Largest 2015 Cap Hits By Team: AFC South

Before NFL training camps get underway later this month, we’ll be taking a closer look at the top 2015 cap hits for teams around the league. We began our series in June by focusing on the NFC East and AFC East divisions, and last week we looked at the NFC North, AFC North, and NFC South. Today, we’ll head back to the AFC to examine the South division.

Listed below are the top 10 cap hits for the coming season for each of the four AFC South franchises, accompanied by some observations on the spending habits of those clubs. Let’s dive in….

Houston Texans:

  1. J.J. Watt, DL: $13,969,000
  2. Johnathan Joseph, CB: $11,750,000
  3. Duane Brown, LT: $9,500,000
  4. Arian Foster, RB: $8,706,250
  5. Brian Cushing, LB: $7,891,250
  6. Kareem Jackson, CB: $7,453,125
  7. Andre Johnson, WR: $7,319,585 (dead money)
  8. Brian Hoyer, QB: $5,218,750
  9. Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB: $5,062,045
  10. Derek Newton, RT: $4,500,000
    Total: $81,370,005

Not many players have an interior defensive lineman atop their list of cap hits, but no other team has an interior defensive lineman that has the same impact on the field that Watt does. Without a top quarterback to pay, the Texans are able to devote a significant chunk of cap space to defensive players like Watt. Of course, the All-Pro had originally been slated to have an even higher cap number in 2015 before a restructure reduced that figure by $8MM.

Joseph, Cushing, and Jackson are the notable defenders besides Watt taking up sizable pieces of cap room, and their performances will go a long way to determining how the Houston defense performs this season, and what sort of value the Texans are getting out of their top 10 cap hits.

Cushing stayed mostly healthy in 2014 after missing more games than he played in 2012 and 2013, but it wasn’t one of his better seasons. Joseph, meanwhile, has been effective but perhaps overpriced — an extension this offseason added two seasons to his contract at a rate of $7MM per year, which is a more reasonable rate. As for Jackson, he re-upped with the Texans in the offseason, so this will be the first year of his new deal with the team.

Indianapolis Colts:

  1. Vontae Davis, CB: $11,250,000
  2. Andre Johnson, WR: $7,500,000
  3. Robert Mathis, OLB: $7,470,586
  4. Anthony Castonzo, LT: $7,438,000
  5. Arthur Jones, DL: $7,100,000
  6. Andrew Luck, QB: $7,034,363
  7. Trent Cole, OLB: $6,953,125
  8. Gosder Cherilus, RT: $6,900,000
  9. Greg Toler, CB: $5,833,334
  10. D’Qwell Jackson, LB: $5,750,000
    Total: $73,229,408

With only one player on the roster whose cap hit exceeds $7.5MM, the Colts have loaded up on players in that $5MM-7.5MM range — everyone but Davis on this list is separated by a mere $1.75MM. Of course, some of those players will likely eventually have to take pay cuts or be released when Luck’s big payday arrives, but for now, the fact that the former No. 1 pick remains on his rookie contract allows the Colts to surround him with several mid-level investments.

Of course, one reason the Colts were able to add several of these players at reasonable prices is that many are likely past their primes. Mathis is 34, Cole will turn 33 in October, and Jackson will turn 32 in September. Those veterans are expected to be key contributors on defense, and if their performances don’t match up to their salaries, we could see them become release candidates a year from now.

The other noteworthy veteran on this list is Johnson, who shows up on two separate top-10 lists in the AFC South, since he’s still counting for over $7MM in dead money on the Texans’ cap. The standout receiver will turn 34 later this week. However, taking into account the numbers he has posted in recent years in Houston while playing with mediocre quarterbacks, it’s not hard to see why the Colts were willing to commit a decent portion of cap room to him this year to see what he can do with Luck.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

  1. Julius Thomas, TE: $10,300,000
  2. Jared Odrick, DL: $9,000,000
  3. Jermey Parnell, RT: $8,000,000
  4. Paul Posluszny, LB: $6,885,416
  5. Davon House, CB: $6,500,000
  6. Luke Joeckel, LT: $5,782,254
  7. Sen’Derrick Marks, DT: $5,425,000
  8. Zane Beadles, G: $5,000,000
  9. Chris Clemons, DE: $5,000,000
  10. Blake Bortles, QB: $4,694,273
    Total: $66,586,943

The first few names on the Jaguars’ list of top 10 cap hits reads like a who’s-who of the team’s offseason free agent signings. Thomas, Odrick, Parnell, and House all headed to Jacksonville as free agents in March, while Posluszny reworked his deal with the club.

