Offensive Salary Cap Bubble Comparison: Steelers vs AFC North

I touched on this a bit the other day but I thought it might be interesting to look at a side-by-side comparison of offensive and defensive spending for each of the four AFC North teams.

I think what jumps out at me the most for the AFC North is how heavily skewed their salary cap spending is towards the defensive side of the ball and how relatively little each team is currently spending on its offense. In fact, the teams rank 25th (Pittsburgh), 27th (Cincy), 28th (Baltimore) and 29th (Cleveland) league wide in offensive spending in 2013 – easily the lowest of any division in football.

Offensive spending chart

Before we get started, it’s important to understand that salary cap figures for individual players, and consequently teams, can vary significantly from year to year. A player’s contract may involve an unusually high salary cap “hit” one year and comparatively little the next season. Or, more commonly, a large contract may be “smoothed” out over an extended period of time in order to reduce the salary cap effect on the current year. I bring this up because the charts and information below, while revealing, do not tell the complete story of how a team’s salary cap is spent.

Offensive spending bubble

As I mentioned the other day, the Steelers are spending comparatively little on their offensive line at this stage because of how young the group is. DeCastro, Adams and Gilbert were all drafted in the last two years under the new rookie salary cap agreement, which limits rookie salaries. Of course, the team will not be able to enjoy this benefit forever as several of those players will reach their likely extension periods at the same time and the Steelers might have some tough decisions to make there. Ben’s cap number this year is $13.5m, which is par for the course for a quarterback at his level. The other “big ticket” items on the Steelers offense include Heath Miller ($8m), Antonio Brown ($3.1m) and Emmanuel Sanders ($2.5m). As you probably recall, Brown was just extended in 2012 to the tune of $42.5m/5 years, but the deal was restructured this past offseason to free up more cap room for the Steelers.

Baltimore Offensive BubbleThe Ravens’ are spending slightly less than Pittsburgh offensively, but their spending is generally more evenly distributed than Pittsburgh’s and they are spending a good deal more ($18.7m vs $9.2m) on their offensive line than Pittsburgh is. Of course, the Ravens have one of the better offensive lines in football and it’s made up mostly of veteran players, so the higher cap figures are not surprising. Baltimore has two offensive linemen in tackle Michael Oher ($5m) and Marshall Yanda ($7.5) whose combined salaries are $3m greater than the entire Steelers offensive line combined. Not surprisingly, the Ravens likewise have a good bit more of their spending tied up in the running back position ($8.3m) as Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice commands a hefty salary of $5.75m. Flacco signed a 6=year $120.6m extension this offseason, but his cap hit is “only” $6.8m this season.

Cincy Offensive Bubble

Two things jump out at me here: 1) the significant amount of salary cap committed to the offensive tackle position and 2) how comparatively little spending is tied up at the quarterback position with Andy Dalton. Regarding the offensive tackles, the Bengals

Andre Smith: Future as an underwear model is not bright.

Andre Smith: Future as an underwear model is not bright.

have two players in Andrew Whitworth ($6.75m) and man-boobed Andre Smith ($6m) that make up the bulk (no pun intended) of the spending. Smith was just extended this offseason for 3 years / $18m. Andy Dalton’s cap number of $1.4m is significantly lower than what the Steelers and Ravens are spending at the position as Andy Dalton’s rookie season in 2011 was under the new CBA / rookie salary cap restriction. This has been a big benefit to the Bengals as it has allowed them to spend heavier at other positions (mostly on defense), but this will be short-lived as the team will likely look to extend Dalton this coming offseason. If Dalton has a good year (God forbid they win the Super Bowl), the team might get squeezed in to having to give him a $100m+ deal, the way Baltimore did with Flacco this past year.

Cleveland Offensive BubbleAs you can see in the chart, the heavy hitters salary-wise for Cleveland are the offensive tackles or, more specifically, Pro Bowl OT Joe Thomas who will earn $11m this season. Relative to the other AFC teams, Cleveland is spending the most on its offensive line at $24.3m this year, largely due to Thomas’ salary. Like Cincinnati, Cleveland is spending comparitively little on the QB position as Brandon Weeden ($1.8m) is only a second year player and was a late first round draft pick. Fellow 2012 first round pick running back Trend Richardson will earn $4.7m this year, but he was selected a full 19 picks ahead of Weeden.

Salary Cap Grid Offense


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