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A Salute to the Cap

The Chargers are well-positioned for success in the the salary cap era

A tip-top tip of the cap to the Cap, whose cap tip shouldn’t topple the map
Jason Michaels

Those who are avid readers of SB Nation blogs have probably read Bill Connelly’s recent breakdown on the impact and importance of portion control in terms of NFL salary cap. If not, click the link and digest all of that gooey, numbery goodness. Bill does a great job of dissecting the salary cap in a meaningful way, and he approaches balance in terms of managing a team’s most important impact players (and their impact on the total allowed salary limit).

The 2018 salary cap has been set at $177,200,000 for each team in the NFL. It is this directive that brings general parity to the NFL more than any other single impact rule. While Jerry Jones could probably buy every quality QB of playing age and thus will his Cowboys to the Superbowl by that aspect alone (I will try and calculate how long before he goes broke, but it might have to wait until later..), the NFL forces teams into roster turnover by the way of balancing ever-increasing contracts, rookie deals, and veteran minimums. It’s beautiful for number-types, and its maddening for Madden-types.

In both 2016 and 2017, teams used an average of 48 percent of their cap on their 10 most expensive active players. The cap balance game rewards teams for sticking under 60% and above 45%. Teams that fall on either side of that are woefully under-talented or dreadfully chained to heavy salaries. To give you an example, until officially cut, Ndamukong Suh is occupying nearly 15% of the Dolphins total cap space.

The real butter zone appears to be 57-58%, but anything between 45 and 60 positions a team well.

How did the 2017 Chargers look?

The 2017 Chargers were a healthy team in terms of cap balance. Philip Rivers claimed 11.42% of the total cap hit, which is among the top 20% in the league and not uncommon. The total cap hit of their top 10 players was 53.9%, or 85.1 million dollars.

2017 cap distribution

It is important to note that this ideal distribution is not the cause of success, but rather a catalyst for their 2017 resurgence. Keeping a good balance allows talent to shine, but also allows for enough quality for numbers 11-51 to make a difference. And a difference they did make: The Chargers had a positive scoring margin in 2017 of 83 points. That’s 11 touchdowns and a pair of kicks in their favor, and clearly the difference over the year before it. Remember how they lost so many games by 3 points or less in 2016? Balance helped fix that in 2017.

Okay... what about 2016, then?

The 2016 chargers were a talented team, but they were not nearly as balanced as the 2017 version. Their top 10 earners hit 45.2% of the cap (70.3 million), just barely inside the range of probable success. And, for those who remember, they really could’ve and should’ve been a successful team in 2016, but a few kicks and ball rolls made all the difference.

2016 cap distribution

How does 2018 look?

The Chargers top ten appear to have ballooned in 2018, but keep in mind that their cap this year is about 179.8 million with prior year rollover included. That puts the Chargers squarely at 57.1% for their top ten. That’s butter zone material.

2018 estimates

It is important to note that this is just a current state of affairs, and additions, subtractions, and restructures will all likely take place before the first kickoff. But, for all intents and purposes, the 2018 Chargers are well situated for success. Their cap distribution won’t score them a single point this year, but it will situate their highest quality playmakers to do their thing, and the remaining roster will be of high enough quality to make 2018 a year of hope and probable success.

-Jason “Cap’n Crunch’n” Michaels