Most of the time, cap numbers for newly-signed players start small before increasing in the later years of their contracts, but the huge amount of cap room Jacksonville held heading into the offseason allowed the team to frontload those deals — the 2015 cap numbers for those four free agent signees all exceed the annual values of their contracts. In 2016, their combined cap hits will total $27.8MM, as opposed to $33.8MM this year.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Jaguars’ free agent class performs in 2015, since players like Parnell and House weren’t even starters for their old teams. But, like every other team in the AFC South, Jacksonville isn’t currently devoting big bucks to its quarterback, which gives the club the flexibility to roll the dice on these players with upside. If they don’t pan out, they’ll be gone long before Bortles reaches his second contract.

Tennessee Titans:

  1. Jason McCourty, CB: $8,600,000
  2. Andy Levitre, G: $8,600,000
  3. Michael Griffin, S: $8,100,000
  4. Jurrell Casey, DL: $6,720,000
  5. Delanie Walker, TE: $5,275,000
  6. Sammie Lee Hill, DT: $4,666,668
  7. Brian Orakpo, OLB: $4,468,750
  8. Derrick Morgan, OLB: $4,000,000
  9. Da’Norris Searcy, S: $3,625,000
  10. Ropati Pitoitua, DL: $3,612,500
    Total: $57,667,918

No team that we’ve examined in our series so far has a smaller No. 1 cap charge than the Titans, whose $8.6MM figures for McCourty and Levitre pale in comparison to some other cap hits around the league — you could triple that number and still not match Drew Brees‘ $26.4MM, for instance. The lack of an eight-digit cap hit for any player ensures that the Titans’ top 10 players count for only about $57.67MM overall against the cap, which is also easily the lowest figure we’ve encountered so far.

With nearly $26MM in cap room still remaining, the Titans have more space than every other NFL team except the Jaguars, and it’s a little curious that the Titans didn’t emulate their division rivals when it comes to structuring free agent contracts. Orakpo, Morgan, and Searcy all signed free agent deals with Tennessee this spring, but those contracts aren’t nearly as frontloaded as Jacksonville’s. That trio will count for $20.785MM against the Titans’ 2016 cap, nearly doubling their combined total for 2015.

Of course, there’s one notable name missing from this list, as first-round pick Marcus Mariota has yet to sign his rookie deal with the Titans. As the second overall pick, Mariota will be in line for a 2015 cap number of $4,402,541 when he eventually signs his contract, which would place him eighth on this list, bumping off Pitoitua.

Information from Over the Cap was used in the creation of this post.

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2 comments on “Largest 2015 Cap Hits By Team: AFC South

  1. Dallas Robinson

    Jeremy Parnell is now the third-highest paid right tackle in the league in terms of AAV — he has seven starts in four seasons. He’s also not young, as he’ll be 29 in two weeks.

    This contract reminds of the debates Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays have had on the Grantland NFL podcast, with Mays arguing (in reference to the Alex Mack offer sheet, I believe) that the Jags have to spend money somewhere. Still, a near-30 right tackle with basically no experience is a weird place to start.

    • Luke Adams

      I do recall those debates, and I typically sided with Mays. I actually think it almost makes more sense for the Jags to invest in guys like Parnell and House than it does for them to add someone like Odrick. At least with the former two guys, there’s some upside — they’re not known quantities, so you could end up getting a bargain if they turn out to be better than expected when given a starting job to run with. If not, then you should be able to get out of the contract after a couple years, and it won’t have taken a huge toll on your cap, since you still have so much room.

      Of course, as you point out, at the rate Parnell is being paid, he’d have to basically become the league’s best right tackle to be considered a “bargain,” so maybe those expectations aren’t realistic.

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