NFL Salary Cap and Super Bowl Champions, Part III- Current NFL Teams

In the first part of our series we looked at the percentage of a Super Bowl Champions salary cap that was spent on the top players on their team. In part two we looked at positional spending on the Super Bowl Champions. Now we turn our focus to the 2014 NFL season and see just what teams are built like a champion and which teams are not.

Top Player Spending

Top NFL Player Spending- 2014

Six NFL teams are spending more on one player than any team that had ever won a Super Bowl in the salary cap era, which was set by the 1994 49ers at 13.1%. Those teams are the Lions, Giants, Steelers, Bears, Saints, and Rams.   All but the Lions have their cap money spent on the quarterback position, which is normal. The Lions money is spent on a defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. Only one SB champ spent the most cap dollars on that position.

The lowest amount of spending was done by the 2000 Ravens at just 6.7%. Seven teams will be under that mark this season. Those teams are the Eagles, Jaguars, Bengals, Titans, Colts, Raiders, and the 49ers, who surprisingly have the lowest spend on a top player in the entire NFL.

The teams who fall closest to the average are the Seahawks, Cowboys, Jets, Cardinals, Redskins, and Chiefs. What is somewhat surprising is that of that group just the Cardinals have the most money spent on the QB position. The Cowboys, Jets, and Redskins have their money tied into positions that have been the top charges on a team before. The other three do not, though the Seahawks set a new mark last year when they won a Super Bowl with a tight end as their top cap position.

Top 3 Cap Spending

Top 3 NFL Player Spending- 2014

The Lions are in a different universe when it comes to top heavy spending in 2014, with 38.6% tied up in their top 3 players.  The next closest team is the Rams with 30.9%, though a big chunk of that is already on injured reserve. The top spending on the cap by a Super Bowl winner was done by the 2002 Buccaneers at 27.8%. The Lions, Rams, Steelers, Ravens, Saints, and Giants are all above that level. Our low spending champion was again the 2000 Ravens at just 17.4%. In 2014 the Jaguars, Eagles, Raiders, 49ers, and Colts are all below that figure.

Our most average teams are the Bills, Cardinals, Falcons, Vikings, Browns, and Patriots, and Dolphins. Buffalo is one of those teams with a heavy portion of their spending not actually on the roster. Two of their top three cap charges are being spent on released/traded players- Stevie Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick. New England also has big money tied up in a released player with Aaron Hernandez carrying the second highest cap charge on the team. The Falcons and Cardinals have the most traditional breakdown by position of this group.


Top 5 Cap Spending

Top 5 NFL Player Spending- 2014

Our two top 5 extremes remain the same in the 2002 Bucs and the 2000 Ravens. Eight teams are currently spending more than those Buccaneers. The Lions, Rams, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Saints, Buccaneers, and Bears would all set a new high mark if they were to advance to a Super Bowl this season. The Titans, 49ers, Eagles, Jaguars, Colts, and Raiders would all set new low marks if they were to advance.

Our closest to average teams are the Chargers, Vikings, Bills, Browns, Falcons, and Patriots. Neither the Browns nor the Vikings have a QB make their top 5 in spending.

Top 10 Spending

Top 10 NFL Player Spending- 2014

The Buccaneers and Ravens were again the two extremes as champions at 56% and 44.4% respectively. We have eight teams spending above 56% of their adjusted cap on the top 10 and seven spending below. The teams above are the Rams, Steelers, Texans, Lions, Bears, Ravens, Buccaneers, and Panthers. Those below are the Eagles, Colts, 49ers, Titans, Jets, Jaguars and Raiders.

The teams that would be closest to the average range are the Giants, Cardinals, Redskins, Browns, Bengals , Bills, and Falcons.


