The Most Expensive Players Ranked by Remaining Contract Value

There are plenty of ways to measure who we consider the most expensive players in the NFL. Generally we look at the annual per year/average annual value of a contract but that can sometimes be misleading. The APY is usually a new money average per year and doesn’t take into account creative ways teams account for salary cap dollars. Today I wanted to look at a different way to value players and its what Ill call the remaining contract value (or RCV).

The RCV is a moving number that changes every year. It is simply the sum of all remaining salary cap charges divided by the number of contract years remaining, not including voidable contract years. This gives the best approximation of how much teams will need to allocate in salary cap dollars for their players. First let’s look at the top 15 quarterbacks.

Drew Brees$35,650,0002
Russell Wilson$34,750,0004
Matt Ryan$34,537,5004
Ben Roethlisberger$32,500,0002
Kirk Cousins$32,333,3333
Aaron Rodgers$31,549,5004
Dak Prescott$31,409,0001
Jared Goff$31,268,5495
Carson Wentz$30,175,6295
Ryan Tannehill$29,500,0004
Matt Stafford$27,766,6673
Jimmy Garoppolo$26,833,3333
Tom Brady$25,000,0002
Philip Rivers$25,000,0001
Alex Smith$22,966,6673

At the top of the list is Drew Brees whose RCV is the perfect example of the way that cap management impacts the value of a contract. Brees’ actual contract averages $25 million a season but because of the way the Saints have deferred cap dollars through the years they will need to pay for $35.65 million per year in cap charges for Brees to be on the team. He is the most expensive QB in the NFL and the Saints are lucky he never pushed his annual contract value.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Goff’s contract in particular is one that has come under much scrutiny because it averages $33.5 million a year but because the Rams proactively extended him the current true annual value is $31.268 million. Wentz’ falls into the same category.

Jimmy Garoppolo has one of the more unique contracts in which the team took a massive cap hit in the first year of the contract to drive the RCV down by nearly $1 million per year. Garoppolo at the time was set to be a free agent but this can be a strategy that teams with large levels of cap room use on extensions to make a much easier to absorb contract. Basically it would combine the benefit of the Garoppolo structure with that of the timing of the Goff and Wentz contracts. The Browns would be the team in the best position to do something like that if they were to extend Barker Mayfield next year.

Now let’s look at the non-QB’s.

Khalil Mack$25,829,2005
Frank Clark$24,800,0004
Von Miller$23,875,0002
Fletcher Cox$23,750,0003
Demarcus Lawrence$23,475,0004
Aaron Donald$23,178,4005
Kawann Short$22,490,5002
Chandler Jones$21,083,3342
Trey Flowers$20,895,2504
Julio Jones$20,498,1674
Amari Cooper$20,000,0005
Nate Solder$20,000,0002
Za’Darius Smith$19,583,3333
Alshon Jeffery$19,453,0002
DeForest Buckner$19,275,6005

I find the non QB category far more interesting because this is really where teams make trouble for themselves. Currently by traditional contract metrics there are only 7 players who earn more than $20 million a season and of those 7 just four earn more than $22 million a year. Yet when we dig into the cap breakdowns we have 12 players with a RCV of $20 million and 7 players who count for $22 million year.

Why does this happen?  In many cases I think teams do a very good job in preparing for the extensions of quarterbacks and they fail to plan well for others. In many cases we have teams that have had to sign players in free agency with artificial low cap hits in the first year just to get them on the team making it a one year bargain and a significant increase in cost later on.

Teams also have a tendency because of the cap hits of these players in that 2nd and/or3rd contract year to often go in and restructure the deal for cap relief. The perfect examples of this are Khalil Mack, Alshon Jeffery and Fletcher Cox. If you get lucky and it works as it did with Cox you can survive it but if it goes sideways and you end up with Jeffery it’s a killer.

I’d argue that at some point Mack, Lawrence, Clark, and Flowers will all be looked as albatross contracts because of the contract structure causing hyper inflated cap charges that far outweigh the average annual value of the contracts they signed.