Here is part 3 of the series evaluating the top five cap hits for each team. In the bottom third of the league, we find a lot of teams that are low in 2021 with booming cap hits looming in the 2022 season.
Los Angeles Rams: Top 5 Cap Hits – $59,897,000
- Matt Stafford – $20,000,000
- Aaron Donald – $14,392,000
- Jalen Ramsey – $9,700,000
- Rob Havenstein – $8,330,000
- Tyler Higbee – $7,475,000
There have been many comments expressing surprise that the Rams aren’t higher on this list. If you look at their 2022 cap hits, it makes a little more sense. The Cowboys, who are No. 1 on this list, are the only team with three cap hits of at least $20 million this season. In 2022, the Rams will have four (Matt Stafford, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd will total $92.95 million), with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Andrew Whitworth combining for $48-plus million. The Rams will most likely be pushing some cap dollars from 2022 to 2023 if they can over the next few months to ease the burden that these future contracts.
Cincinnati Bengals: Top 5 Cap Hits – $59,862,379
- Trae Waynes – $15,800,000
- D.J. Reader – $13,526,500
- Trey Hendrickson – $12,476,471
- Tyler Boyd – $9,834,375
- Joe Burrow – $8,225,033
Top two cap hits Trae Waynes and D.J. Reader were the Bengals’ top free agent signings from the 2020 offseason. Unfortunately for them, the injury bug hit both players; Waynes played no games while Reader only played five. If healthy, both players can make an impact. Trey Hendrickson is the Bengals’ prize free agent from this offseason and is a boom or bust signing. Hendrickson came off a career year with 13.5 sacks and 25 QB hits in 15 starts for the Saints in 2020 but only had 6.5 sacks and 18 QB hits in his three previous seasons (30 games with only 3 starts). Tyler Boyd leads the WR room for the Bengals, which now has two high-ceiling young players in Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase.
Miami Dolphins: Top 5 Cap Hits – $59,779,276
- Byron Jones – $16,100,000
- Xavien Howard – $13,500,000
- DeVante Parker – $12,112,500
- Will Fuller – $10,566,776
- Emmanuel Ogbah – $7,500,000
The Dolphins are building and extending their high-impact players from the outside in. Jones and Howard are the No. 2 and No. 5 CB cap hits this season, respectively. Howard was an All-Pro while Jones struggled in his first year. Parker and Fuller are the No. 13 and No. 15 WR cap hits this season, respectively. Parker and Fuller have both been incredibly productive when healthy but struggle with being healthy and on the field. Ogbah is a player who made a big impact in his first season in Miami and could develop perfectly in Brian Flores’ system.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Top 5 Cap Hits – $59,315,765
- Andrew Norwell – $15,000,000
- Cam Robinson – $13,754,000
- Myles Jack – $12,150,000
- Joe Schobert – $9,882,353
- Brandon Linder – $8,529,412
The Jaguars are structured completely different from the Dolphins, focusing on their offensive line and defensive front seven. Norwell, Robinson and Linder combine for one of the strongest left sides for an offensive line in the NFL with 18 years of combined experience. Jack and Schobert are the leaders in the middle of the Jacksonville defense. Schobert was signed after Jack had a down year in 2019 as a tackling machine from Cleveland. Jack has since rebounded and had a very productive 2020 season.
New England Patriots: Top 5 Cap Hits – $56,881,779
- Stephon Gilmore – $16,265,603
- Dont’a Hightower – $12,397,059
- Devin McCourty – $11,091,176
- Shaquille Mason – $9,539,706
- Trent Brown – $7,588,235
Gilmore, Hightower and McCourty are all over the age of 30. Highly productive and effective players over the past decade, they are all on the final years of their deals. The Patriots had a flurry of signings in free agency but none of them are 2021 cap hits over $7 million. Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry, Matt Judon and Jonnu Smith are all cap hits over $13.75 million in 2022. Shaq Mason is on year 3 of his 5-year extension and has been a top extension for the Patriots. Trent Brown was one of the players they let walk in free agency due to Mason’s extension, in which he signed the highest contract for a tackle in the NFL. After not working out in Las Vegas, he is back with the Patriots on a 1-year deal.