Putting it all Together

Three teams would set a new high in every category if they were to win the Super Bowl this year. Those teams are the Rams, Steelers, and Lions. From a salary cap perspective these would be the three most unlikely teams to advance to the Super Bowl. Five teams would set new lows in every category if they won the Super Bowl. Those teams are the Eagles, Colts, 49ers, Jaguars, and Raiders.

When we look at just three categories you can add the Bears, Ravens, and Saints to the high list and the Titans to the low list. The most average teams, which hit the average mark in 3 of the 4 categories, were the Cardinals, Browns, Bills, and Falcons. Of those teams the Cardinals and Falcons would have the most normal positional breakdowns and would also likely be considered to be the only ones with the talent to make the playoffs.

If we score each category by calculating the percentage below or above the average and then sum the values together we can get a better idea as to just how far away each team is from the average Super Bowl spending habits. Breaking it down per category the average NFL team score is an 18.5% difference from the average Super Bowl winner’s cap spending breakdown.


The Lions winning the Super Bowl would really be something extraordinary. They average 52.9% per category from the average. That’s nearly 3 times greater than the average and its 19.1% more than the next closest team. It’s a method of constructing a team that has simply never been successful in the NFL and they would be the first to ever do it. The Rams, Steelers, Raiders, and Ravens make up the remainder of the top 5 and the Giants, 49ers, Colts, Bears, and Saints round out the top 10 least likely winners.

The teams with the least percentage difference are the Cardinals, Vikings, Browns, Redskins, Patriots, Cowboys, and Seahawks. These teams exhibited less than 10% difference from the average per category. The Patriots and Seahawks are certainly favorites in the NFL. The Cowboys are a team that manages the cap on a year by year basis to help manipulate numbers which has them coming in pretty normal this season.

The following table will show the percentage of cap spent on each category and the average percentage difference per category. The table should sort itself if you click on the header.

Team% Cap Spending, Top Player% Cap Spending, Top 3 Players% Cap Spending, Top 5 Players% Cap Spending, Top 10 PlayersAvg. Percent Difference Per Category




Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Philadelphia Eagles


Moving on to the champions of the NFC East…

Best Contract: Jason Kelce

Jason KelcePhiladelphia is one of those teams where there are always a number of good contracts. They are one of the best run front offices in the league and are often signing very team friendly contracts. There were a few places I thought of going with this including Brent Celek (who got the nod last season), Trent Cole, and even Riley Cooper, but thought that the Jason Kelce contract was just a bit better than all the others on the books.

Kelce is one of the bright young centers in the game, having started every game he was healthy enough to play in since his rookie year in 2011. Kelce was entering the final year of his contract and would have likely become a free agent in 2015 as the cost of the Franchise tag for centers is usually prohibitive for using a tag on the position. Kelce’s deal was also important for the Eagles to do sooner rather than later since they realized that the market could potentially change once Alex Mack hit free agency, not to mention expected extensions for the Pouncey brothers. While teams were awaiting final word on salary cap possibilities the Eagles entered into negotiations with their players and signed them before the new salary cap rise was made public knowledge.

The Eagles pretty much hit it right on all accounts. The higher priced centers did seem to extend the market. The salary cap rise was large.  None of it mattered to Philadelphia as Kelce was locked into a six year extension that pays $6.25 million a season. The value of the contract over the first three and four years is just $6 million a season and the signing bonus was also $6 million. By 2016 Kelce could be released with $3.6 million in cap charges and the last two years of the contract carry no dead money.

Over the first three years of the contract Kelce’s cap charge will never exceed $6.2 million and the Eagles did not give away much upside to get that. Kelce can only incase the value of the contract by $200,000 for each time he makes the Pro Bowl. The guarantee per year and percent guaranteed in the contract are well below the norms for a player in his salary range. About the only thing missing that could have benefitted the Eagles would have been per game roster bonuses to protect in the event of injury. That’s a very minor quibble on a very good contract.

