Salary cap spending is an increasingly talked about topic when it comes to roster building. In an era when so many teams have what seems to be unlimited cap space and there are no shortages of record-setting contracts handed out, there is still little context surrounding these numbers. We know there are certain teams that tend to spend big, but how big and is it way more than what the rest of the league is spending on average?
For those answers, we’re going to look at the z-scores (standard deviations above the mean) for every position group in the league. That will help us identify who is not only spending the most overall, but also how far above league average they’re spending at a position.
All salary cap data comes from Over The Cap.
Quarterback: New England Patriots
2019 Cap Spent: $31.15 million
2019 League Average: $19.33 million
It might be a surprise to see New England at the top of the quarterback market because so often Tom Brady’s artificially low cap hits are brought up as a competitive advantage for the Patriots and a reason the team is able to sign so many other veteran players. Among the ways that typically happens is the Patriots extend or restructure Brady about every three years, which keeps new money flowing in, while never allowing super high cap hits. Take a look at his contract history:
Brady’s last extension came in 2016, so it could be time for another and the two sides might get to another agreement before the 2019 season that will knock down the quarterback’s 2019 cap hit. But for now, Brady individually holds the fourth-highest quarterback cap hit in 2019. Brian Hoyer’s $3 million cap hit as a veteran backup also adds to this charge.
What’s also noticeable about New England’s ranking here is it’s not that much of an outlier compared to the league average because everyone is paying quarterbacks and unlike any other position, there really is no mid-tier market. Because of that, the Patriots’ z-score here is the lowest of any other positional leader.
Running Back: Buffalo Bills
2019 Cap Spent: $15.13 million
2019 League Average: $8.4 million
The Buffalo Bills currently have three running backs with a cap hit of at least $1.3 million in LeSean McCoy ($9.05M), Frank Gore ($3M), and T.J Yeldon ($1.3M). Buffalo also has fullback Patrick DiMarco, who will count for $2.15 million on the 2019 cap and the team used a third-round pick on Devin Singletary in the draft this past April.
It’s unlikely all of those players remain on the Bills’ roster through training camp and the preseason, especially after the selection of Singletary. McCoy, with the third-highest 2019 cap hit for a running back behind Todd Gurley and David Johnson, would be the favorite to have his roster spot spoiled. Releasing McCoy would save $6.425 million on the cap, but the Bills could have made that move any time during this offseason if they had wanted.
Wide Receiver: Cleveland Browns
2019 Cap Spent: $38.21 million
2019 League Average: $23.34 million
Only three teams this season have two wide receivers with a cap hit of at least $10 million. The Cleveland Browns have the most expensive duo with Odell Beckham Jr. ($17 million) and Jarvis Landy ($14 million), while the Indianapolis Colts have T.Y. Hilton ($15 million) and 2019 free agent signing Devin Funchess ($10 million) and the Oakland Raiders have two newcomers in Antonio Brown ($15 million) and Tyrell Williams ($10 million). Lower that down to $8 million and three more teams join — the Philadelphia Eagles (Jeffery/Agholor), Minnesota Vikings (Thielen/Diggs), and Miami Dolphins (Stills/Wilson).
Top-10 Wide Receiver Duos
|Browns||Odell Beckham Jr.||Jarvis Landry||$31,050,000|
|Raiders||Antonio Brown||Tyrell Williams||$25,058,333|
|Colts||TY Hilton||Devin Funchess||$25,000,000|
|Eagles||Alshon Jeffery||Nelson Agholor||$24,112,000|
|Rams||Brandin Cooks||Robert Woods||$22,434,000|
|Bears||Allen Robinson||Taylor Gabriel||$21,500,000|
|Chiefs||Sammy Watkins||Demarcus Robinson||$21,354,923|
|Falcons||Julio Jones||Mohamed Sanu||$21,116,666|
|Buccaneers||Mike Evans||Breshad Perriman||$20,800,000|
|Vikings||Stefon Diggs||Adam Thielen||$20,573,750|
Cleveland will hope that massive investment at wide receiver paired with Baker Mayfield on a rookie contract will be the way to make progress on offense in 2019. The top two combined will have a $31 million cap hit, easily the highest for any team in the league. Rashard Higgins also has a $2 million cap hit on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent this offseason.
