Projecting The 2023 Compensatory Picks

This article refers specifically to OTC’s final projection for the 2023 NFL Draft’s compensatory picks. For details on the basics and methodology of projecting compensatory picks in general, please reference this article. Note that this projection does not include compensatory picks awarded via 2020 Resolution JC-2A.

To understand how this projection is generated for each team, please reference the compensatory pick cancellation charts here.

The Projection

TeamRdCompensated Departure
ARI3Christian Kirk
WAS3Brandon Scherff
NE4J.C. Jackson
LAR4Darious Williams
ARI5Chandler Jones
DAL5Randy Gregory
GB5Marquez Valdes-Scantling
LAR5Austin Corbett
SF5D.J. Jones
LV5Zay Jones
TB5Jordan Whitehead
DAL5Connor Williams
MIN5Tyler Conklin
NE6Ted Karras
LAR6Sebastian Joseph-Day
DAL6Cedrick Wilson Jr.
ARI6Chase Edmonds
LV6Casey Hayward
WAS6Tim Settle
SF6Arden Key
KC6Byron Pringle
NYG6Lorenzo Carter
KC6Jarran Reed
LAR7Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
TB7O.J. Howard
NYG7Keion Crossen
SF7K’Waun Williams
GB7Chandon Sullivan
KC7Mike Hughes
NE7Brandon Bolden
GB7Oren Burks
NO7Net Value

This draft, I am projecting that there will be 31 compensatory picks generated from the typical netting process, as well as a 32nd comp pick that is generated from the “net value” process. A net value compensatory pick has not been awarded since 2013, so it is worth explaining how it is awarded. Per Appendix V, Paragraph 5 of the CBA:

Notwithstanding Paragraph 3(a) above, if a Club loses the same number of CFAs as it signs or acquires, it will receive a Compensatory Draft Selection if the sum of the Final Numerical Values of all CFAs lost is more than 300 points greater than the sum of the Final Numerical Values of all CFAs signed or acquired by the Club. Any such selection shall occur after all Compensatory Draft Selections at the end of the seventh round have been exercised, but prior to the exercise of any Supplemental Selections under Article 6, Subsection 2(a).

In this draft, I project that at least one team, New Orleans, will earn a net value compensatory pick. This results from the Saints seeing two players, Terron Armstead and Marcus Williams, depart for high value contracts ($15.95M APY and $14M APY, for compensatory pick purposes), while signing two players, Marcus Maye and Andy Dalton, for lower valued contracts ($7.5M APY and $4M APY). Armstead are ranked #98 and #144, generating points of 1,943 and 1,840, while Maye and Dalton are ranked #297 and #436, generating points of 1,747 and 1,595. The net value resulting from the differences of those sums, 3,842 and 3,342, is 505 points, well above the 300 point threshold.

There is also a chance that Chicago and Minnesota could be awarded net value comp picks. For the Bears, it’s the only way they could earn any comp picks, but for the Vikings it would be massively disappointing, as their more likely scenarios have them earning at least one comp pick of a higher round, and perhaps two.

This projection anticipates exactly 32 eligible regular compensatory picks. If there are any eligible picks that rank 33rd and lower, they will not be awarded, although the official release will typically acknowledge presence of any comp picks in excess of 32. There is a chance that fewer than 32 regular compensatory will be awarded. If that happens, the NFL Management Council will add supplementary 7th round compensatory picks to get to 32, in the order of what would be the eighth round. This draft, the first five teams in order for supplementary comp picks would be Chicago, Houston, Arizona, Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Rams.

The official release has been inconsistent in recent years. There used to be some new consistency on the release coming out on the Friday before the NFL Scouting Combine. This year, that is scheduled for February 28-March 6, so the Friday before would be February 24. However, last year it was released on March 15, and the year before on March 10. The range of the release could be anywhere after the Super Bowl (February 12) but before the start of free agency (March 15).

Cutoff Projections

The most difficult part of projecting the compensatory picks is accurately identifying where the cutoffs lie between each rounds, and where the cutoff for qualifying as a Compensatory Free Agent (CFA) is. That is because the larger subset of the leaguewide players of which the smaller subset of compensatory free agents are judged against is never the same size, and requires accurately tracking roster transactions for thousands of players–a feat that will always have a margin of error.

The key number that determines these cutoffs is, per Appendix V, Paragraph 2(a) of the CBA, is the number of “all other League players on rosters at the conclusion of the regular season”. This draft, I will be repeating an effort from the last projection, in which I consider two possibilities for this number as a range. OTC’s database has identified 2,097 players that were either on the active roster or reserve lists at the end of the regular season. However, I believe that the number will be closer to the average of the estimated number of leaguewide players in previous sets of compensatory picks, dating back to 2014. This average comes out to 1,978, and is the number that is used for the above projection. If that number is closer to accurate, here is where the cutoffs would lie:

RoundPercentileOverall RankRepresentative Player
3rd/4th95th (top 5%)98Terron Armstead
4th/5th90th (top 10%)197Sam Hubbard
5th/6th85th (top 15%)296Daniel Jones
6th/7th75th (top 25%)494Azeez Al-Shaair
7th/Qualify65th (top 35%)692Oren Burks

Players On The Cutoff Bubbles

While it is my hope that my projection of where the cutoffs lie is correct, there is enough of a margin of error that the players that are close to them may fall on the opposite side of where I have them projected. In most cases, if I’m wrong it means that the team in question will still get a comp pick for that player, but that it may be in a round higher or lower. But in a few cases (those are bolded), it could change cancellations, possibly taking away or greatly devaluing a projected comp pick—or possibly adding or greatly upgrading a comp pick.

