The largest free agent contracts of 2015 featured some massive numbers, as we noted last month when we broke down this year’s biggest deals. However, due to the way new contracts are structured, many of those big free agent contracts won’t rank among 2015’s top cap hits. While guaranteed money is typically frontloaded on the first couple years of new agreements, teams can structure contracts to ensure that larger cap hits come later on in the life of the deal, and often those cap charges will be reduced or eliminated altogether when the guaranteed money runs out.
It makes sense then that many of this year’s biggest cap numbers are part of contracts that were signed two or three years ago. For the most part, these players haven’t seen their performances fall off significantly, so their teams are still willing to swallow exorbitant cap charges to keep them on the roster.
Of course, that’s not always the case. In a couple instances, these sizable cap hits can be attributed to a player who is no longer on his team’s roster. Most notably, the league’s second-largest cap number for 2015 among running backs belongs to Ray Rice, who is counting for $9.5MM against the Ravens’ cap after the team released him last September.
We’ll tackle defense and special teams later, but for now, here are the top 10 cap hits by position for offensive players in 2015, with a few notes and observations accompanying the figures:
- Drew Brees (Saints): $26.4MM
- Eli Manning (Giants): $19.75MM
- Matt Ryan (Falcons): $19.5MM
- Aaron Rodgers (Packers): $18.25MM
- Matthew Stafford (Lions): $17.721MM
- Peyton Manning (Broncos): $17.5MM
- Philip Rivers (Chargers): $17.417MM
- Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers): $17.245MM
- Jay Cutler (Bears): $16.5MM
- Alex Smith (Chiefs): $15.6MM
- Quarterbacks who recently signed big-money extensions, such as Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill, and Cam Newton, may find their way onto this list in future seasons, but for now their cap numbers are relatively modest.
- It’s a little surprising not to see Tony Romo and Joe Flacco here, but they’ll likely make next year’s list, barring significant restructures, as Romo’s charge jumps to $20.835MM, while Flacco’s nearly doubles to $28.55MM.
- Other players notably absent from this list include three of the four quarterbacks who participated in last season’s championship games — Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck are still playing out their rookie contracts, while Tom Brady‘s cap number is just $14MM.
- Adrian Peterson (Vikings): $15.4MM
- Ray Rice (Ravens): $9.5MM (dead money)
- Matt Forte (Bears): $9.2MM
- Arian Foster (Texans): $8.906MM
- Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks): $8.5MM
- Jonathan Stewart (Panthers): $8.3MM
- Jamaal Charles (Chiefs): $7.971MM
- LeSean McCoy (Bills): $5.5MM
- DeMarco Murray (Eagles): $5MM
- Frank Gore (Colts): $4.5MM
- For all the talk we heard this offseason of the running back position regaining its value, when Lynch, McCoy, and Murray signed big contracts and two backs were drafted in the top 15, most teams still aren’t devoting much of their cap space to a top RB. Besides the center spot, no offensive position has a cap charge as low as Gore’s $4.5MM within its top 10.
- Stewart looks a little out of place here among many of the NFL’s best running backs, but he’s not the only running back chewing up valuable cap space for the Panthers. The team has a dead money charge of $4.333MM on its books for DeAngelo Williams this year.
- Calvin Johnson (Lions): $20.558MM
- Dez Bryant (Cowboys): $12.823MM
- Demaryius Thomas (Broncos): $12.823MM
- Vincent Jackson (Buccaneers): $12.21MM
- Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals): $10.85MM
- A.J. Green (Bengals): $10.176MM
- Julio Jones (Falcons): $10.176MM
- Mike Wallace (Vikings): $9.9MM
- Antonio Brown (Steelers): $9.788MM
- Pierre Garcon (Washington): $9.7MM
- If they work out long-term extensions with their respective teams by July 15, Bryant and Thomas may see their cap numbers dip for 2015. Their current figures are based on the one-year franchise tag salary. Green and Jones are in a similar boat, as their $10.176MM salaries are equal to their fifth-year option amounts.
- Although Andre Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, and Percy Harvin didn’t crack the top 10, they would have if you consider their cap hits for multiple teams — Johnson will count for a total of $14.82MM for the Colts and Texans, Bowe will count for a combined $13.394MM for the Browns and Chiefs, and Harvin’s combined cap hit for the Bills and Seahawks is $11.2MM.
