Building an NFL team could be easy, or at least a lot more straightforward. Unfortunately, there’s this pesky thing called a salary cap that keeps getting in your way. You can only spend so much money (a base amount of $120.735 million in 2011, and note for purposes of this post I’ll be using only a player’s cap number). Sure, you can get potentially get bargains on some players, but only for a couple years, while they’re on their rookie deals.
With that limited amount, NFL teams have to make choices. They can spend a lot of money at one position, but not at every position. If you’re the Eagles, you splurge on defensive linemen and cornerbacks and go cheap on linebackers and safeties (and defensive coordinators, but that’s a whole separate issue). Floyd Reese placed a lot of value on defensive ends and tried to go cheap on defensive tackles. Theoretically, you could even opt for a perfectly balanced team, with average spending at every position.
To try to figure out where the Titans stand, and have valued various positions, I thought it would be useful to try to figure out where they spent money by position group in 2011. To show which positions they emphasized, I also established a baseline: $3 million for a starter, $1 million for a backup, with 24 total starters-the standard 11 players on offense and defense, plus slot returner and nickel cornerback. With a 53-man roster, that adds up to $101 million, giving teams roughly $20 million in extra money to spend.
For each position, I’ll also be indicating a draft value. Rather than using a draft value chart, whether the standard one or a revised version, I’ll just group players by round and value each round on a binary scale-64 points for a first-round pick, 32 for a second-round pick, etc, on down to 1 for a seventh-round pick.
Before the chart, though, a brief note on salary cap. NFL teams don’t publish their full detailed salary cap information. Unless you have a source, figuring out the salary cap situation for any NFL team requires a lot of diligent attention, and even then you’ll still have errors. Take, for instance, Shaun Smith’s deal. Here’s what we know: three years, $7.25 million total, $3.25 million the first year. We don’t know how much of that was signing bonus and how much was salary. We don’t know his 2012 or 2013 salaries. We don’t know if there are any roster bonuses. We don’t know how much, if any, was guaranteed. Consider these salary numbers educated guesses, not definitive statements of fact.
Final cautionary note: for ease of calculation, I’m just going to use the Titans’ roster for Week 1.
And thus chart? Chart.
|Position||Baseline Spending||Actual Spending||Draft Points|
|Quarterback||5.0 mil||10.2 mil||66|
|Running Back||6.0 mil||7.5 mil||12|
|Tight End||7.0 mil||3.5 mil||32|
|Wide Receiver||11.0 mil||7.5 mil||87|
|Offensive Line||20.0 mil||27.8 mil||10|
|Defensive End||8.0 mil||4.8 mil||100|
|Defensive Tackle||10.0 mil||5.5 mil||53|
|Linebacker||13.0 mil||12.1 mil||48|
|Cornerback||11.0 mil||6.8 mil||11|
|Safety||8.0 mil||13.9 mil||64|
|Special Teams||3.0 mil||5.1 mil||0|
Just for the record, that’s a total of 104.7 million, whether or not it totals up that way after rounding. I included the dead money I knew, including players like Rennie Curran, and excluded the dead money I didn’t know, like Tony Brown.
There’s obviously an awful lot of information in that chart, so here are some position-specific annotations.
Quarterback: Includes dead money from Vince Young. Hassselbeck is getting paid like a decent starter and Locker is making top-ten pick money, which is still a good bit of money. Offhand, I’d guess every or virtually every team overspends the nominal allocation amount here, and for good reason.
Running Back: Chris Johnson’s off his rookie contract, so his draft points go away. Quinn Johnson is in this group and is not counted as a starter; the Titans paid this group roughly $700,000 more when Hall was in the lineup.
Tight End: I decided the standard line was 2-TE. On the season, Graham, Cook, and Stevens combined for 23 total starts. Baseline with only one tight end as a starter would be $5.0 million. Note both Cook and Stevens were third-round picks, so there’s a fairly high amount of draft value here. With the extension Stevens signed this offseason, the value disappears here.
Wide Receiver: Lots of draft value here, with Washington the only one of the five players not on his rookie deal. The positions you need to worry about are the ones where you have a lot of draft value and aren’t cheap.
Offensive Line: There are two ways to invest in a position. The first way is to spend a lot of draft value at the position. As Andrew noted in his post, and as I’ve written in the past, the Titans have not spent really any high picks on linemen lately. For a while, this worked out just fine, as the Titans were very good at drafting linemen. Now, the Titans no longer develop linemen into starters while in the early years of their rookie deal. The Titans are apparently still very interested in having a good offensive line, though, so they try to go out and buy it. In an ideal world, of course, you spend little draft value and little money on a position, but I’ll get to that one later.
Defensive End: I had to do a little bit of fudging here, and included Jason Jones in this group to balance out the numbers versus defensive tackle. That also moved a lot of draft points with it, so just let it be known the Titans spent a lot of draft points at both defensive end and defensive tackle, and it’s probably been a little more balanced than the above chart makes it seem.
Defensive Tackle: My offhand take would have been that the Titans would have a lot more money tied up in this position. This total actually includes $1 million in dead money from Jovan Haye, but only Shaun Smith’s deal (which I’m estimating based on my guess what the full numbers are) counts against the cap for more than that. The value all comes from draft numbers- picks in the second (Marks), third (Casey), fifth (Klug), and seventh (Clayton) are included in the total. Tony Brown’s dead money, which I don’t know, would inflate this total.
Linebacker: Two well-paid players, Ruud and Witherspoon, make up the majority of this total. Bailey and Shaw played on restricted free agent tenders. I included draft points for other players like that, including Hawkins, but excluded them as the Titans picked them up on waivers. This position was a slight bargain, and will be a bigger bargain, but with more Draft Points, this season.
Cornerback: Remember how I wrote in an ideal world, you spend little draft value on little money on a position? This is that position for the Titans. Finnegan is the only player not on his rookie deal, but there’s no draft value here-fourth, sixth, and seventh round picks are cheap, both on a real draft value chart and the skewed version I’m using. Using the Week 1 roster does understate the draft value here, as it doesn’t include Ryan Mouton, who had been placed on injured reserve. Even then, though, cornerback would have the fourth-fewest draft points.
Safety: Chris Hope’s deal was the reason I wrote about the Titans not cutting players, even players who are making way more than their current market value. Even beyond him, though, there’s not much in the way of value here. Griffin in the final year of his rookie deal (a) still counts as draft points and (b) was on the books for more than the $3.0 million I have for nominal starters.
Special Teams: Bironas, Amato, and Kern are the players included here. Bironas is the one the Titans are spending on here. He’s probably been the best kicker in the league over his Titans tenure, so I’m not complaining.
What might 2012 look like? We already know it’ll be somewhat different, because the Titans spent money in the offseason. A couple positions where they’ll very likely be spending more in 2012:
- Quarterback. With VY’s dead money dropping off, you might think the Titans will see some savings here. Any savings, though, would come from cutting Matt Hasselbeck, which I think is very unlikely to happen. Locker’s also not cheap, as he’ll count for $2.9 million against the cap.
- Running back. CJ in the second year of his deal has a base salary of $8.0 million and a total cap hit of over $11 million. If he plays like he did at times last year, I’m going to break something. Weekly.
- Defensive end. Kam Wimbley gives them an edge rusher they didn’t have last year, but his cap hit is $4.3 million. That’s almost as much as the Titans spent on all four defensive ends last year. This is a position where a lot of teams spend money, and the Titans are now re-joining them.
Now that I’m more diligent about updating my salary cap information, this is definitely something I’m going to try to write more about going forward.