3rd/4th

None

4th/5th

  • Darious Williams (Los Angeles Rams): #188
  • Projected 4th/5th cutoff: #197
  • Randy Gregory (Dallas): #205

5th/6th

  • Mark Glowinski (New York Giants): #288
  • Tyler Conklin (Minnesota): #295
  • Projected 5th/6th cutoff: #296
  • Ted Karras (New England): #304

6th/7th

  • Lucas Patrick (Green Bay): #487
  • Jarran Reed (Kansas City/Green Bay): #491
  • Projected 6th/7th cutoff: #494

7th/Qualifying

  • Mike Hughes (Kansas City): #680
  • Brandon Bolden (New England/Las Vegas): #687
  • Solomon Thomas (Las Vegas): #691
  • Oren Burks (Green Bay/San Francisco): #692
  • Projected 7th/Qualifying cutoff: #692
  • Pat O’Donnell (Chicago/Green Bay): #700
  • Chris Reed (Indianapolis/Minnesota): #724
  • Tom Compton (San Francisco): #725

Qualifying/Valuation Questions

The major question for this draft’s projection deals with how the compensatory formula treats CFAs that have ten or more accrued seasons upon signing. Appendix V, Paragraph 4 of the CBA states the following:

Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph 3(b) above, no Club shall be entitled to a Compensatory Draft Selection before the end of the fifth round for any CFA (excluding quarterbacks) with ten or more Accrued Seasons at the time of signing with his new Club.

This draft, there are two players, Von Miller and Chandler Jones, who will be subject to this rule given that they both signed for contracts that would otherwise clearly qualify for the 3rd round. In the case of Jones, this is straightforward: since the Cardinals did not sign any CFAs, there is no one to cancel out Jones’s departure, so the comp pick they will get for his departure will get demoted to a 5th rounder, regardless of the netting process.

But for Miller, this may be more complex than I thought. Initially, I had thought this would also be straightforward for Miller, and that his contract would be considered as a 5th round in all aspects of the compensatory formula–both in netting and valuation.

However, after consultation with multiple sources OTC considers reliable, I no longer believe this to be the case. Putting emphasis on “[n]otwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph 3(b) above”, which dictates the percentile system that values each contract into a round, I now believe that for purposes of netting, the compensatory formula will consider Miller’s contract to be of a 3rd round value.

This is potentially good news for the Rams. If Miller, the team’s highest otherwise valued departure, were to be canceled by the signing of their highest (and only)–Allen Robinson–this would leave their second highest departure open for a comp pick. That is Darious Williams, whose contract is likely to be valued in the 4th round. However, there is one more potential twist: Robinson’s contract is also likely to be valued in the 4th round. Under the normal netting process, the Williams and Robinson contracts would still cancel out, leaving Miller’s contract open–which by Paragraph 4 cannot be awarded by a 3rd round pick. But this does not make practical sense: it would mean that if the Rams had signed Robinson to a higher valued contract, they would have gotten a higher comp pick, which is in pretty clear violation of the spirit of the compensatory system.

Therefore, I am projecting that regardless of the precise rounds that the contracts of Miller and Robinson are valued in, that they will cancel each other out, leaving open a 4th round pick to the Rams for the departure of Williams. But I could be wrong on two fronts, that leave Los Angeles with a 5th here instead of a 4th. One, of course, is if I misinterpret the netting process as I stated above. The other is that there’s a chance that Williams’s contract could be valued as a 5th. If that happens, my hope is that I will notice this by missing on other comp picks due to all of the cutoffs shifting higher than I thought.

Beyond the major question described above, I have attempted to pay close attention to incentives earned this time around, something that I could have done better in last draft’s projection. Perhaps the most notable player to watch in this regard is Chandon Sullivan, who had $400,000 of incentives tied to high snap counts and team improvement metrics. Sullivan definitely satisfied the snap counts, and OTC is projecting that the Vikings met the team improvement requirement. But that could be wrong, and if it is, it will impact the projection for both Minnesota and Green Bay.

Possible Altering Scenarios

  • Chicago
    • If Pat O’Donnell qualifies, Chicago could be eligible for a net value 7th, but it would be very close to missing the 300 point threshold.
  • Green Bay
    • If Chandon Sullivan does not qualify, Green Bay will not get a 7th for his departure.
    • If Oren Burks does not qualify, Green Bay will not get a 7th for his departure.
    • If Chandon Sullivan, Oren Burks, and Pat O’Donnell all qualify, Green Bay will not get the higher of two 7ths, likely canceling out Sullivan.
    • If at least one of Chandon Sullivan or Oren Burks qualify, Pat O’Donnell does not qualify, Lucas Patrick’s contract is valued in the 6th round, and Jarran Reed’s contract is valued in the 7th round, Green Bay will get a 6th for Patrick instead of a 7th for either Sullivan or Burks.
    • If Pat O’Donnell qualifies, and one of Chandon Sullivan or Oren Burks do not qualify, nothing changes for Green Bay.
    • If Pat O’Donnell qualifies, and both Chandon Sullivan and Oren Burks do not qualify, Green Bay will get nothing.
  • Indianapolis
    • If Chris Reed qualifies, Indianapolis will get a 7th for his departure.
  • Kansas City
    • If Mike Hughes does not qualify, Kansas City will not get a 7th for his departure.
  • Las Vegas
    • If Brandon Bolden qualifies and Solomon Thomas does not qualify, Las Vegas will not get a 6th for either Quinton Jefferson or Casey Hayward.
  • Los Angeles Rams
    • If Von Miller’s contract is ruled to cancel out Darious Williams’s contract instead of Allen Robinson’s, or Williams’s contract is valued in the 5th round, the Los Angeles Rams will get a 5th for either Miller or Williams instead of a 4th for Williams.
  • Minnesota
    • If Tyler Conklin’s contract is valued in the 6th round, Minnesota will get a 6th for Mason Cole instead of a 5th for Conklin.
    • If Chandon Sullivan and Chris Reed do not qualify, Minnesota will get a 6th for Xavier Woods.
    • If Chandon Sullivan and Chris Reed qualify, Minnesota will get a net value 7th instead of a 5th or 6th for Tyler Conklin or Mason Cole.
  • New England
    • If Brandon Bolden does not qualify, New England will not get a 7th for his departure.
  • New York Giants
    • If Mark Glowinski’s contract is valued in the 6th round, the New York Giants will get a 5th for Evan Engram instead of a 6th for Lorenzo Carter.
  • San Francisco
    • If Oren Burks does not qualify, San Francisco will get a 7th for Raheem Mostert.
    • If both Oren Burks and Tom Compton qualify, San Francisco will get a 7th for Compton.