Worst Contract: James Casey

James CaseyLast year there were plenty who disagreed with my selection of LeSean McCoy as worst contract on the team and the selection looked even worse in light of a great season. I still believe $10 million a season for almost any running back qualifies as a poor contract, but in light of last years use of James Casey I felt the need to change the pick.

Casey is one of those players that can play some tight end or a bit in the backfield. In today’s game I’m not sure that this is worth $4 million a season on a three year contract, but I know it is not worth it when you never play the player. Casey officially saw action in just 153 offensive snaps (around 14% of their plays) for the Eagles in 2013 and was relegated to mainly playing just special teams. The year prior, in Houston, Casey played in over 50% of the teams offensive plays.

What made it worse is that the Eagles guaranteed 50% of his contract- $6.05 million upon signing. If they were to release him this season it would cost the Eagles $2 million in cash. I don’t know if the Eagles did not play him because they were hoping they could find a trade partner and were afraid that playing him might hurt his trade value or just because they did not have space for him, but they essentially have a $4 million hole in their salary cap.

I’d guess they will see if they can trade him this preseason the way they traded Isaac Sopoaga last season, who had a similarly structured bad contract and rarely played, but I would think that ship has sailed. Maybe the Eagles will try to negotiate his contract down this season or perhaps they can find a role for him in the offense, but something will need to change to make the contract fit with the performance.

2013’s Best and Worst Eagles Contracts:

2013 Best Contract: Brent Celek (Starting TE)

2013 Worst Contract: LeSean McCoy (Pro Bowl RB)

Click Here to Check out OTC’s other Best and Worst Contracts from around the NFL!




Costs of Lane Johnson’s Suspension


According to Paul Domowitch, Eagles tackle Lane Johnson has been suspended for four games under the Leagues PED policy. Johnson, a top draft pick just a year ago, will now face mandatory salary forfeitures that will require repayment of signing bonus money.

Per the CBA rules Johnson will be required to pay back 4/17ths of his signing bonus proration for the season. In addition he will forfeit a portion of a roster bonus that he will be paid in August and will lose 4/17ths of his $495,000 base salary. All told that should add up to a loss of $934,226 for Johnson. He had been scheduled to earn $1,307,404, so he will now play the season out for just $373,388. It is also likely that his guarantees will void with the suspension as it is common for teams to have clauses that coid future guarantees following suspension. Johnson’s contract is fully guaranteed.

Things could have been worse for Johnson and his case should provide an example for why teams could, in the future, fight over roster bonus payments in lieu of Paragraph 5 salary. For top rookie picks the roster bonus has become a yearly mechanism that all contracts use. it is my understanding that for the purposes of salary forfeiture a roster bonus will be prorated over the remaining term of the contract (in this case three seasons) making Johnson only responsible to pay back 7.8% of his roster bonus rather than 23.5% had his salary been all Paragraph 5 base salary.

In a battle over offsets, many of which would never come into play, the Eagles may have cost themselves $127,435 due to that roster bonus decision. With a long term suspension having been to Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars and now a four game suspension to Johnson the forfeiture aspect is something that teams should consider when they strategically structure the contracts. Thus far it looks to be more of a factor than the offset clauses teams are fighting so hard over.




Free Agency Thoughts: Philadelphia Eagles


Key Additions: Malcolm Jenkins ($5.2M per year), Darren Sproles ($3.5M), Nolan Carroll ($2.6M), Mark Sanchez($2.3M), Chris Maragos ($1.4M)

Key Re-Signings: Nate Allen ($2M per year), Donnie Jones ($1.8M)

Key Losses: Michael Vick (Jets), Clifton Geathers (Redskins)

Major Cuts: DeSean Jackson ($6.5M cap savings), Patrick Chung ($2.3M)

Free Agency Thoughts:

The most controversial decision of the offseason, not just for the Eagles but probably the entire NFL, was the decision to release WR DeSean Jackson. Jackson was very productive last season, his first in Chip Kelly’s offense, but the Eagles seemed to sour on him internally. Jackson was always going to have an uphill battle to earn this year of his contract but the fact that Philadelphia made no push to rework the deal makes it clear they did not want him. If Jeremy Maclin is healthy this move will leave the Eagles cap looking even healthier in the future.

