Largest 2015 Cap Hits By Team: AFC North

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

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

Baltimore Ravens:

  1. Joe Flacco, QB: $14,550,000
  2. Ray Rice, RB: $9,500,000 (dead money)
  3. Lardarius Webb, CB: $9,250,000
  4. Marshal Yanda, G: $8,450,000
  5. Eugene Monroe, LT: $7,700,000
  6. Haloti Ngata, DT: $7,500,000 (dead money)
  7. Elvis Dumervil, OLB: $7,375,000
  8. Dennis Pitta, TE: $6,200,000
  9. Steve Smith, WR: $4,166,666
  10. Terrell Suggs, OLB: $3,950,000
    Total: $78,641,666

The Ravens have a good chunk of money tied up in players no longer on the roster or coming off injury-plagued seasons. Health issues slowed Webb and Monroe in 2014, while Pitta’s career could be in jeopardy following the latest procedure on his hip.

Still, most of the players who have top-10 cap hits – at least those still on the roster – are among Baltimore’s top contributors. The club may have to address a number of the contracts near the top of the list after the season, if not before then, as Yanda is entering a contract year while Flacco’s cap charge soars to $28MM+ in 2015.

One contract the team already addressed in recent months was Webb’s, though it remains to be seen if the team will want to commit $9.5MM in cap room to him in 2016, with fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith set to count for $9.6MM. Another restructure may be necessary for Webb to stick around.

Cincinnati Bengals:

  1. A.J. Green, WR: $10,176,000
  2. Andy Dalton, QB: $9,600,000
  3. Leon Hall, CB: $9,600,000
  4. Geno Atkins, DT: $9,000,000
  5. Rey Maualuga, LB: $7,137,500
  6. Andre Smith, RT: $6,362,500
  7. Andrew Whitworth, LT: $6,200,000
  8. Vontaze Burfict, LB: $5,175,000
  9. Clint Boling, G: $5,100,000
  10. Carlos Dunlap, DE: $4,900,000
    Total: $73,251,000

Few teams have managed their cap better than the Bengals in recent years, and their combined cap charge for their top highest-paid players is relatively modest compared to their division rivals. Not only does Cincinnati not have any dead-money players in its top 10, but the entire sum of the dead money on the team’s cap for 2015 works out to a minuscule $800K.

Despite their impressive cap management, the Bengals haven’t been able to make a deep playoff run, and typically Dalton is assigned the blame for the club’s postseason shortcomings. For now, his cap number is fairly modest, but his new contract is structured in such a way that the Bengals will be able to move on from him if they want to in future years, as his cap charge increases to the $15-17MM per year range.

Out of all 16 East and North teams we’ve examined so far, no club has a smaller No. 1 cap hit than the Bengals, with Green barely cracking eight digits. That figure could end up going even lower, since the star wideout is entering a contract year and is considered a strong candidate for an extension — a new deal might reduce his 2015 cap number, depending on how Cincinnati structures it.

Cleveland Browns:

  1. Joe Haden, CB: $11,700,000
  2. Joe Thomas, LT: $10,200,000
  3. Paul Kruger, OLB: $8,200,000
  4. Alex Mack, C: $8,000,000
  5. Desmond Bryant, DL: $7,000,000
  6. Donte Whitner, S: $6,750,000
  7. Tramon Williams, CB: $6,500,000
  8. Karlos Dansby, LB: $5,500,000
  9. Phil Taylor, DT: $5,477,000
  10. Andrew Hawkins, WR: $5,000,000
    Total: $74,327,000

Like the Bengals, the Browns have avoided taking on significant dead-money charges, but Cleveland’s top-10 list is still rather unusual. Dominated by defensive players, the list features only three offensive players, and two of them are linemen.

The only offensive skill-position player on Cleveland’s list isn’t a quarterback — it’s Hawkins, whose contract is heavily front-loaded, since he was signed as a restricted free agent and the Browns didn’t want the Bengals to match his offer sheet. After sneaking into the club’s top 10 cap hits this year, Hawkins will see his cap number dip to $1MM in 2016.

Had we extended the list to a top 15, two other offensive veterans would’ve made the cut: wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and quarterback Josh McCown, who will likely be the team’s starter this fall.

Pittsburgh Steelers:

  1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB: $17,245,000
  2. Lawrence Timmons, LB: $12,566,250
  3. Antonio Brown, WR: $9,787,500
  4. LaMarr Woodley, OLB: $8,580,000 (dead money)
  5. Cortez Allen, CB: $6,981,000
  6. Cameron Heyward, DL: $6,969,000
  7. Heath Miller, TE: $5,666,666
  8. Troy Polamalu, S: $4,500,000 (dead money)
  9. Maurkice Pouncey, C: $4,296,000
  10. Shaun Suisham, K: $3,665,000
    Total: $80,256,416

After a pair of 8-8 seasons, the Steelers bounced back in 2014 to win the division, but you wouldn’t know it to look at this list. Pittsburgh has committed more than $80MM in cap room to its top 10 players, more than any other club in the division, and there are some questionable names amongst those top 10.

Timmons is the league’s highest-paid inside linebacker, with a cap number way above the typical figures for the position; Woodley and Polamalu are no longer on the roster; Allen is coming off a disappointing season; and Suisham is the only kicker to rank among his team’s top 10 cap numbers in the division.

Despite all that, the presence of Pro Bowlers like Roethlisberger, Brown, and Pouncey salvages the Steelers’ list. Those players, along with Suisham, are among the league’s best at their respective positions, which makes it a little easier for the club to stomach some misuses of cap room elsewhere on the roster.

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

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