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Dead Cap Money Cycle

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Background: Sep 30, 2018; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford (9) looks on from the bench during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian

Thanks to Jason_OTC’s tweet, here are the top 10 NFL teams that have incurred the most dead can money over the past three years.

Jason_OTC @Jason_OTC· 2h

Most Dead Money from 2018-2020

1. Giants- $109.6M

2. Dolphins- $109.1M

3. Cardinals- $98.5M

4. Jaguars- $94.6M

5. Bills- $85.8M

6. Broncos- $72.8M

7. Panthers- $69M

8. Browns- $68.9M

9. Rams- $64.7M

10. Jets- $62.5M

NFL Avg- $58.1M


  • 6 of these teams (NYG, MIA, ARI, DEN, CLE, NYJ) have 0 winning seasons the past 3 years.
  • 2 of these teams (JAX, CAR) have only 1 winning season the past 3 years and that was in 2017. JAX lost in the AFC Championship and CAR lost in the WC round.
  • 1 of these teams (BUF) have 2 winning seasons the past 3 years. BUF lost in the 2017 and 2019 WC round.
  • 1 of these teams has 3 winning seasons the past 3 years. LAR lost on the WC round in 2017 and lost in the Super Bowl in 2018.


Typically, one will find either perennial losers on this list or teams that spent big money in a short window to try to win a Super Bowl.

How Teams Avoid Dead Cap Money:

  • Stability and continuity on the coaching staff. Only 3 of the teams on the top 10 list above have not had a head coaching change over the past 3 years: (JAX—-Doug Marrone; BUF—-Sean McDermott; LAR—-Sean McVay). All 3 of these teams have made the playoffs once or twice over the past 3 years—-Marrone took the Jags to the 2017 AFC Championship game and McVay took the Rams to the 2918 Super Bowl. Interestingly, all 3 of these head coaches were hired in 2017.
  • Stability and continuity at the QB position. Of the 10 teams above, these teams have recently tried to draft their franchise QB: NYG—-Daniel Jones; MIA—-Tua Tagovailoa; ARI—-Kyler Murray; JAX—-Gardner Minshew; BUF—-Josh Allen; DEN—-Drew Lock; CAR*—-UFA Teddy Bridgewater; CLE—-Baker Mayfield; LAR—-Jared Goff; NYJ—-Sam Darnold.
  • Avoiding bad contracts and getting strong play from the players on the roster who make the highest salaries. Here were the highest paid players for the Cardinals the past 3 years:

2017: Carson Palmer ($24M), Larry Fitzgerald ($16M), Patrick Peterson ($14M), Tyrann Mathieu ($13M), Jared Veldheer ($10M), Chandler Jones ($10M), Mike Iupati ($10M).

2018: Larry Fitzgerald ($16.9M); Chandler Jones ($15.5M); Patrick Peterson ($14.9M); Sam Bradford ($10.6M); Deone Bucannon ($8.7M); Jermaine Gresham ($7.2M); Mike Iupati ($6.7M).

2019: Chandler Jones ($14.8M); Patrick Peterson ($14M* - $6M susp.); David Johnson ($13M); Larry Fitzgerald ($11.8M); D.J. Humphries ($9.6M); Justin Pugh ($7.8M); Terrell Suggs ($7M); Jordan Hicks ($6.4M); Kyler Murray ($6.4M).

Of all of these top salaries the past 3 years—-which ones were the most justified, based on the player’s performance in that season? My list goes like this: Chandler Jones (2017, 2018, 2019), D.J. Humphries (2019), Justin Pugh (2019), Jordan Hicks (2019), Kyler Murray (2019). But, I could see some of you arguing the salary/performance cases against Humphries, Pugh and Hicks—-it’s a close call in many respects, and if made the call based on PFF grades, then none of them fit the bill.

Regardless, when you look at the top contracts over the past 3 years for the Cardinals, there’s an overwhelming preponderance of under-achievement.

We have debated Larry Fitzgerald’s salaries—-and in terms of effort and leadership,—-one can cogently make the argument that Fitz deserves whatever he is paid. I think that if all of us were backed up against the wall, we would have opted to keep Larry a Cardinal at the salaries he requested—-if there was no other choice. However, I think all of us can agree that Fitz’s production has not been on a par with his salary figures. Now—-part of this is not Fitz’s fault because of the sub-par quarterbacking and the vanilla 2018 offense. In 2017 both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton were lost early to mid-season due to injuries. In 2018, Sam Bradford was a bust, and Josh Rosen was a rookie playing under two different OCs.

It needs to be noted that the Cardinals made two big mistakes in ripping up Tyrann Mathieu’s and David Johnson’s contracts after 3 years on their rookie deals. Those are the kind of pre-mature, lucrative contracts that tend to set a team back—-both on the field and in terms of team morale.

Your highest paid ballers have to ball—-it’s as simple as that.

Looking Ahead:

  • Steve Keim was able to trade away David Johnson’s prohibitive contract.
  • Keim’s biggest new contracts cap-wise: DeAndre Hopkins (TBD—-probably in the $22-23M a year range); D.J. Humphries ($15M a year) and Jordan Phillips ($10M a year). Obviously, it would be a boon for the Cardinals if Hopkins, Humphries and Phillips live up to their contracts. Sportrac’s current player market values: Hopkins ($23.3M), Humphries ($14.1M); Phillips ($6.2M).
  • Kyler Murray has three more years on his rookie contract.
  • Kliff Kingsbury and his staff need to make continued progress.
  • Steve Keim has some big decisions to make with regard to 2021 UFAs Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker, Larry Fitzgerald and Kenyan Drake. Sportrac projects Peterson’s market value 20201 contract at 3 years for $34M. Drake’s at 4 years for $22M. If Budda Baker has another Pro Bowl season, he would deserve a yearly salary in the $14-15M range.
  • As of right now the Cardinals’ projected cap space for 2021 (per sportrac) is $43.45M, with only $2K in dead cap money.
  • Top Projected 2021 Arizona Cardinals Cap Hits:

DeAndre Hopkins—-$23.3M

Chandler Jones—-$20.8M

D. J. Humphries: $16.4M

Jordan Phillips—-$12M

Justin Pugh—-$11.3M

Kyler Murray—-$9.25M

Robert Alford—-$9M

Jordan Hicks—-$9M

Devon Kennard—-$8M

Isaiah Simmons—-$4.68M

Your Thoughts?

What kind of cap salary shape do you think the Cardinals are in moving forward?

I will provide my answers to this within our discussion.