After one of the more newsworthy NFL offseasons in recent memory, training camp and preseason games are both within sight. Now that tight end Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints are once again friends (for at least the time being) and the dirty work that comes every spring and summer is finished, one can adequately evaluate NFL salary cap hits for the 2014 campaign.
The names one would expect to see are atop the list. Super Bowl champion quarterbacks who have more than earned their paychecks are in the top ten, as are a few guys who are staring at what will, for them, be pivotal seasons. The list begins with one of the latter, a man who has yet to meet the high expectations many have for him.
These are the 10 biggest salary cap hits of the 2014 NFL season.
Salary info via Spotrac
10. Matt Ryan — QB, Atlanta Falcons: $17.5 million
Apologists looking to defend the Atlanta quarterback will be quick to point out that he hasn’t necessarily been placed in the best of situations over the past couple of seasons. The fact of the matter is that Ryan is paid to be an elite QB, the type of player who makes those around him better.
Ryan has never gotten to that level. He may never do so.
At just 29 years old, the window for Ryan becoming a top-tier QB remains very much open. He is going to have to get there and soon to justify his being paid so handsomely.
9. Peyton Manning — QB, Denver Broncos: $17.5 million
The most passing yards in the league. 16 more touchdown passes than the QB who is second on the list. The third-best completion percentage in the NFL last season.
That’s what $17.5 million of salary cap hit gets you when that money is invested properly.
How many more seasons (if that word should even be pluralized could be debated) The Sheriff has left in him remains in doubt. Manning is a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback and maybe the best to ever play the position in the NFL. He is a bargain at any price.
8. Sam Bradford — QB, St. Louis Rams: $17.610 million
The Rams, specifically head coach Jeff Fisher, chose to go all-in on Bradford for the 2014 NFL season rather than draft a potential QB for the future such as Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater. That doesn’t mean that Bradford has a home in St. Louis for longer than the next seven or so months.
Bradford, who tore his ACL last October, could be set to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award this fall if he survives the entire season and plays well. Were Bradford to either struggle or once again get hurt, however, the Rams could find themselves in a position where they feel as though they have to cut ties with the signal-caller.
7. Aaron Rodgers — QB, Green Bay Packers: $17.9 million
Don’t let the fact that Rodgers got banged up last season fool or concern you. The 30-year-old Super Bowl champion is, at worst, as good as are the older Manning brother and Tom Brady. Rodgers, unlike those two, is just 30, and he could realistically have no fewer than five incredible seasons ahead of him.
There is speculation that Rodgers is looking to spend some of his NFL money on a different sports venture. It’s been rumored that the QB could be looking to invest in the Milwaukee Bucks.
Look for some campy and downright awful Rodgers-Bucks TV commercials if that happens.
6. Drew Brees — QB, New Orleans Saints: $18.4 million
If age is catching up to the Super Bowl champion quarterback, you wouldn’t know it. Brees, who turned 35 years old last January, went for over 5,100 passing yards and 39 touchdowns during the 2013 campaign. The only quarterback to have over 5,000 passing yards last season was the previously mentioned Manning, who helped carry the Broncos to a Super Bowl berth.
Don’t look now, but Brees could be on the verge of doing the same for the Saints this time around.
The Seattle Seahawks will be looking to avoid a Super Bowl hangover. No team in the NFC East looks to be a true championship contender. New Orleans could, depending on what occurs in training camp and during the preseason, be favorites to come out of the NFC.
5. Jay Cutler — QB, Chicago Bears: $18.5 million
The Chicago Bears had a choice to make: Give Cutler the contract he desires and ensure that the QB will retire as a member of the Bears, or move on and look toward the future.
Chicago went with Cutler, and it is undeniably a risk that could set the Bears back for years if it doesn’t work out.
Cutler is, to his credit, only 31 years old. He could still theoretically have his best season or seasons ahead of him. That will have to be the case for the Bears to have been proven right on giving Cutler the keys to the offense.
4. Mario Williams — DE, Buffalo Bills: $18.8 million
Williams cashed in and in a big way two years ago when he put pen to paper on a $96 million deal with the Bills. Buffalo, in Williams, saw a superstar who could serve as a cornerstone of what could be a championship defense. While the Bills haven’t been contenders, Williams can’t be blamed for the team’s records over the past two seasons.
He has earned his pay.
Williams, over 32 regular season games with the Bills, has accumulated 23.5 sacks. At 29 years old, he is in the prime of his playing days. While the Bills have made plenty of mistakes over the years, signing Williams was not one of them.
3. Ben Roethlisberger — QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: $18.895 million
It doesn’t seem like it was less than a year ago that there was serious talk out there about the Steelers possibly trading Big Ben. Pittsburgh started the campaign with four straight losses, and Roethlisberger had thrown five interceptions in those games. Roethlisberger, still only 32 years old, has taken beatings throughout his playing days, and some wondered if he was entering the twilight of his career.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers eventually turned things around, nearly backing into the playoffs in late December.
Health is always going to be the concern with Roethlisberger. He sits in the pocket too long, and he takes far too many hits. The 6-5 and 241-pound QB keeps getting up, however, and the two-time Super Bowl champion could take Pittsburgh to the postseason in 2014.
2. Eli Manning — QB, New York Giants: $20.4 million
There’s no point in dancing around the issue. The younger Manning QB was downright awful in 2013. He tossed a career-high 27 interceptions, and he was a major reason that the G-Men began the season with six straight defeats.
Manning is also a two-time Super Bowl champion, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and he has engineered two championship-winning drives. His contract is well deserved.
Don’t close the curtain on the idea of Manning being able to once again hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Manning is fully healthy, and it is believed that he is liking what he has seen from new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The Giants could surprise many in 2014.
1. Ndamukong Suh — DT, Detroit Lions: $22,412,500
The Lions are going to have to give Suh a pay raise if they are to keep him in Detroit long term. That’s probably what is going to happen, and it’s the right move for the franchise.
Suh can be, for lack of a better description, a pain in the butt who gets himself fined due to making dumb decisions on the football field. He’s also a durable player who produces and who also avoids suspensions.
Suh has played in all but two of Detroit’s regular season games over the past four years.