Analyzing Contracts & Cap Space: AFC West (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 was referred to countless times during this writing.
- Cap Space: $12.5 million (18th in NFL)
- Largest 2023 Cap Hit: J.C. Jackson ($17 million)
The Chargers are an interesting team to start with. They have a decent amount of cap space, and all of their top players are under contract this upcoming season.
After that, all hell breaks loose.
As it stands, the Chargers have $142 million — over 60% of the cap limit — going to just four players in 2024: Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams. Tack on the $29.5 million that will be going to Justin Herbert, now that LAC has picked up the young quarterback’s fifth-year option, and you’ve got over 75% of the money allocated to just five players. Did I mention that Austin Ekeler will be an unrestricted free agent, and Justin Herbert will be in the midst of negotiating a (probably massive) long-term deal set to kick in once his 5th season is up?
Put simply, this team is going to look very, very different after this season. I would not be surprised to see a couple of big defensive names released: Khalil Mack has a huge, non-guaranteed base salary in 2024 because of some massive contract restructures, so the Chargers can save $23 million against the cap by cutting him. More importantly for fantasy, Keenan Allen ($23 million) and Mike Williams ($20 million) also represent massive opportunities for cap savings if they are released after this season. I cannot realistically imagine Keenan and Big Mike Williams still being on this team in two years; honestly, I would guess that they are both out of town. Even Gerald Everett, who had 555 yards and four scores this season, is an unrestricted free agent in the 2024 season.
So what is the fantasy angle? In my eyes, there are really just two players of note — Justin Herbert and Quentin Johnston — that are good bets to be playing in Chargers uniforms after this season. Johnston is an excellent long-term target since he has the inside track to inherit the WR1 job with a great QB in a pass-heavy offense. Herbert, unfortunately, is not: life is going to be much more difficult without two excellent WRs in Keenan and Williams to throw to (not to mention a solid TE in Everett and an elite check-down machine in Ekeler). He’s definitely a hold this year: the whole squad is intact for this season, and he’s playing for his first big contract. But I would trade him as soon as he gets signed to that monster deal: there’s a decent chance he loses all of his weapons after Week 18. The Chargers will bring in new WRs, of course…but they won’t be able to replace their dynamic duo overnight.
- Cap Space: $8.8 million (25th in NFL)
- Largest 2023 Cap Hit: Russell Wilson ($22 million)
Well, well, Denver. Things didn’t work out so well after the massive splash they made in the QB market last season. And yet — Sean Payton rode into town, and hope springs anew. Will these be mighty steeds or trudging ponies?
As poorly as Russ played last season, his massive contract makes it likely that he will be sticking around. I projected his remaining time in the Mile High City at around three seasons, which is just about the right amount of time you want to plan ahead in your dynasty league. But what will the team look like around him?
After Russ, Courtland Sutton has the highest cap hit this season ($18.3 million). His contract has a potential out next year: the Broncos can release him for just $7.7 million in dead money. Sutton will be 29 and hasn’t exactly been a world-beater. Injuries have played a factor…but even in the last two seasons, he’s played 32 total games and averaged just 7.8 PPG in fantasy. I think it’s likely that the Broncos move on from Sutton after this season (instead of paying a $13 million base salary), and hand the keys to 25-year-old Jerry Jeudy. They just picked up Jeudy’s fifth-year option, meaning they will pay him $13 million this year and (probably) negotiate a longer-term deal after that. Unfortunately, fan favorite Fireball Jones (Tim Patrick) is a likely cap casualty after this season as well. The Broncos can save $11 million in cap space by releasing the 31-year-old Fireball, which is critical because Russ’ cap hit jumps up to a ridiculous $55 million as things stand.
The Broncos do have other solid pieces in place: Javonte Williams has two years left on his rookie contract, Greg Dulcich has three, and Samaje Perine is under contract for two years (although they can save $3 million by releasing him next year). So, my take is that the Broncos will have playmakers around Wilson for the next few years (Jeudy/Dulcich/Perine/Javonte) and this offense should have a surprising amount of stability and potency. I also really like Jerry Jeudy as a dynasty target given he is in the pole position to be the alpha in the WR room. It’s a bit trickier to know what to do with Sutton and Patrick. I would trade them because of the long-term uncertainty, but Bronco offensive options are not exactly in demand right now. It’s probably better to hope for a spike this season and then capitalize before their (potentially) impending release.
- Cap Space: $2.7 million (30th in NFL)
- Largest 2023 Cap Hit: Jimmy Garoppolo ($23.8 million)
Welcome to town, Jimmy G. The erstwhile 49er immediately demands the biggest cap hit on a team with barely any cap space. Despite this, his contract doesn’t really demonstrate a long-term commitment. After 2024, he can be released for literally $0. And then he enters unrestricted free agency in 2025 (at age 35).
