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Financially Assessing the 2018 NFL Playoff Teams

Financially Assessing the 2018 NFL Playoff Teams

With the NFL playoffs now upon us, we'll take a thorough look at the current and future finances of each postseason team, including how they're spending their dollars positionally, their 2019 cap space outlook, notable pending free agents, and a few players who may be on the bubble.

 

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Baltimore Ravens

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $170M (28th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $14M (23rd)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $5M (31st)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$66M (20th) $27.5M (1st)

$3M (24th)

$11.6M (25th) $4.7M (18th) $21M (24th)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$72M (11th)

$9.5M (30th)

$23M (8th) $39M (2nd) $9.7M (1st)

It's been a tale of two seasons for the Ravens in 2018, with the latter coming with the dawning of the Lamar Jackson era, who accounts for just $1.7M of Baltimore's $27.5M QB cap dollars (most in the league). They've found a way to win games with bottom-third spending at the running back, wide receiver, and offensive line positions, and have relied on a veteran, expensive secondary to keep them in games.

Currently, the Ravens hold around $36M of projected cap space for 2019, but that doesn't include the almost certain trade or release of backup QB Joe Flacco, which would add another $10.5M to the mix. In terms of free agency, the Ravens have plenty of players on the defensive side of the ball who will need restricted tenders, with a few eyeing unrestricted deals as well.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

Chicago Bears

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $179M (11th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $14M (19th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $11M (21st)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$71M (18th) $11M (20th) $3.4M (24th) $25.2M (3rd) $9M (7th) $18M (23rd)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$71M (12th) $20M (18th) $30.6M (4th) $20M (16th) $6M (7th)

The Bears came into the 2018 offseason with cap space in hand, ready to rebuild a roster around their young QB. They added heavily to the WR/TE core, then made arguably the biggest splash of the year in acquiring Khalil Mack from the Raiders, a move that could be the difference between the Bears being in or out of the 2018 postseason. To noone who's seen a game this year's surprise, the Bears boast the top-rated defense in football according to DVOA, and are turning the ball over and scoring at historic levels.

 

Positionally speaking, the Bears are opertating in that sweet zone financially, wherein their QB is inexpensive, allowing for all other positional groups to increase spending. While the high ranks in the receiving spots wouldn't normally be alarming (as its a primary position in today's game), Chicago hasn't seen nearly the type of production they were hoping for from this group. With key free agents looming on the offensive line and in the secondary, the Bears' cap management this coming March will be one to watch, as a few notable players could fall off (including WR1 Allen Robinson).

 

Looking ahead to 2019, the Bears boast just north of $20M of projected cap space, with 38 players under contract. There's some work to be done to keep a great defense in place, especially in terms of the secondary. Contract restructures for Kyle Fuller & Akiem Hicks seem like possibilities to help free up some space from the get go.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

Dallas Cowboys

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $176M (15th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $31M (4th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $12M (18th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$61M (24th) $1.8M (30th) $9.2M (3rd) $13M (14th) $2M (26th) $37M (1st)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$60M (20th)

$34M (9th)

$19M (10th) $9M (32nd) $3M (22nd)

The Cowboys formula is pretty simple: push most of the money into the trenches while the QB is cheap, get younger and faster at the WR position, and in the secondary, and try to win all of your home games. Dallas' 7th ranked defense (according to DVOA), plus adequate game management from Dak Prescott has been enough to carry them to a division title. Toss in an improved running attack, and the Cowboys appear to have a good formula for winning in December.

 

Positionally speaking, the Cowboys aren't even reaping all of the benefits of their offensive line spending due to injury, and they're holding onto the 4th most dead cap in the league as well. While the acquisition of Amari Cooper cost them a 1st round pick, but only $411k of cash/cap space for the remainder of 2018. DE DeMarcus Lawrence is actually underpaid on his $17M franchise tag, and will demand Khalil Mack-type money this offseason (though another franchise tag is likely in the cards).

