A 53-man roster under the salary cap using actual cap numbers with certain parameters, which are below, was. The composition of the roster has changed dramatically in this end-of-the-season version because a primary emphasis was put on 2019 performance.
Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, is no longer the choice at quarterback although he could become the NFL’s first $40 million per year player before next season starts. Ezekiel Elliott, who won the rushing title last season, has been replaced at running back. A pectoral tear took three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt out of the mix.
1. The salary cap for the roster is $200.3 million. The actual NFL salary cap is $188.2 million for this year. The number being used is the league’s average adjusted salary cap according to NFLPA data. Each NFL team‘s working salary cap varies largely because unused cap room can be carried over from one year to the next. For example, the Browns have the league’s highest adjusted salary cap at just under $246.7 million largely thanks to carrying over nearly $57 million of cap room. The Chargers have the lowest at $187.643 million, which is slightly below the league-wide number. Situations like this typically occur when incentives earned during the previous season that weren’t counting on the cap get accounted for without sufficient cap room carrying over from the prior year to make up the difference.
2. The NFL Draft is an essential element of roster building for NFL teams. It is here also. One player from each round of the 2019 draft must be on the roster. The number requirement drops by one player for each year of the preceding three drafts (2016-2018). The limit of one player per round remains. Thus, only four 2016 draft picks are required. There’s one other draft pick constraint. Only one 2015 first-round pick whose fifth-year option was exercised is allowed regardless of whether he signed a contract extension. Selecting one isn’t a necessity.
3. The backups at each position are limited to players that aren’t clear cut established starters. This means players at positions where there’s a “by committee approach”, usually running back, qualify. A backfield containing Elliott and Christian McCaffrey is prohibited since both are workhorse or every-down running backs. Those starting only because of an injury are also fair game as reserves. Young veterans, particularly second-year players, solidifying a place in the lineup for the first time this season are no longer allowed to be backups. Rookies can be either starters or backups regardless of actual playing time.
4. There’s one big allowance being made defensively. Three starting cornerbacks are acceptable without sacrificing a starter in a traditional base defense since five or more defensive backs are now used over 60% percent of the time in the NFL. The result is twelve defensive starters.
5. Choosing a player that was given a franchise or transition designation in 2019 is optional. However, only one player receiving a 2019 designation can be selected.
Here’s the revamped team I assembled with some of my thoughts behind the selections. The 2019 salary cap number for each player is in parentheses. In cases where a player was elevated from the practice squad or signed off the street during the season, what would have been his full-year cap number is being used. The full cap number is also in use for players traded during the season.
QB: Lamar Jackson, Ravens ($2,160,168)
A potential franchise quarterback on a rookie contract is the most valuable commodity in the NFL. The roster flexibility Jackson’s cap number provides couldn’t be ignored. Jackson, the presumptive league MVP, has become the most dangerous dual threat to ever play the game in just two NFL seasons. The 2018 32nd overall pick has established a new single-season quarterback rushing record with 1,206 yards on the ground. Jackson also leads the NFL with 36 touchdown passes. He is the first to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season.
RB: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers ($4,709,694)
McCaffrey has accounted for 44.6 percent of Carolina’s offense with an NFL best 2,294 yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards). 2017’s eighth overall pick is 67 receiving yards away from joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. McCaffrey has already broken the NFL single-season receptions record for running backs he set in 2018 by catching 109 passes this year.
WR: Julio Jones, Falcons ($10,366,666)
Jones just became the fastest in league history to reach 12,000 receiving yards. It took him 125 games, which was essentially a full season faster than Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, the previous record holder. Rice did it in 142 games. Jones is currently third in the NFL with 1,316 yards on 92 receptions.
WR: Michael Thomas, Saints ($6,134,875)
Thomas is having a season for the ages. He has surpassed Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison’s single-season receptions record of 143, which was set in 2002. The 2016 second-round pick has caught 145 passes. It’s conceivable that Thomas will hit the 155 catch mark this season. Thomas is also leading the NFL with a career-best 1,688 receiving yards.
WR: Chris Godwin, Buccaneers ($881,856)
Godwin is no longer playing second fiddle to Mike Evans in Tampa Bay’s offense. The 2017 third-round pick has 86 catches for 1,333 yards with nine touchdowns in his breakout season. Godwin will spend significant time operating out of the slot since 63.4 percent of his snaps have come from there according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).
TE: George Kittle-49ers ($727,094)
Kittle is 33 receiving yards shy of his second straight season with at least 1,000. The 2017 fifth-round pick set the single-season receiving yards record by a tight end in 2018 with 1,377 yards.
LT: Ronnie Stanley, Ravens ($6,524,087)
Stanley earned his first Pro Bowl berth for protecting Jackson’s blindside. The 2016 first-round pick has allowed Jackson to only be hit once this season and hasn’t given up a sack.
