butler all being in the top-seven in tackles on the team. The low-cost veteran, Adams led the team with five interceptions, Davis had four, Toler had two and back-up FS Josh Gordy had one.

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2015 Giants Salary Cap Series: Running Back

I want to start the Giants series with a position outside of what most people are discussing this offseason for the Giants and that is, the running back position. As you may have read, I’ve also really reexamined my own opinion on the running back position compared to a piece that I wrote before the season.

It’s not that Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings did a bad job for the Giants this year, they combined for 1360 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, but if the Giants want to be great, they aren’t going to be enough. Many of us forget that the Giants went into 2014 with the idea that David Wilson would be a part of their rushing attack this year, but unfortunately he had to retire.

A backfield of Wilson, Williams and Jennings sure sounds a lot more dynamic, especially when you consider that Williams and Jennings averaged 3.3 and 3.8 yards per carry respectively and only 48 catches for 356 yards. As a team, the Giants rushed for 3.6 yards per carry, which has them ranked 30th, in front of only the Chargers and Cardinals. The Giants had 1603 yards as a team, which was 23rd in the league and 100 yards per game.

The Giants backfield only had 62 catches for 469 yards and zero touchdowns with Williams and Jennings having 48 and 356 of those. Le’Veon Bell, Matt Forte, Fred Jackson and Roy Helu all outgained the Giants RBs in the passing game.

The Packers don’t pass the ball to running backs a lot either, the Giants RBs actually had 10 more targets, but Eddie Lacy had 42 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns himself this season, which makes him tied for 11th in catches among RBs and 6th in receiving yards. Eddie Lacy averaged 10.2 yards per catch, while Williams and Jennings averaged 7.5 or less and all season, I really thought the Giants offense missed having a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, which hampered their ability to keep defenses on their heels.

In my opinion, Jennings and Williams would best serve the Giants as a supplement to one of the RBs in this class with superstar potential. I do think that Jennings could do well in the Eddie Lacy role for the Giants if he stays healthy, but I wouldn’t bet my season on it. Williams runs the ball with the same kind of power Lacy does, but he didn’t even catch passes in college, so I don’t expect him to take on that role as a pro.

Considering that Jennings will be 30 this season, Williams not being much of a pass catcher, and the depth of this year’s draft class at RB, I think the Giants should draft a running back in the third through fifth round depending on how they address their issues on the offensive and defensive line and who the best available player on the board is. I also want the Giants to have someone ready to replace most of Jennings’ production in 2016.

Due to signing Jennings, the Giants have a bit of a high 2015 cap number at the running back position at $8 million, but drafting a mid-round running back shouldn’t hurt them. Their cap number will also go down with David Wilson retired and most of his $2.1 million cap number coming off the books. I think that another million dollars will be freed up when the Giants release Peyton Hillis this offseason. If they drafted a runner in the third round, it’d cost them $608,484 against the salary cap, which is much less than the $945,000 they were set to owe Hillis in 2015.

Even though teams don’t have success signing RBs to multi-year contracts under the new CBA, I can’t fault the Giants for going out and getting Jennings because he’ll be the veteran leader of this group for the next couple years. I also know that the Giants had to go out and get someone last offseason with the uncertainty involved with Wilson’s injury.

Watching the Packers play against the Cowboys on Sunday, got me so excited for watching the 2015 Giants with another year to practice this offense.

I think that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, but with the weapons that the Giants could have around Manning in the fall, I think he could compete with Rodgers statistically and, in turn, lead the Giants to a championship with the addition of a few of the right pieces this offseason. The Giants skill position players they have signed for 2015 are very comparable to what the Packers had this year.

Beckham, Cruz, Randle, Jennings and Williams are a good base to build off of and with the right decisions this offseason; the Giants could have talent at the skill spots that exceeds the Packers.

Looking back at what worked during Super Bowl seasons, in 2007, the Giants had four quality running backs with Jacobs, Ward, Reuben Droughns, and Bradshaw. If I’m Jerry Reese, I try to replicate that in some way this year with the addition of a mid-round back and an UDFA type back. In 2011, Eli Manning threw for 1597 more yards than in 2007, while Jacobs and Bradshaw both battled injuries that season, getting healthy just in time for the Super Bowl run.

Thankfully for the Giants, last year was the year of the wide receiver and this year, it’s the running backs and boy, did they hit on their choice at receiver last year. Like I said previously, I think that the Giants should draft a back between the third and the sixth rounds. Some of the potential RBs that might be available in these rounds, that I could see fitting into the Giants offense, are:

  • TJ Yeldon, Alabama; (Projected Round: 1-3)
  • Duke Johnson, Miami; (1-3)
  • Jay Ajayi, Boise State; (2-3)
  • Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen, USC; (2-4)
  • Mike Davis, South Carolina; (2-3)
  • Josh Robinson, Mississippi State; (3-4)
  • David Johnson, Northern Iowa; (4-6)
  • Storm Woods, Oregon State (4-6)

In my opinion, I’d take whoever was available between TJ Yeldon, Jay Ajayi or Duke Johnson, in that order (but with Yeldon and Ajayi neck-and-neck), in the early third round. If they were not available, I’d look for Josh Robinson in the fifth or David Johnson in the 5th or 6th.