- Despite signing a $55MM contract with the Chiefs this offseason, Jeremy Maclin‘s $3.4MM cap hit for 2015 places him well off this list. His cap number soars to $12.4MM in 2016.
- Julius Thomas (Jaguars): $10.3MM
- Antonio Gates (Chargers): $9.763MM
- Jimmy Graham (Saints): $9MM (dead money)
- Rob Gronkowski (Patriots): $8.65MM
- Jason Witten (Cowboys): $8.512MM
- Jared Cook (Rams): $8.3MM
- Jimmy Graham (Seahawks): $8MM
- Vernon Davis (49ers): $6.968MM
- Kyle Rudolph (Vikings): $6.55MM
- Greg Olsen (Panthers): $6.3MM
- The only offensive player to make a top-10 list twice, Graham will count against the Saints‘ books for $9MM in dead money this year following his trade to the Seahawks, due to the acceleration of his prorated bonus money.
- The Jaguars, who entered the offseason armed with more cap room than any other team, didn’t have any motivation to keep Thomas’ first-year hit low. His cap hit for 2016 will actually decrease, to $7.3MM.
- I expect the Bills to restructure Charles Clay‘s new contract in 2016, but either way, he figures to show up on this list next year. His ’16 cap hit is currently $13.5MM.
- Trent Williams (Washington): $14.23MM
- D’Brickashaw Ferguson (Jets): $11.699MM
- Branden Albert (Dolphins): $10.725MM
- Ryan Clady (Broncos): $10.6MM
- Joe Thomas (Browns): $10.2MM
- Duane Brown (Texans): $9.5MM
- Jason Peters (Eagles): $9.05MM
- Jared Veldheer (Cardinals): $8.5MM
- Will Beatty (Giants): $8.05MM
- Jermon Bushrod (Bears): $8.05MM
- Two of the 10 players listed here have already sustained significant injuries — Clady will be out for the season with a torn ACL, while a pectoral injury is expected to sideline Beatty until November.
- Unsurprisingly, this list is made up of 10 left tackles, as the players tasked with protecting quarterbacks’ blind sides are paid significantly better than their counterparts on the right side.
- The highest 2015 cap number for a right tackle belongs to Jermey Parnell ($8MM), a free agent signee by the Jaguars who has started seven career games. As they did with Thomas’ deal, the Jags frontloaded the cap hit on Parnell’s contract — from 2016 to 2019, Parnell’s cap charges range from $5MM to $6.5MM.
- Andy Levitre (Titans): $8.6MM
- Marshal Yanda (Ravens): $8.45MM
- Rodger Saffold (Rams): $8.25MM
- Jahri Evans (Saints): $7MM
- Logan Mankins (Buccaneers): $7MM
- Josh Sitton (Packers): $7MM
- Mike Iupati (Cardinals): $6.7MM
- Evan Mathis (Eagles): $6.5MM
- Louis Vasquez (Broncos): $6.25MM
- T.J. Lang (Packers): $5.8MM
- One marquee free agent guard, Iupati, earned a spot on this list, while another, Orlando Franklin, fell outside the top 10. Franklin could crack the list next season, when his cap number rises from $4.4MM to $6.9MM.
- Although they fell outside the top 10, Carl Nicks ($4.714MM) and Justin Blalock ($4.12MM) have sizable dead money cap charges for the Buccaneers and Falcons respectively.
- With two guards in the top 10 for 2015 cap hits, it’s easy to understand why the Packers pushed to keep tackle Bryan Bulaga‘s price tag down when they signed him to a five-year extension back in March.
- Rodney Hudson (Raiders): $13MM
- Ryan Kalil (Panthers): $11.795MM
- Nick Mangold (Jets): $10.407MM
- Alex Mack (Browns): $8MM
- John Sullivan (Vikings): $7.333MM
- Mike Pouncey (Dolphins): $7MM
- Eric Wood (Bills): $6.65MM
- Max Unger (Saints): $4.5MM
- Jason Kelce (Eagles): $4.4MM
- Kory Lichtensteiger (Washington): $4.3MM
- The Raiders, like the Jaguars, had a ton of 2015 cap space to burn this offseason, so Hudson’s $13MM charge is an outlier. His cap hits for the subsequent four years of his deal range from $6.85MM to $8.6MM.
- Maurkice Pouncey‘s new contract is structured much differently than his brother’s, which is why the Steelers center barely missed the cut for this list. He’ll see his cap hit rise from $4.296MM in 2015 to $10.551MM next year.
Information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post.