Surviving the Cap: Competing with Dead Cap Hits


To say the start of the 2022 NFL free agency period has been hectic would be an understatement. In quarterback moves alone, we’ve seen Russell Wilson traded to the Broncos, Deshaun Watson traded to the Browns, Carson Wentz traded to the Commanders and subsequently Matt Ryan traded to the Colts.

Each of these blockbuster trades incur what is known as a dead salary cap hit, which is money allocated in a team’s salary going to players no longer on the roster, resulting from a player being released or traded prior to their contract’s expiration. The Atlanta Falcons losing out on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, while simultaneously ruining their relationship with franchise cornerstone Matt Ryan led to the quarterback being traded to the Indianapolis Colts, which in turn generated the single largest dead cap hit in NFL history.

In 2022, the Falcons will be paying $40,525,000, or 19.47% of their cap to Matt Ryan alone. No team has ever won a Super Bowl with a quarterback making more than 12.3% of the salary cap (Tom Brady, 2020), let alone a quarterback not even on their roster. Factoring in the Julio Jones trade from last year along with other trades/cuts, the Falcons lead the league with nearly 30% of the team’s salary cap in 2022 going towards players no longer on their roster.

Top 10 Dead Cap Hits (2022)

But it could be worse.

In 2013, the then Oakland Raiders experienced an overall dead cap hit of 43.33%, the highest single-season dead cap hit in the past decade. Voiding the remaining years of Hall of Famer Richard Seymour’s contract, along with trading Carson Palmer to the Cardinals, and cutting players such as Rolando McClain, Tommy Kelly and Darrius Heyward-Bey effectively put the Raiders in cap hell, inhibiting their ability to compete as they finished the season 4-12.

Top 10 Single-Season Dead Cap Hits (2011-2022)

The rest of the teams with the single-season worst dead cap hits experienced a similar lack of success. Only 3 teams on the list managed winning records, the 2021 Saints and 2021 Eagles were just barely a game over .500. In terms of point differential, teams fared just as poorly, with only 3 teams having positive point differentials. In spite of their high dead cap hits, the 2012 Colts and 2021 Eagles teams were able to experience modest success, making the playoffs only to lose in the wild-card round.

Single-Season Worst Dead Cap Hits – Team Success (2011-2021)

The teams with the top 10 highest dead cap hits each season struggled more often than they succeeded, as only 35% of teams in the top 10 over the decade posted winning records. Of the 136 total playoff spots occupied during this timespan, exactly 25% were occupied by a team with a top 10 dead cap hit. Following the trend, a lack of Super Bowl success for these teams saddled with dead money would make sense.

Yet the numbers tell us a different story.

Super Bowl Winners with High Dead Cap Hits (2011-2021)

Of the 11 Super Bowl winners from 2011-2021, nearly half of them had a dead cap hit in the top 10 for their respective seasons. Although the dead cap hits were high for their seasons, they weren’t necessarily earth-shattering, hovering around 10% and going as high as 13.42% with the 2014 Patriots team. The Los Angeles Rams, however, did the unthinkable and won with a dead cap hit of over 25% this past season, good for the 4th highest dead cap hit of all teams last year.

How is it that a team that had a quarter of their salary cap tied up in former players like Jared Goff and Todd Gurley was able to win it all and bring a Lombardi to LA? Having a top tier coach in Sean McVay certainly helps, along with the acquisitions of elite players like Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr.

The simplest explanation is that the production of the active players on the roster was far better than their contract numbers. Von Miller played for a whooping 0.39% cap hit, while Odell played for 0.45%. Having two game-changing players added to a team already rich in talent for less than a single percent of the total cap greatly helped the Rams overcome their dead money, and contributed to their high Team Value Ranking. The Team Value Ranking (TVS) is a metric created by that aggregates player production per contract, effectively measuring how well a team does at maximizing the value of all their players. Last year the Rams had the 6th best TVS; the other Super Bowl winners with high dead cap hits had similarly high TVS rankings, with the exception of the 2012 Ravens.