The Potential Pay Raises From 2022 Pro Bowl Honors

With voting for the Pro Bowl in its prime, and a preliminary list of leaders from the fan votes released by the NFL, here is your annual guide toward how you, as a fan (or even players, if they just so happen to read this) can maximize your Pro Bowl vote to help top players in the league earn pay raises via mechanisms in the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

There are two situations in the CBA where an original ballot (not as an alternate) Pro Bowl honor could result in a raise in salary:

  • Article 7, Section 4(e)(iv) creates a tier of Proven Performance Escalator that can raise the salary of a player drafted outside of the first round to the value of the 2nd round restricted free agent tender.
  • Article 7, Section 7(g)(iii-iv) calls for fifth year options on first round rookie contracts to equate to the transition tag if named to a Pro Bowl once in their first three seasons, and to the franchise tag for two or three.

Here are some of the players that could see notable raises in their salaries should they earn an original ballot Pro Bowl, grouped by conference and position. All numbers used are OTC’s estimates for the fifth year options for the 2020 first round picks, and for the franchise, transition, and RFA tenders. To maximize strategic voting, prioritize on your ballot players from the 2020 rookie class, as this will be last time they are eligible for the following pay raises.

AFC Quarterback

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Joe BurrowFifth Year Option$22,673,000$28,049,000$5,376,000
Tua TagovailoaFifth Year Option$22,673,000$28,049,000$5,376,000
Justin HerbertFifth Year Option$28,049,000$31,497,000$3,448,000

Burrow and Herbert make repeat entrances to this section from last season, with Herbert succeeding in a Pro Bowl selection back then that’s already secured him the $5.376 million raise that Burrow could still obtain this season. But joining them this time around is Tagovailoa, who is currently leading in Pro Bowl fan votes among all players. With Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen still lurking around, it’ll be daunting for all three top quarterback members of the 2020 rookie class to get in, but there should be room for at least one of them.

NFC Quarterback

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Jalen HurtsProven Performance Escalator$2,629,000$4,308,000$1,679,000

Hurts leads the NFC in fan voting, and is currently only due the lowest PPE raise due to hardly playing in his rookie season. The slight bump here that would come with a highest PPE raise possible would be nice, although it could ultimately be trumped considerably more should an extension for Hurts be on the horizon.

AFC Wide Receiver

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Ja’Marr ChaseFifth Year OptionTBDTBD~$3M-5M
Jaylen WaddleFifth Year OptionTBDTBD~$4M-$8M

Chase secured his first fifth year option raise from a rookie season Pro Bowl selection, and can secure the top raise with another one, although he’ll have much more competition this season, not helped by missing some time to injury. Chase will still have one more shot in 2023 if he doesn’t get it in 2022. Joining him in competition this season is Waddle, selected just one spot after Chase, who is currently 4th in the AFC in yardage. Unlike Chase, Waddle must get the Pro Bowl selection this season to maximize the value of his fifth year option.

NFC Wide Receiver

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
CeeDee LambFifth Year Option$13,511,000$17,465,000$3,954,000
Chris OlaveFifth Year OptionTBDTBD~$4.5M-$9M
Amon-Ra St. BrownProven Performance EscalatorTBDTBD~$1.8M-$2.2M

Lamb, Olave, and St. Brown are currently 4th, 5th, and 7th in receiving yards in the NFC. Justin Jefferson (who’s already secured the top fifth year option raise) and AJ Brown should have two spots locked up: the question will be whether any of these three can muscle their way into remaining spots. It’s most urgent for Lamb as this will be his last chance to improve that salary.

NFC Tackle

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Andrew ThomasFifth Year Option$13,935,000$15,943,000$2,008,000
Tristan WirfsFifth Year Option$15,943,000$17,668,000$1,725,000
Christian DarrisawFifth Year OptionTBDTBD~$2.5M-$5M

These three tackles are at the top of the list on our OTC Valuation metric. Wirfs got the first Pro Bowl raise on his fifth year option last season, and he has a chance to maximize it this season, while Thomas has one shot to get to the level Wirfs is at. Darrisaw has both this season and next season available for shots at the Pro Bowl

AFC Guard

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Michael OnwenuProven Performance Escalator$2,879,000$4,308,000$1,429,000
Trey SmithProven Performance EscalatorTBDTBD~$2.5M-$5M

Onwenu and Smith make repeat mentions to this list, as OTC valuation remains bullish on Onwenu, while Smith continues to excel as is typical of starting offensive linemen playing for Andy Reid.

AFC Center

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Creed HumphreyProven Performance EscalatorTBDTBD~$2.5M-$5M

What was said for Smith above can just as easily be said for his teammate Humphrey, who also leads the fan vote at his position and conference.

NFC Center

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Tyler BiadaszProven Performance Escalator$2,629,000$4,308,000$1,679,000

Biadasz might not have the level of attention that he had last season, but as he was included in this category, he remains here for one last chance.

NFC Outside Linebacker

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Micah ParsonsFifth Year OptionTBDTBD~$3.5M

Parsons is the only notable name among the front seven in the NFL this time around, but he got outstanding note with a Pro Bowl honor his rookie season, and with Parsons currently second only to Nick Bosa in NFC sacks, he should be a lock to lock up that maximum raise this season.

NFC Inside Linebacker

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Jordyn BrooksFifth Year Option$11,316,000$14,778,000$3,462,000

Brooks was a surprise leader in his category among the fan vote, but a Pro Bowl nod would be quite helpful for him, due to barely being drafted in the first round in 2020.

NFC Strong Safety

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Talanoa HufangaProven Performance Escalator$1,055,000TBD~$1.8M-$2.2M

Despite playing little his rookie season, Hufanga quickly emerged to be a force in the 49ers’ defensive backfield, garnering 4 interceptions and 7 passes defensed thus far.

AFC Cornerback

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Patrick Surtain IIFifth Year OptionTBDTBD~$3M-$6M
Sauce GardnerFifth Year OptionTBDTBD~$3.5M-$7M

Surtain returns to this list from last season as he continues his silent campaign of excellent coverage play, and this time he’s joined by another promising young corner in Gardner, who’s helped stabilize the defensive backfield for the Jets.

NFC Cornerback

PlayerSalary TypeCurrent SalaryPotential SalaryPotential Raise
Tariq WoolenProven Performance Escalator$1,100,000TBD ~$2M-$5M

Woolen is currently tied for the league lead in interceptions at 6, and tied for fourth in passes defensed at 12, strong numbers for a potential Pro Bowl campaign in his rookie season.

