There is one question that’s so central to an NFL General Manager’s role that it’s practically a mandatory daily consideration: How can I field the best roster possible this season, without sacrificing future years’ rosters?
One of the best ways to do that is by managing cap space wisely. The NFL’s salary cap has been exploding in the last decade+, aside from a down year from the pandemic, but having more money available doesn’t make good decisions any easier. It’s still vitally important to nail the annual value and length of contracts, to manage guarantees, and to limit the team’s exposure to dead cap.
That last is one element of the General Manager job that John Elway excelled at. During Elway’s tenure as the Denver Broncos’ GM, the team was regularly among those with the smallest portion of cap eaten away by dead money. So far, George Paton has done the same.
A year & a half into Paton’s tenure as Broncos GM, the team is currently sitting at $19,106,704 of dead cap. That’s the 14th least dead cap in the league. But not all of that was under Paton’s control: the Broncos still have $7,090,000 of dead cap on the books from the failed Elway-era signing of offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. Without James, Denver’s dead cap would be just $12,016,704, good for 8th least in the NFL.
On the other side of the cap coin is cap space. And Paton has his team sitting comfortably in that regard as well, with the $11,731,225 of cap space available being the 5th most among all 32 teams. There’s space there not only for making signings to help with injuries, but also to potentially sign or trade for another player as a roster upgrade as well.
Oh, and he secured a franchise QB for the team for the forseeable future on his way to those numbers. Not bad, George!
To offer some perspective, consider the work of Atlanta Falcons GM Terry Fontenot: Hired around the same time as George Paton, his team is entering the 2022 season talent-poor and shackled by a harrowing $64.8M dead cap figure. Most of that, over $40M of it, was due to Fontenot’s unsuccessful courting of disgraced QB Deshaun Watson. The Falcons’ efforts to bring Watson to Atlanta drew the ire of longtime franchise QB Matt Ryan. He subsequently force the team to trade him away to the Indianapolis Colts, leaving Fontenot carrying one heck of a heavy bag for his questionably wise trouble.
The immediate future looks pretty good for Denver, with only $1.3M of dead cap on the books for 2023, to go with $22.6M of cap space available. While that’s only the 15th most cap space available for 2023, it’s a far better situation to be in than if the Broncos were joining the Chargers, Browns, Bucs, Panthers, & Saints in being $10M+ in the red.
Cap management will get more difficult for Paton a few years down the line, when Russell Wilson’s cap hits balloon into the $50M/year+ range. But that’s quite alright: by that time that will be entirely normal- the going rate for veteran franchise QBs. Heck, it’s practically at that point already. And with the cap continuing to grow between then and now, there will be wiggle room to spare for a crafty & careful GM.
Cap figures all sourced from overthecap.com.
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