All told, it feels like the Raiders are financially built to ‘win now’…without necessarily having the roster to actually ‘win now.’ And the upshot is that, soon, we should expect significant roster turnover. Davante Adams will almost certainly be on the team for the next two seasons: it would cost $54 million in dead money to release him this year and $40 million to release him next year. In 2025, though, Adams turns 33, his non-guaranteed base salary goes up to $35.6 million and the team can save almost $30 million by releasing him. Hunter Renfrow can be released after this season to save $8 million (and is sneakily about to turn 28), Josh Jacobs will be an unrestricted free agent (he was franchise tagged this season), and newly signed Jakobi Meyers can be cut for a dead cap hit of merely $3.6 million.
Frankly, I’m not really sure of this team’s plan; it seems like they are ‘all-in’ without a great hand. It’s possible that Josh McDaniels is feeling the pressure of the hot seat and just wants to have a respectable season, whatever the consequences later down the line. There aren’t even young back-ups to target when the older players leave the scene: Deandre Carter, Keelan Cole, Cam Sims, and Brandon Bolden are the depth pieces for this team, and all hold basically zero long-term fantasy relevance.
So I guess my main takeaway is this: don’t trade Davante Adams. He should be the main show in town for the next two seasons; after that, who knows, but he’ll be 33 years old and probably nearing the end of his fantasy football window anyways. This is squarely in the ‘ride out the veteran’ window for me unless there is a manager who is really desperate to win now. Otherwise, Jimmy G is a nice QB2 in a Superflex league: he’s probably starting for the next two years. I’m worried about Jakobi Meyers (which hurts as a Patriots fan), who probably won’t outlast Davante Adams on this team and will be squarely in the WR2 position until then.
- Cap Space: $409,000 (32nd in NFL)
- Largest 2023 Cap Hit: Patrick Mahomes ($39 million)
Well, we know the drill: win a Super Bowl, and everybody gets paid. The Chiefs are sitting pretty with a championship ring and less than a million in cap space. That’s what happens when you have the greatest QB signed to the biggest deal: Mahomes is under contract until 2031!
Any discussion about the Chiefs’ financial situation (and, indeed, their football situation) starts and ends with Pat Mahomes. His cap hit just kicked in last season ($38 million) and climbs a bit this season ($40 million) and beyond ($46, $48 million in the next few years). Contractually, it’s almost certain that he will be on the team for the next three years since it would cost over $50 million in dead money to release him. But who are we kidding: he’ll probably be on the team longer than that, even if he is still playing on a rich contract.
Naturally, having over 20% of the cap limit go to just one player hurts the flexibility needed for the rest of the team. Fortunately, two of the other biggest cap commitments on the team are likely nearing the end of the cycle. The biggest is Chris Jones, who is owed $28 million this year, but then enters unrestricted free agency at age 30. Travis Kelce hits the cap for about $15 million the next few seasons but can be released after this year (at age 35) for a $10 million cap savings. I actually think, given what Kelce means to this franchise, that he has a good chance of playing out his contract, but $15 million in cap space is by no means formidable. A more likely release candidate is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has a significant cap hit of $11 million this year and can be released for just $2 million in dead money next season (which, I would guess, is the most likely outcome).
So, despite owing a small fortune to Mahomes, it’s likely that the Chiefs are about to get a bunch of breathing room. That’s well-timed because, like any well-run franchise, Kansas City has a number of up-and-coming players ready to fill big-time roles. Skyy Moore, even though he underperformed last season, is on a cheap rookie deal for the next three seasons. So is Isiah Pacheco, who has a chance to control this backfield after Clyde Edwards-Helaire almost certainly departs (and takes his $3 million in cap space with him). Kadarius Toney has two more years on a rookie deal.
My point here is that the current financial situation of the Kansas City Chiefs is constrained…as is their target share situation. You know Travis Kelce will soak up a ton of passes, and CEH will get plenty of carries (much to the chagrin of Pacheco managers). But…just give it a few years. Soon there projects to be sufficient cap space, and a ‘target vacuum’ that a few players with some time left on their rookie deals could take real advantage of. Sure, the Chiefs might go out and sign a ring-chasing veteran with the money left over from Chris Jones’ departure…but maybe they’ll sign Skyy Moore to a three-year deal. I don’t know. But it’s not like trading Skyy Moore would return much in your dynasty leagues, so why not just stick around and find out?
Are there any contracts you want me to analyze? Let me know on Twitter!