While some teams can overcome a high dead cap hit over a single season, it is still inadvisable for a team to build a long term strategy around trading/cutting players and accumulating dead money.

Only one team has been able to be truly successful over the past decade in maneuvering past dead cap hits: Mickey Loomis’s New Orleans Saints. The Saints are virtually tied with the Dolphins for the highest sum of dead cap hit percentage at 157%, yet while the Dolphins have struggled in the past decade, with a point differential of -492, the Saints have a positive point differential nearly three times as high at 813.

The obvious first impression is that the Saints had something all other teams on this list lacked: a Hall of Fame quarterback. And while that’s true, Loomis’s impact as a GM is just as integral to the franchise’s decade long success.

Jeremy Trottier of makes the case for Loomis as top GM, citing his incredible draft hit rate from 2016-2020, where each player taken in the first 3 rounds has started at least one game. Like the 2021 Rams, Loomis exceeds at maximizing the value of players on active contracts, averaging a TVS ranking of 11 since 2012, and 6.5 since 2016.

Saints TVS Rankings (2012-2021)

In a game of inches, the ability to consistently overcome adversity is the key to success. Roadblocks like penalties can set you back on the field, just as much as dead money can set you back off the field. Although teams can find ways to win here and there in spite of these roadblocks, they still make the path to success that much harder along the way.

Expanding the Playoff: Rooting for Chaos – 2015 Edition


It’s been 7 years since the inception of the College Football Playoff featuring the top 4 FBS teams in the country and to the delight of every fan of a non-Blue Blood program, it seems that this may finally be the year for an expansion vote to pass.

Growing up in New England, the Patriots have always been the football team to watch when it came to the pros, but the college game in the area has been lacking to say the least.

I first got interested in college football during the 2006-2007 season, I remember being sick and missing a couple weeks of school right around the start of the college football bowl season. Having no allegiance to any teams in-state, I watched bowl game after bowl game, enjoying the close games and even the blowouts, but it was the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game that stole the show and gave me a team that I still follow to this day.

The Fiesta Bowl had everything you want in a football game: an underdog, a future NFL hall of famer in Adrian Peterson, trick plays and a storybook ending.

Down 7 with 18 seconds left to go in the game on a 4th and 18, Boise State successfully executed the hook and lateral to tie up the game and force overtime against the Oklahoma Sooners.

After the Sooners ripped off a touchdown by Adrian Peterson to start overtime, Boise State answered back with a touchdown of their own, but instead of kicking the extra point and forcing a second overtime, Boise State head coach Chris Peterson did the unthinkable and decided to go for 2.

With a Trips right formation, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky dropped back to pass, pump faked a wide receiver screen pass, and handed off the ball with his back hand to running back Ian Johnson, who ran in for the score and one of the most exciting wins in college football history.

And to cap it all off Johnson got to a knee and proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend for everyone to see.

I finally found my team.

The Kellen Moore era started the next season, and it was a blast to watch as Boise State went 50-3 in his time as the starting quarterback, playing with NFL talent in players on the offense with Doug Martin, Titus Young and Austin Pettis. With Kellen Moore at quarterback, Chris Petersen at head coach, and the blue turf, I would’ve taken Boise State over any one in a division 1 match-up. In 2009, Boise State had an undefeated season, becoming the second team in history to go 14-0, however with the way the BCS was set up at the time, Boise State unfortunately missed the championship in lieu of Alabama and Texas, both undefeated powerhouses that belonged to tougher conferences.

When the College Football Playoff was introduced in 2014, I was ecstatic at the thought of finally being able to see Boise State on the big stage, able to prove they could play anyone. Although Moore had graduated and Petersen left for Washington, Boise State still had a ton of talent and a great new coach in Bryan Harsin, who served as offensive coordinator under Petersen. Over the course of the Harsin era, they had 4 seasons with 3 or fewer losses, and 2 seasons with only 2 losses. But despite their success, even with an additional 2 playoff seeds, it just wasn’t meant to be as the CFP heavily favored colleges belonging to the Power 5 college football conferences, which includes the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. In the Petersen and Harsin eras, Boise State has been a member of the Group of 5, which includes the AAC, Conference-USA, MAC, Sun Belt, and Mountain West.