 

The Cowboys have a healthy $50M+ of projected cap space, with 48 players under contract in 2019, but they'll likely use a large chunk of that money to take care of a few key contracts early on: most notably QB Dak Prescott, & WR Amari Cooper. 2018 may also be a curtain call for defensive captain Sean Lee, who once again has been plagued by injury, and represents $7M of savings if released.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

Houston Texans

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $172M (26th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $14M (17th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $12M (20th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$55M (31st) $4,5M (28th)

$8.7M (4th)

$20M (7th) $4M (19th) $18M (24th)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$88M (3rd)

$20M (19th)

$29M (6th) $40M (2nd) $2M (26th)

The Texans pumped major dollars into their RB1, WR1, and secondary over the past few offseasons, taking full advantage of Deshaun Watson's cheap rookie deal. But a lack of big spending to their offensive line factors into an offensive spending bill that ranks 31st in the league. Only the Broncos have fewer dollars allocated to their offense.

 

The 3rd-most expensive defense in the league will only cost more soon, as much of this successful secondary (Jackson, Webster, Mathieu) and DE Jadeveon Clowney are heading toward free agency with big numbers to boot. Houston has ample cap space heading toward 2019 (projected $68M), so keeping much of this core intact shouldn't be an issue. But a few new faces on the O-Line, at Tight End, and even at the primary RB position could help boost this team to legitimate contender level. Watson's contract runs through 2020, with a 5th-year option available in 2021, so the window to build a team around him is still very much valid.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

Indianapolis Colts

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $144M (32nd)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $16.8M (6th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $8.6M (27th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$83M (6th) $25M (6th)

$2M (28th)

$19.5M (10th) $7.7M (12th) $22.5M (23rd)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$38.1M (32th)

$23M (16th)

$4.4M (31st) $10.3M (31st) $4.1M (16th)

Many assumed the Colts were at least another year away from being legitimate a postseason candidate, but that all changed when the Andrew Luck of old rounded into form after a few weeks of the 2018 campaign. Toss in a formidable running game, a rejuvenated T.Y. Hilton, an offensive line that is finally in sync, and a surprisingly stout defense, and Indy has a real chance to make some noise for a few years.

No other team in football has less total cap or defensive camp allocated in 2018, as Indy has just $15M spent into their secondary and linebackers COMBINED. While Indy may not be able to get through to the finish line in 2018, they hold a league-leading $122M of 2019 cap space, with 39 players under contract. This will be an attractive destination for offensive weapons, and defensive veterans looking to cash in this March.

Notable 2019 Free Agents:

   

Kansas City Chiefs

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $174M (20th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $21M (13th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $17M (10th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$63M (22nd) $6.3M (25th)

$4.9M (20th)

$12M (17th) $12M (3rd) $28M (9th)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$75M (8th)

$14M (25th)

$36M (1st) $25M (13th) $4.7M (10th)

For a team that is near the top of the league in terms of offensive production and near the bottom of the league in terms of defense, the financials certainly don't bear out. With the exception of TE Travis Kelce, the Chiefs are scoring gigantic values at the major offensive positions, and above average production from their fairly well-paid offensive line.

Defensively though, the Chiefs are still in the process of "decluttering" their finances. They've made significant cuts over the past two offseasons to allow for free agent signings, but are likely going to be pressed to make another this March with Justin Houston's cap figure rising to $21.1M, and Dee Ford having a career year with free agency around the corner. Kansas City will also need to address the running game this March, with the unfortunate loss of Kareem Hunt going forward.

 

Looking ahead, the Chiefs have just north of $42M in projected cap space for 2019, with 41 players under contract, a bit of room to work with to address the above, plus a desperately needed upgrade to their secondary.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

Los Angeles Chargers

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $177M (13th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $14M (18th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $5.5M (30th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$91M (1st) $23M (11th)

$5.4M (17th)

$25M (4th) $5M (15th) $28M (10th)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$61M (19th)

$31M (11th)

$5.3M (30th) $19M (18th) $7.7M (3rd)

The Chargers may be the most balanced team in the league, but a large majority of their finances falls on the offensive side of the ball, where their $91M of cap ranks first in the league. LA put significant dollars into adding depth to the WR position, stability to the offensive line, and help at the TE position with the early injury to Hunter Henry.