Looking Ahead to Potential Wide Receiver Cuts in 2023

I wanted to start to take a look ahead at 2023 at potential player cuts at the wide receiver position. What I did here was take every player’s current yards and adjusted it for 17 games (yes I know the limitations to this method due to injuries) and then compared it to a players salary cap savings next year. To limit the pool of players I only included players with a cap charge of at least $5 million next season. Here are the results in a graph.

The center lines here represent the average yards for this group of players and the split between positive and negative cap savings. For those looking for AJ Brown his dead money is so high that I cut him out to keep the graph a bit cleaner.

While some of he players have been hurt by injury my gut feeling is that player’s in that bottom right quadrant are going to be in danger of being cut next year due to this years performance. Those in the bottom left are going to be thankful for the contract protections they may have. Those are players who teams could consider trading if possible. For the players in the top right the decisions probably come down to team salary cap situations. Players in the top left are likely safe.

The worst performers overall, based on 2023 cap charges vs projected 2022 yards are as follows:

Tim Patrick, Broncos– Patrick suffered an ACL injury and did not play a game this year. He has an $11.57 million cap charge next season of which $5.5 million is guaranteed salary. He could be traded if the team goes in a totally different direction next year and they can find a trade partner.

Kenny Golladay, Giants– Golladay has a $21.4 million cap hit next season which would work out to $271,511 per yard if he had the same awful season next year, the worst ratio in the NFL. They still owe him money but will free up $6.7 million when he is cut.

Michael Thomas, Saints– Thomas’ cap/yard number would be about $117,000 which is giving him credit for a few extra yards which he won’t get since he is hurt. Thomas has more or less been injured for the last three years and has a $28.2 million cap charge next year. Due to all of the restructures cutting him only saves $2.8 million but it is hard to see a scenario where he is in New Orleans next year. The team needs to modify his contract so they can June 1 him or hope he is going to retire and then they can process it after June 1.

Braxton Berrios, Jets– Berrios is a gadget player in the offense whose receiver role has basically vanished this year. Berrios is a solid returner but has not had the All Pro season he had last year.  The Jets would save $5 million if they cut him. My assumption would be that the team tries to bring him back down to a special teams level salary next year.

Keenan Allen, Chargers– Allen will be an interesting decision for the Chargers. He has a $21.7 million cap charge next year and has only played in four games in 2022. He will be 31 and the Chargers are not in great shape with the cap next season and his release would free up $14.8 million. His fate will likely be tied to how the season ends now that he is healthy.

Cedrick Wilson, Dolphins– Imagine how different life would be for Miami if they wound up with Wilson having to play the Tyreek Hill role?  This was one of the worst free agent signings this past year and at $54K in cap per yard one of the worst projected values next season. Unfortunately for Miami they only save $1 million in cap room if they cut him since $5 million of his $7 million salary is guaranteed but that would still be a better option than paying him his full salary next year.  

Hunter Renfrow, Raiders– This probably falls into the buyers remorse category as the Raiders extended Renfrow for nearly $16 million per season to watch him play so-so level football in just 6 games. Thy don’t save much if cut and there is a very limited window to trade so I think they will just run it back next year and hope he bounces back.

Robbie Anderson, Cardinals– Anderson was given up on by Carolina and hasn’t been able to make any impact in Arizona putting up just 13 yards in 6 games. They save $12 million by cutting him and this should be as easy a decision as Golladay’s.

Deandre Hopkins, Cardinals– Hopkins won’t be in this position by season’s end as his numbers are taken down by the fact that he was suspended for 6 games. Hopkins has a $30.75 million cap charge in 2023 and the Cardinals can’t carry him at that figure. I think a more progressive team might look at his production over the last few games as a great selling point for a trade provided that Hopkins wants to be traded (he has a no trade clause) but Arizona has almost never really been very forward looking so they probably just restructure and hope that Hopkins is productive next year.

Allen Robinson, Rams– This was the Rams taking a chance that Robinson’s issues were Bears related and much like everything else for the Rams in 2022 it wound up a dud. His salary is fully guaranteed next season so he isn’t getting cut but it would make sense to pay most of his salary and hope they could trade him.

Though they are not among the worst values the other bigger names who are probably at the biggest risk for being cut are Robert Woods, Corey Davis, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. I’d say that how they close the season will determine how things go.

Here is the full list of players. Clicking on the header should sort the table.

