Each NFL offseason brings a wave of player movement across the league, especially now in a new era of roster construction. Blockbuster trades at premium positions — for years an extreme rarity — have seemingly become the norm lately. Teams have become more honest with themselves about the talent on their roster or lack thereof — for example, the Detroit Lions moved on from quarterback Matthew Stafford as opposed to chasing mediocrity and prolonging their inevitable rebuild.
At the same time, other teams that are close to reaching the mountaintop but held back by a few deficiencies —such as the Los Angeles Rams with quarterback Jared Goff — are willing to be more aggressive in pursuit of a Super Bowl title. These two forces operating in tandem will lead to major swings in roster construction and, thus, salary cap outlooks from season to season. In theory, each team is choosing the fastest path to building a legitimate contender, just in opposite ways.
After one of the busiest offseasons in NFL history, we revisit the three-year salary cap analysis for all 32 teams. We updated our methodology from last year’s three-year salary cap analysis in two key ways:
First, instead of just ranking each team in each of our five categories (explanations below) and then taking the average of the five rankings, we’re using z-scores to capture just how far from the league average each team deviates in each category.
Second, we’ve weighted each category to better reflect its importance in salary cap/roster construction health. Most importantly, having a strong top 51 veteran valuation matters more — after all, who cares if you have a ton of salary cap space if you have no talent. Some of the league’s better teams still find themselves at the bottom of the list, which will understandably lead to criticism, but at the end of the day, we are still attempting to capture salary cap health first and foremost.
All contract data is updated with official contract figures as of 6/20/2022
Rookie-contract players (“Active Draft Capital”):
We converted every rookie-contract player currently on each team’s roster into their Fitzgerald-Spielberger value in the same manner Timo Riske analyzed each team’s 2021 Draft capital to weight the value of each player. For example, No. 1 overall pick Jacksonville Jaguars edge defender Travon Walker would be worth 3,000 points on this scale. The Jaguars have the third-largest draft capital investment on their roster currently, trailing the New York teams in the Giants and Jets.
This aims to capture both the value of players that have not played an NFL snap yet, like Walker, as well as each team's total potential for surplus value from rookie contracts. The NFL rookie wage scale made draft picks more valuable than ever before because not only are you adding quality young talent, but you also realize significant savings as compared to the veteran player market. Thus, there is a clear connection to forward-looking cap space here.
Projected effective cap space 2022-2024:
We’re using a projected salary cap of $225 million in 2023 and $256 million in 2024, as seen on OverTheCap.com. While the 2023 cap may be higher due to the influx of revenue from new TV deals in addition to sports gambling revenues, the number would still affect all teams the same.
We use “effective” cap space to examine future years because not every club has at least 53 players under contract in 2023 and 2024. The calculation for effective cap space is simple, and while it will still not capture the true future outlook, it provides a solid benchmark to work with in the present.
Example: Team X has 45 players under contract in 2023 and $20 million in cap space. The minimum salary for a player in 2023 is $750,000. In order to field a full 53-man roster, Team X must sign eight more players with cap hits of at least $750,000 in 2023.
- 8 x $750,000 = $6,000,000
- Team X really has at most $20,000,000 – $6,000,000 = $14,000,000 in 2023 cap space
- Team X has $14,000,000 in effective 2023 cap space
Total prorated money (including money that will void):
When money is converted into a bonus that prorates over a number of years — most typically signing bonuses — it can no longer be manipulated for salary cap purposes. These amounts are truly sunk costs on the salary cap, unlike guaranteed salaries that are effectively sunk cash amounts but could still be altered from a cap accounting perspective.
Teams have to work around these sunk costs even after a player is no longer on their roster — when they become what is referred to as “dead cap.”
The existence of some dead money is fine; if anything, it suggests a club’s willingness to spend cash and be more aggressive in their roster construction from time to time. However, a significant amount of dead money will inhibit a team’s ability to add talent effectively.
Top 51 Veteran Valuation:
This is the total valuation of all players on each club’s top 51, excluding 2022 draft picks. This is a snapshot of their current value under 2022 market conditions, not a forecast of what they would theoretically cost on the open market after the season.
To ensure that clubs carry 90-man rosters during the offseason, only the 51 largest cap hits count against the salary cap. Thus, we have taken each team’s current top 51 cap-hit players, removed rookies and calculated the total value.
