Home Invest 2018 NFL Draft: Where Will These Teams Invest? One Clue: Where They've Already Spent

2018 NFL Draft: Where Will These Teams Invest? One Clue: Where They've Already Spent

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There’s a lost art in understanding how NFL teams prepare for the draft. It’s the single most important event on the league’s schedule. It’s all about building for the following season and into the future.

Some of the most successful teams in recent memory have largely ignored free agency, instead deciding to focus primarily on the draft. That list includes, but isn’t limited to the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jerick McKinnon signing is a clear indication the 49ers will avoid running back early in the draft. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The lost art we talk about is the NFL salary cap. It’s a heck of a barrier for teams to overcome. It has also in the past led to major issues with team building.

Utilizing this knowledge and how caps are structured for various teams around the league, it’s possible to draw some realistic conclusions ahead of the start of the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas on Thursday.

Spotrac just broke down its pre-draft position cap spending by team. And there’s a whole lot we can take out of it. It’s also possible to use said breakdown to figure out what direction teams might go in the first round.

The San Francisco 49ers are a prime example of this. They rank No. 1 in the NFL in cap spending at both quarterback and running back. This comes after San Francisco made Jimmy Garoppolo the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL back in March. GM John Lynch and Co. then exhausted a four-year, $30 million deal on running back Jerick McKinnon.

Combined, the two are slated to count $47.5 million against the cap next season. That’s led to quarterbacks and running backs accounting for 34.8 percent of San Francisco’s cap allocation.

On the other hand, the 49ers rank in the bottom 10 along the defensive line/pass rush and in the secondary. These are two areas that have been closely linked to the up-and-coming team during the pre-draft process.

That’s just one example of understating the nuances of the cap and utilizing said knowledge to draw a specific conclusion. Here’s a few other examples.

New York Giants

The Giants’ cap allocation seems to indicate they’ll go Saquon Barkley at two. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Picking No. 2 overall, the Giants are an interesting case study in that their cap seems to be split somewhat evenly outside of the defensive line. That unit ranks in the top 10 of the NFL at over 20 percent of the team’s cap. This comes even after New York ridded itself of Jason Pierre-Paul’s bloated contract in a trade with the Buccaneers.

It includes Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison both ranking among the top-five Giants in cap hits. This could very well be seen as New York avoiding the best defensive player in the draft, former North Carolina State EDGE rusher Bradley Chub in favor of running back Saquon Barkley. After all, the Giants don’t have as much as $4 million committed to one running back. That comes in the form of veteran free agent addition Jonathan Stewart, who is seen as nothing more than a short-term option.

New York Jets

Staying in Jersey, the Jets also have an intriguing decision to make. They moved up from No. 6 overall to the third pick with Indianapolis, giving up three second-round picks in the process. That’s seemingly a clear indication New York will be adding a quarterback with its first-round pick.

Obviously, a lot of this will be dependent on what the Browns and Giants do with the first two picks. If each goes quarterback, will the Jets then decide on the third-best option at that position?

With only 11.2 percent of their cap allocated to quarterbacks and none of those under long-term deals, it’s reasonable to believe the Jets will go signal caller even if their first two options are off the board.

Incumbent starter Josh McCown signed a one-year, $10 million contract, all guaranteed. That ranks him 21st among quarterbacks next season. Meanwhile, New York signed Teddy Bridgewater to an incentive-laden one-year deal that guaranteed the former Vikings starter just $1 million at signing. Based on a lack of long-term commitments here, it’s clear the Jets are going quarterback at three.

Denver Broncos

As you can tell, it’s all about the quarterback position at the top of this year’s draft. After seeing their signal callers struggle mightily over the past two seasons, GM John Elway and Co. finally went out there and spent some cash in free agency. That came in the form of a quarterback in Case Keenum who is coming off a career season with Minnesota. It landed him a two-year, $36 million deal with $25 million guaranteed.

Unlike the Jets, this commitment is for more than one season. Keenum boasts a dead cap hit of $10 million with a salary cap hit of $21 million in 2019. It’s clear that the Broncos have committed to him for more than one season.

Even then, Denver’s cap allocation at quarterback ranks just 19th among NFL teams. There’s no reason to believe that Elway and Co. won’t be proactive in addressing their long-term needs at quarterback. It’s just not going to come with the fifth overall pick.

