Show Me the Money

By Alan Satterlee, DFW Senior Writer and Co-Owner, @Speedkills_DFW


We all have our favorite sites for fantasy analysis and news, dynasty insights and observations, player statistics and rankings — well I have am additional one that I have enjoyed diving into that you may not be as familiar with which is spotrac.com which has great data on team and player salaries and salary cap information.

For example, with a total spend of $158,316,896, the Arizona Cardinals are the closest to the NFL salary cap maximum and have just $651,520 to spare, while on the opposite end the San Francisco 49ers have almost $49M of cap space that they could spend for 2016 if they so choose.

The site lists current and fairly up-to-the-day information on player’s base salaries, total cap charges to a team, incentive possibilities etc. — so there are many ways to slice it. I’ve asked this question to several people — “Who is the highest paid quarterback in the NFL for 2016?”. No one ever gets this one right — the answer is Kirk Cousins, who at $19,953,000 Cousins will be the highest paid player in the NFL this season. It has to make you think a little differently if you don’t already on Cousins, which is another reason to take note how Cousins has morphed from NFL backup to NFL elite in an instant (Cousins finished with a near 70 percent completion last year and a top 10 fantasy quarterback — he was QB3 over the second half of the season).


Building on from there, who else stands out? And does NFL salary have any bearing on fantasy performance? Not always, of course, but it also can reveal a lot around opportunity, and therefore yes it can on fantasy performance.

So, with that, in today’s article I take a look at the top 20 running backs in 2016 based on cap hit (after you get 20 RBs deep, you already run out of players who top $3M in cap hit in the running back position) and we’ll dive much deeper at wide receiver, going down to WR46, which is the last receiver to also have a $3M cap hit for the 2016 season.

RUNNING BACKS Over $3M in 2016 Cap Hit

1. Adrian Peterson ($12,000,000) – Well at least all is right in the world here — Adrian Peterson should be the league’s highest-paid running back (and he’s set to make similar money next year before spiking to $18M in 2018).
2. Jonathan Stewart ($9,550,000) – What the heck — Jonathan Stewart is the 2nd-highest paid running back in the NFL?! Blame this one on the former-Panthers’ GM Marty Hurney who orchestrated one of the worst modern-day contracts, especially in the current days of running backs being devalued in NFL drafts and contracts. Despite the big salary, I would be hesitant owning Stewart in 2016 given his injury history (although surprisingly, Stewart had the 2nd-most rushing attempts inside the 20-yard-line last year).
3. Doug Martin ($8,000,000) – Like Lamar Miller, C.J. Anderson, Chris Ivory and Matt Forte, Martin was one of the big five 2016 RB free agents who come into the season with a new contract, Martin with $4M of salary and $4M of bonus.
4. LeSean McCoy ($7,675,000) – I think there are reasons to be worried about over-paying for McCoy in drafts, but it is fair to say that he is getting major bank (signed through 2019 with Buffalo, it will be interesting to see if McCoy stays on the team in 2017 and 2018 given the big contract).
5. DeMarco Murray ($6,000,000)
5. C.J. Anderson ($6,000,000)
7. Lamar Miller ($5,500,000)
8. Jamaal Charles ($5,312,500)
9. Shane Vereen ($4,916,666) – What in the world — the Giants should consider releasing Vereen, and next year the dead cap space of releasing him is a lot less. Off a season with a career-best 59 receptions, Vereen though will no doubt continue to be involved in the passing attack but he has low upside (Vereen was RB27 last year in PPR scoring).
10. Darren Sproles ($4,600,000) – This is enough salary to take Sproles seriously but his ceiling is close to Shane Vereen (Sproles was RB26 last year in PPR-scoring) — enjoy the big bucks as this is Sproles’ last year under contract and he will be 34 years old next season.
11. Ezekiel Elliott ($4,537,516)
12. C.J. Spiller ($4,500,000) – Is it really possible that C.J. Spiller could be the 12th-highest paid running back in the NFL? I still don’t believe. He will be easier for the Saints to cut next season.
13. Ryan Mathews ($4,000,000) – This one catches my eye a bit — Mathews is being paid big-boy money with his base salary up from $1M last year to $3M this year (plus another $1M in signing bonus distribution).
13. Frank Gore ($4,000,000) – Frank Gore (33) ain’t done yet — he is getting paid elite RB1 money this year (and next) and I think he outperforms his draft position.
15. Justin Forsett ($3,700,000) – This one definitely makes me re-think a little bit — Baltimore could have released Forsett without too much cap impact but instead they are paying him his $3M salary plus $700K of pro-rated signing bonus to stay on the roster this season. I think it says Forsett definitely enters 2016 as the team’s number one running back (although there are a lot of mouths to feed there).
16. Dexter McCluster ($3,650,000) – Not sure why Tennessee hasn’t cut McCluster given this high cost — he’s in the final year of his contract with the team.
17. Chris Ivory ($3,468,750)
18. Todd Gurley ($3,141,632)
19. Danny Woodhead ($3,000,000)
19. Matt Forte ($3,000,000)


