Analyzing Contracts & Cap Space: NFC North (Fantasy Football)

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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.

Editor’s Note: For more on Team Opportunity, Contracts of Note, and the Dynasty outlook of each team, check out the Dynasty Pass part of the Ultimate Draft Kit+.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Largest Cap Hit: Kirk Cousins ($20 million)
  • Cap Space: $18 million (9th in NFL)

I think we as a fantasy community overrate the stability of the Vikings’ offensive situation. Kirk Cousins’ contract is up after this season, and he’ll be 36 years old. Will he be suiting up in purple again in 2024 and beyond? It might seem like the Vikings have the money…but Justin Jefferson‘s cap hit jumps up to $19 million next season (the team exercised his fifth-year option). It could jump even more when he inks his eventual mega-deal in 2025.

T.J. Hockenson, who made a splash last season after being traded from division-mate Detroit, hits unrestricted free agency this year. He’ll still be in his prime (just 26 years old), and will likely demand a large contract from teams trying to mimic the Dallas GoedertTravis KelceGeorge Kittle role. Signing Hock could be tricky, given that other big cap hits Brian O’Neill and Harrison Smith are under contract for the next few years (although both can be released starting in 2024 for decent cap savings).

Simply put, there are a lot of directions that the Vikings could take. Release O’Neill and Smith, let Hockenson walk, and re-sign Cousins? Or set Cousins out to pasture, re-sign Hockenson, and use the cap space — and offensive weapons — to attract another QB in free agency? It’s difficult to know, although I do have a feeling they will move on from Cousins. Two players that we can be reasonably certain about are Jordan Addison completing his four-year rookie deal and Alexander Mattison locking down the starting RB role for the next two seasons (the team saves virtually nothing by releasing him, and the only other back of note on the roster is Kene Nwangwu, who can be released for less than $400,000 in dead money). I would also tentatively predict that Jefferson signs his massive, second contract with the Vikings…but honestly, given the market for alpha WRs, I could see something similar to the AJ Brown Titans-Eagles-trade-and-sign happening.

Detroit Lions

  • Largest Cap Hit: Jared Goff ($30.9 million)
  • Cap Space: $19.3 million (6th in NFL)

The ‘feel-good’ team of last season enters 2023 as the favorite (nope, not a joke) to win the NFC North. This probably has just as much to do with Aaron Rodgers‘ departure and the Vikings’ (likely) regression to the mean in one-score games as it does faith in the Lions. But I digress…

An eye-popping number sits atop the Lions’ cap table: a massive $30.9 million hit from Jared Goff, good for the third-most among quarterbacks. Only Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Tannehill hit the cap for more this season. So while Goff has definitely performed well in Detroit, it’s safe to say that his contract is…a bit less than ideal. His cap hit increases to over $31 million next year, but he can be released for just $5 million in dead money or a $26 million cap savings. Frankly, I think this is the most likely scenario, and that’s why I don’t feel great about Goff in dynasty. I expect the Lions to use their cap space, an array of young offensive weapons, and ‘momentum’ to try to lure a QB to Detroit to take them over the hump.

The highest-paid wideouts on the team are — no, this is also not a joke — Kalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds. Both hit unrestricted free agency next season, as well as ages 30 and 29, respectively. Amon-Ra St. Brown still has two years remaining on his rookie deal, while Jameson Williams has three, and this duo should command the majority of targets for years to come. Meanwhile, I would be gushing over the contract of recent arrival David Montgomery (a three-year commitment, with little-to-no financial incentive to release Montgomery in the first two years) were it not for the Lions drafting Jahmyr Gibbs 12th overall. Thanks to his status as an early first-rounder, Gibbs is already being paid a similar amount to Montgomery, and I expect a pretty split backfield for the next few seasons.

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Green Bay Packers

  • Cap Space: $13.2 million (16th in NFL)
  • Largest Cap Hit: David Bakhtiari ($21.2 million)

A hearty welcome to the new-look Packers! As a Patriots fan who has endured three post-Tom Brady seasons, I say to you: it’s probably not going to be a very fun stretch.

The Jordan Love experiment will probably span at least two seasons. The former first-round QB would incur a dead cap hit of $12.5 million to be released next season, nearly twice as much as his cap hit to keep him on the roster. And, frankly, Aaron Jones will probably be in the mix as well. The 29-year-old RB is under contract for two more seasons, and the Pack only save $5 million by letting him go in 2024. Meanwhile, AJ Dillon hits free agency next season after his rookie deal expires. I think Jones has more of a window than people appreciate, especially as a near-30 RB that just lost a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback.

Now things start to get ugly. The WR room in Green Bay is as fraught as any in the league: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Jayden Reed fill out the depth chart. The good news is that they all have a ton of time left on their rookie deals, and thus a chance at commanding targets for years to come. Even if Watson maintains his fantasy momentum, he’s not a high-volume guy, and the other two wideouts could still get theirs. The bad news, of course, is that they are unproven NFL players with a first-time — if not a rookie — signal-caller at the helm. So call your shots cautiously.

Chicago Bears

  • Cap Space: $34.8 million (1st in NFL)
  • Largest Cap Hit: DJ Moore ($20.1 million)

Da Bears! Chicago is that team in your dynasty league who has compiled a massive treasure chest…and now has to figure out how to make it work. They have the most cap space in the league and two first-rounders in 2024 (their own and the Panthers’, thanks to the trade of the 1.01 that became Bryce Young). They have a promising young QB with two years left on a rookie deal. What moves are they going to make?

That last question has become at least semi-apparent. The Bears brought in D.J. Moore as part of that 1.01 trade, immediately making the WR their biggest team cap hit. I’m a big D.J. Moore fan, but I’m a bit worried about the contract: after this season, he can be released for just $1 million in dead money, or a $15 million cap savings. Chase Claypool will be hitting free agency, as will Darnell Mooney, with both of their rookie contracts having expired. Claypool probably won’t be re-signed, but the Bears will likely try to ink Mooney to a second deal, and I just worry about the financial incentive for the Bears to move on from DJM. Although, I guess, they don’t really need the cap space.

Another signing — which perhaps came as a bit of a surprise — was the recent four-year, $50-million deal to Cole Kmet. I don’t think the numbers are as eye-popping as they initially seem: the deal carries $32 million in guarantees, and Kmet can be released for less than $5 million in dead money starting in 2025. It’s certainly good news for his dynasty outlook; clearly, the Bears are using some of their ample resources to lock him down long-term.

The RB room is a bit more uncertain. As much as fantasy managers want to hand the reins to Khalil Herbert with David Montgomery (finally) gone, the Bears’ brass evidently feels differently. They brought in D’Onta Foreman on a one-year deal, Travis Homer on a two-year contract, and drafted Roschon Johnson to fill out what is increasingly feeling like a committee approach. Khalil Herbert has two years left on his rookie deal and, while he should be the lead guy, it’s hard to imagine him dominating the carry share. Especially with Justin Fields‘ ability to run the ball himself!


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