We’ve previously established that the AFC North teams are spending far less of their salary cap dollar on offense and much more on their defensive units. As can be seen in the chart below, all four teams are in the top half in terms of defensive spending, with the Bengals and Steelers being #1 and #3, respectively. and the Ravens coming in at a respectable #7.
As we discussed before, the Steelers are spending the third highest in the league on their defense at $62.7m – significantly higher than the $48m they are spending on the offensive side of the ball this season. Like Baltimore and Cleveland, the Steelers are spending a significant chunk of their salary cap dollar on the linebacker position as Woodley ($9.2m) and Timmons ($5.8m) both signed large $50m+ extensions in recent years. The Steelers are also spending more than any of their AFC North peers on the safety position where Troy Polamalu ($10.1m) and Ryan Clark ($4.75m) each command hefty salaries. Conversely, the team is spending the least of all divisional teams on the defensive tackle position at $2.9m in 2013. Casey Hampton is obviously gone and his replacement, Steve McLendon, is costing the Steelers just $1.4m this season. In addition to Polamalu, Woodley and Timmons, the other big ticket item on the defense is corner Ike Taylor who will earn $9.5m in 2013. Don’t be surprised if Polamalu is asked to take a pay cut this offseason in order to finish out his career with the Steelers.
Like the Steelers and Bengals, the Ravens are spending heavily on their defensive unit in 2013. The team had an unusually high level of turnover on defense this offseason with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannel Ellerbee and Paul Kruger all leaving town. From a salary cap standpoint, the Ravens are spending the most of any AFC North team on their linebackers where $23.9m of cap space is invested – $13m of which is to Terrell Suggs. I was a little surprised to see that linebacker Elvis Dumervil, the team’s biggest free agent acquisition this offseason, is costing the team just $2.5m in 2013 after signing a 5-year $35m contract. His base is just $1m this year, so they will undoubtedly be absorbing a bigger chunk of that deal in the next year or two. The other big ticket items on the Baltimore defense are d-lineman Haloti Ngata ($11.5m) and corner Lardarius Webb ($5.4m). Between Ngata and Suggs, Baltimore has $24.5m tied up in two members of it’s front seven in 2013. I would have to check, but I would guess that no other team in the league has this much cap space invested in two d-linemen this season.
When we looked at the Bengals offensive spending this year, we noted that the team has comparatively little cap space tied up in the QB position (unlike Baltimore and Pittsburgh) and the team has chosen to invest much of the savings on its defense. The team leads the league in defensive spending ($63.3m) this season and these numbers don’t even reflect the 5-year $55m contract extension just signed by defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Aside from Atkins, the team has invested heavily at the defensive end position (Michael Johnson – $11.2m, Carlos Dunlap – $6.9m, Robert Geathers – $3.25m) and cornerback position (Leon Hall – $8.4m, Terence Newman – $3m, Dre Kirkpatrick – $2m). With the Atkins deal, Cincinnati has easily one of the most expensive defensive lines in the entire league.
While Cleveland lags its AFC North peers in terms of defensive spending, it’s not as if the Browns are completely neglecting the position, either, as the team is spending $55.4m (15th highest league wide) on the unit in 2013*. Like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Cleveland has invested heavily at the linebacker position where free agent acquisition Paul Kruger ($8.2m) and D’Qwell Jackson ($6.4m) are the most heavily compensated. The team has likewise spent heavily on its defensive line as Ahytba Rubin ($7.6m) and Desmond Bryant ($8m) both command high salaries. Cleveland also has one of the better corners in the league in Joe Haden ($9.2m). Although it doesn’t get near the publicity as it’s AFC North peers, Cleveland has very quietly built a respectable defense through balanced spending.
*As of this writing, the team has not traded away any of its defensive stars. Sorry, couldn’t resist.