Please read part 1 for the ranking methodology and to see the teams that rank 32 to 17.
Minnesota is decidedly average in just about every category. Their future spending prospects went down slightly with the panic addition of Sam Bradford as that puts them in a worse position in 2017 than they are this year. They track almost identical to Seattle in that if this year is good enough they probably can’t add a ton, but they have huge flexibility to create cap room. When you can create that kind of cap room through cuts you aren’t completely selling out your future, even when you trade a first round pick for a player who will backup Shaun Hill in week 1.
Washington’s front office has done a terrific job the last two years of fixing what seemed to be annual mistakes in cap management. They backloaded about $12M in room, but banked that all as carryover for next year. Washington might be one of the more interesting team in the NFL because their investment in top players is 6th in the NFL, but if things go south they have the chance to change it all on the fly. They have nearly $41M in added cap room to spend in 2017, giving them a position of $35M better than where they are this year. Their two negatives are that they have little roster flexibility to change pieces in the top 10 and they have three free agents, tied for most in the NFL, including their quarterback. Fan reaction may be decidedly worse than front office reaction to a poor season given their ability to spend next year.
Nothing really stands out either positive or negative about the Texans. Their net cap spending this year more or less matches their annual contract values and next year is more of the same. They don’t have any free agents to worry about and with $17M in cap room can either replace a top 10 player or add some depth. They have some top roster flexibility as well such that if certain players do poorly they can be cut.
I expected Miami to be worse off than this but the way their contracts are structured they will likely remain status quo for the next two years. They can allocate up to $14 million in additional money on this same team next year to improve it and could cut a few players to increase that figure. That said Miami has the 5th highest player commitment in the NFL so they need to make a push for the playoffs this year to give confidence for the future. They don’t have the flexibility to cut a lot away from their roster.
With the big offseason spending spree the Giants are pushing money off to the future but the impact of that won’t be felt as badly in 2017 as it will in 2018 and 2019. The Giants could be $20 million better off than they are in 2016 which means they can add a few to the team if they compete this year. The big problem is that they have almost no flexibility. Outside of Victor Cruz they don’t have a player that makes a cap impact that can be cut and they still need to figure out what to do with Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Lions remind me a bit of the Panthers in that cap mistakes of the past will haunt the team for some time. At this point they rank 29th in top player spending so the expectations should be low, but they are still in a bad position. They will see their effective cap decrease by $16M next year because of backloading of money to 2017 which is 9th worst in the NFL. That effectively nullifies the effect their cap space next year. They can cut some players to create space, but it will require more backloading of cap to improve this team in 2017.
This is a team that saw the window close a few years back and has desperately tried to find ways to keep competing. They have backloaded a few million this year and will see their spending increase to $7M over the APY in 2017. They have almost no top roster flexibility unless they intend to move Matt Ryan, which would signal completely starting over. They have $31M in cap room next year so they can add some to the team but they are likely locked into this squad for at least one more season.
I’m not sure anyone really has any idea what the Chargers are doing with their roster and contract structures. Though they have been unlucky with a ridiculous amount of injuries it doesn’t change the fact that they are still backloading over $10M to future years. They have limited flexibility and only $17M in cap room next year. Its hard to see the future being any brighter than 2016.
The Cardinals use of nearly $12M in future cap space ranks 4th worst in the NFL in 2016. Next year they are already spending $6M above the stated APY of the 8 players remaining under contract so 2017 is a swing of $18M in the wrong direction. They do have almost $30M in cap space but they also have Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones as free agents. If Arizona sinks this year for any reason beside injury they will need a miracle draft in 2017 to improve.
The Saints are a massive backloader with $20 million being saved this year in back loaded dollars. However the impact of this may not be realized until 2018 and beyond as even next year they are just $1.5M in cap above the APY of their top players. Given their cap room next year they will basically return with the same quality roster in 2017 and they have limited avenues to cut at the top to add to the roster.
If the Jets falter this year it will be a cautionary tale for teams like the Jaguars who stockpiled space for two or more years and then spent like crazy in free agency. The team back loaded nearly $10M in cap space this year and spent every penny of that to compete in 2016. Next season they are already $14M over APY for their 9 contracted players and they project $4.5M over the cap. That’s all without their starting QB under contract. The only reason they don’t rank higher than this is because they retain massive roster flexibility to create millions in cap space, which is 4th best.
I was stunned to see the Chiefs rank 2nd in top spending in the NFL, but they have a huge amount of money invested in this season. They are spending about $19M under the APY of their top players this year and have essentially no cap room so they are all in for 2016. Next year they are essentially even between cap and APY and that is without Eric Berry under contract. They project over the cap next year and don’t have much they can do to create room unless they move on from Alex Smith. If they don’t win the division this year it will be a massive disappointment and it likely won’t get better from here.
The Eagles have taken the salary cap into a whole new dimension with their 2016 offseason. They back loaded a whopping $40M which is tops in the NFL but are hoping that the use of extensions makes that less impactful than it sounds. They received a huge benefit when they found a taker in the Vikings for Bradford, but even still they can just go sideways next year. They have limited cap room and no top roster flexibility. If their QB doesn’t pan out it could get ugly in the later years.
Buffalo effectively back loaded $25 million in cap charges this year, which is 2nd most in the league. That already begins to catch up with them in 2017 when they move from $25M under APY to $3M over APY on the cap. Even with nearly $16M in cap room they are basically $15M worse off next year than they are in 2016. They have no flexibility with the roster so if they need to change the mix of players its going to require massive contract restructures.
I’ve been criticized in the past for saying that the Ravens don’t do a great job with the cap given past success, but this is a team that constantly has to back load contracts to comply with the salary cap. The Ravens rank 25th in overall APY yet they still have to backload almost $10M to comply with the cap. Next year these same top player will cost about $20M more on the cap than they did in 2016 and with under $7M in 2017 cap space so they are clearly headed in the wrong direction. Likely a team that has peaked and is dealing with the consequences.
The Cowboys numbers are staggering. While their back loading of $15M this year is not at the top of the NFL they will see those same players increase their cap vs APY numbers to $32M next year, a $47M swing in the wrong direction. The team projects $13M over the cap next year meaning they are $60M worse off at the top of the roster in 2017 compares to 2016. The next closest team is just $30M worse off. If they cut their top 10 players they would actually lose cap room. While they can move on from the Jason Witten types the fact is the Cowboys have a huge stake in the 2016 year. It’s Super Bowl or bust for this team.
Here are the final rankings for each team. A negative number means that the team will be in better cap position in 2017 than they are in 2016.
|Team||Top 10 APY||2017 Cap Impact||True Cap Impact||Ultimate Cap Impact|
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.