Tight End: Washington Redskins
2019 Cap Spent: $18.25 million
2019 League Average: $9.05 million
This is where big bets can go wrong. In 2016, Washington gave Jordan Reed a five-year/$46.75 million contract with $14 million fully guaranteed following an 11-touchdown season in 2015. Reed made the Pro Bowl in 2016, but has yet to play 16 games in a season and has scored just two touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. Still. Only Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce have higher cap hits at the position than Reed in 2019.
Behind Reed is the 35-year-old Vernon Davis, who is set to have the ninth-highest cap hit ($6.3 million) for a tight end during the 2019 season. Davis at least has been reliable when filling in. He was fifth among 19 qualified tight ends in DVOA last season, while Reed finished 43rd.
Last year, Washington was also the biggest spender at tight end, but with a z-score of 2.04. While so many of the league’s top tight ends have come into the NFL over the past few seasons and are still on their rookie contracts, Washington is paying top dollar to veterans who have not established enough return on investment.
Offensive Line: Dallas Cowboys
2019 Cap Spent: $60.89 million
2019 League Average: $36.8 million
This is the position group that probably came to mind first for most. The Cowboys spend big on the offensive line story has been around for a few years and is still the case with the highest z-score among any position group in the league. Dallas has nearly $61 million committed to its offensive line on the 2019 cap and no other team is over $50 million. The Green Bay Packers are second with just $48 million. The gap between the Cowboys and second-place Packers is bigger than that between the Packers and Cleveland Browns, who rank 16th.
But while the investment is still there, the play on the field took a dip in 2018. Dallas finished 12th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate and eighth in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. Both of those marks are good, but Dallas isn’t the overwhelming best offensive line in the league like it might have been in years past — or is being paid to be — it’s simply a very good offensive line. Those numbers could improve with a healthy Travis Frederick at center, but the Cowboys still have a signifcant amount of money invested long-term and still face future questions at left guard and right tackle.
Defensive Line: Carolina Panthers
2019 Cap Spent: $56.53 million
2019 League Average: $29.7 million
Dave Gettleman has left Carolina, but the defensive line investment is still alive. Carolina already had a dominant front line combo with Kawaan Short and Dontari Poe, but they got even better when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released Gerald McCoy and he made his way to Carolina on a one-year/$8 million deal. Short carries the second-highest 2019 cap hit for interior defensive lineman ($17 million) behind only Aaron Donald. Poe ranks 19th and McCoy is 21st.
While the Panthers have $56.5 million on the cap dedicated to the defensive line, no other team is over $50 million. The Bills are next at $49 million and then it drops to the Browns at $45.9 million.
This position and the linebacker group coming up are a bit of a mixed bag because some base 4-3 teams will have their edge rushers as defensive ends and therefore included as defensive lineman” while 3-4 teams have their pass rusher as outside linebackers and listed in that category instead.
Linebacker: Denver Broncos
2019 Cap Spent: $44.16 million
2019 League Average: $23.24 million
Denver is definitely the case where the pass rushers’ descriptions matters for grouping. The Broncos have players like Von Miller ($25.1 million) and Todd Davis ($5 million) in the same position for these purposes. Of course, wherever Miller was labeled would take a massive bump. His $25.1 million cap hit is more than 19 teams have committed to their entire linebacking corps. Second-year pass rusher Bradley Chubb also has a sizable cap hit at $6.2 million, which isn’t a lot in a vacuum, but shows how invested Denver currently is in the pass rush. Had Miller and Chubb been categorized as defensive linemen, Denver would have challenged Carolina, thanks to the $10.9 million cap hit for Derek Wolfe on the interior.