The biggest money acquisition the team made was Malcolm Jenkins who is expected to improve the safety position in 2014. Jenkins is talented and a former first round pick which probably helped augment his contract. At $5.2M a year I would consider him overpaid, but it is a short term deal and hi $10 million two year payout is in line with the players earning in the high $4 million category.

The trade for Darren Sproles was interesting. It jumped their backfield spending to second in the NFL behind the Vikings and may have been made with an eye on 2015 as much as 2014. In 2015 LeSean McCoy will earn $10.25 million, essentially a designed walk year, not unlike the Jackson contract discussed above. By reducing his workload in 2014 it should bring his absolute production down and turn him into a two down player, giving the Eagles more leverage in extending him on more favorable terms in 2015 rather than cutting him. Sproles also gives the Eagles a boost on special teams.

I would not expect the Eagles to miss backup QB Mike Vick too much. Vick would have provided too many distractions to a team that hopes they found their star of the future in Nick Foles. Expecting Foles to duplicate his performance is not realistic and the last thing they want is for crowds to be calling for the backup. Mark Sanchez is a reclamation project and incredibly cheap by any standard.

For a low cost, Nolan Carroll is a capable depth player while Chris Maragos will fill some voids on special teams. The re-signing of Nate Allen was also a limited risk signing.

Overall Grade: B+

Most of what the Eagles needed to happen occurred well before free agency when they locked up Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, which allowed them to jettison Jackson from the team. They also signed Jason Peters to an extension. In general I think the Eagles had the right approach to free agency for their club. They augmented the talent they had on the team, but did so without getting too star-centric or stuck for multiple years on bad deals, which was a lesson they had learned a few years back. Both the Jackson and Sproles moves should lead to much more cap flexibility in the future.  The Eagles are a shrewd organization and one of those teams that should be considered a model franchise to follow.




Philadelphia Eagles Release WR DeSean Jackson


After attempting to trade DeSean Jackson the Philadelphia Eagles have finally opted to release the star wide receiver from his contract.

Jackson had signed a $48.5 million contract in March of 2012, that was in essence a two year $18 million deal with a significant amount of backend money designed to pacify his demands for a new contract. After struggling in 2012, Jackson would bounce back to have a terrific season in 2013 where he put up over 1,300 yards. Following the season, Jackson began making some noise about a new contract in part probably because he felt underpaid compared to the deals that came after in 2013 such as Mike Wallace ($12 million a season), Dwayne Bowe ($11.2 million a season), and Percy Harvin ($12.849 million a season), players whom he compared favorably to from a statistical standpoint. Part of this may have also been agent driven as Jackson switched agents last year, which usually is a precursor to looking for a new contract such that both player and agent can financially benefit.

Jackson was set to earn $10.75 million and would carry a $12.75 million cap charge in 2014. He still has $6 million in prorated money that has to be accounted for on the salary cap. In addition Jackson had a $250,000 guarantee on his 2014 salary if he did not complete the workout program in 2012. At this time I don’t believe he earned that bonus so we will count his dead money at $6.25 million until we clarify it. The move should free up around $6 million in net cap space for Philadelphia and help clear up their books in 2015 where the Eagles salary cap allocation had been at the top of the NFL.

Jackson will likely have a difficult time finding a home that will pay him anywhere near what the other receivers mentioned above earn. All three were essentially a bust in 2013 and the WR market pulled back to the point where Jackson will be hard pressed to average the $9.7 million a year he did in Philadelphia. There are a number of warning flags with Jackson ranging from inconsistent play to perceived attitude problems to potential off the field issues. His best season will be flagged with a “system benefit” tag by many teams in the NFL. While it only takes one team to overpay for production options will be more limited now that most teams have spent their big free agent dollars.