Instead, there’s a darn good chance Denver looks to trade down from that slot with a quarterback-needy team. This would enable the Broncos to potentially add a mid-round quarterback while addressing other areas later in the first round.

Following the release of C.J. Anderson, Denver has 1.2 percent of its cap allocated to running backs. That ranks dead last in the NFL. The Broncos leading returning rusher is Devontae Booker, who put up less than 300 yards last season. So we are looking at a lack of financial commitment coupled with a lack of a proven running back. Could this be an indication that Denver will look to add either Saquon Barkley (should he fall) or Derrius Guice if the team does find a trade partner to move down in the draft? We wouldn’t put it past the team. That’s for sure.

Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a team that seemingly has needs everywhere on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinals signed Sam Bradford to be a stopgap option, giving him a one-year $20 million deal without any investment beyond the 2018 campaign. It also has the second-fewest cap dollars allocated to the offensive line.

A lack of financial commitment in these two areas has left the Cardinals without the necessary offensive talent to compete in an increasingly difficult NFC West landscape.

It’s also important to note that of the $22 million Arizona has allocated to wide receivers, nearly $17 million of that is used up by a player in Larry Fitzgerald who has contemplated retirement each of the past two offseasons.

Needless to say, GM Steve Keim and Co. have their work cut out for them during the draft. Selecting 15th overall, there has been some speculation that Arizona may look to move up for a top-end signal caller. The team has most been linked to Josh Allen during the pre-draft process. If so, a move up into the top 10 or potentially the top-five might be needed here.

The issue with that is Arizona doesn’t boast the additional early-round picks other squads looking to move up for a quarterback (Buffalo and New England) have. It has compensatory&nbsp;picks in the third, fourth and seventh rounds. In reality, a move up would likely require Arizona to yield its first-round pick next year. With a ton of holes to fill on offense, that doesn’t seem like a great team-building idea.

The suggestion here has to be that Arizona will stand pat at 15. At that point, the team would then look to see what quarterback if available. If none of the top five find their way to the middle of the first round, offensive line seems to be the obvious pick.

New England Patriots

Could the Patriots be in the trade up market for Josh Rosen? (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Barring New England deciding to trade up (a real possibility), the team will have two picks in each of the first two rounds. It could very well be a way for the Pats to replenish their roster after losing starters Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler earlier in the offseason.

Then again, New England’s situation is intriguing in that the team is in need of finding an heir apparent to the soon-to-be 41-year-old Tom Brady after it traded away Jimmy Garoppolo last October. Hence, rumors about a potential trade up.

As of right now, the Pats are allocating the 13th-most percentage of their cap to quarterbacks. That should change with Brady himself set for a raise from the well below-market contract he’s currently playing under.

Outside of that, Bill Belichick and Co. have not committed a whole lot to the offensive line (32nd), defensive line (28th) or linebackers (24th). All three areas must be improved in the draft, especially an offensive line that lost both Solder and fellow tackle Cameron Fleming in free agency.

That seems to be a clear indication that New England will address offensive tackle and the defensive line early in this week’s draft. Of course, this is all dependent on the team electing not to give up a bounty to move up in the first round for a quarterback. In a vacuum, that would be the Pats’ way of mortgaging short-term success for long-term viability. Is Belichick willing to do this? We’re not entirely too sure.

Buffalo Bills&nbsp;

Here’s another team with a whole heck of a lot of holes and a ton of draft picks to address them. Buffalo will enter Round 1 Thursday with five of the first 65 picks, including selections No. 12 and 22. The obvious goal in acquiring these picks is to move up for a franchise signal caller.

That was taken to a whole new level after Buffalo traded Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, replacing him on the cheap with a career backup in A.J. McCarron. As of right now, McCarron joins Nathan Peterman as the only quarterbacks on Buffalo’s roster. Combined, they account for just 2.2 percent of the team’s salary cap.

Obviously, the writing is on the wall for GM Brandon Beane and Co. here. Make a move up for a quarterback and invest in this position once and for all. McCarron and Peterman have all of four combined career starts under their belts. For his part, Peterman’s sole NFL start as a rookie resulted in five first-half interceptions.

