Every NFL franchise can have a max roster of 55 players, with only 48 of them active on a game day. That’s a lot of paychecks. It makes sense for teams to use the budget on a wide pool of talent. The worst thing you can do is blow your entire salary cap on one player. Take the Indianapolis Colts, and their newly-acquired quarterback, Philip Rivers.
A major cap hit for the Colts
At the beginning of the 2019 season, the Colts found themselves in need of a sudden replacement with quarterback Andrew Luck announcing his retirement. It’s hard to blame Luck whose career was marked by a string of season-interrupting injuries.
Initially, it looked like perpetual backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has previously filled in for both Tom Brady and Luck, would become the new face of the Colts going into the 2020 season. Indianapolis, however, had other plans. They hunted for a new QB in the offseason, preferring to keep Brissett for reliable roster depth, and they got Rivers in the process.
There’s only one problem: together, the two players account for a $46 million dollar cap hit. Rivers signed a one-year contract good for $25 million dollars, while Brissett is in year two of his $30 million dollar contract, meaning he’ll bring in $21 million this year. But how does that all work?
How does a salary cap work?
The salary cap can be one of the more confusing aspects of professional football. Before we ask the essential question, why the Colts felt so confident in spending so much on two players, let’s look at how the salary cap actually works.
The salary cap has been around since 1994. It’s intended to help equalize the playing field by preventing teams with more resources from simply buying a winning record. For reference, details NFL.com, the 2020 salary cap is $198 million. That means that teams can’t exceed that amount in player contracts.
Most NFL contracts are multi-year deals, meaning that if a player signs a four-year, $20 million dollar contract, the hit to the salary cap would be five million per year. Some contracts are more complex, however, and the amounts are not divided evenly between years. In Philip Rivers’ case, however, he signed a $25 million dollar, one-year deal meaning that the whole amount goes against their current salary cap.
It should be noted that extras like cash incentives and signing bonuses also count against the cap, although those bonuses are usually divided across the life of the contract as well. Contract extensions can also confuse things. Sometimes a contract extension will aggregate bonuses on top of bonuses, all of which go against the yearly salary cap. Balancing the budget while retaining top-tier talent requires careful management from each franchise’s front office.
What are the Colts thinking!?
When it comes to this year’s salary cap, $46 million is a lot of money for only two players. It doesn’t leave a lot for the rest of the 55-man roster, which begs the question, “What were the Colts thinking?”
For context, a top-tier, Super Bowl-winning quarterback like Russell Wilson is a $31 million dollar cap hit for Seattle. In contrast, Patrick Mahomes, currently the hottest quarterback on earth, brings only a five million dollar hit against the Chief’s cap this year. That will change drastically with his new contract which goes into effect in 2021.
In the end, this means that the Colts are putting all their eggs in one basket. Well, two to be exact. And although Rivers has always had a solid performance, reports CBS Sports, Indy might be on the losing end of things this time.