2023 free agent projections (“2023 UFA Valuation”):
The contract or “platform” year for a pending unrestricted free agent is undoubtedly the most important year for projecting what they will earn in free agency. Here, we are not attempting to forecast the 2022 performance of pending 2023 free agents and then calculate a valuation for that player. Thus, these values are certainly subject to change, however, we also often do have a relatively strong understanding of a player’s value before their final season on their current contract.
For example, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay missed the majority of the 2020 season and still signed the largest free-agent contracts at their respective positions in the 2022 offseason.
On the other hand, we are predicting the growth in position markets year-to-year and inflating our contract projections in accordance with these rough expectations.
JUMP TO A TEAM:
ARIZONA CARDINALS — Rank: 16th
The Cardinals lost a few key contributors from 2021 in free agency — most notably, edge defender Chandler Jones and wide receiver Christian Kirk — but frankly, they were smart to not offer the contracts each ultimately received elsewhere. Arizona immediately replaced Kirk during the draft with a trade for former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown, who will fill the speedster/deep-threat role and likely create more room for 2021 second-round wide receiver Rondale Moore to operate in the slot.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are again set to lose a handful of important players after the 2022 season, with left tackle D.J. Humphries, interior defender J.J. Watt and cornerback Byron Murphy the headliners on a lengthy list.
ATLANTA FALCONS — Rank: 23rd
The Falcons lead the NFL with over $63 million in dead cap for 2022, as more than $56 million is accounted for by former quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta backed its way into a full-scale rebuild once Ryan caught wind of the team's attempts to court quarterback Deshaun Watson and still has plenty of work ahead. There’s a belief that linebacker Deion Jones could also be traded or cut, and if he is, the Falcons would set an NFL record for the most dead cap in a single season ever.
Interior defender Grady Jarrett and left tackle Jake Matthews received extensions this offseason, taking care of the most important pending free agents before the 2022 season concluded. However, there are still glaring holes all over this roster, most notably at quarterback with Marcus Mariota currently slated to start in Week 1.
The Jones trade was a big success, and Atlanta used their extra second-round pick in this year’s draft on linebacker Troy Andersen, who will hopefully jump-start their defensive turnaround a year early. Nevertheless, this team is very far from serious contention any time soon.
BALTIMORE RAVENS — Rank: 8th
One of the biggest remaining questions of the offseason may be what happens with quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s potential extension, but Baltimore is a well-run franchise that navigates contract negotiations calmly and rationally.
The Ravens no longer need to also pay top dollar to retain tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who is driving a hard bargain with the Kansas City Chiefs following a solid season transitioning full-time from right tackle over to the blindside. With Brown currently subject to the franchise tag, the two sides have until July 15 to iron out a multi-year extension. Baltimore made a similar move sending wide receiver Marquise Brown and a third-round pick to the Cardinals for a first-round pick, avoiding a hefty payday and adding more cheap talent.
In back-to-back drafts, the Ravens had multiple first-round picks after trading away players looking for big-money extensions. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, edge defender Odafe Oweh, safety Kyle Hamilton and center Tyler Linderbaum could represent a new, young nucleus on both sides of the ball over the next four years, and all four will earn roughly $53.5 million combined over the span. Brown probably looking to earn that much alone by 2024.
BUFFALO BILLS — Rank: 15th
Thanks to prudent cap management over the last several years, the Bills were able to extend star wide receiver Stefon Diggs despite quarterback Josh Allen signing an extension that, at the time, set the record for fully guaranteed money at signing with $100 million. Unlike the Green Bay Packers with Davante Adams and Kansas City Chiefs with Tyreek Hill, the Bills elected to roster one of the league’s highest-paid signal callers and pass-catchers simultaneously, but they earned the ability to do so with sharp roster construction.
They were also able to recruit game-wrecking edge defender Von Miller away from the Los Angeles Rams with a six-year, $120 million extension (that’s more like a three-year, $52.5 million extension in reality). Buffalo is going all-in on a Super Bowl run after suffering one of the more painful playoff defeats in recent memory at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Nevertheless, resources are getting a bit thin, and rookie contract players need to step up to push this team to the pinnacle once and for all.
CAROLINA PANTHERS — Rank: 25th
For a team lacking in talent at a few key spots, the Panthers have a lot of prorated money on the books, as they restructured a ton of contracts this offseason to clear 2022 cap space.