The fact that a team would not trade for him at just over $20 million in cash for two years shows that the odds of the double digit annual value are very slim. Eric Decker only received $7.25 million from the Jets coming off back to back strong seasons in Denver and would represent the top free agent in 2014. Other more moderate salary comparison points that teams will likely use would be Victor Cruz ($8.6 million), Pierre Garcon ($8.5 million), and Antonio Brown ($8.392 million). These players all provided more value that most of the big salary players and also don’t fit the pure “number 1” mold which Jackson also does not fit.




A Look at Trade Possibilities for DeSean Jackson


The rumors have picked up again about the Eagles relationship with WR DeSean Jackson. Jackson has made some noise about his contract this offseason and often when that happens some teams will decide it is best to move on that to continue a relationship. This is potentially a situation the Eagles had planned for back in 2012 when they signed Jackson to his current contract extension.

When the Eagles first signed Jackson in 2012 there was likely a disagreement about his true value. Jackson had clashed with the Eagles for two years over his desire for a contract and in 2011 his production seemed to suffer as he was unhappy with the situation. That was probably a red flag of sorts but there was a lot invested in the Eagles team and they did not want to chance losing a potentially dynamic player.

My own thoughts at the time was that Jackson’s production merited somewhere around a $9 million a year number. He wasn’t a player that transcended the position like Larry Fitzgerald and there had to be worries about his body and attitude.  Still that number was going to put him in the upper echelon of receivers. But Jackson, like most, had a number in mind that he needed to see in order to be happy with the contract.

The Eagles went up to $9.7 million a year, but the contract itself was heavily backloaded. The Eagles would pay him $18 million in the first two seasons, an average of $9 million a year. His last three years would pay him $30.5 million with a chance to earn higher salaries based on performance.  While the cost to cut Jackson was $6 million in 2014, the Eagles have always been a well managed cap team, and the lack of a salary cap floor in the new CBA simply meant the Eagles would carry over more cap room than they ever had before. So they were willing to sign off on the deal with little hesitation.

Jackson would have a terrible 2012 season as he battled injuries most of the year. He came back to have the best year of his career in 2013 and immediately there was talk of wanting a new deal. Since signing his contract in 2012 times had changed for receivers with Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, and Dwayne Bowe all earning over $11 million a season. Jackson dominated those players statistically last year. In his mind it should be time to cash in.

From the Eagles standpoint they probably look at his salary this year as more than fair as Jackson is actually going to earn the fifth highest salary of any receiver with his $10.75 million salary. From his perspective the salary is not guaranteed, nor is any of his $20 million he is going to earn the next two years. Philadelphia, who is attempting to change the culture of the organization, likely does not want the distraction that might be made again by a sulking Jackson when the regular season begins and may see it best to just move on. The contract was designed that way anyway.

The issue for Jackson moving forward is that the receiver market took a major step back in 2014. Eric Decker, the most highly regarded receiver available, received just $7.5 million a year with $15 million guaranteed. Decker came off a 1200 yard season in Denver but faced knocks about not being a true number 1 receiver and that part of his production was based on the QB and system in Denver rather than his ability. I would think Jackson would face those same criticisms.

I don’t think any team in the NFL would trade for Jackson and then pay him somewhere in the realm of $11 million a season, even in funny money at the backend of a contract. I’m sure a team would guarantee him this years’ salary and maybe even a portion of his 2015 salary, but I think there would be few teams to pay him much above what he is earning now. His ideal destination lies with a team that simply has the cap room to carry him at his current salary figures, which is exactly what happened when the Chicago Bears traded for Brandon Marshall a few years ago. That type of contract structure would appeal to the Raiders, Jets, Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Bears. The Bears and Buccaneers already have two star players and would not be interested. If a deal was to be made it might be worth looking at those other three teams. Other teams are certainly rumored.