There’s no reason to believe that Buffalo won’t exhaust a ton of its draft capital in a move up to the top five for a quarterback. Though, the team has also failed in committing money and resources along the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Said move up would have to take that into account.

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There’s a lost art in understanding how NFL teams prepare for the draft. It’s the single most important event on the league’s schedule. It’s all about building for the following season and into the future.

Some of the most successful teams in recent memory have largely ignored free agency, instead deciding to focus primarily on the draft. That list includes, but isn’t limited to the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jerick McKinnon signing is a clear indication the 49ers will avoid running back early in the draft. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The lost art we talk about is the NFL salary cap. It’s a heck of a barrier for teams to overcome. It has also in the past led to major issues with team building.

Utilizing this knowledge and how caps are structured for various teams around the league, it’s possible to draw some realistic conclusions ahead of the start of the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas on Thursday.

Spotrac just broke down its pre-draft position cap spending by team. And there’s a whole lot we can take out of it. It’s also possible to use said breakdown to figure out what direction teams might go in the first round.

The San Francisco 49ers are a prime example of this. They rank No. 1 in the NFL in cap spending at both quarterback and running back. This comes after San Francisco made Jimmy Garoppolo the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL back in March. GM John Lynch and Co. then exhausted a four-year, $30 million deal on running back Jerick McKinnon.

Combined, the two are slated to count $47.5 million against the cap next season. That’s led to quarterbacks and running backs accounting for 34.8 percent of San Francisco’s cap allocation.

On the other hand, the 49ers rank in the bottom 10 along the defensive line/pass rush and in the secondary. These are two areas that have been closely linked to the up-and-coming team during the pre-draft process.

That’s just one example of understating the nuances of the cap and utilizing said knowledge to draw a specific conclusion. Here’s a few other examples.

New York Giants

The Giants’ cap allocation seems to indicate they’ll go Saquon Barkley at two. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Picking No. 2 overall, the Giants are an interesting case study in that their cap seems to be split somewhat evenly outside of the defensive line. That unit ranks in the top 10 of the NFL at over 20 percent of the team’s cap. This comes even after New York ridded itself of Jason Pierre-Paul’s bloated contract in a trade with the Buccaneers.

It includes Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison both ranking among the top-five Giants in cap hits. This could very well be seen as New York avoiding the best defensive player in the draft, former North Carolina State EDGE rusher Bradley Chub in favor of running back Saquon Barkley. After all, the Giants don’t have as much as $4 million committed to one running back. That comes in the form of veteran free agent addition Jonathan Stewart, who is seen as nothing more than a short-term option.

New York Jets

Staying in Jersey, the Jets also have an intriguing decision to make. They moved up from No. 6 overall to the third pick with Indianapolis, giving up three second-round picks in the process. That’s seemingly a clear indication New York will be adding a quarterback with its first-round pick.

Obviously, a lot of this will be dependent on what the Browns and Giants do with the first two picks. If each goes quarterback, will the Jets then decide on the third-best option at that position?

With only 11.2 percent of their cap allocated to quarterbacks and none of those under long-term deals, it’s reasonable to believe the Jets will go signal caller even if their first two options are off the board.

Incumbent starter Josh McCown signed a one-year, $10 million contract, all guaranteed. That ranks him 21st among quarterbacks next season. Meanwhile, New York signed Teddy Bridgewater to an incentive-laden one-year deal that guaranteed the former Vikings starter just $1 million at signing. Based on a lack of long-term commitments here, it’s clear the Jets are going quarterback at three.

Denver Broncos

As you can tell, it’s all about the quarterback position at the top of this year’s draft. After seeing their signal callers struggle mightily over the past two seasons, GM John Elway and Co. finally went out there and spent some cash in free agency. That came in the form of a quarterback in Case Keenum who is coming off a career season with Minnesota. It landed him a two-year, $36 million deal with $25 million guaranteed.

Unlike the Jets, this commitment is for more than one season. Keenum boasts a dead cap hit of $10 million with a salary cap hit of $21 million in 2019. It’s clear that the Broncos have committed to him for more than one season.

Even then, Denver’s cap allocation at quarterback ranks just 19th among NFL teams. There’s no reason to believe that Elway and Co. won’t be proactive in addressing their long-term needs at quarterback. It’s just not going to come with the fifth overall pick.

