Analyzing Contracts & Cap Space: AFC East (Fantasy Football)
This is part of a series where I analyze the financial situations of each NFL team, division by division. The gold standards for sports finance data are Spotrac and Over the Cap, which were referred to countless times during this writing.
- 2023 Cap Space: $4 million (31st in NFL)
- Largest Cap Hit: Josh Allen ($18.6 million)
The Bills will soon be facing a financial reckoning. They are already ‘up against it’ in terms of cap space, and their three biggest cap hits are set to increase after this season. Tre’Davious White’s will jump by $2 million to $16 million, Stefon Diggs‘ by $13 million to nearly $28 million, and Josh Allen‘s by a whopping THIRTY million to $47 million. Add all those up, and they certainly exceed the meager $4 million in cap space that the team wields coming into this year.
So what does the future look like in Buffalo? Well, as massive as Allen and Diggs’ contracts are, they are pretty hard to dump. Josh Allen can’t be released for less than $50 million in dead money (cash you have to pay a player even if he is released) until 2026. That’s also the first year that Stefon Diggs hits more than $5 million in cap savings (amount saved by releasing a player). Even Tre’Davious White can’t be released for more than $6 million in cap savings until 2025!
It’s most likely, then, that the Bills ride out Allen and Diggs for the next few seasons, at an increasingly exorbitant cost. What does this mean for the rest of the roster? Well, I don’t have a lot of faith in Gabe Davis, who hits free agency next year, being signed to any sort of significant deal in Buffalo. Damien Harris is on a one-year contract and will also have a hard time being re-signed. No, it’s likely that the Bills will focus on growing young talent on rookie deals, like James Cook (three years left) and Dalton Kincaid (four years left), while simultaneously forking over a proverbial arm and leg to Allen and Diggs. Of course, when these two players are commanding $75 million of cap space each year (about 33% of the total), that probably doesn’t bode well for the rest of the roster. But you can be reasonably confident as a fantasy manager that the main players in Buffalo will be around for some time…and that the young bucks will have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves.
- 2023 Cap Space: $13.8 million (15th in NFL)
- Largest Cap Hit: CJ Mosley ($21.4 million)
A funny stat: after Aaron Rodgers restructured his contract, he now has a larger cap hit than Zach Wilson! For this season at least. Rodgers’ contract is structured in such a way that the Jets, even in 2025, would still owe him $49 million in dead money if they released him. That’s $9 million more than the record set by the Atlanta Falcons releasing Matt Ryan, which means it’s likely that Rodgers’ stint in New York is likely going to be more than just a single season.
That’s good news for dynasty and good news for the options around him. Garrett Wilson has three years left on a rookie contract. Allen Lazard signed a sneakily big contract: it only makes financial sense to potentially release him starting in 2025, at age 30 ($7 million in cap savings), so he has at least two years left. Tyler Conklin has two more years, and Breece Hall has three. That’s a solid window for all of these fantasy players, assuming that Rodgers can recapture some of his old magic.
There are a few players that don’t have as significant of a financial investment. Mecole Hardman is on a one-year deal, as is 33-year-old Randall Cobb. I wouldn’t rate their chances of re-signing as ‘high,’ especially as Rodgers’ cap hit jumps up to $17 million next season and then over $50 million after that. But for the rest of the Jets? A cheery dynasty outlook.
- 2023 Cap Space: $11.6 million (17th in NFL)
- Largest Cap Hit: Emmanuel Ogbah ($17.1 million)
The Dolphins appear to have a bit of financial wiggle-room: a respectable amount of cap space, and then their highest cap hit (defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah) can be released for just $4 million in dead money next season to avoid an $18 million cap hit. Unfortunately, the ‘Phins will need the space: Tyreek Hill‘s cap hit jumps up $19 million to $31 million, which would be the fourth highest in the league as contracts now stand. In two years, Tua Tagovailoa‘s contract will be up (Miami exercised his fifth-year option, and will pay him $23 million next season) and ready for a franchise-QB contract. So will Jaylen Waddle, hoping to ink a mega-WR deal.
What do I expect to happen? Well, we know that Tyreek has said he plans to retire in a few seasons; I expect a few more years from him before the Dolphins push all their chips (and cash) in on Tua and Waddle. In terms of the rest of the roster, the RB room is annoyingly crowded (at least in terms of fantasy). Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson have two years left on their deals, and the ‘Phins don’t save much by releasing them. Salvon Ahmed has another year left on this team. Devon Achane has four years on a rookie deal: he’s a super exciting young player, but it could be three seasons until he is the only show in town.
Meanwhile, Cedrick Wilson has two more years under contract… but his dead cap drops to just $1 million next season. It’s likely that Wilson has one more year in Miami, and is probably not a good target for long-term dynasty purposes.
- 2023 Cap Space: $14.4 million (10th in NFL)
- Largest Cap Hit: Matthew Judon ($16.4 million)
Ah, the best for last (if you didn’t know, I’m a Patriots fan)! The Pats are at a bit of a crossroads. Mac Jones has two more years left on his rookie deal…which, probably by design, is about the same window that most of the offensive players have remaining on their contracts. New arrival JuJu Smith-Schuster signed for three years but can be released for just $2 million in dead money in his final season. Rhamondre Stevenson has two years left on a rookie deal. Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, and Mike Gesicki both hit free agency after this season. Even DeVante Parker, who was just re-signed, can be released for just $1.6 million in cap space in 2025.
My point is — and this is painful for me to say — there’s no real financial investment in the Patriots’ offensive identity. If Mac bounces back this season, then the team might pick up his fifth-year option and beyond; if not, they are ready to retool at nearly every position after this season or the next. This is probably a team to avoid in long-term dynasty strategy, other than Rhamondre (a two-year window for a running back is pretty solid) and perhaps JuJu and Parker if you are in ‘win-now’ mode. Technically Tyquan Thornton has three years left on his rookie deal, but it’s hard to argue for him in fantasy as potentially the fifth or sixth target this year, and maybe third or fourth beyond that (behind JuJu and Parker).
I commonly get asked if I think Bailey Zappe is worth a stash. The short answer is no: I believe Mac Jones will start every game this year barring injury, and so you would be holding Zappe for the potential of 2024 and beyond. But at that point, the Pats might just reload the QB position in the draft or free agency, especially with all of their other offensive pieces (likely) departing.
Let me know what you think on Twitter.