Largest 2015 Cap Hits By Team: NFC North

Between now and the start of NFL training camps, 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 today we’ll head up to the NFC North.

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

Chicago Bears:

  1. Jay Cutler, QB: $16,500,000
  2. Jared Allen, DE/OLB: $12,500,000
  3. Matt Forte, RB: $9,200,000
  4. Jermon Bushrod, LT: $8,050,000
  5. Lamarr Houston, DE/OLB: $6,990,000
  6. Pernell McPhee, OLB: $6,675,000
  7. Martellus Bennett, TE: $6,125,000
  8. Brandon Marshall, WR: $5,625,000 (dead money)
  9. Eddie Royal, WR: $5,500,000
  10. Tim Jennings, CB: $5,250,000
    Total: $77,690,000

There are a couple missteps among the Bears’ top cap hits, but most of the players on this list are expected to be key contributors in the 2015 season, which is more than can be said for some teams. Still, it’s fair to wonder if the Bears would’ve made such big commitments to Allen and Houston if they knew they’d be bringing in a 3-4 defensive coordinator (Vic Fangio) this year — I’m guessing not.

The placement of two wideouts near the bottom of the Chicago top 10 is also worth noting. Marshall’s dead money charge couldn’t be avoided once the club decided to move on from him, but how effective will Royal be replacing Marshall’s production? His contract raised a few eyebrows around the league this offseason, as the Bears seem to be counting heavily on the veteran receiver recreating the rapport he had with Cutler back in Denver.

While offseason signees McPhee and Royal earn spots on this list, two players in the top 10 are seeking new contracts, as both Forte and Bennett skipped OTAs this spring. Bennett still has a couple years left on his deal, while Forte is entering a contract year.

Detroit Lions:

  1. Calvin Johnson, WR: $20,558,000
  2. Matthew Stafford, QB: $17,721,250
  3. Ndamukong Suh, DT: $9,737,500 (dead money)
  4. Haloti Ngata, DT: $8,500,000
  5. Stephen Tulloch, LB: $5,800,000
  6. Golden Tate, WR: $5,350,000
  7. Ezekiel Ansah, DE: $5,071,228
  8. DeAndre Levy, LB: $4,500,000
  9. Jason Jones, DE: $3,983,334
  10. Chris Houston, CB: $3,900,000 (dead money)
    Total: $85,121,312

No team we’ve examined so far has a combined top-10 cap number higher than the Lions’ $85MM+ figure. That amount is heavily impacted by the team’s “big three” of Johnson, Stafford, and Suh. Considering Suh counts for nearly $10MM against Detroit’s cap even now that he’s not on the team, it’s scary to think what his cap hit might have looked like in 2015 and future years if he had been re-signed.

Despite Suh’s departure, the Lions are still investing a significant chunk of cap space into their defensive line, with Ngata, Ansah, and Jones also in the top 10. With the Pro Bowler gone, it remains to be seen how productive that line can be going forward.

Given the two dead-money charges in Detroit’s top 10, along with the presence of multiple players coming back from injury-plagued 2014 campaigns, you could make the case that the Lions’ top 10 cap numbers are the worst of any in the NFC North — we’ll see if that catches up to the club this year on the heels of a successful 2014 season.

Green Bay Packers:

  1. Aaron Rodgers, QB: $18,250,000
  2. Clay Matthews, OLB: $12,700,000
  3. Julius Peppers, DE/OLB: $12,000,000
  4. Sam Shields, CB: $9,062,500
  5. Josh Sitton, G: $7,000,000
  6. T.J. Lang, G: $5,800,000
  7. Randall Cobb, WR: $5,350,000
  8. Morgan Burnett, S: $5,131,250
  9. Jordy Nelson, WR: $4,600,000
  10. Mike Neal, DL: $4,250,000
    Total: $84,143,750

The total cap cost of the Packers’ top 10 charges nearly equals that of the Lions, but Green Bay’s list is devoid of any dead money, and half of these players earned Pro Bowl spots last season. Two of those Pro Bowlers were Cobb and Nelson, whose cap hits will be on the rise after the 2015 season, with Cobb’s increasing to $12.75MM by 2017, while Nelson’s will be $11.55MM that same year.

Rodgers’ $18.25MM cap number represents the second-largest charge in the division for 2015, and bumps up Green Bay’s combined top-10 total, but the perennial MVP candidate is still a bargain at that price. There’s no doubt that any NFL team would rather carry Rodgers at $18.25MM than Stafford at $17.72MM or Cutler at $16.5MM.

A $12MM cap hit for a defensive player entering his age-35 season typically isn’t a great use of space, but Peppers was impressive in his first year in Green Bay, forcing six fumbles and returning two interceptions for touchdowns, in addition to recording seven sacks — he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-best 3-4 outside linebacker in 2014 (subscription required), so that cap number is manageable.

Minnesota Vikings:

  1. Adrian Peterson, RB: $15,400,000
  2. Mike Wallace, WR: $9,900,000
  3. Everson Griffen, DE: $8,200,000
  4. John Sullivan, C: $7,333,333
  5. Phil Loadholt, RT: $6,750,000
  6. Kyle Rudolph, TE: $6,440,625
  7. Matt Kalil, LT: $6,290,644
  8. Greg Jennings, WR: $6,000,000 (dead money)
  9. Brian Robison, DE: $5,650,000
  10. Chad Greenway, LB: $5,575,000
    Total: $77,539,602

The fact that Teddy Bridgewater is so inexpensive for the Vikings means they can allocate their cap room to other positions, and the team’s top-10 list is heavy on offensive skill players and offensive and defensive linemen. The list also features a mix of good and bad investments.

Among those bad investments: Jennings, who will count for $6MM in dead money against the club’s cap after being released earlier in the offseason. He and Wallace will combine for a cap number of nearly $16MM, which is way too much to pay for two veteran receivers whose best years may be behind them, particularly when one’s not even on the roster anymore. The Vikes will hope a change of scenery rejuvenates Wallace, but the former Steeler didn’t put up No. 1 receiver numbers in Miami.

Peterson is the most interesting case, sitting atop the Vikings’ top-10 list by a comfortable margin. The former MVP was still one of the league’s best running backs, if not the best, the last time we saw him on the field. But $15.4MM is a huge cap hit for any running back, and Peterson is 30 years old and coming off a lost season. It’s no wonder he wants to get a portion of his 2016 salary guaranteed — a down year could spell the end of Peterson’s time in Minnesota, given his pricey cap charge.

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

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