It seemed as though the rationale was to create room to replace quarterback Sam Darnold, perhaps with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and his $24.2 million salary or Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and his $18.858 million fifth-year option. As of now, despite consistent rumblings of ongoing talks between Carolina and Cleveland regarding a Mayfield trade, the Panthers still have Darnold operating as QB1 in offseason practices.
Carolina is not in a particularly great spot, and owner David Tepper doesn’t seem like the most patient individual. Results are needed — fast.
CHICAGO BEARS — Rank: 19th
New Bears general manager Ryan Poles has effectively hit the reset button in Chicago, trading star edge defender Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers for a 2022 second- and 2023 sixth-round pick early in the offseason. He then traded down four times on Day 3 of the 2022 Draft to turn three picks into eight, loading up on offensive linemen in the process. Despite all of these moves, Chicago still ranks 29th in active draft capital after the prior regime traded away picks like they were going out of style.
The Bears have the most effective cap space in the NFL over the next three years but also our 32nd-ranked roster as of today. There is plenty more work to be done in the Windy City, but the franchise finally has the resources to do it.
CINCINNATI BENGALS — Rank: 1st
Cincinnati has done quite well in free agency over the last few offseasons without breaking the bank and looked to do the same this year by revamping its offensive line with mid-tier signings. Center Ted Karras, right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La’el Collins will combine to make $21.75 million per year, which would rank fourth among left tackles in the NFL.
The Bengals earn the top spot here because they’re loaded with cheap talent, including quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. However, franchise-tagged safety Jessie Bates III seems no closer to signing a multi-year deal, and eventually, all of these young studs will be looking to break the bank. Can Cincinnati get back to the Super Bowl again before the bill comes due all over their talented roster?
CLEVELAND BROWNS — Rank: 21st
The Browns are spending like no team has ever spent before, completely changing the NFL contract landscape with their five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed extension of quarterback Deshaun Watson following a monster trade with the Houston Texans that involved three first-round picks.
Cleveland’s roster now boasts a player earning top-10 money for their position at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, left guard, right guard, edge defender and cornerback. They’re extremely talented on paper, but it’s put up or shut up time for this nucleus of players.
DALLAS COWBOYS — Rank: 26th
The Cowboys lost talent all over their roster this offseason, including wide receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, edge defender Randy Gregory, and offensive linemen La’el Collins and Connor Williams. However, the majority of these losses were intentional, and Dallas is smartly looking to keep a window open for an extended period of time with quarterback Dak Prescott.
Edge defender Demarcus Lawrence agreed to an extremely team-friendly and re-worked contract, and Dallas will look to their recent draft classes to develop while contributors get healthy to fill other voids left on the roster. As tough as this offseason was, Dallas should be able to overcome it in short order.
The biggest remaining question mark is Dalton Schultz‘s contract situation, as he is looking for a multi-year extension while on the franchise tag.
DENVER BRONCOS — Rank: 13th
Denver earned the top spot in last year’s ranking, albeit under slightly different criteria. The Broncos' ability to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson in a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks while still maintaining cap health was foreseeable and wise.
Perhaps the most impressive thing they did was agree to early extensions in November with wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick for $15 million and $10 million per year, respectively. Twelve wide receivers have since signed contracts for more per year in just seven months.
The Broncos finally have their answer at quarterback and are in a good spot to add more talent the next few offseasons as they see fit, though Wilson will presumably look for a top-of-market extension in the near future.
DETROIT LIONS — Rank: 12th
The Lions have wisely remained patient in free agency despite a roster with plenty of holes, as they’ve seen countless times what frivolous spending in March can ultimately lead to. Detroit gave out the fifth-fewest total guaranteed dollars this offseason as it continues to turn over its roster and let young players assume key roles.
Over the last two drafts, Detroit has made 10 selections inside the first 115 picks. How this group ultimately pans out — along with the quarterback they eventually draft to supplant Goff — could go a long way in determining the Lions' future for the remainder of the 2020s. At the outset, they’ve executed this rebuild the right way.
GREEN BAY PACKERS — Rank: 28th
Green Bay is a good example of a team that shouldn’t really care where it ranks when it comes to salary cap health in 2022. The Packers have a 38-year-old quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons and only has one Lombardi Trophy to show for his Hall of Fame quarterback play.