LG: Joe Thuney, Patriots ($2,226,112)
Thuney has been a bright spot on an underperforming Patriots offensive line. The 2016 third-round pick is second among offensive guards in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric.
C: Jason Kelce, Eagles ($2,451,520)
The 2017 and 2018 first-team All-Pro is still arguably the league’s best center. He earned his first original ballot Pro Bowl selection this season for the first time since 2014.
RG: Brandon Brooks, Eagles ($9,856,270)
Brooks recently surpassed Zack Martin as the NFL’s highest-paid interior offensive lineman. He signed a four-year, $56.55 million extension averaging $14,137,500 per year.
RT: Mitchell Schwartz, Chiefs ($6.43 million)
Schwartz has never made a Pro Bowl because a distinction of the tackle positions isn’t made in the selection process. He is a good bet to earn All-Pro honors for a fourth straight year because the Associated Press differentiates between left and right tackles.
DE: Chandler Jones, Cardinals ($14,840,853)
Jones’ 72.5 sacks over the last five seasons (2015 through 2019) are easily the most in the NFL. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is second with 63. Jones has a career-high 19 sacks this season and is on the verge of winning another sack title to go with the one he got in 2017. He has also forced a league-best eight fumbles in 2019.
DT: Aaron Donald, Rams ($17,113,405)
Donald probably isn’t going to make history by becoming the first player to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in three straight years. Nonetheless, he remains the league’s most disruptive force from the interior of a defensive line. This is his third consecutive season with double digits sacks. He leads interior defensive lineman with 12.5 sacks.
DT: Cameron Heyward, Steelers ($14,908,778)
Heyward’s 28 run stops are tied for third among NFL interior defensive lineman according to PFF. He can also get to the quarterback. Donald (71) and Kenny Clark (58) are the only interior linemen who have more than Heyward’s 57 quarterback pressures.
DE: Cameron Jordan, Saints ($9.547 million)
Jordan has a career-high 14.5 sacks this season. His ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks earned a third straight Pro Bowl berth.
SLB: Jamie Collins, Patriots ($3,002,820)
Collins has made the most of his return to New England after two and a half lackluster seasons with the Browns. He has six sacks, three interceptions, and three forced fumbles this season.
MLB: Fred Warner, 49ers ($732,547)
Warner’s cost-effectiveness was too good to pass up. The 2018 third-round pick’s four-year rookie deal averages just under $1 million per year. Warner was named November’s NFC Defensive Player of the Month after 33 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in three games.
WLB: Lavonte David, Buccaneers ($9,754,700)
David has long been one of the NFL’s most underappreciated linebackers. As usual, he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. It used to be because passing rushing outside linebackers are favored over off the ball ones in the voting process. With Tampa Bay switching to a 3-4 defense, David had to contend with the best two inside linebackers of this generation, Bobby Wagner (Seahawks) and Luke Kuechly (Panthers).
CB: Stephen Gilmore, Patriots ($9,178,118)
Gilmore has solidified his standing as the league’s best cornerback this season. He is a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Gilmore is tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions. His 19 pass breakups are the most in the league.
CB: Richard Sherman, 49ers ($9.8 million)
Sherman has returned to form in his second season since rupturing his right Achilles in 2017. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time this year.
FS: Marcus Williams, Saints ($1,708,275)
Williams has been one of the NFL’s best ballhawks at safety this season. The 2017 second-round pick is tied for third among NFL safeties with four interceptions. Williams’ 13 passes defended are the second most for a safety.
SS: Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs ($5,933,333)
Mathieu was given a three-year, $42 million contract to help transform a Kansas City defense that was a weakness last year. He hasn’t disappointed. The Chiefs ranked 31st in total defense last season while giving up 26.3 points per game. This year, the Chiefs are 17th and points are down to 19.1 per game. Mathieu is the Swiss Army knife of the secondary because of his versatility, which includes the ability to handle slot wide receivers.
Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history connecting on 261 of 288 field goal attempts for a 90.6 percent conversion rate (minimum of 100 made). He has hit 24 of his 25 field goals (96 percent) this season. Cooke, a 2018 seventh-round pick, has an NFL best 44.4-yard net punting average. He is tied for second with 26 punts for fair catches. Harris handles return duties. He is fourth in the NFL in both kickoff return average (26.8 yards) and punt return average (9.4 yards). Cutting was the only longer snapper drafted this year. He was a seventh-round pick.
