With the end of the regular season quickly approaching many of us are already looking at free agency next season as an avenue to fix our favorite teams. Usually we turn to cap space and see “team X has X amount of cap space” and immediately identify them as a team that is going to be active on free agents, but sometimes cap room can be very misleading and it can just be tied to the fact that a team has a lot of work to do with their current roster. To put some of it in better perspective I wanted to turn to our OTC Valuation model to see what quality of free agents teams really have in 2020.
It’s important to note that the OTC valuation is not a free agent estimate. In some cases numbers may wind up being close, but the calculations are based on spending within the NFL, which includes rookies who make peanuts yet often provide the most production, not what production equates to as a free agent. So please don’t read this as OTC says Dallas needs $112M to sign all their free agents. It may but that’s not what the valuation measures.
It does give us an idea of the general quality of the free agent class for each team, however, with probably a safe assumption that Dallas will likely have the most expensive group of free agents in the NFL. For example Amari Cooper will get paid far more than $14 million and change as a free agent but his valuation is around $5 million more than the next closest free agent receiver so this gives a good relative gauge of the strength of a free agent group. For every Cooper there will also likely be a player with a high valuation that ends up millions less than his valuation for a number of reasons as well.
The other main negative for the valuation tool is that injured players like an AJ Green will count as $0. Green will earn a pretty penny as a free agent even after missing the entire season. Likewise Drew Brees missed significant time which drives his number way down below any expected value. So certainly this isn’t a perfect model but I think it should do a better job of helping understand free agent expectations and decisions than just looking at cap space or snaps.
Here is how each team stacks up in 2020. The X axis shows a team’s projected 2020 salary cap space (this is not adjusted to 51 players so it only counts players under contract in 2020) while the Y axis has the OTC value of all unrestricted free agents currently on a NFL roster.
The top right quadrant shows the teams with above average cap space but either a lot of free agents to re-sign or at the least a few big dollar free agents to re-sign. Essentially this means that the teams cap space is likely a bit of a mirage if they want to keep some of the team intact. For many the cap space will vanish with pre-free agency extensions or franchise tags. If these teams want to make big changes it also will mean having to step away from some of the current members of the team in free agency.
The two standout teams here are the Cowboys and Buccaneers. Dallas’ season is on life support while the Bucs has pretty much been over for a month. For Dallas they have major decisions. Dak Prescott, Cooper, Byron Jones, Jason Witten, Maliek Collins, Robert Quinn, Randall Cobb, Michael Bennett, Sean Lee, etc…Its going to cost a lot to keep the team together if they opt to go in that direction but you have to consider what is the ceiling with the group as well. Screams like a situation where a new coach may need to come in. Tampa has the big decision with Jameis Winston as well as if they want to continue relationships with Ndamukong Suh and Shaq Barrett among others. Similar questions as Dallas except there is no coaching change possible. Perhaps the players simply are not the right mix even if they are individually talented.
Arizona is the third in this group but they are more about volume than a few high projected players. Their top free agent is likely DJ Humphries with old veterans Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs as the next two. Arizona may go year to year with the veterans but Id anticipate them as a team more likely to turn over volume and go younger for depth.
The bottom right quadrant has the teams with a few key free agents but not much cap space to re-sign them. That either means some type of changes or finding a way to keep first year cap charges really low. That may be more difficult next year if no CBA is in place. The Panthers, Rams, and Saints are teams to look at here. The Rams have Dante Fowler, Michael Brockers, and Andrew Whitworth as some pretty expensive players to make decisions about. For the Panthers the list will include Gerald McCoy, Tre Boston, Mario Addison, and James Bradberry. The Saints are basically all about the QB position. For the Rams and Panthers who will likely be on the outside looking in they will probably have to pick just one or two to keep while letting others walk.
The bottom left quadrant are the teams without much cap space but not too many decisions to make this year. Most of these teams have either one or two valuable free agents to consider or a few depth players. For teams out of contention these are likely easier decisions to let a player walk like a Vic Beasley in Atlanta and for those in contention they will have to decide if its worth keeping that one player or adding a few other parts in free agency. For teams out of contention this is the most likely group to probably make cuts where one of the prime reasons is cap relief. For teams in contention this may be the group that kicks the can on more players than they should.
The top left quadrant are the teams that one would expect to be the most active in free agency. They have tons and tons of cap room and few on the current roster worth spending it on. For teams like the Colts, Bills, Raiders, and even Ravens this presents a great opportunity to not only add to a playoff contender but to likely be able to structure contracts in free agency that leave little dead money after just one or two seasons. For teams like the Giants and Dolphins (and Bengals if they ever spent) it’s a potential avenue to quickly add short term solutions to a team in desperate need of roster help.
For those interested in a table form of the data the following table includes the value of the free agents, value per player, projected cap space and a ratio of the cap to value. For premium members who want to break down into values for individual free agents you can filter our season long valuations by 2020 cash which will allow you to quickly scroll through a teams potential free agents.
|Team||UFAs||2019 Valuation||Value per Player||Projected Cap Space||Cap to Value Ratio|
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.