They continue to draft well year in and year out, as the newly minted highest-paid cornerback in the NFL in Jaire Alexander is the most recent example. Three straight seasons of 13 regular-season wins couldn’t culminate in a Super Bowl appearance, but they’ll run it back again in a weak NFC in 2022 despite the Davante Adams loss.
The credit card bill always comes due, and Rodgers could leave Green Bay with an absurd dead cap charge down the road, but they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.
HOUSTON TEXANS — Rank: 30th
The Texans finally moved Watson and used their first of three extra first-round picks on offensive lineman Kenyon Green in this year’s draft, bolstering a unit that could quietly thrive in 2022 if Laremy Tunsil can stay healthy for the season.
After spending the most cash in the NFL in 2020 and lacking draft capital for years, general manager Nick Caserio was dealt one of the worst possible hands at the outset. Though it took some pains to get here — Houston’s $52.7 million in 2022 dead cap is the third-most in the NFL — the Texans are finally trending in the right direction.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS — Rank: 4th
Even after extending three core members of their 2018 draft class in linebacker Darius Leonard, right tackle Braden Smith, and running back Nyheim Hines, the Colts have maintained a healthy budget. However, guard Quenton Nelson is entering his fifth-year option season with the maximum $13.754 million value and will be presumably looking to explode the guard market beyond Jaguars guard Brandon Scherff’s $16.5 million per year.
Offseason additions in Stephon Gilmore and Yannick Ngakoue should have the Colts right in the thick of things as always, and they could still add a few more pieces if they wanted to, perhaps reuniting wide receiver Julio Jones with their new quarterback in the recently acquired Matt Ryan, or bringing back fan-favorite T.Y. Hilton for one more run. Ryan may not be playing at an MVP level as he did back in 2016, but he’s a marked upgrade over Carson Wentz. This team, once again, has lofty expectations.
One piece of business the Colts may need to attend to before the season kicks off is an extension for slot cornerback Kenny Moore II, who is apparently seeking a new deal after several years as one of the best slot defenders across the league.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS — Rank: 24th
The Jaguars went on a crazy spending spree this offseason, agreeing to a handful of big-money deals that seemed to ignore or just misunderstand the league-wide market. Nevertheless, they had a lot of cash to burn and a young quarterback in Trevor Lawrence who was desperate for help, so they found reinforcements in a hurry.
There has been a league-wide trend over the last few years of aggressive spending as young quarterbacks enter the third year of their rookie contracts (see: Cardinals and Giants last offseason, Browns, Bills, Ravens after the 2020 season). Here, Jacksonville got ahead of the trend and probably has a lot of faith in Lawrence to lead this improved group to meaningful late-season football sooner rather than later.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS — Rank: 11th
Kansas City lost two vital pieces of the roster that pushed it to four straight AFC Championship game appearances from 2018-2021 in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and safety Tyrann Mathieu, but tough decisions like these are how you create a 10-year Super Bowl window instead of a five-year one.
In the short term, they’ll have some growing pains as Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and second-round pick Skyy Moore headline a new receiving corps, but they could do a lot worse in surrounding tight end Travis Kelce with ancillary weapons.
On the other hand, tackle Orlando Brown Jr. has yet to sign his franchise tender with the July 15 extension deadline fast approaching, and he hasn’t given an inch in negotiations, which is the leverage a player gains after a team trades major draft capital to acquire their services. Kansas City may have no choice but to make him the highest-paid tackle in the NFL, and it’s fair to question if his on-field production is worth that price tag.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS — Rank: 29th
The Raiders arguably have more pressure to perform than any team in the NFL entering the 2022 campaign, as the team has lofty expectations after a playoff bid was followed by massive acquisitions of wide receiver Davante Adams and edge defender Chandler Jones in addition to extensions for quarterback Derek Carr and edge defender Maxx Crosby. Both extensions are very team-friendly, and, in theory, could set up the team for years to come.
New head coach Josh McDaniels elected to undergo a rebuild with the Broncos the last time he was made a head coach and clearly is not interested in going down that road again. That said, the Raiders still have, by far, the longest odds to win the AFC West at +650 on DraftKings Sportsbook, and they are not favored to make the playoffs again. With so much invested in players on the back nine of their careers, the potential for disaster is objectively high in Las Vegas.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS — Rank: 5th
Like the Bengals, we discussed last offseason how the Chargers were set up for the future and could add a lot more talent around phenom quarterback Justin Herbert if he continued to improve. Improve he did, and the team wasted no time spending big money on the other side of the ball to round out a roster that narrowly missed the playoffs in 2021.