The College Football Playoff has been a massive success for the popularity of football compared to its predecessor in the BCS, as there’s more football being played to decide who the better team is, compared to the on-paper arguments behind closed doors of who had more “quality-losses”, inevitably leading to snubs of very talented, deserving teams.

Recent talks have been leaning towards the idea of a 12 team playoff, which would be especially great for finally including Boise State and other Power 5 teams that have had a history of being snubbed. The latest proposal includes automatic bids to the Power 5 conference champions, as well as the highest ranked Group of 5 conference champion. The remaining 6 bids are awarded at-large to the top 6 teams remaining in the CFP rankings. The proposal also includes first round byes to the top 4 highest ranked conference champions, with the first round games being played on campus instead of a neutral site like it is in the current format.

Although nothing has officially passed and talks are paused until January, the idea of a 12 team playoff has inspired me to look into what an expanded playoff might’ve looked like in the previous CFP seasons, starting with the 2014-2015 season.

In the inaugural playoff, the #4 seed Ohio State Buckeyes beat the #2 seed Oregon Ducks 42-20 in the CFP Championship.

Looking at the final CFP rankings going into the playoff, there would be a fair amount of reshuffling of the seeds in a 12 team playoff.

The original 1-4 seeds would remain unchanged, as each of those teams is a Power 5 conference champion, which would trigger an automatic playoff bid. Baylor and TCU were co-champions for the 2014-2015 season since the Big 12 didn’t host a conference championship game through the 2011-2016 seasons due to a lack of membership. Baylor did however beat TCU earlier in the season in a 61-58 shootout, resulting in their higher CFP ranking, so they would have made it in as the final Power 5 automatic bid, and TCU would have made it in as the first at-large bid.

Since the last automatic bid is the highest ranked Group of 5 conference champion, Boise State would have been able to squeak in to the playoffs this time as the 5 seed, being the highest ranked team to play in the first round. Rounding out the rest of the remaining at-large bids are Mississippi State, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Arizona and Kansas State as the 7-12 seeds respectively.

Taking it a step further, I decided to simulate the 12 team playoff match-ups 1,000 times each (shout out Spike’s Deadliest Warrior for the inspiration) in the NCAA Game Sim to get an idea of how the expanded playoff might have played out.

In the first round the higher seeded team won each match-up, which makes sense given the inclusion of home field advantage, something not currently implemented in the 4 team playoff. Boise State vs Arizona actually happened in the non-CFP bowl games that year, with Boise State beating Arizona 38-30 in the Fiesta Bowl, so I decided to use that result instead of simulating the game. Similarly, TCU played Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl that season, beating them 42-3, so I used that result in place of the simulations.

For the second round, the higher seeded teams all won with the exception of Florida State. The Florida State – Boise State simulation was razor thin, FSU won 503 games to Boise State’s 497 games. Having said that, the average score was in favor of Boise State beating Jameis Winston’s Seminoles, 27.7 to 27.1. Had I decided to run 10,000 simulations there may have been a more definitive margin of victory for either team, but it’s very much a toss-up. For the sake of chaos I went off the average score, allowing Boise State to move on to the semifinals.

Since Oregon and Ohio State played in that year’s actual CFP National Championship, I used the result of that game for their semifinal match-up, with Ohio State advancing 42-20 over Oregon. The Alabama – Boise State match-up was decided by a touchdown over the 1,000 simulations I ran, resulting in the Sugar Bowl match-up of the actual CFP that year becoming the CFP National Championship in this 12 team playoff.

So in the end, Ohio State still would’ve won the first CFP National Championship, but we would’ve had a lot more fun along the way.