Those are the five running backs that I could envision doing really well in this Giants offense, but I also wanted to take note of the others in the list above because the Giants scouts might decide they like them better or they’ll find more value drafting them where they think they’re projected. When it comes down to it, the people involved in these organizations have much more information at their fingertips than we do, so who knows what they think.

For different reasons, Marshawn Lynch and Lacy are such unique runners that no one in the NFL comes close to their styles, but I’ve fallen in love with Ajayi’s tape over the last few weeks because of how much he reminds me of Lacy. So while I would take Yeldon over him, I don’t think Yeldon will be there in the third round, especially because I think Yeldon was the most talented runner in college this year. I know he had a down year statistically, but I’ve been in awe with the smoothness with which he runs since his freshman year and he has the attributes to make it in the NFL.

I do think that Ajayi could be available in the third round, so I hope that’s the direction the Giants go in, but his draft stock keeps rising. Considering the depth of this years class, I really couldn’t predict how the top running backs will end up being drafted.

If Ajayi isn’t there, Duke Johnson is definitely a viable option. With 2073 total yards from scrimmage, Johnson had a huge year for the Hurricanes. From a value standpoint, if Josh Robinson is there in the fifth round, he’d be a nice option.

Robinson is another guy whose running style is unlike anyone else’s, which is part of what makes guys like him Lynch and Lacy so hard to take down, they’re powerful backs and defenders aren’t used to playing anyone like them. As powerful as he is, and as low to the ground as he is at 5’9”, 215, along with the adversity he’s overcome to get to where he is today, I have a feeling that he’ll have a successful career.

The fifth draft option I see for them is David Johnson in the fifth or sixth round. During his four year career at Northern Iowa, he rushed for 4682 yards at 5.4 per rush and had 141 catches for 1734 with 63 offensive touchdowns. He returned 12 kickoffs this year and averaged 36.5 yards per and even got himself a touchdown.

At 6’3”, 225 he brings some versatility that the Giants could benefit from without depth at tight end. NFL Draft Scout even has his second position listed as FB/H-Back and that kind of versatility and the confusion that could be created by him just being in the huddle could bring another dimension to the Giants offense.

I also want to construct a backfield with the depth of what the Giants had in 2007, so I would pick up an undrafted free agent as well, much like they drafted Bradshaw in the 7th in 2007. With the amount of injuries at running back, you could end up starting a guy you picked up after the draft like the Chargers did this year with Brandon Oliver whose performance kept them in the playoff hunt when Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown all went down.

I have two players from the Colonial Athletic Association who I think could be great investments for the Giants in Lyle McCombs from Rhode Island and Kevin Monangai from Villanova. (Having played in the CAA, I’ll admit that I’m a little biased as I have a huge affinity towards players from my conference because I know how much talent is in the CAA.)

As things are projected now, they’re both projected to be undrafted free agents, but neither of them are lacking in talent or ability. They also fit into the smaller, pass-catching pass role that Ahmad Bradshaw (5’11”, 195) had with the Giants in years past. McCombs is 5’8”, 175 and Monangai is 5’8”, 215.

McCombs was a freshman All-American at UConn before going to URI for his senior year. His season was broken up into two three game chunks by a broken hand suffered in practice, but he came back with a vengeance in November with an offensive line that had come together a little bit over the course of the season.

Against the #1 team in the country, New Hampshire, McCombs averaged 8.2 yards per carry while running for 115 and two touchdowns. He ran for over 180 in the first half against Stony Brook before they just stuffed the box and dared the Rams to pass in the second half, which they couldn’t. McCombs added a fantastic one handed grab on a swing pass that showed his natural pass catching skills as well. He’s currently 5’8”, 175 and will be a high-value running back option for whoever drafts him or signs him after the draft.

Kevin Monangai has been a three-year starter at a great Villanova program, but has flown under the radar a little bit because of the Walter Payton Award winning quarterback he plays with, John Robertson. Since his sophomore year, Monangai has rushed for 2991 yards on 564 carries for a 5.3 per carry average and 28 rushing touchdowns. While Monangai’s only had 33 catches for 250 yards over the past three years, the Villanova offense has never been big on passing to the running back as they always have a quarterbacks who can take off and run shown by Robertson gaining 1272 yards this season and 1562 in 2013. Due to the archaic way that college football counts sacks against a quarterback’s rushing total, Robertson’s net rushing yards the last two seasons is 2483 with an insane 31 touchdowns.