A trade for edge defender Khalil Mack, who reunites with head coach Brandon Staley and teams up with Joey Bosa, creates arguably the best pass rush duo in the NFL. Add in Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Morgan Fox on the interior, and the team’s biggest weakness has become a notable strength. The J.C. Jackson signing bolsters a secondary that needed a true No. 1 coverage player, which leaves off-ball linebacker as the only true weakness on the roster.
Teams like the Los Angeles Rams have never made it a priority to spend at off-ball linebacker, and Brandon Staley had their defense firing on all cylinders in 2020. This team is absolutely loaded on paper, so the sky is the limit.
LOS ANGELES RAMS — Rank: 27th
With the highest cash spend in the NFL for 2022 at $293 million, Los Angeles is spending almost $150 million more on its roster than the 32nd-ranked Chicago Bears at $148 million. The Rams rewarded their top offensive and defensive players coming off a Super Bowl win with monster extensions/raises for quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and interior defender Aaron Donald.
The Von Miller loss likely helped pave the way for the arrival of wide receiver Allen Robinson II in free agency, and the Rams also added linebacker Bobby Wagner for good measure. Stafford’s team-friendly deal will help them out for the next few years as they continue to kick their cap obligations down the road.
MIAMI DOLPHINS — Rank: 7th
Miami, much like the Raiders, took a gamble with a major spending spree this offseason that still finds them on the outside of the playoff picture looking in according to DraftKings Sportsbook odds (the Dolphins have -175 odds to miss the playoffs in 2022). However, they were extremely crafty with two moves they made in particular.
First, in acquiring wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs to perhaps create the fastest wide receiver duo in NFL history, they retained both of their first-round picks in 2023. If they don’t love what they see from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in his third season, they have the ammo to potentially trade up to draft another top prospect
Second, they waited out the market on left tackle Terron Armstead before agreeing to terms on a five-year, $75 million deal. Armstead has dealt with injuries in the past, including 2021, but there’s a solid argument this was the entire offseason's best value deal.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS — Rank: 14th
A new regime in Minnesota largely maintained the status quo this offseason, but to their credit, the Vikings didn’t do anything to jeopardize their ability to revamp this roster long-term. A complete teardown was sought by many, and still may prove to have been the better approach, but with a weak NFC North and NFC at large, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that they elected to take at least one more shot with this nucleus of players.
Most importantly, Kirk Cousins‘ one-year extension was effectively just proactively franchise-tagging a player who cannot realistically be franchise-tagged again in his career after receiving two tags from the Washington Commanders. Cousins’ one-year, $35 million extension leaves the door open for a trade after the 2022 season if Minnesota elects to finally move on and start fresh.
New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was left with one of the more difficult decisions a new decision-maker can possibly face, as edge defender Danielle Hunter‘s $18 million roster bonus was due just a few days into the 2022 league year after injuries derailed his second consecutive season. Hunter will still be just 28 years old after the upcoming season, and there were no good alternatives available besides restructuring the bonus and kicking the cap hits down the road. A trade would have returned poor value, and finding a middle ground on an extension would have been very difficult.
Long story short, absent a total rebuild, this was probably the smartest way for the Vikings to approach the offseason, as they bought themselves time to let things play out and allow their 2022 results to choose a direction for them.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS — Rank: 3rd
Based on his strong performance out of the gate as a rookie and the fact that he slid all the way to pick No. 15 in the 2021 Draft, Mac Jones arguably has one of the best surplus-value contracts in the entire NFL. That alone can go a long way in rankings like these; though, there are people that think his ceiling is not as high as other prospects at the position.
A year after spending the most total guaranteed dollars on free agents in NFL history, the Patriots pivoted back to their usual ways of picking their spots here and there on mid-tier free agents, ranking 29th in total guarantees given at just over $27 million.