Oakland has the most need of anyone but has been reluctant in free agency this year to spend big dollars. They also do not have a QB in place to really fling the ball down the field either, so its hard to tell what their interest level would really be. The Jets might be interesting as they should have a significant number of draft picks to spare, but they have also shown some reluctance this year to be heavily involved in free agency. When Jets GM John Idzik was in Seattle that front office never shied away from making a trade as long as they felt the player fit their system. I don’t know if a player like Jackson would necessarily fit the vision Idzik has for the Jets and he would rely on their offensive coordinator for more inside knowledge about Jackson. The Jaguars have two receivers already but one is suspended so they might consider it as a way to improve the offense. They have been a bit more active than the other two this offseason.

The San Francisco 49ers have picks that they can probably dump, but he would be hard to fit inside their salary cap. The 49ers had to resort to using voidable contract years to fit Anquan Boldin into their salary cap for this season and then next year they will be looking to extend Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, and Michael Crabtree. Getting Jackson would be the ultimate “this is our window” move. Currently I have them with about $4.4 million in cap space, but they will gain an additional $5.5 million when Carlos Rogers comes off the books on June 2. To get Jackson in without significant changes to his contract would require the release of RB Frank Gore, who might be considered completely obsolete if they are going to a pure vertical passing attack. Releasing Gore opens up $6.45 million in cap space, likely giving them a chance to keep up with the cap while awaiting June 2 for Rogers to provide cap relief.

New England is also rumored, but I am not sure how well Jackson fits in with their offense anymore. Tom Brady did not excel last season down the field and while Jackson is a far better player than the Patriots other receivers, there were times Brady just missed when guys were open down the field. Not counting Edelman the Patriots had just $8.8 million in cap room, but releasing DT Vince Wilfork will save the team $8 million and that move seems likely. I would anticipate the Patriots trying to add Danny Amendola into any trade with Philadelphia and if they can dump him off along with a draft pick that would be a big win for New England.

Kansas City’s head coach has a relationship with Jackson and would certainly like him but their salary cap may be one of the more difficult to navigate in the NFL. Alex Smith will almost certainly get a large raise either this year or next and the team will have to make some hard decisions on veteran next year to maneuver the cap without Jackson on the team. This would be the one destination where Jackson would get the extension he wants because it is hard to imagine the Chiefs having any alternative with their salary cap.



Riley Cooper’s Contract Draws Back on Second Target Market


I think most are aware by now of the particulars of Riley Cooper’s $22.5 million extension with the Eagles. Cooper received a $4 million signing bonus, a fully guaranteed $1 million salary in 2014, and $3 million of fully guaranteed salary in 2015. He can earn an additional $1 million in fully guaranteed salary in 2015 and in 2016 by being on the roster the 5th day of each respective League Year. He can also earn up to $2.5 million in escalators based on performance.

To me what is more interesting about the deal is what this might say about the receiver market. The contract itself is very team friendly. In essence this is a two year $9 million contract where Cooper has to prove he belongs as a secondary target. In terms of annual value Cooper ranks well behind Brian Hartline ($6 million) and Danny Amendola ($5.7 million) the two who seemed to be the standard bearers for the secondary WR’s last year. His guarantees are about what Amendola received.

There is little upside in the contract for Cooper outside of avoiding the uncertainty of free agency. If he develops into a better receiver he will be locked into tier two money for the next five years. If this is the type of contract that the Eagles are offering Jeremy Maclin it would explain why Maclin would prefer taking a prove it type of contract from Philadelphia or another team.

For players such as Golden Tate and Emmanuel Sanders, who are free agents this year, the Cooper contract does little to give confidence that they can move past Hartline in terms of contract value in free agency. Despite the rumored increase in cap room he came towards the lower end of the WR2 marketplace. Odds are that’s a sign of how most teams will be viewing these players when free agency begins.

View Riley Cooper’s Salary Cap Breakdown