With the new League Year rapidly approaching I thought we could take a look at top spending by position for cap and the true premium valued players in the NFL. Of course not all of these players will be playing the seasons on these cap numbers- some will be reduced by restructure and some will just disappear when the player is cut- but I think it goes to illustrate how teams structure contracts, value certain positions, sand the trouble they sometimes find them in with overpaying certain position.
The following graph shows the average spending on the top 5 and the top 10 players by salary cap at each position in 2014. Because of the different defenses I combined the 34OLB and 43DE into one position while also combining the 34DE and 43OLBs.
It certainly comes as no surprise that the QB position is paid so much higher than every other position in the NFL and that the pass rushers come in second, but I thought some of the other categories were interesting. Wide Receiver has overtaken the Left Tackles in terms of high end salary. There were many who saw the decline in Left Tackle value coming due to the various defensive schemes being used in the NFL, but there is a real disparity growing. Defensive Tackles are growing in cap though their numbers are also a bit skewed by three players who will be discussed shortly.
I was also a bit surprised at the high ranking of the Guards. I thought after the Alan Faneca type deals that this was a position the NFL was pulling back on, especially with the run game declining in the NFL. But they are still taking up a big chunk of cap space, actually a shade higher than the runners. The disparity between the Guards and Centers and Right Tackles is pretty stunning. Are teams overvaluing certain parts of the offensive line? It’s certainly possible.
Premium Paid Players
The highest cap hit in the NFL in 2014 belongs to Bears QB Jay Cutler at $22.5 million. That is certainly large but in terms of paying a premium for the player he is far from the top of the list. Cutlers cap charge is just 22.3% higher than the 5th highest salary cap player at the position and 35% higher than the 10th best QB. By no means do I think Cutler is the best QB in the NFL but he does not have to outperform his veteran peers by a gigantic margin to justify his cap hit.
The true top premium player in the NFL is the Lions N’damukong Suh. His cap charge of $22,412,500 represents a 149% increase over the number 5 player and a ridiculous 266.7% pay increase over the 10th highest capped player. No matter good Suh can be can he ever play well enough to justify that kind of cap charge?
The second highest true cap figure in the NFL belongs to Haloti Ngata at $16 million. Ngata, who played DT last season, will count for 77.8% more cap than the 5th highest DT and 161.8% than the 10th highest DT. Had Ngata been playing as a 34DE those numbers would be even higher. The third number in the NFL belongs to another DT, Gerald McCoy of the Buccaneers. McCoy’s $15,627,253 cap charge is 73.6% higher and 155.7% higher than the 5th and 10th highest paid DT’s.
Suh and McCoy’s high rankings illustrate one of the problems that existed in the old NFL draft system. Both are playing on rookie contracts (though Suh’s contract is far worse because of the Lions poor cap management) but at positions that are not premier paid positions. For all of the grief a player like Sam Bradford will get for his salary cap charge, relative to the position he plays he is not grossly overpaid. Suh and McCoy both are. Ngata is an example of a front office simply putting a huge value on a player that was probably not warranted and further hurt because of the structure they chose to employ. It would be hard to imagine him playing the year at $16 million.
The fourth highest premium paid player in the NFL is RB Adrian Peterson and his $14.4 million cap charge, which is 69.4% higher than the number 5 player. Ryan Kalil at $10.4 million is the fifth premium value player in the NFL.
These players fit two categories in that they have incredibly high value over the top 5 at the position and the top 10. But there is a whole other group of players where the top players make a significant amount extra than the 10th highest paid at the position. For example Right Tackle, Safety, and surprisingly Kicker have a lot of money tied up in top players but there is a big disparity between number 5 and 10 at the position.
46 players in the NFL currently have a cap charge that is at least 50% higher than the 10th highest paid player at their position. Not one QB makes the list because the actual salary distribution is pretty tight for veterans unlike the other positions.
The only two teams that are not represented in the list are the Redskins and the Colts. Every other team has at least one premium value player on the roster for 2014. The Steelers, Giants, Buccaneers, and Titans each have three to lead the way. None of those teams had a winning record in 2013 and two now have new coaches.
If we take the special teamers out the list drops to 36 players. Teams that no longer are represented are the Jaguars, Patriots, Broncos, Packers, Falcons, and Raiders. The Titans would drop from three to two players on the list. The Panthers were the only team that made the playoffs last season has more than one position player on the list. So for those teams that essentially deferred costs until 2014 for cap purposes the 2013 years did not turn out to well and now they are faced with difficult decisions for some of these players.
In general teams should think twice before falling into the trap of purchasing position busters. It’s almost impossible for the “best player” to be that much better than the 10th “best player” and if it’s at a premier cost against the cap it just might sink the team. Some teams are better at avoiding this and have been among the more successful teams of the last few years. If you can find ways to build depth via the draft and bargain-bin free agents you can cope with the loss of a Mario Williams or Julius Peppers. Fans might not forgive you in March but come November when you are in the thick of a playoff hunt they will quickly forget.
Here are the list of players whose cap hit in 2014 is schedule to be at least 50% higher than the 10th player at their position.
|Player||Team||Postion||Salary Cap||Pct. Increase|
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.