The Patriots got off to a great start in their quest to ascend back to the mountaintop, reaching the playoffs in Jones’ first season. They took a big swing on wide receiver DeVante Parker via an intra-division trade with the Dolphins in addition to making a few draft picks that had people — both inside and outside the league — scratching their heads, but they’re in a healthy spot going forward.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — Rank: 32nd
The Saints get more or less the same write-up each offseason when it comes to salary cap health, and they just keep plugging along without a care in the world. Nevertheless, the Saints missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons in 2021, lost tackle Terron Armstead and safety Marcus Williams to free agency, and have Jameis Winston — who is recovering from a torn ACL — as their starting quarterback.
Sean Payton was able to lead the team to a winning record despite starting four different quarterbacks, and plenty of credit is owed to new head coach Dennis Allen for running a formidable defensive unit.
On the plus side, the return of LSU legends in safety Tyrann Mathieu and wide receiver Jarvis Landry to Louisiana will provide a boost on both sides of the ball, as will wide receiver Michael Thomas‘ return after missing the entire 2021 season. In a very weak NFC South outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a wildcard berth seems realistic, but does pushing all this cap down the road on aging players still make sense long-term?
NEW YORK GIANTS — Rank: 9th
After spending a ton last offseason on wide receiver Kenny Golladay and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, among others, the Giants’ new brass went the opposite direction heading into 2022, most notably releasing cornerback James Bradberry after a lengthy attempt to find a trade partner.
The old regime left some gifts behind as well though, with the 2022 first-round pick they acquired from the Bears turning into No. 7 overall pick tackle Evan Neal. Pairing Edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux to go with Neal is the type of first-round haul that can legitimately change the course of a franchise in one offseason.
The Giants have the most active draft capital in the NFL and the second-most effective cap space from 2022-2024 — that’s how a franchise turns things around in a hurry after five awful seasons.
NEW YORK JETS — Rank: 6th
The Jets trail only their co-tenant (Giants) when it comes to active draft capital, making three first-round selections in this year’s draft after adding two first-rounders in 2021. Over the last two drafts, they’ve made seven selections in the top 36 picks — a good way to add premium talent.
General manager Joe Douglas was once again active in free agency without splurging on one particular player, solidifying the offensive line with the addition of guard Laken Tomlinson — who is familiar with the coaching staff from their time together in San Francisco. The Jets also turned a major weakness at the tight end spot into a formidable trio of C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin and rookie Jeremy Ruckert. On defense, the additions of cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead were calculated expenditures that should dramatically improve a poor secondary.
We’ve praised the roster construction approach on a macro- and micro-level the last few years, and for good reason, but even in a vaunted AFC conference, it’s time for this Jets team to legitimately expect to be in every game it plays, even if it doesn’t win a ton of them.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — Rank: 31st
No one wheels and deals quite like Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, and his negotiating prowess was on full display all offseason long. Philadelphia turned three first-round picks into freakishly athletic nose tackle Jordan Davis, phenom wide receiver A.J. Brown, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick.
Two moves from last offseason — tight end Dallas Goedert and left tackle Jordan Mailata‘s early extensions — aged masterfully. It’s proactive decisions like those that enable teams like Philadelphia to spend so much cash and prorate a staggering amount of money without completely folding.
We mentioned earlier that the Dolphins smartly held on to their extra first-round pick in 2023 in case they feel the need to make a change at quarterback. While all the reviews out of camp on quarterback Jalen Hurts are glowing so far, Philadelphia also smartly left this door open. While the Eagles have kicked the can down the road even more than the Saints — no easy feat — extra draft capital is arguably the best way to combat its negative effects.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS — Rank: 10th
The Steelers were able to see their way through the end of the Ben Roethlisberger era without too much lasting damage — in part because of their efforts to negotiate a pay cut as he entered his final season in 2021.
They have their work cut out for them in a strong AFC North as head coach Mike Tomlin looks to continue his streak of fifteen consecutive seasons without a losing record, but they were able to spend in free agency this offseason — something they generally don’t care much for regardless of their financial standing — which could go a long way in keeping that record intact.