New York Jets: Top 5 Cap Hits – $56,774,744
- Carl Lawson – $14,333,333
- Corey Davis – $12,666,666
- Marcus Maye – $10,612,000
- George Fant – $9,829,412
- Connor McGovern – $9,333,333
Carl Lawson has been a PFF star since entering the league. Pro Football Focus has his pass rush win rate at around 20% since entering the league, while he had a career-high 32 QB hits in 2020. Corey Davis is the other star free agent picked up by the Jets this offseason. Davis has yet to make the impact expected after being drafted fifth overall by Tennessee in 2017, but he had 984 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2020 in only 14 games and has been progressing every year in the league. Marcus Maye is the Jets’ 2021 Franchise player and could earn himself a huge payday if he plays at the same level that he has over the past two seasons. George Fant and Connor McGovern fill out the offensive line that has young talent in Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Detroit Lions: Top 5 Cap Hits – $55,992,452
- Trey Flowers – $19,989,000
- Jared Goff – $10,650,000
- Halapoulivaati Vaitai – $10,400,000
- Jeff Okudah – $7,620,119
- Jamie Collins – $7,333,333
Trey Flowers is a fantastic football player, but looking at his contract and cap, you ask yourself, can you sign an edge player to an elite contract if they don’t rush the passer at an elite level? His career high in sacks is 7.5 and his QB hits since joining the Lions is 24 in 22 games. Goff, whose contract jumps to a $31.15 million cap hit in 2022, has the next two seasons to justify his monstrous contract on his second team. Vaitai will be moving back to the inside of the offensive line with the addition of Penei Sewell. After a standout year in 2019, Jamie Collins regressed in his first year in Detroit. We will see if Dan Campbell’s new defense is a better situation for all three of these defensive players who had underperforming years in 2020.
Houston Texans: Top 5 Cap Hits – $54,470,261
- Deshaun Watson – $15,940,000
- Randall Cobb – $10,470,588
- Bradley Roby – $10,148,693
- Laremy Tunsil – $9,293,333
- Whitney Mercilus – $8,617,647
This is the last year before Deshaun Watson’s cap hit escalates to over $40 million per year. In fact, Watson and Tunsil will combine for over $66 million in 2022, with their top 5 cap hits doubling. Randall Cobb’s contract is questionable as he is six seasons removed from his only time topping 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He only had two starts in 10 games with 441 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first year in Houston. Roby has been strong since joining Houston, but Whitney Mercilus has struggled for the last four seasons. With only one full season in the last four, Mercilus is dive seasons removed from the only double-digit sack season of his career, and certainly has his best years behind him.
New York Giants: Top 5 Cap Hits – $52,775,602
- James Bradberry – $13,250,000
- Leonard Williams – $11,000,000
- Saquon Barkley – $10,025,602
- Nate Solder – $9,500,000
- Sterling Shepard – $9,000,000
Bradberry is in year 2 of his 3-year deal, and he is the No. 6 cap hit for corners in the NFL. Williams’ deal escalates in 2022 to a cap hit of $26.5 million after his standout performance in 2020. Saquon Barkley is the cautionary tale of why you don’t take a running back at the top of the draft. Barkley is the No. 3 RB cap hit in the NFL and his fifth-year option is actually a lower cap hit than the final year of his deal. Nate Solder will be returning to New York after a year of opting out for Covid. When on the field, Shephard has been productive but has struggled with injuries over the last few seasons.
New Orleans Saints: Top 5 Cap Hits – $49,431,625
- Ryan Ramczyk – $11,064,000
- Marcus Williams – $10,612,000
- Michael Thomas – $10,100,000
- Cameron Jordan – $9,356,250
- Terron Armstead – $8,299,375
With Drew Brees retiring, the Saints are preparing for their salary cap to grow immensely next season. They will have eight players over $10 million and two over $22.6 million. Ramczyk and Armstead bookend the offensive line that Jameis Winston will be sitting behind. Michael Thomas has been an elite wide receiver since his rookie year. Marcus Williams has been a happy addition and is the Saints’ franchise player this season. Cameron Jordan has been the team’s longtime defensive leader, but he had a down production year in 2020 and may be beginning to show signs of his age.
Carolina Panthers: Top 5 Cap Hits – $46,343,499
- Taylor Moton – $13,754,000
- Robby Anderson – $12,000,000
- Shaq Thompson – $8,053,333
- Christian McCaffrey – $6,899,500
- Matt Paradis – $5,636,666
Taylor Moton is the franchise player for the Panthers and is in line to make a massive contract when he finally does sign his next one. Robby Anderson had a big year his first year in Carolina with 16 starts, 1,096 yards and 3 touchdowns. Shaq Thompson had his first down year in the league and should rebound in his second year with Matt Rhule. Christian McCaffrey is on the final “low” cap hit year of his deal before his cap hit more than doubles to $14.3 million in 2022. Matt Paradis is the lowest cap hit on this list.
Buffalo Bills: Top 5 Cap Hits – $45,187,647
- Dion Dawkins – $11,380,294
- Jerry Hughes – $9,450,000
- Mitch Morse – $8,327,941
- Mario Addison – $8,177,941
- Jordan Poyer – $7,851,471
With the restructure of Stefon Diggs’ deal, the Buffalo Bills have the lowest top 5 cap hits in the NFL. Dion Dawkins is a standout offensive tackle who anchors their offensive line with Mitch Morse in the middle. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are on the final years of their contracts and with both being over 32 years old and all of the draft resources the Bills have used on the edge, it may be his final season in Buffalo. Jordan Poyer is on the second-to-last year of his deal and will need a strong season to not be a cap casualty in 2022.