Defensively, the Chargers cap spending is about average, with much of their dollars allocated to the edge, as they should be. Though it might be the secondary, ranked 18th in cap spending, that may be the difference maker for the Chargers in 2018, as youngster Derwin James has solidified the backfield. In terms of expiring contracts, the Chargers will need to address their defensive line, and another depth receiver (or an extension for Tyrell Williams). Oh and by the way, Philip Rivers will be heading into a contract season in 2019.

 

Looking ahead, the Chargers have just north of $28M in projected cap space for 2019, with 43 players under contract.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

Los Angeles Rams

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $178M (12th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $15M (16th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $9M (25th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$62M (23rd) $8.7M (24nd)

$8.4M (5th)

$12.5M (16th) $3M (23rd) $29M (8th)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$77M (7th)

$41M (4th)

$13M (20th) $33M (7th) $3.7M (16th)

The Rams came out guns blazing in 2018, setting a high bar for outscoring opponents with a variety of offensive weapons. But a few injuries, plus a lack of depth in the secondary, plus a complete drop off in consistency from QB Jared Goff made for a bumpy second half. LA will head into the postseason somewhat limping, however, still poised to be an annual contener for next 3 years or so.

Goff's contract runs through 2019, with a 5th-year option available in 2020. While discussion of a pay day for him will begun to take shape this spring, it's probably not in the cards until at least post-2019 (though a fair value offer might make sense now to try to gain some financial leverage). Outside of him, the offense is buttoned up fairly well across the weaponry (Gurley, Woods, Cooks, Cupp all locked up through at least 2020). But there will be PLENTY of holes to fill elsewhere this offseason.Starting LG Rodger Saffold, DL Ndamukong Suh, EDGE Dante Fowler Jr., & FS LaMarcus Joyner are all pending free agents, and will either need to be re-upped, or replaced in the coming months.

 

The Rams currently possess around $38M of cap space in 2019, with 39 player under contract. With notable starters needing new contracts, it's feasible to assume that a veteran or two will fall victim to cap casualty this March.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

New England Patriots

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $174M (22nd)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $10M (28th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $9M (24th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$77M (11rd) $23M (12nd)

$8M (6th)

$13M (13th) $16M (1st) $17M (26th)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$68M (14th)

$17M (23th)

$14M (16th) $38M (3rd) $3.2M (18th)

The Patriots locked up their 10th straight division title in 2018, but the road was much bumpier than in many seasons prior. Tom Brady's numbers, while still well above average, won't be near his usual "Top 5" landing spot, due largely in part to the complete disappearance of Chris Hogan & Rob Gronkowski, a suspension/injury plagued season for Julian Edelman, the unfortunate loss of Josh Gordon, and quite frankly, a little too many running backs in the fold altogether.

Outside of the TE position, where a well-paid Gronk has had the Patriots at or near top-spenders for years now, New England has been adament about being "in the middle" in terms of positional spending. Their figures at QB, WR, and overall defense follow suit. But the Patriots have made a few questionable team-building decisions over the past 2 years that may be coming to bite them a bit down the stretch in 2018: Re-signing Dont'a Hightower instead of using that capital for a Nate Solder or Brandin Cooks. and spending a first round pick on Sony Michel, with an aresenal of capable running backs already under contract. While the plan appears to be for Brady to return in 2019 (and maybe even beyond), it's become jarringly clear that he may no longer be able to work with "anyone they give me" in terms of offensive weapons.
 