An unfortunate early retirement from standout interior defender Stephon Tuitt, who tragically lost his brother in a hit-and-run in 2021 and was away from football last season, leaves a big void on the interior of Pittsburgh’s defense. The unit is loaded with talent elsewhere, including the league’s new highest-paid safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The main driving force behind Pittsburgh’s relatively healthy cap is the fact its entire arsenal of offensive weapons is on rookie contracts, and it's one of the stronger top-to-bottom units in the NFL no less. Add in first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett, and you see how the Steelers rank dead last in total cap allocation on offense at just $61.1 million. This helps to offset the defense, which has the second-most cap allocated to it in the NFL at $117 million.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS — Rank: 20th
The 49ers are the team on this list that could change their situation the most dramatically between now and Week 1. First, they could clear a bunch of money off the books and add some future draft capital by trading quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Second, they could drastically reduce their league-leading 2023 UFA valuation ranking via the Garoppolo trade and by extending wide receiver Deebo Samuel to a big-time extension.
The benefit of quarterback Trey Lance’s rookie contract will help offset what will likely be two contracts that average at least $25 million per year in Samuel and edge defender Nick Bosa, but they won’t have a ton of room to add many more external free agents after accounting for in-house extensions. This core has made two out of the last three NFC championships with Garoppolo under center, and if Lance can be the upgrade they envisioned when they traded up to draft him in 2021, they won’t need much more help.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS — Rank: 17th
It’s a bit hard to grasp what direction Seattle is looking to go, landing just outside the top 10 in total guarantees spent on free agents this offseason after trading quarterback Russell Wilson to the Broncos.
Seattle has little talent to speak of at cornerback yet will now pay more than $30 million per year at safety between Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. They also agreed to terms on a very strong three-year extension for tight end Will Dissly shortly after acquiring tight end Noah Fant from the Broncos in the Wilson trade.
All of that said, they’ll have an extra first- and second-round pick in the 2023 Draft to land their quarterback of the future, and he could potentially step into a great situation — that is, if Seattle chooses to extend star wide receiver DK Metcalf, who is looking for a big bag of cash as soon as possible. Will the Seahawks give Metcalf something in the range of $25 million per year with Tyler Lockett already making $17.25 million per year and no set quarterback at the moment?
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS — Rank: 18th
Tampa’s loaded roster got even more loaded recently with the addition of interior defender Akiem Hicks, who can still perform at a very high level when healthy. Quarterback Tom Brady’s best pal in tight end Rob Gronkowski is also expected back at some point before Week 1, which would give them our most valuable top 51 veteran valuation in the NFL.
Just like the Packers, the Buccaneers have zero reasons to care about their long-term salary cap health at the moment. But to their credit, they’ve been smart with their books for a long time, and it’s enabled them to build these super teams for a few years in a row.
Things don’t get any easier going forward, with a lot of quality players set to become free agents after 2022, and with 2019 fifth overall pick Devin White perhaps looking to become the NFL’s first $20 million per year off-ball linebacker eventually.
TENNESSEE TITANS — Rank: 22nd
A year after pushing their chips in with a trade for wide receiver Julio Jones, the Titans cut Jones and traded away wide receiver A.J. Brown to avoid paying the eventual four-year, $100 million extension that he received from the Eagles. Tennessee managed to earn the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs this year despite a record number of injuries, but now recognize the franchise may need to start over after Ryan Tannehill’s final season with any guarantees in 2022.
This will be Malik Willis’ football team before long, and first-round rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks is the plan to replace Brown once that day comes. Things look bleak now, but this was a long-term plan that shows general manager Jon Robinson learned from his days spent in New England.
Interior defender Jeffery Simmons was completely dominant at times this season and is the primary benefactor of Aaron Donald‘s raise this offseason. Of course, no one compares to Donald, but Simmons will use his new deal as something of a benchmark in negotiations to land a monster extension soon.
WASHINGTON COMMANDERS — Rank: 2nd
Washington’s annual offseason of distractions is well underway, and wide receiver Terry McLaurin and interior defender Daron Payne‘s contract holdouts are at the top of the list. Most importantly, this means McLaurin hasn’t been able to develop chemistry with new quarterback Carson Wentz as he awaits a well-deserved extension.
All of that said, Washington fares very well in our rankings, perhaps surprisingly well. The Commanders have invested a lot of money and draft capital at premium positions — edge defender, wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback, etc. — and they still have a lot of resources available, as the Commanders gave out the fewest total guarantees of any team in the NFL in free agency this offseason at just over $22 million.
The off-ball linebacker position group remains a somewhat glaring weakness outside of 2021 first-round pick Jamin Davis — who is expected to greatly improve on his rookie season — but there really aren’t many other holes to point to on this roster — if Wentz plays well.