The Broncos need that investment to come through in 2019. During the 2019 season, Denver ranked just 17th in pressure rate and 23rd in Pass Rush Win Rate, though they did convert those pressures to rank ninth in Adjusted Sack Rate, per Football Outsiders.
Cornerback: Baltimore Ravens
2019 Cap Spent: $36.51 million
2019 League Average: $21.12 million
There might not be a team that takes its secondary investment more seriously than the Ravens. This doesn’t even count the four-year/$55 million contract the team gave to safety Earl Thomas in free agency. It also barely counts nickelback Tavon Young, who signed a three-year/$25.8 million extension in February, but will only count for $3.65 million on the cap in 2019. Jimmy Smith has the second-highest cap hit for a cornerback in 2019 at $15.85 million, behind only Detroit’s Darius Slay. Brandon Carr counts for a $7 million cap hit, which is only 31st among cornerbacks this season, but add it to Smith’s hit and the Ravens have one of the most expensive 1-2 duos in the league. It’s not the most expensive, though. That goes to the Tennessee Titans with Malcolm Butler ($13.1 million) and Logan Ryan ($10.67 million). The Chicago Bears with Kyle Fuller ($13.5 million) and Prince Amukamara ($9.5 million) are also just above the Ravens, with the Jacksonville Jaguars with A.J. Bouye ($15.4 million) and Jalen Ramsey ($7.43 million) are just below.
Top-10 Cornerback Duos
|Team||CB1||CB2||2019 Cap Hit|
|Titans||Malcolm Butler||Logan Ryan||$23,766,668|
|Bears||Kyle Fuller||Prince Amukamara||$23,000,000|
|Ravens||Jimmy Smith||Brandon Carr||$22,850,685|
|Jaguars||A.J. Bouye||Jalen Ramsey||$22,836,113|
|Vikings||Xavier Rhodes||Trae Waynes||$22,406,500|
|Lions||Darius Slay||Justin Coleman||$18,818,375|
|Texans||Bradley Roby||Aaron Colvin||$18,625,000|
|Redskins||Josh Norman||Quinton Dunbar||$18,609,375|
|Colts||Kenny Moore||Pierre Desir||$18,000,000|
|Broncos||Chris Harris, Jr.||Kareem Jackson||$17,916,668|
Baltimore isn’t just paying up for their two most expensive corners. Add in the Young deal and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey and the Ravens have a pricey, but deep group of cornerbacks. The coverage will be an even more important part of the Baltimore defense this season — they were third in Adjusted Yards per Attempt allowed last season — after the losses of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs in free agency.
Safety: New England Patriots
2019 Cap Spent: $29.68 million
2019 League Average: $12.66 million
During the 2018 offseason, the safety market plummeted. That rebounded a bit in 2019, though a player like Tre Boston is still unsigned as training camps open. There was an argument that safeties just weren’t as valuable in today’s modern game, even as passing rates and value explode league-wide. But then here are the New England Patriots, investing more than any other team into their safety group. New England tends to play with a lot of three safety looks and all three are compensated quite well for it. Devin McCourty has the second-highest 2019 cap hit for safeties at $13.4 million and both Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung fall in the mid-tier of safeties making $4-5 million.
Some teams have two players in this area — for example, the Philadelphia Eagles have two of the top eight cap hits at safety — but the Patriots are alone with three. Then add in a player like special teams ace Nate Ebner who played just one defensive snap in 2019 but is listed as a safety and will count for $2.79 million against the cap this season. The same goes for Terrence Brooks ($1.45 million), who the Patriots signed as a free agent from the New York Jets this offseason. Brooks played 6.2 percent of the Jets’ defensive snaps in 2018, but 79 percent of the special teams snaps.
Top-20 Overall Spending Positions