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Are NFL safeties currently underpaid?

Nov 22, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) runs out of the tunnel during pre-game player introductions before their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New contract extensions for linebacker Fred Warner and running back Nick Chubb, among others, have ignited many discussions regarding positional value and whether teams should be spending a significant portion of their cap on certain players.

Despite these two players being among the best at their position, some people argued it wasn’t smart team-building to extend them. However, while the focus seems to be on positions getting overpaid, there is not enough attention on one position currently being underpaid.

Safeties have long been a part of the weakest position market on defense in terms of contracts, and it doesn’t make much sense. In general, safeties are a pretty even blend between linebackers and cornerbacks. Most aren’t good enough in coverage to be cornerbacks and aren’t big enough to be linebackers. Yet, safeties are currently being undervalued despite the wealth of talent at the position.

To investigate this, the first thing to look at is salary cap spending using numbers from our friends at Over The Cap. The positional spending breakdown goes back to 2013, which will be the starting point in the analysis. However, given that the salary cap has increased every year (with 2021 being the exception), there is no baseline in which to investigate this.

We can use cap-inflated spending to create a baseline in which to evaluate each year. To do this, we set the baseline at $198.2 million, which was the NFL’s 2020 salary cap for every team. To get every year to $198.2 million, we divide 198.2 million by every individual year’s cap to get an n value. We then multiply this n value to the team’s spending per position by year to reach $198.2 million. Here are the cap hits by year and the n value that was multiplied.

Year Original Maximum Cap n value
2013 $123.6 million 1.60
2014 $133 million 1.49
2015 $143.3 million 1.38
2016 $155.3 million 1.28
2017 $167 million 1.19
2018 $177.2 million 1.12
2019 $188.2 million 1.05

Using this info, we can take a look at how safeties have been paid compared to other defensive positions.

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