Heisman Finalists & Success in the NFL

The Heisman Trophy is perhaps the most well known trophy for individual performance in North American sports, awarded annually to the most outstanding player in college football since its inception in 1935.

Much attention is focused on the specific winner and their career in professional football, often underperforming with respect to the expectations set by their exceptional college careers. However, the finalist classes as a whole fail to get the recognition they deserve as a group despite being a collection of the top 10-11 most outstanding college football players each year.

Using the Approximate Value (AV) metric from, we can quantify how successful a class of Heisman finalists went on to be in the National Football League. The data in this blog post includes all the Heisman finalist classes from 1959, which is the earliest class that has finalists that have recorded AV stats, to 2016, the latest class that doesn’t include any players still in college (McKenzie Milton, a finalist in 2017, is still busy living it up on campus). Each finalist class includes the top 10-11 players in terms of votes received throughout the voting process, and not just the players invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Starting off with the Top 10 Best Heisman Classes by Year, the Heisman finalist class that went on to have the best Average Career AV is the 2003 Heisman class. This finalist class includes the three franchise quarterbacks of the 2004 NFL Draft, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, as well as wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. With four potential NFL hall of famers in one finalist class, it’s no surprise that the class of 2003 tops the list.

Coming in just behind the class of 2003 is the class of 1982, which produced three NFL HOFers in quarterback Dan Marino and John Elway, and running back Eric Dickerson.

The 3rd best class in terms of Average Career AV is the class of 1997, which also included 3 NFL hall of fame players in defensive back Charles Woodson, quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Randy Moss.

On the flip side is the Top 10 Worst Heisman Classes by Year, led by the class of 2012 and Heisman winner/NFL bust Johnny Manziel. Of the ten players in the class, only two are still on a roster today, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and wide receiver Tavon Austin. Although Clowney may still have a solid number of seasons to go, it will do very little in helping bump up the class’s low Average Career AV of 14.7.

In terms of colleges, some schools are Heisman finalist factories, with “Blue Bloods” such as Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC and Michigan all producing 20 or more Heisman finalists over the 58 year period of 1959-2016.

Ohio State, USC and Miami(FL) produced the finalists with the highest Career AVs, with the three schools roughly around a sum of 900. This only includes a single instance of a player in a Heisman finalist class; for example 2 time winner and 3 time finalist Archie Griffin only had his Career AV counted once for the Sum of Career AV for Ohio State.

It is also interesting to see the breakdown of Heisman classes by individual player. Although it is pretty agreed upon that Heisman winners tend to underwhelm in the NFL, it is still surprising that of all the Heisman classes over 1959-2016, the Heisman winner went on to have the best Career AV only 6 of 58 seasons, or 10.34% of the time.

Heisman winners also went on to have the worst Career AV in their class just as frequent as they had their best, in only 6 of 58 seasons.

Compared to the Heisman winner, the runner-up only fared marginally better in the Career AV metric, leading their class 7 of 58 seasons, or 12.07% of the time.

It seems that neither the Heisman winner or Heisman runner-up had an advantage for Career AV over the last place finalist, which actually had the best Career AV in its class for 7 of 58 seasons.

Looking at the Heisman winner against the rest of their finalist class, the Heisman winner did tend to do better than their peers in terms of Average AV per Season, as they outperformed their classes 33 seasons and underperformed their classes in the remaining 25 seasons.

This holds up when looking at the generic Heisman winner and generic Heisman finalist. The winner played slightly longer with approximately .75 more seasons played, had a Career AV 8 points higher than the finalist, and also had an Average AV per Season 1.2 points higher than the finalist.

College football success is very hard to translate to the NFL, and the Heisman Trophy Trust recognizes the most outstanding player, not necessarily the most “pro-ready” player. It’s not the most likely to succeed award, which is why there can be such a disconnect between Heisman winners and their less acclaimed colleagues once they both make the NFL. It is important, however, that the other Heisman finalists outside of the winner get the recognition and spotlight they deserve for being one of the top players in college football, as these players often go on to do great things at the next level of competitive football.