The Pats have around $25M of cap space with 43 players under contract in 2019 currently, but with a few notable free agents that space could dry up quickly. Moving on from Gronk will clear an additional $10M.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

New Orleans Saints

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $175M (18th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $21.1M (12th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $6.5M (23rd)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$78M (9th) $26M (3rd) $7.7M (8th) $8.6M (26th) $5M (18th) $34M (4th)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$56M (23rd) $27M (12th) $14.6M (15th) $14.5M (24th) $3.3M (17th)

The Saints have done well to shed a few heavy contracts over the past few offseasons, and find themselves 18th in total cap allocations in the league to finish out 2018. They’re also 12th in dead cap, a result of those moves (Fleener, Byrd, Fairley).

 

Positionally speaking, the Saints decision to keep three QBs in Drew Brees, Bridgewater, & Hill put them 3rd in QB spending. Mark Ingram's $5M+ cap figure has the Saints' running spending ranked in the top third, while their extremely young WR core ranks in the bottom third of spending. The Saints' best value though appears to have come on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 23rd in spending, but boast the 3rd best ranked defense according to DVOA in 2018.

 

Looking ahead to 2019, the big question of course will be the status of QB Drew Brees, who's under contract with a whopping $33.5M cap figure ($23M cash) and will turn 40 in a few weeks. New Orleans boasts around $15M of cap space currently, with just 38 players under contract, so there's change coming in some form to this roster over the next few months.


Notable 2019 Free Agents:
   

Philadelphia Eagles

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $170M (30th)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $14M (22nd)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $21M (6th)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$76M (12th) $21,5M (15th)

$3.1M (21th)

$12M (23rd) $6.6M (15th) $35M (2nd)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$50M (28th)

$32M (10th)

$6.5M (29th) $11.6M (30th) $1.6M (30th)

The defending champs needed every inch of the regular season to lock down a postseason birth in 2018, and it took every QB available as well, with the health of both Carson Wentz & Nick Foles now in question. The story financially this year though has been the defense, where Philly has been gaining productive value from an active squad that accounts for just $50M of cap (4th fewest in the NFL). Combine this with a running back & wide receiver core that ranks outside the Top 20 in spending, and the Eagles were really hoping they could recreate their 2017 performance wherein money spent into the trenches and a little bit of luck was enough to get them into the playoffs with a chance to compete.

There will be plenty to discuss when the calendar turns to 2019 though, starting with the QB position. Nick Foles carries a $20.6M cap figure on an option that must be exercised a week after the Super Bowl. It's not expected they'll retain him on this deal, but can they really let a QB who's taken them into the postseason back to back years to walk into free agency? Cutting ties with Foles in February frees up $18.8M of cap space, which barely puts the Eagles into the black in terms of 2019 cap space. This is a problem for a number of their notable free agents going forward.

Notable 2019 Free Agents:

   

Seattle Seahawks

Total 2018 Cap Allocations: $174M (23rd)
2018 Dead Cap Allocations: $21M (12th)
Injured Reserve Cap Allocations: $24M (2nd)
OFFQBRBWRTEOL
$74M (17th) $24M (8th)

$4.3M (17th)

$18.9M (11th) $2.6M (25th) $22.7M (21st)
DEFDLLBDBS/T
$48M (29th)

$10.1M (29th)

$26.1M (7th) $13M (27th) $2.7M (24th)

The Seahawks have far exceeded many preseason expectations, and now find themselves as a dark horse team to contend in the NFC postseason. QB Russell Wilson has been efficient, productive, and smart, and with a contract that expires after 2019, is playing himself into elite money.

Positionally speaking, the days of overpaying for an elite defense are gone, as the Seahawks have rebuilt on the fly with inexpensive youth in many areas, including major financial dropoffs at the TE position, and in the secondary.

In addition to a near-expiring contract for Wilson, the Seahawks will have a few decisions to make on the defensive side of the ball, with long-time vets Earl Thomas, & K.J. Wright set to hit free agency, along with pass rusher Frank Clark, finishing off a career season. Seattle boasts around $60M of projected 2019 cap space, with 34 players under contract.


Notable 2019 Free Agents: