Received a good question the other day relating to star power in the NFL and how many “stars” a team can afford. So I decided to break down every team in the NFL and their contract commitments for the top salaried players on the team. This analysis is not based on cap figures but on annual contract values and it’s the new money contract value.
Here is the average spending per team for the top players on their roster.
|Top 3||Top 5||Top 10||Top 15|
These are pretty big numbers. If we assume every team spends to the cap (around $177 million) then the average commits over 25% of its budget to just three players. About 70% goes to the top 15 salaries players on a roster. This gives you a pretty strong indication as to why hitting in the draft and finding undrafted free agent gems is so important since you basically are spending pennies to make up the bottom 40 players on a roster. Lets look at the big spenders.
The Big 3
There are 9 teams that have over $50M per year spent on their top 3 players. Only 3 of these teams made the playoffs last season. Those teams were the Falcons (who spend the most of any team at $58.75M for Matt Ryan, Jake Matthews, and Julio Jones), Vikings ($56.9M on Kirk Cousins, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter) and Steelers ($53.4M on Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell). For the Falcons and Vikings these represent new contracts so their top salaries increased this year from last while the Steelers are basically status quo. The non playoff teams were the Lions, Giants, Redskins, Broncos, Cardinals, and Chargers. For teams with an incumbent front office or head coach they will likely have their jobs in jeopardy if they fail to fire again this season.
There are only 3 teams with $40 million or less committed to their top 3 and not surprisingly they are teams that have had terrible hit rates in the draft for some time. The Bears come in at $40M on Kyle Fuller, Allen Robinson, and Akiem Hicks. That’s at least a respectable number. The Jets have just $32.5M committed to Trumaine Johnson, Josh McCown, and Kelvin Beachum while the Bills, who have ripped their roster apart, have a paltry $27.01M spent on Star Lotulelei, Jerry Hughes, and LeSean McCoy.
Top 5 Approach
Since we are just adding two players here we don’t have too many changes. The biggest jump comes from the Jaguars who rank 14th on their top 3 but number 4 in the top 5. That is not surprising since the team doesn’t have a big time homegrown player at the top but a large number of players making over $10 million. They spend $76 million on Blake Bortles, Marcell Dareus, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, and AJ Bouye. The only other team to make a move from outside the top 10 are the Panthers who move from 11 to 10 in salary. The Broncos and Cardinals drop out of the top 10 spenders. The bottom teams are all very similar with the Jets and Bills being the only two teams to not clear $50 million.
The Top 10
Not surprisingly the top 10 valuation is filled with playoff teams from last season. Success generally leads to extensions and free agent signings up and down the roster and those players are often easier to come by than the tier 1 guys who make up those top 3 salaries on a team. Of the 9 teams that value their top 10 at a minimum of $110 million, 7 made the playoffs last season. Those teams were (in order of salary), Vikings, Jaguars, Falcons, Steelers, Panthers, Eagles, and Rams. The only two to not make the playoffs were the Packers, who were impacted by the loss of Aaron Rodgers, and the Broncos.
The bottom also has some playoff teams from last year as well. That includes the roster gutting Bills, different minded Patriots, and eternally cap strapped Saints. The Bills don’t even crack $70 million this season while their divisional counterpart Jets are the next lowest at just under $81 million. The next lowest team is at $89 million so the Jets and Bills are just way far off.
The other really interesting team here is the Cardinals. The Cardinals rank 8th in the NFL in spending on their top 3, and 12th on the top 5, but drop all the way down to 25th when you factor in the top 10. No other team has a rise or fall that dramatic. From 6-10 the Cardinals are only spending $24.6 million, lower than even the Bills at $25.9 million. Their total should rise if they sign David Johnson to an extension but it’s a different strategy than most of the other teams to get in on the high end for so many players but bow out everywhere else.
Top 15 Spending
The top 15 spending basically follows the same patterns as the top 10, which makes sense since we are only adding 5 more players to the mix. If you take the top 3 out of the equation and see who is trying to do more with mid tier talent the teams that make a big positive jump are the Browns (5th at $67.5M), Bears (8th at $63.5M), Eagles (2nd at $78.6M), Rams (6th at 67.2M), Jets (16th at $57.4M) and Jaguars (1st at $86M). Each of these teams jumped at least 13 spots from their top 3 ranking.
On the bottom end the negative jumpers were the Cardinals (31st at $42.2M) who I discussed above, Giants (27th at $48M), Lions (25th at $49.1M), Falcons (19th at $54.4M), Colts (30th at $43.5M), Saints (29th at $46.5M), and Redskins (20th at $53.4M). These teams were all at least 14 spots lower in their respective rankings and the team most reliant on lower money contributors if their top players don’t carry the team to a very high level.
Here is the salary spent for each team
|Team||Top 3||Top 5||Top 10||Top 15||Spending 4-15|
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.