I know that whichever team gets Monangai will be getting a steal whose perception has been hampered by the success of his quarterback running the ball, which takes nothing away from him. With two 1000 yard rushers in the backfield this season, Monangai and Robertson combined for one of the best zone read pairings in all of college football, so much so that Robertson is ranked as a top-10 quarterback in next year’s class.

Monangai is benching 400 pounds, squatting 700 pounds and running in the 4.5s, at a squat 5’8”, 215, he’s able to get lower than the defender and power through him, but also fast enough to beat him outside. He reminds me of another Villanova graduate: Brian Westbrook.


I want the Giants backfield to resemble a bit of what they had in 2007 when they won the Super Bowl. Remember, Ahmad Bradshaw came on late in the season with a 151 yard game against the Bills in Week 15, then contributed in the playoffs with 52 yards per game in their Super Bowl run. Remember, Derrick Ward got injured and didn’t play again after Week 12 in Chicago, so the Giants needed him to carry some of the load and he did it very well.

Many of the best organizations in the NFL have taken to the strategy of drafting their two current or future lead running backs in consecutive years, like the Seahawks have prepared for the likely departure of Marshawn Lynch with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. The Bengals have a balanced backfield with two long-term solutions in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.

I also feel that this strategy mitigates risk, if one of your RBs gets a career altering injury or is a bust, you have another young back to fall back on. The Dolphins are glad they drafted Lamar Miller out of The U in the 4th round the year after they took Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State in the 2nd round of 2011.

I think the Giants should draft Jay Ajayi in the 3rd round, I don’t think Yeldon will be available there, but Ajayi’s similarities to Lacy get me excited about the possibilities for him in this offense. The Giants should sign another back after the draft and being FCS level guys, McCombs and Monangai will probably be available and will prove to be very valuable assets. I do think that the Giants keep Orleans Darkwa as I’ve heard a lot of positive things about him, but I think Michael Cox could be moving on.

2015 Giants RB Cap Hit

At around $6.8 million when you add in another million to resign Henry Hynoski, that will probably put the Giants below the league average spending at the RB position for 2015. With the amount of production I think they’ll get out of this group, they’d be getting major bang for their buck and their running game could help balance the offense and give them a bit of what they need to win another Super Bowl. And the Giants are due, they win Super Bowls every 4 years. 2007…2011…2015?

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think! Tweet me @ZackMooreNFL

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Average NFL Draft Picks by Position from 2010-2014

First off, for anyone who wants to be an NFL agent and get certified this year, the date to file is from January 5th to February 5th. The non-refundable application fee is $2500 and the seminar and examination are July 23-24 of 2015 in Washington DC. If you have any more questions, including what the exam consists of, go here.

In my preparation for next year’s draft class, my first one as a certified agent (as long as I pass the test), I’ve come to the realization that an agent needs to understand how positions are drafted on top of where his players are ranked in their position. An agent should understand if the 35th best wide receiver has a chance at getting drafted or the 15th best quarterback.

Past that, if an agent has a lower-risk client who is the 50th best running back, but the agent believes in him and is just hopeful he’ll get into a camp and show teams what he can do there, then it’s good to know that 55 running backs made camps last year. When you’re a young agent going after guys who probably won’t be drafted and many who might not make a team, it’s good to know how many players make NFL camps and make rosters, so that you can figure out if your client is better off going to the Canadian Football League as soon as possible, so that he can get film and continue to improve his game because he’s unlikely to get an NFL opportunity right now.

Personally, I gained a bit of experience as an intern over the years working on getting guys in the AFL and Canada. While you’re not going to make a ton of money, it’s good experience for a younger agent without needing to be certified by the NFLPA.

Below is data I put together from, one of the best resources on the Internet to find draft rankings and a potential NFL Draft prospect’s measurables. Be sure to click on the table, so that you can enlarge it in another tab and see it clearly.

5 Year NFL Draft Average by Position (2010-14)

There are various uses for this from the agent and team side, it allows agents to have a realistic perspective on where their clients are likely to be drafted and for teams it helps them understand how to get value. Great teams like the Patriots that don’t have an immediate team need, sometimes just draft the best player on the board. They also understand that they can find a lot value at certain positions later in the draft. The Seahawks have done a great job getting value in the late rounds and after the draft at the wide receiver and cornerback position the last few years.

I don’t want to go on too long with this because I think the table raises more questions than anything, so I’ll leave you with a few questions I jotted down when compiling this:

  • On average, how many underclassmen enter the draft at each position? And how does that affect the senior classes at each position? If you’re an agent looking at a running back who’s ranked 40th in the senior class, will he still make a camp?
  • How many of those in camp make a roster? At each position?
  • How many undrafted players make a roster at each position each year?
  • Which position has the most players that make it purely as special teamers as rookies?
  • What does all of this say about where teams can find value?

I’ve got quite a few more questions I came up with, but my brain is donezo right now, might revisit this in the morning. And like the wonderful old lady who worked the cash register at URI’s CVS at the top of campus used to say, “you have an excellent!”


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