One of the benefits of being in a business for almost two decades is that you make a lot of relationships, good and bad, and you get to sort out the pretenders from the legit sources of information. One of our new friends, Mike Ginnitti of Spotrac, is definitely “legit.” 

If you read this blog regularly, you’re the kind of person who doesn’t need an introduction to what Mike and the team at Spotrac do. This week, with Super Bowl-winning QBs and All-Pro cornerbacks suddenly on the block, trade winds are in the air. But which teams can easily take on salary this time of year? And which one’s can’t? We asked Mike to give us a look at which teams have the highest cash payrolls and which ones have the lowest. Below are his thoughts.

While much is made of the highest paid players or the teams with the fewest or least amount of cap space in a given year, the notion of actual cash paid out by a team is often overlooked. Here’s a quick breakdown of the top and bottom five cash payrolls in the NFL for the 2019 season, which includes all active salaries, players on reserve lists, and dead cash – or cash being paid out to players who were released but still had guarantees. Note: this is a snapshot look, as these numbers change on a daily basis. For a look at Spotrac’s Team Cash Tracker, click here.

Top-five highest cash payrolls, in order:

Atlanta Falcons, $256.7M: The Falcons have big-time bonuses for Matt Ryan ($33.25M), Julio Jones ($25M), & Grady Jarrett ($18M) taking up the bulk of their 2019 payroll, & another $14M allocated to players already on their injured reserve list. Their payroll signifies that the Falcons consider themselves inside of a window to win, even if the play on the field isn’t quite cooperating just yet. Over 61% of the Falcons’ 2019 payroll is being allocated to the offensive side of the ball.

Philadelphia Eagles, $212.4M: The Eagles routinely keep a high cash payroll because of the way in which they structure their contracts: high cash early with the mindset that multiple salaries will be restructured into bonuses in years 2, 3 and sometimes 4. Most of the Eagles’ high cash earners in 2019 fall under this category (Alshon Jeffery, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox). The big exception, of course, is QB Carson Wentz, who takes in $17M in year one of his sophomore extension, and who will see nearly $40M cash in 2020. Over 58% of the Eagles’ cash payroll this year belongs to offensive players.

New York Jets, $208.3M: Of the Top 10 cash payrolls, only two teams are spending more on their defense than their offense in 2019: the Jets (51%) and the Packers (52%). For New York, that’s due in large part to the blockbuster free agent signing of C.J. Mosley ($19M) and No. 3 overall selection Quinnen Williams ($16.7M). Elsewhere the Jets already have $20M of cash locked into players on injured reserve or non-football injury (NFI) lists, and another $2.25M allocated to suspended players. Sam Darnold ($1.85M) ranks 25th among Jets’ cash salaries for 2019.

Pittsburgh Steelers, $207.4M: The Steelers have $102M spent on their offense (44% of which belong to the now-injured Ben Roethlisberger), $98M allocated to their defense and a little more than $5.6M on special teams. Restructured contracts for Joe Haden and Maurkice Pouncey round out the big numbers this year, while newly drafted inside linebacker Devin Bush sees $12.2M in his rookie campaign. Many of these numbers drop off considerably in 2020, as Pittsburgh currently has just $132M cash spent into next season, with 39 contracts locked in.

Minnesota Vikings, $203.3M: The Vikings have done a remarkable job of keeping their core players around despite pressure to earn more elsewhere. Big-time extensions for Adam Thielen and Anthony Barr combine with recent deals for Kirk Cousins, Xavier Rhodes and Danielle Hunter for a top-heavy cash payroll in 2019. These five players combine for 39 percent of the Vikings’ entire payroll this season.

So which five teams have the most cap room to play with, if they so chose? You’ll have to read our Friday Wrap to get the five teams on the other end of the scale. Don’t get it already? You can register here.

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