Bridgewater provides experience as Jackson’s backup. He thrived while getting his first game action over an extended period of time since suffering a gruesome, career-threatening knee injury during the 2016 preseason when he was the Vikings starting quarterback. The Saints didn’t really miss a beat in the five games he started, all victories, because of Drew Brees‘ thumb injury. In the five starts, Bridgewater completed 69.7 percent of his passes (115 of 165 attempts) for 1,205 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating was 103.7.
A third quarterback is being kept because Hill is a jack of all trades. In addition to being a standout on special teams for the Saints, Hill has lined up at running back, wide receiver and tight end as well as taken snaps under center in wildcat formations. He has one rushing touchdown and five receiving touchdowns this season.
Mostert started taking a more prominent role in San Francisco’s running back by committee approach as the season progressed. He leads NFL running backs with 5.6 yards per carry. Murray had consecutive 100-yard rushing games during the middle of the season while Alvin Kamara was slowed by knee and ankle problems. Ekeler demonstrated he can be more than just a complementary piece during Melvin Gordon’s ill-advised holdout. He has the second most catches for a running back this season with 83 and leads with 950 receiving yards. Ricard, who earned his first Pro Bowl berth this season, is the lone fullback. He’s a two-way player who also adds defensive tackle depth.
Brown and McLaurin, second and third-round picks respectively, are battling for the lead in receiving yards among rookies. Both could top the 1,000-yard mark with a strong close to the season. Brown is second in the NFL with 19.3 yards per catch. Harris’ primary contribution will be returning kicks.
Dallas Goedert, Eagles ($1,285,766)
Max Williams, Cardinals ($1,059,700)
Goedert has started to emerge from the shadow of perennial Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz because the Eagles‘ wide receiving corps has been decimated by injury. Williams functions primarily as a blocker.
Wisniewski, who can play both center and guard, has been a nice fill-in for Kansas City when pressed into action because of injury. Skule, a 2019 sixth-round pick, has gotten eight starts this season because of injuries to left tackle Joe Staley. Mekari held up surprising well against Aaron Donald when thrown in to fire after starting center Matt Skura hurt his knee against the Rams. His natural position is offensive guard.
Bosa, who was named a Pro Bowl starter, is a front runner for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. His 69 quarterback pressures are tied for ninth in the league and two behind NFL sack leader Chandler Jones‘ 71. Crosby, a 2019 fourth-round pick, leads Oakland with 8.5 sacks although defensive end Clelin Ferrell was taken with the fourth overall pick.
Williams, a journeyman, has made the most of his opportunities provided by Akiem Hicks‘ elbow injury. He has six sacks this season but can also stuff the run. Hurst hasn’t had the breakout year that some expected but can provide a pass rush.
Ben Gedeon going on injured reserve with a concussion has made Wilson Minnesota’s weakside linebacker. Dion Hamilton has seen regular playing time in Washington’s linebacker rotation. Wilson has been starting in Cleveland ever since Christian Kirksey tore a pectoral tendon two games into the season. Edwards has become more than just a special teamer because of Kamu Grugier-Hill’s season-ending back injury.
Peters is really the 12th starter. The 2015 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year’s 27 interceptions since entering the NFL are a league-best and nine better the next cornerback (Stephon Gilmore). Wreh-Wilson has had his moments for the Falcons this season. Jackson has the fewest starts between him, Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty in New England but is tied for fourth in the NFL with five interceptions. There hasn’t been a big drop off with Williams playing in place of Troy Hill while his thumb heals.
A high ankle sprain derailed Colbert’s 2018 season when he was San Francisco’s starting free safety. A depleted secondary has given Colbert a new lease on his NFL life in Miami. Kearse is a special teams standout.
Final Thoughts/Tale Of The Tape
TOTAL SALARY CAP ROOM USED (53 Players)-$193,435,563
REMAINING SALARY CAP ROOM-$6,864,437
OFFENSE (25 Players)-$68,221,605 (34.06%)
DEFENSE (25 Players)-$119,406,782 (59.61%)
SPECIALISTS (3 Players)-$5,807,243 (2.9%)
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN (Total & Salary Cap Percentage)
All of the cap room isn’t being used. There’s still few million to spare after leaving room for a full practice squad of 10 players (approximately $1.36 million).
There is a much greater allocation of cap resources to the defense because of Jackson’s low cost. 75 percent more cap space is devoted to that side of the ball. The biggest expenditure is in the defensive line, which takes up nearly $65 million of cap room.
There are just 10 holdovers from the original 2019 team. Thomas and Kelce are the only offensive starters to make a return appearance. All of the defensive starters are different except for Donald and Gilmore.
The Saints lead the way with seven players. The 49ers and Ravens have six players apiece. The Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Colts, Cowboys, Giants, Jets, Lions, Packers, Seahawks and Texans got shut out. It’s a bit surprising that the Bills, Packers, Seahawks, and Texans don’t have any players on the team since they have clinched playoff berths.