During last night’s Lions game I noted how Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford were the highest paid duo, in terms of salary cap dollars, in the NFL this year. Those two players alone account for over $38 million of the Lions cap this season. That got me to thinking, what kind of money do teams invest in their “dynamic duo” of talent at the top of the roster? So with that in mind I’ll look at what teams are spending in cap on their top two players as well as their average annual investment in their top player. Remember you can always check out our Texture charts to see the full breakdown of everyones roster by salary ranking.
The Big Spenders
When we look at spending by annual value, which is a more sticky valuation of a players worth, Miami invests the most in the least, with $38 million invested per year in just two players. Things haven’t worked out well for them and they just fired their head coach. Contracts bring on big expectations and the team wasn’t living up to them.
Seattle, not surprisingly, ranks second. This team employs a “stars and scrubs” style to roster building with the scrubs in this case being draft selections. They have just under $36 million invested in their top 2 players.
The Giants come in third and have not gotten a down from their second highest paid player- Jason Pierre Paul. In fact, three of the Giants top 4 contracts haven’t played down this season. Luckily for NY, JPP loses around $1 million for each week he is home.
Rounding out the $35 million club are the Packers and Falcons.
The Lions lead the way with the two big cap numbers for Stafford and Johnson at a whopping 49% above the average cap allocation to their top two players and $5 million more than the next closest team. The Lions have long been a salary cap mess due in part to the circumstances of high draft picks, but mainly because of the teams over valuation of talent and heavy reliance on restructuring contracts to function. It hasn’t worked for them at all as they are 0-4 this season and have only made the playoffs twice in the Stafford/Johnson era. The contracts in a mature phase as their cap numbers are about $4.5 million higher than the annual contract values committed to their top two players.
Carolina is second with big money deals for Cam Newton ($20.7M cap) and Charles Johnson ($12.7 million). Johnson of course is injured so the team will be gaining little from him this year, but the team is currently undefeated and has done a good job of navigating, on the field, what has been a nightmarish salary cap for the last 3 or 4 years.
Third is Atlanta with $31.9 million invested in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, a connection that has paid off this season for the 4-0 Falcons. Jones is one of the few players who signed a massive extension or received a new contract that has been worth every penny.
The Chargers and Packers round out the top 5. San Diego has a huge it for Philip Rivers to earn their ranking while Green Bay is a bit more evenly distributed between Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews.
The Cap Magicians
Everyone knows that you can manipulate the salary cap rather easily by simply prorating salary and putting off cap charges towards the end of contract. Of course when the end draws nears teams often get in trouble, which is why teams like the Saints and Lions have traditionally had cap troubles. So what teams are doing their best to defer the most?
Miami leads the way here by taking on just $21.1 million in cap charges this year for their top two players and allowing that figure to jump up to $40 million in 2016, the biggest increase of any team by nearly $5 million. This is almost all related to the Ndamukong Suh contract.
The Ravens jump $14 million in their top players, which is from the super deferred Joe Flacco contract that essentially backs the Ravens into a corner starting in 2016. Flacco will have nearly a $29 million hit in 2016.
The Chiefs take a leap of just under $13 million as they had to scramble to be cap compliant in 2015 but should see relief elsewhere in 2016 as players begin to fall off the roster.
Seattle, the Steelers, and the Saints all will see their cap invested in their top 2 players jump by $12 million or more next year.
The Frugal Five
In terms of cap dollars being spent this year only one name surprised me and that was the Seahawks. At $20.7 million they rank 28th in the NFL, which is due in part to Russell Wilson’s contract not really impacting anything yet and their need to fit a lot of guys under the cap this season.
Washington and Jacksonville come in at 29 and 30, but Indianapolis and Tennessee have virtually nobody at the high end. Their average top 2 player ranks in the 70’s among all cap hits and the Titans are the only team under $17 million. The Titans have the least name value in the NFL with Jason McCourty and Michael Griffin being the two players.
When we change the filter to annual value, the Eagles rank 28th. They don’t employ really employ any elite players so their numbers are low compared to other teams.
New England is 29th in the NFL which is the big benefit of having a start quarterback take a massive discount and getting a star tight end locked up before salaries got out of control. They, probably more than any team, are willing to sacrifice talented players if they feel the price is too high.
The Jaguars and Titans working through their rebuilds have very little on their rosters in terms of high end talent and it shows here, while the Raiders are in their own class with just $15.1 million allocated to their top 2 players. Their top 2 players average salary ranks 147 among all players.
Restructures or Cuts Ahead
Five teams will have their top 2 players count for over $39 million next year. Leading the way is the Lions with a crazy $46.5 million of cap dollars for Johnson and Stafford. Both players have significant dead money in their contracts already so it’s not easy to navigate.
Despite their recent roster purge the Saints are second at $42.8 million, $30 million of which is tied up in Drew Brees. One would think Brees will either be extended or traded.
Miami’s Suh/Tannehill connection hits the books for $40.24 million, nearly $29 million of which belongs to Suh. Suh has been invisible this season.
Finally the Falcons and Steelers round out the group of big spenders at the top.
Dynamic Duo Spending
|Team||15 Cap Charge||16 Cap Charge||15-16 Differential||Annual Value|
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.