- Contributor to FootballOutsiders.com
An NFL roster is a zero-sum game, thanks to the salary cap. Paying one player more means you have to pay another player less. That means it’s important for every team to get value out of its veteran contracts. We analyzed the rosters of all 32 NFL teams and picked out the most valuable contract on each one.
In doing this analysis, we considered present value, likely long-term value and percentage of the salary cap tied up. The length of a deal is less of a consideration than it would be in other sports because injury can end a player’s career at any time, and most NFL contracts are structured so that neither side will want to see the end of it. However, if a team can get multiple good years out of a deal, obviously that is better than not.
Finally, we will not use drafted players on rookie contracts because then the entire list would be rookie contracts. A good player on a rookie contract is immensely valuable, as you have likely learned from the discourse about teams with good young quarterbacks being able to field better teams around them. However, we did consider players on undrafted free agent contracts, because any team had a shot at them, though most teams do not have a UDFA worthy of being on our list.
All contract information used was cobbled from Spotrac and Over The Cap data. The salary cap is currently projected to shrink in 2021, though it is possible that the NFL and NFLPA will find a way to change that.
Arizona Cardinals: DeAndre Hopkins, WR
Remaining contract (cap hits, percent of cap): 2020: $7 million (3.6%); 2021: $12.5 million (6.9%); 2022: $25.05 million (11.0%); 2023: $27.2 million (11.3%); 2024: $22.6 million (8.9%)
How can you simultaneously have a “value contract” and sign the largest wide receiver contract of all time? The answer is in the NFL’s trade rules. Coming over from the Texans, the Cardinals lost all of the guaranteed bonus money on Hopkins’ contract because that all was absorbed into Houston’s cap. That gave them a very generous template to work with in crafting an extension for Hopkins. As it stands, they still have a year-and-a-half of very generous cap hits for a receiver of Hopkins’ caliber before Hopkins has a cap-space number requisite to his talent in 2022. When they get to 2023, when Hopkins will be 31, they can cut the contract without taking on a lot of dead money, or renegotiate off a fairly decent template yet again. Through Week 8, Hopkins has caught 78% of his passes and leads the league in receiving yards per game.
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