Instead, there’s a darn good chance Denver looks to trade down from that slot with a quarterback-needy team. This would enable the Broncos to potentially add a mid-round quarterback while addressing other areas later in the first round.

Following the release of C.J. Anderson, Denver has 1.2 percent of its cap allocated to running backs. That ranks dead last in the NFL. The Broncos leading returning rusher is Devontae Booker, who put up less than 300 yards last season. So we are looking at a lack of financial commitment coupled with a lack of a proven running back. Could this be an indication that Denver will look to add either Saquon Barkley (should he fall) or Derrius Guice if the team does find a trade partner to move down in the draft? We wouldn’t put it past the team. That’s for sure.

Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a team that seemingly has needs everywhere on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinals signed Sam Bradford to be a stopgap option, giving him a one-year $20 million deal without any investment beyond the 2018 campaign. It also has the second-fewest cap dollars allocated to the offensive line.

A lack of financial commitment in these two areas has left the Cardinals without the necessary offensive talent to compete in an increasingly difficult NFC West landscape.

It’s also important to note that of the $22 million Arizona has allocated to wide receivers, nearly $17 million of that is used up by a player in Larry Fitzgerald who has contemplated retirement each of the past two offseasons.

Needless to say, GM Steve Keim and Co. have their work cut out for them during the draft. Selecting 15th overall, there has been some speculation that Arizona may look to move up for a top-end signal caller. The team has most been linked to Josh Allen during the pre-draft process. If so, a move up into the top 10 or potentially the top-five might be needed here.

The issue with that is Arizona doesn’t boast the additional early-round picks other squads looking to move up for a quarterback (Buffalo and New England) have. It has compensatory picks in the third, fourth and seventh rounds. In reality, a move up would likely require Arizona to yield its first-round pick next year. With a ton of holes to fill on offense, that doesn’t seem like a great team-building idea.

The suggestion here has to be that Arizona will stand pat at 15. At that point, the team would then look to see what quarterback if available. If none of the top five find their way to the middle of the first round, offensive line seems to be the obvious pick.

New England Patriots

Could the Patriots be in the trade up market for Josh Rosen? (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Barring New England deciding to trade up (a real possibility), the team will have two picks in each of the first two rounds. It could very well be a way for the Pats to replenish their roster after losing starters Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler earlier in the offseason.

Then again, New England’s situation is intriguing in that the team is in need of finding an heir apparent to the soon-to-be 41-year-old Tom Brady after it traded away Jimmy Garoppolo last October. Hence, rumors about a potential trade up.

As of right now, the Pats are allocating the 13th-most percentage of their cap to quarterbacks. That should change with Brady himself set for a raise from the well below-market contract he’s currently playing under.

Outside of that, Bill Belichick and Co. have not committed a whole lot to the offensive line (32nd), defensive line (28th) or linebackers (24th). All three areas must be improved in the draft, especially an offensive line that lost both Solder and fellow tackle Cameron Fleming in free agency.

That seems to be a clear indication that New England will address offensive tackle and the defensive line early in this week’s draft. Of course, this is all dependent on the team electing not to give up a bounty to move up in the first round for a quarterback. In a vacuum, that would be the Pats’ way of mortgaging short-term success for long-term viability. Is Belichick willing to do this? We’re not entirely too sure.

Buffalo Bills 

Here’s another team with a whole heck of a lot of holes and a ton of draft picks to address them. Buffalo will enter Round 1 Thursday with five of the first 65 picks, including selections No. 12 and 22. The obvious goal in acquiring these picks is to move up for a franchise signal caller.

That was taken to a whole new level after Buffalo traded Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, replacing him on the cheap with a career backup in A.J. McCarron. As of right now, McCarron joins Nathan Peterman as the only quarterbacks on Buffalo’s roster. Combined, they account for just 2.2 percent of the team’s salary cap.

Obviously, the writing is on the wall for GM Brandon Beane and Co. here. Make a move up for a quarterback and invest in this position once and for all. McCarron and Peterman have all of four combined career starts under their belts. For his part, Peterman’s sole NFL start as a rookie resulted in five first-half interceptions.

There’s no reason to believe that Buffalo won’t exhaust a ton of its draft capital in a move up to the top five for a quarterback. Though, the team has also failed in committing money and resources along the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Said move up would have to take that into account.

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