Bye Week Blues: Do Bye Weeks Affect Team Injuries?

Picture this: You’re a starting player on the Texans’ defense.

The off-season was tumultuous to say the least: Your starting quarterback, Deshaun Watson, was replaced by a journeyman in Tyrod Taylor, your rookie head coach, David Culley, has been a wide receivers coach for his 27 years in the NFL, and your executive vice president of football operations, Jack Easterby, is widely known as the NFL equivalent of Rasputin.

You play the Colts and Texans two times each, and will be asked to tackle 6’3″, 238 pound running back Derrick Henry, and 5’11” 227 pound running back Jonathan Taylor, who both had top speeds of 21.62 and 21.6 miles per hour in 2020. That week 10 bye can’t come soon enough.

Season after season, fans and pundits alike harp on the bye weeks assigned to teams, concerned that week 4 byes are too early, and cause teams to tire out over the final stretch of the season heading into the playoffs, yet week 12 byes are too late, and can cause teams to burn out earlier.

So naturally you’d think to yourself that the middle of the season, around week 8 must be the sweet spot for a giving a team a chance to heal and recover.

But does the data back that up?

Looking at seasons from 2009 to 2020, bye weeks were normally held during week 4 and week 12, with a few exceptions. The first exception being week 1 in the 2017 season, where the Bucs and Dolphins had their opening game postponed due to Hurricane Irma, and their bye week moved to week 1 as a result. The other exceptions being week 13 used as a bye week for the Browns and Titans in the 2016 season, and for the Bucs and Panthers in the 2020 season.

To the NFL’s credit, they do a good job of scheduling as many byes as possible as they can in the middle of the season, with byes during week 8 and week 9 occurring most frequently during those 12 seasons. The other bye weeks are all fairly frequent, with the exception of Week 4, which only occurred 7.81% of the time.

Using nflfastR for the injury data source, I was able to use Python to compile the total injury status designations for all 32 teams from 2009-2020, and match them with their byes for their respective seasons.

The above tables represent the average total injury designations per each bye week, which is calculated by dividing the total injury designations for a particular bye week by the amount of times the bye week occurred. For example, for the two teams that had the week 1 bye in 2017, they had a combined total of 203 injury designations, and since a week 1 bye has only occurred twice (for both teams in that 2017 season), the average total injury designations would be half of the total, giving an average of 101.5 total injury designations for teams that had seasons with week 1 byes.

The total injury designations include every player that was designated as questionable, probable, doubtful or out for a given game. The NFL decided to drop the probable injury designation prior to the 2016 season, and the table on the right reflects the average total injury designations excluding probable designations.

Excluding week 1 and 13 from the data due to only 6 bye weeks occurring during those weeks, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between a team’s bye week and injury designations.

Based on the assumption that the closer to the middle of the season that a team’s bye occurs, the lower amount of injuries a team will experience, we would expect the shape of the graph to be an inverted bell curve. While teams with week 4 byes did have the second highest number of injury designations on average, and a decrease in injuries occurs for the next 2 consecutive weeks, with a large drop-off in designations from week 5 to week 6, the number of injury designations shoots back up as the middle of the season approaches with week 7.

The middle of the season is fairly consistent from weeks 7-9, and then spikes up a decent amount for week 10, before experiencing another large drop-off from week 10 to week 11, and another smaller drop-off from week 11 to week 12.

Teams with a week 12 bye had the least amount of injuries at 98 injury designations on average, however the sample size is very small as a week 12 bye only occurred 3.12% over the past 12 seasons.

There are many factors that go into a team’s injuries for a given season, whether it be poor conditioning, giving players an unsustainable volume of touches (such as Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey in the 2021 season), inadequate playing field surfaces, and perhaps the biggest factor of all – randomness/chance.

Bye weeks are definitely important in giving a team a mental break to recharge and refocus, but with respect to the media’s claims that a bye week being scheduled during a certain part of the season would help keep a team healthy, the evidence just isn’t there to support it.