WIDE RECEIVERS Over $3M in 2016 Cap Hit
1. Julio Jones ($15,900,000) – I think you can make a very plausible case for Julio to be WR1 over Antonio Brown — and for starters, Julio is the highest paid receiver for 2016 based on cap hit.
2. Larry Fitzgerald ($15,850,000) – Sometimes I rank Fitzgerald too low in my rankings as there are always so many newer shiny toys in the toy box, but don’t forget this guy in the 2nd-highest paid receiver in the game.
3. Demaryius Thomas ($15,200,000)
4. Alshon Jeffery ($14,599,000) – Playing on a franchise tag, Jeffery certainly has ton of incentive to perform this year to earn his 2017 (and beyond) contract and to keep getting paid like a Top 5 receiver.
5. A.J. Green ($13,000,000)
5. Dez Bryant ($13,000,000)
7. Jeremy Maclin ($12,400,000) – He’s not a receiver that will be drafted in the Top 7, but Maclin is paid as such.
8. Antonio Brown ($12,370,833) – Based on his current contract, Brown has two more seasons before he becomes an UFA.
9. Vincent Jackson ($12,209,777) – That’s right — VJAX is the 9th-highest paid receiver in the game — he is ridiculously low in ADP and I think he will greatly out-perform his draft slot this year.
10. Michael Crabtree ($11,000,000) – If you were surprised by Crabtree’s #17 WR performance last year, he signed with the Raiders last season and needed to perform I would think to earn his monster $5.75M roster bonus for 2016 (which he did) — Crabtree is getting paid major bank and he’ll make another $7M large next year if he can keep it up.
10. T.Y. Hilton ($11,000,000)
12. Pierre Garcon ($10,200,000) – Garcon is getting paid big coin — and as much as I like Josh Doctson, maybe he will be a year away from truly shining?
13. Brandon Marshall ($9,500,000)
14. DeSean Jackson ($9,250,000)
15. Doug Baldwin ($9,225,000) – Fresh off his big payday just last week, Baldwin is getting paid stud WR money.
16. Randall Cobb ($9,150,000)
17. Allen Hurns ($9,001,668) – From undrafted free agent to being the 17th-highest paid receiver for 2016, good for you Allen Hurns (who gets truly glowing marks on character and charitable work).
18. Jordy Nelson ($8,300,000)
19. Eric Decker ($8,000,000)
20. Keenan Allen ($7,724,450)
21. Torrey Smith ($7,600,000) – Maybe Torrey Smith really can recover his rock-bottom fantasy value, and he is certainly being played WR1 money (and for a team that is spending less in 2016 than any other team) — then again, maybe Smith isn’t the greatest of fits for a Chip Kelly offense either.
22. Michael Floyd ($7,320,000)
22. Kendall Wright ($7,320,000) – Wright doesn’t get much love after finishing last year off an extremely disappointing WR75 season, but late in drafts he is worth a flier if nothing else given the high likelihood of being majorly-involved with his $7.3M cap hit.
24. Golden Tate ($7,101,250)
25. Emmanuel Sanders ($6,600,000)
25. Marvin Jones ($6,600,000) – He can’t truly “replace” the great Calvin Johnson, but Jones got major bank as the 25th-highest paid receiver for 2016.
27. Chris Hogan ($5,500,000) – This one really stands out for me — don’t sleep on Chris Hogan, who the Patriots are paying major bank to — this is not role-player money.
28. Sammy Watkins ($5,436,983)
29. Amari Cooper ($5,150,708)
30. Kenny Britt ($4,850,000) – Why don’t the Rams just cut this guy?
31. Rod Streater ($4,810,000) – This one requires more drill down than perhaps anyone, as Streater has more incentive comp than anyone — is there anyway he earns his $4M bonus?
32. Eddie Royal ($4,500,000) – The Bears’ GM should be fired, Eddie Royal is not worth $4.5M.
33. Harry Douglas ($4,483,333)
34. Julian Edelman ($4,421,875)
35. Victor Cruz ($4,400,000) – Maybe the Giants believe he actually will return and contribute and $4.4M of expense for the Giants is nothing to sneeze at.
36. Steve Smith ($4,166,668)
37. Tavon Austin ($4,057,137)
38. Travis Benjamin ($4,000,000)
39. Mike Evans ($3,990,410)
40. Stevie Johnson ($3,900,000) – It’s a little surprising to me that the Chargers didn’t release Johnson due to cap hit.
41. Devin Hester ($3,833,334) – Atlanta, what are you doing?
42. Dwayne Harris ($3,800,000)
43. Kevin White ($3,764,329)
44. Mike Wallace ($3,500,000)
45. Cole Beasley ($3,356,000) – I still think Cole Beasley hasn’t had his best NFL season yet and he’s a worth-while late round depth add in PPR leagues
46. Rishard Matthews ($3,333,333)

Just off the list is one Odell Beckham Jr., who’s cap hit for 2016 is just $2.8M as he is still on his original rookie contract. ODB is set to be a free agent in 2018, assuming the Giants wouldn’t franchise-tag him or sign him by then, but no doubt incentive is there for major money and to get paid like Julio Jones.