NameTeamProjected YardsCap/Yard2023 Salary Cap ChargeDead MoneySaved if CutSaved if Traded
Tim PatrickBroncos0$11,571,666$11,643,334(71,668)5,428,332
Kenny GolladayGiants79271,511$21,400,000$14,700,0006,700,00011,200,000
Michael ThomasSaints242116,669$28,263,000$25,452,0002,811,0002,811,000
Braxton BerriosJets11372,971$8,232,500$3,232,5005,000,0005,500,000
Keenan AllenChargers34063,824$21,700,000$6,900,00014,800,00016,300,000
Cedrick Wilson Jr.Dolphins14853,922$8,000,000$7,000,0001,000,0006,000,000
Hunter RenfrowRaiders29745,109$13,385,000$11,664,0001,721,0006,041,000
Robbie AndersonCardinals31038,678$12,000,000$012,000,00012,000,000
DeAndre HopkinsCardinals81337,815$30,750,000$22,600,0008,150,0008,150,000
Allen RobinsonRams52434,453$18,050,000$26,450,000(8,400,000)6,850,000
Russell GageBuccaneers35734,080$12,166,666$9,333,3342,833,3327,833,332
Brandin CooksTexans80433,112$26,610,370$34,220,741(7,610,371)10,389,629
Michael GallupCowboys42333,061$14,000,000$19,000,000(5,000,000)6,000,000
Jamal AgnewJaguars18432,172$5,916,668$1,166,6684,750,0004,750,000
D.J. MoorePanthers85729,215$25,040,000$35,700,000(10,660,000)10,415,000
Robert WoodsTitans54126,788$14,490,000$2,220,00012,270,00012,270,000
Chris GodwinBuccaneers90426,269$23,750,000$35,000,000(11,250,000)8,750,000
Mike WilliamsChargers78824,106$19,000,000$26,000,000(7,000,000)5,000,000
Adam ThielenVikings85223,449$19,967,647$13,550,0006,417,6476,417,647
Cooper KuppRams1,26621,964$27,800,000$29,400,000(1,600,000)3,400,000
Mike EvansBuccaneers1,08521,844$23,698,500$21,396,5002,302,0002,302,000
Diontae JohnsonSteelers76521,351$16,333,333$11,666,6674,666,6664,666,666
Kendrick BournePatriots32621,211$6,916,668$1,416,6685,500,0005,500,000
Corey DavisJets55620,071$11,166,668$666,66810,500,00010,500,000
Amari CooperBrowns1,22419,425$23,776,000$15,104,0008,672,0008,672,000
Christian KirkJaguars1,12019,189$21,500,000$30,500,000(9,000,000)6,500,000
Curtis SamuelCommanders69818,614$13,000,000$7,200,0005,800,0005,800,000
Marquise BrownCardinals75217,831$13,413,000$13,413,000013,413,000
Courtland SuttonBroncos1,06317,235$18,325,000$25,475,000(7,150,000)6,850,000
Tyreek HillDolphins1,90616,373$31,200,000$46,400,000(15,200,000)10,800,000
Tyler LockettSeahawks1,09615,287$16,750,000$21,150,000(4,400,000)(4,400,000)
Marquez Valdes-ScantlingChiefs79613,821$11,000,000$4,000,0007,000,0007,000,000
D.K. MetcalfSeahawks1,03713,230$13,720,000$34,500,000(20,780,000)(20,780,000)
Stefon DiggsBills1,71511,817$20,271,111$45,466,111(25,195,000)(17,285,000)
Zay JonesJaguars86911,322$9,833,333$10,666,667(833,334)6,166,666
Tyler BoydBengals92011,201$10,300,000$1,400,0008,900,0008,900,000
Deebo Samuel49ers78811,013$8,680,000$35,228,000(26,548,000)(19,763,000)
DeVante ParkerPatriots6499,706$6,300,000$06,300,0006,300,000
Davante AdamsRaiders1,5449,385$14,490,000$31,400,000(16,910,000)(16,910,000)
Terry McLaurinCommanders1,1909,055$10,775,000$27,575,000(16,800,000)(11,625,000)
Ja’Marr ChaseBengals9358,990$8,405,357$18,211,607(9,806,250)(1,481,785)
A.J. BrownEagles1,2846,478$8,318,894$60,449,577(52,130,683)(39,755,683)
DeVonta SmithEagles9555,751$5,493,107$11,901,732(6,408,625)(511,035)
Jaylen WaddleDolphins1,4884,964$7,387,090$16,005,362(8,618,272)(1,142,362)

The Saints Options with Michael Thomas

The Saints announced today that wide receiver Michael Thomas was going to miss the rest of the regular season due to injury and now the questions are coming even faster about the Saints options with him in the future. Thomas will have missed 40 of the last 50 games played by the Saints due to injury as his body seems to have broken down following a four year run as one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL.

At this point Thomas’ contract is one of the worst in football. Thomas signed a five year extension with the team in 2019 and has earned just under $60 million in new money for those additional 10 games that he has played following what would have been the expiration of his rookie contract. Due to the Saints salary cap troubles the contract was restructured in each of the three years of the extension for immediate salary cap relief. That has the left the Saints with a $28.26 million salary cap charge in 2023 and $25.452 million in dead money that must be accounted for if he is released.

Given that there should be no reason for Thomas to return next year the Saints should have two options to consider, both resulting in a June 1 designation. I guess the first option is to discuss with Thomas if he wants to continue his NFL career or opt for retirement.  Given the number of injuries it is possible that he may want to step away from the game.  If that was the case the Saints would reduce his 2023 salary to the minimum ($1.165 million) which in turn would reduce his salary cap number from $28.26 million to $12.978 million, a savings of over $15 million. They would then carry Thomas as an active member of the roster until June 2nd at which point he would be placed on the retired list. His salary cap number would drop down to $11.813 million and the team would defer $13.639 million in dead money to 2024.

The second option deals with cutting Thomas. This would work the same as the option above except they would need to modify the 2023 salary prior to the end of the year. Given that Thomas may be eligible for the CBA injury protection benefit which is $2.05 million in 2023, I would assume that he would want a P5 that is equal to that number for 2023 to protect his eligibility to collect that if the injury does in fact end his career. Thomas, I believe, is also eligible for a 17th game check this year worth $902,000 which he would forfeit if he did this renegotiation so they would need to include that as a signing bonus in a new deal which would increase his 2022 cap number by about $180K.

Under this scenario Thomas’ cap number in 2023 would likely be $14.04 million and they could then designate him a post June 1 release. They would carry Thomas at that cap number until June 1 and on June 2nd it would reduce to $11.993 million (it would subsequently increase to $13.223 million if he did file for the injury protection benefit). The team would defer $14.36 million in dead money to 2024 in this case. If the Saints do not modify his contract before the end of this season then this option will no longer exist.

FWIW the team could also in the retirement scenario pay Thomas the injury protection money as a signing bonus. If they did that it would increase the 2023 dead money by $410,000 and the 2024 dead money by $1.64 million.

In the rare event that the team did want Thomas to return they would have to negotiate a pay cut with incentives that could make up some of the difference. Since Thomas basically did not play this year they can easily move money off the cap for 2023 by using per game playtime bonuses in lieu of salary since Thomas only played in three games in 2022. Given how few games he has played it would probably be best to just move on but this possibility could exist.

The Saints have to use one of these options with Thomas since the alternative, an immediate hit of $25.452 million in dead money, would be a disaster given their 2023 salary cap commitments. Likewise keeping him at his current salary for 2023 and doing another salary conversion for cap relief would also serve no purpose.

Bears Trade Roquan Smith to the Ravens

The Bears continued to overhaul their roster by trading linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens in exchange for a 2nd and 5th round draft pick as well as Ravens linebacker AJ Klein. Smith was in the final year of his rookie contract with the Bears and the two sides failed to reach an agreement on a new contract this summer.

This is a great trade for the Bears, who I am assuming will be picking up most of Smith’s remaining $5.4 million salary to help the Ravens fit Smith under the cap. Chicago will come away with a 2nd and 5th round pick for a player they likely were not going to keep in 2023 and would have likely netted them nothing in free agency. The Bears only option to receive any trade value next season would have been to franchise tag Smith in hopes of finding a trade partner and those are always risky options for a team to depend on.

This is the third major trade for the Bears new regime. They shipped off Khalil Mack to the Chargers early in the offseason and have now traded away Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith in the span of a week. While many Bears fans I am sure are disappointed to see a former top pick traded in the middle of a better than expected season, these are the moves that give the team more opportunities to get better in the future and contend for a championship and not just contend for a 0.500 record.

This is an odd trade for the Ravens. While the Ravens defense has been a disappointment this is a big price to pay for a player who really does not play an impact position and may just be a half season rental. Smith is a solid linebacker who more or less trends with the group of players who earn around $12-$15 million a season. The main difference is where Smith was drafted which likely will have him seeking in excess of $20 million a season.

At the moment the Ravens franchise tag for 2023 is going to be reserved for Lamar Jackson. We have already seen the organization walk away from offering an absurd money contract for CJ Mosley in 2019 so I can’t see where they would differ here. Smith, like Jackson, represents himself and when dealing with the Ravens and the way they approach contracts likely makes things even more difficult.

Assuming the Ravens do decide to let him walk and do wind up tagging Jackson they are probably under the assumption that they will receive a 3rd round pick for him. I am not sure that I would be that bullish and would probably lean to a 4th round pick. The Ravens are usually pretty good at managing their compensatory gains and losses so I do believe they would get a comp pick for him if he leaves as a free agent.

Still a 2nd and 5th in 2023 for a half year rental and a possible 4th in 2024 is a big cost. Assuming Jackson does eventually sign an extension worth $50 million a season, those draft picks become even more valuable as you navigate the ins and outs of managing the roster around a massive QB contract. Because Jackson’s rookie contract will actually expire before they re-sign him there will be far less ways to manipulate the cap with it the way the Bills and Chiefs did with Allen and Mahomes. It would be more of the equivalent of the Dak Prescott contract in Dallas in which the team will likely have to renegotiate an early raise in large part due to cap constraints down the line.

Colts Bench Matt Ryan

It’s another year and another mess for the Colts at quarterback. This year’s attempt at stabilizing the position was 37 year old Matt Ryan, formerly of the Falcons, who has had a difficult time transitioning away from Atlanta and into the Colts offense. He will be replaced by Sam Ehlinger, a 6th round draft pick of the Colts in 2021. It is a move that may signal a last ditch effort to salvage the perception about the ability to find a QB as the team also has veteran Nick Foles on the roster.

If someone ever made a Wikipedia page about the phrase “QB hell” it would be filled with examples from the Colts the last few seasons. Since the abrupt retirement of Andrew Luck their carousel of expensive and more often than not underperforming QB’s have included Jacoby Brissett, Carson Wentz, and now Ryan.

No team has spent more in salary cap dollars on QB’s since 2019 than the Colts, who have put over $133 million into the position. In terms of actual salary the team has spent the 4th most in the NFL trailing the Rams, Cowboys, and Vikings.

TeamCap SpentDead CapTotal Cap
Colts$103,198,472$30,201,215$133,399,687
Lions$102,210,801$25,230,706$127,441,507
Seahawks$97,877,388$26,466,535$124,343,923
Vikings$118,391,901$1,700,326$120,092,227
Commanders$97,562,957$20,429,843$117,992,800
Packers$117,404,478$96,922$117,501,400
Falcons$75,054,866$40,680,806$115,735,672
49ers$106,143,124$2,813,150$108,956,274
Raiders$103,625,481$2,071,772$105,697,253
Steelers$93,889,679$10,821,655$104,711,334

Here is the breakdown of how the team has spent its salary on the position on the top 9 QBs since 2019.

PlayerCapCash
Jacoby Brissett$29,837,500$29,400,000
Philip Rivers$25,000,000$25,000,000
Andrew Luck$24,800,000$12,000,000
Carson Wentz$21,305,882$21,305,882
Matt Ryan$18,705,882$24,705,882
Brian Hoyer$7,000,000$7,000,000
Nick Foles$2,600,000$2,600,000
Jacob Eason$1,602,264$1,663,066
Sam Ehlinger$1,468,685$1,534,037

In addition to the costs on the salary cap the Colts have also used draft capital to acquire Wentz and Ryan. Wentz cost the team a 1 and a 3 (they received a 3 back when they traded him away), while Ryan cost a 3rd round pick.

The team still owes millions more to Ryan if he does not retire after the season. Ryan already has $12 million of his 2023 salary fully guaranteed. If Ryan is on the roster on the 3rd day of the 2023 league year he will earn another $17.2 million in guarantees. This salary is currently guaranteed for injury so putting Ryan on the bench will prevent that from becoming guaranteed. That would leave them with $18 million in dead money next year if Ryan does not retire and $6 million in dead money if he does retire.

All in all it is a strange move for a team that is 3-3-1 after seven games in a division that is terrible. They either believe in great things for Ehlinger or are just throwing up a prayer to avoid a bad deal getting even worse for next season.

Looking Ahead to the Saints 2023 Salary Cap

Every year we discuss the Saints future salary cap and every year it is met with a response that the “cap doesn’t matter and it is easy to find a way”, but that excuse holds more merit when the team is a playoff team and you are living for today rather than tomorrow. This year it is different for the Saints. Last year the team won 9 games and nearly made the playoffs but now the team is staring at a 2-5 record and is on pace to be one of the worst teams in the NFL.

The Saints typical strategy to manage the salary cap is to “kick the can” on all of their players. This year it was an absurd amount of can kicking. As of last week the Saints had committed to $190.8 million in prorated money for the 2022 season. That is $21.2 million more than the next closest team (Rams) and $86.5 million more than the NFL average.

Of that $190 million, $122.3 million was in the form of restructure bonuses- salary conversions of existing player contracts for salary cap relief. That was $66 million more than the Buccaneers who ranked number two in the NFL. The average conversion for the other 31 teams in the NFL was just $17.2 million with a median of about $16 million.

The Saints have 21 veteran players at or near the minimum salary this year who also have prorated money in their contract, three more than any other team and much more than the NFL average of 9. All but three eligible players on the roster have a base salary under $2 million. The players over the $2 million number include PJ Williams, who had a contract that for cap purposes had a salary that was treated as if it was the minimum for cap purposes and the other was kicker Wil Lutz.  The team was in such a tight cap position that they recently converted the remaining salary of RFA WR Deonte Hardy but since they waited five weeks his prorated salary may be over $2 million for the year. Everyone else has a salary about as low as allowed by NFL rules. Overall the Saints 2022 roster has 56% of their cap commitments tied up in prorated money, tops in the NFL with the Packers a close second. This is about 20% points more than the league average.

Looking ahead to the 2023 season the Saints situation looks bleak. The team currently has 34 players under contract who currently account for $258.9M in salary cap charges. They have four player contracts that will void, leaving the team with $21.2M in salary cap charges if not extended. They have about $4.5 million in dead money on the books as well. While they do not have to bring the roster to 51 players in the offseason that will cost at least $12.75 million on the cap if they do. 

If you add that all up it would bring the team’s top 51 to about $297M in cap commitments. While the salary cap is an unknown next year that number is, by far, the worst in the NFL. It would put them around $70 million over a $225 million salary cap and $60 million over if they just leave the roster with the existing players.  At an average age next year of 27.6 it is also the oldest group of players in the NFL.

Here is what the salary cap looks like for the Saints next season

Name2023 Salary CapDead Money if CutCap Saved if Cut
Michael Thomas$28,263,000$25,452,000$2,811,000
Cameron Jordan$25,737,250$23,486,500$2,250,750
Marshon Lattimore$22,464,317$43,006,471($20,542,154)
Ryan Ramczyk$21,441,321$39,965,287($18,523,966)
Andrus Peat$18,371,000$16,984,000$1,387,000
Alvin Kamara$16,093,000$15,372,000$721,000
Jameis Winston$15,600,000$11,200,000$4,400,000
Taysom Hill$13,925,000$23,775,000($9,850,000)
Demario Davis$13,276,000$13,104,000$172,000
Erik McCoy$12,680,000$17,480,000($4,800,000)
David Onyemata*$10,192,555$10,192,555$0
Tyrann Mathieu$8,900,000$14,600,000($5,700,000)
Marcus Maye$8,600,000$11,950,000($3,350,000)
Marcus Davenport*$7,626,941$7,626,941$0
Wil Lutz$5,620,000$1,920,000$3,700,000
Chris Olave$4,379,971$15,767,895($11,387,924)
Bradley Roby$4,145,475$2,412,426$1,733,049
Carl Granderson$4,140,000$160,000$3,980,000
Cesar Ruiz$4,034,290$4,034,290$0
James Hurst$3,761,000$2,044,000$1,717,000
Payton Turner$3,415,837$3,234,450$181,387
Tre’Quan Smith$3,400,000$1,500,000$1,900,000
Nick Vannett$3,365,000$765,000$2,600,000
Trevor Penning$3,214,390$11,571,804($8,357,414)
Tanoh Kpassagnon*$1,992,000$1,992,000$0
Alontae Taylor$1,637,431$2,847,321($1,209,890)
Pete Werner$1,550,368$747,156$803,212
Zack Baun$1,506,762$264,762$1,242,000
Paulson Adebo$1,375,912$514,548$861,364
Zach Wood$1,345,000$175,000$1,170,000
Adam Trautman$1,302,473$208,073$1,094,400
Landon Young$982,445$84,890$897,555
Dylan Soehner$876,668$6,668$870,000
Smoke Monday$876,666$13,334$863,332
Lewis Kidd$871,667$3,334$868,333
Rashid Shaheed$870,000$0$870,000
D’Marco Jackson$829,229$237,687$591,542

*cap figure assumes contract voids

Once the Saints reach 51 players it should be noted that every release will also see a player earning at least $750,000 take the cut player’s place on the roster. With that in mind only seven players on the roster would have a net savings over $1 million. Not one player would be over $4 million in savings. If you cut every single player with positive net savings on the roster you would only create $21 million in net cap space, a far cry from the $70 million necessary to function. It more or less leaves them in a position where doubling down is going to be necessary to some extent. So what options does the team have?

The first thing that New Orleans has to do is to be realistic about their team moving forward. They have not been that the last two years, especially this past offseason. Barring an incredible turnaround over the next few weeks the Saints are going to have to make decisions about the future of certain players on the roster by December rather than waiting until next year.

The NFL gives teams the ability to designate two players per year as post June 1 cuts.  What that means is you can defer the acceleration of dead money to the following year but it comes with a catch- you have to hold the player’s salary cap charge at the stated amount until June 1. That does not do you any good when you have players with cap hits over $20 million. You also can not use the post June 1 designation if you renegotiate the players contract after the season, but you can do it before the end of the regular season.

This was something I had discussed a long time ago and the Eagles wound up exploiting that loophole a few years ago by making future roster decisions in December and essentially asking the player’s agents to help them out with the salary cap. There was a time when most agents probably would have flat out denied such requests but nowadays the stronger relationships with teams go a long way, so rather than putting a team on their heels they work on helping them salvage their salary cap.

The Saints should choose two players to do that with this season. The first candidate has to be Michael Thomas. Thomas has $25.4 million in dead money if cut or traded and a cap figure over $28 million. In the last three years, Thomas has played in just 10 games and he has had a somewhat rocky relationship with the team as well. The Saints could go to him and promise him his freedom for 2023 in March as long as he redoes his contract.

To rework his contract they would remove all offseason bonuses and bring his salary down to the minimum of $1.165 million. To ensure his release the contract would contain a dummy salary in 2025 of some crazy amount that would be guaranteed if he were on the roster on the 2nd day of the 2023 league year. In that scenario his cap figure would be reduced from $28M to $12.978 million, a savings of $15.285 million. On June 2nd his cap would drop to $11.813 million and they would defer the rest of the $28 million in dead money to 2024. This is a significantly better option than taking $25 million dead for him in 2023 or restructuring the deal again and keeping their fingers crossed that he can be healthy and play at the level he used to play at.

The team would then have to decide who would be the second player to do that with. The one that makes the most financial sense is Cam Jordan, but I would put the more logical candidate to be Andrus Peat. Peat’s re-signing with the Saints in 2020 is one they probably wish they could have back. They seemed prepared to let him walk until the price got low enough to where they brought him back. Peat was already showing durability concerns at that stage and he only played in 6 games last season. He has played in 5 game this year and has been a low grade players for at least the last two years.

Peat’s cap charge next year is $18.371 million. By doing the same trick as above they can lower it to $7.7 million and reduce the dead money from $16.9 to $6.54 million next year with the balance going to 2024. Between those two players the team will open up $25.95 million putting the Saints in a far more manageable position. But remember this has to be done this year to make it work for next year.

The next player the team will need to make a decision on will be Jordan. Jordan will be 34 next season and entering the final year of his contract. I can’t see a scenario where they release him unless he asks to be released. If he were to retire they could do the same trick as above and that can be done after the regular season (the Saints did this with Drew Brees a few years ago). Most likely he will finish his career in New Orleans so I would just expect this to be a kick the can contract. The max savings here on a straight conversion would be $11.068 million. While you are dumping more dead money to the future I would assume that 2024 would be a retirement and they would split that now between 2024 and 2025. Certainly not ideal but they are not in good shape.  This gets the Saints to about $23 million over the cap.

There would really be no reason to move on from Ryan Ramczyk who is only 27. The max conversion here would net them $10.336 million in salary cap savings in 2023 about $13 million away from being good to go (and maybe even good if the cap really spikes). This is a conversion that should be fine for now and the future.

Marshon Lattimore in an interesting discussion. He is also only 27 and the team is financially invested in him for 2023 but I do think a trade market could exist. That said they would lose $6 million in cap space so they would need to hold off on trading him until after June if they wanted to make cap space. His cap number is $22.4 million so they would have to get very creative to do that. The smart play for them might be to see about converting his guaranteed salary to a guaranteed option due late in the summer. That would allow them to drop his cap charge down by $10.736 million and still keep a trade to be a possibility since the option would only be the responsibility of New Orleans if Latimore is on the team after the date the option is due.

Erik McCoy has a $10 million roster bonus due in the offseason. That would seem to be a pretty easy decision to just convert to a prorated bonus and spread it out. That saves the team $8 million. That move puts the Saints under our theoretical cap of $225 million assuming that they do not sign any futures deals. I have seen teams in cap trouble avoid maxing out the roster (the Ravens I know did it in the past and I think the Falcons may have as well) but to be on the safe side I think they would need to make another $10 million or so in cap space.

Personally I don’t see the need for a kicker with a $5.6 million hit on the team. Cutting him saves $3.7 million. Lutz is in the final year of his contract. Tight end Nick Vannett did a strange restructure this past year and I believe gave up guaranteed money to stick with the team. Unless I’m mistaken they would pick up $2.6 million with his release as only a small portion of his 2023 salary is protected. The team more or less opted early into Carl Granderson as a RFA in 2023 and they probably should opt out now, saving $3.98 million in the process. I could see them wanting to hold onto him because of his age but they need to have a bigger role designed for him if that is the case.

If they do all of this it should give them the cushion they need to at least work with the roster a bit. They could cut Jameis Winston but with no QB under contract it may be better to just threaten the cut and bring his salary back down to around $5 million. The Saints likely screwed themselves over this year when it came to Winston due their pursuit of Deshaun Watson. When they failed to land Watson they went back to Winston, signing him a two year $28 million contract. The prior two years as a free agent Winston had signed for the league minimum to backup Brees and $5.5 million the next year to compete for the starting job. He was hurt after a few games and there was no real reason to bump the salary by so much other than they had no other option to go to at the time. Winston has been hurt again this year so they should aim to get it down by a good $7-$8 million with a chance for him to make it up in incentives.

I would not touch the contracts of Tyrann Mathieu, Alvin Kamara, or Marcus Maye. While they could create cap room with each player they are all more valuable in a trade or as a planned release. Mathieu’s salary drops to just $7 million in 2023 which should make him attractive to teams. If traded, the Saints would open up $1.3 million and avoid paying that $7 million salary so the gain over a two year period is pretty strong. There are no offseason bonuses to consider so they could trade him at any point before the trade deadline and save room for the future.

Trading Maye would open up $3.8 million though I think teams would hedge on his contract. He has a roster bonus due in March so they cant just hold onto him the way they would Mathieu to wait for a trade. I don’t see the future here to convert his bonus as that just seems pointless if you can be cap compliant with the other moves.

Finally trading Kamara saves $1.7 million if traded prior to his roster bonus being due and about $700K if traded after. While Kamara is not looked at the same way as Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers just received four draft picks from a desperate team for him. Even if I have to eat the $1 million I would rather hope for a trade rather than prorating the whole contract. If a trade is impossible at his salary (and it may be) they probably should work on reducing his salary from $11 million to $5 or $6 million or just move on. He has $4 million that becomes guaranteed early in free agency which makes cutting him hard once that is earned. Cutting him prior to that would be neutral on the cap but they would avoid $10 of the $11 million and that $1 million is probably covered by offsets.  That $10 million is money that would be saved for 2024.

Beyond that the Saints should just be trying to get by the 2023 season. They should not be in the business of prorating everyones contract. Signing free agents that they should not be signing by using void years and future guarantees. It should all be about getting things fixed and finding a way to be relevant in the future. If they did the above their cap position should go from 3rd worst in the NFL in 2024 to somewhere in the higher part of the bottom third of the league. If they just hold onto all of the players they will move into the worst position in the league come 2024.

To make matters worse for the Saints they made an absurd trade this spring where they sent off their 2023 1st round pick and 2024 2nd round pick to add an extra first rounder in this year draft. The selection became Trevor Penning. Penning has been on IR all season. It was a “win now” move of sorts for a team that had no business thinking they were a “win now” team. That is really the biggest lesson everyone should learn from this. When you do not have a viable QB on your roster in no way shape or form can you trade away a future number 1 draft pick unless it is for a quarterback. Rather than scouting the potential QB of the future the team is just hoping that they don’t have to watch the Eagles get a top 10 draft pick next year while the Saints try to navigate an old, expensive, declining roster.