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The Best Team Money Can Buy Under The 2019 NFL Salary Cap

The 2019 NFL salary cap is at $188.2 million, up $10 million from last season. But players asking for huge record-breaking money—which seems to be happening more often by the year—can put teams that draft well in a bind as they look to retain all their star players under the cap. That’s why continuously hitting on draft picks and establishing a winning culture makes it easier for the best franchises to insert new guys ready to do the job when someone is lost during free agency.


So it should be no surprise that this exercise, building the best team for the money under the $188.2 million salary cap, mostly includes players on their rookie deals—with a few premium foundation pieces costing more.


[The full rosters with starting lineups and without explanation can be seen toward the bottom of this article.]





Tom Brady ($21.5 million)

Teddy Bridgewater ($3.3 million)

Trace McSorley ($0.5 million)


Coming off his sixth Super Bowl victory, Tom Brady remains my top player in the NFL to build around even at 42 years old. He simply gives his team a better chance to win than any other player in football, especially in the biggest games and moments; and his $21.5 million salary is an absolute steal. Reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes obviously has a strong case on a $4.5 million 2019 salary, but I’ll take the experience of Brady leading an inexperienced roster. I could have gone with Dak Prescott (or Mahomes) as a backup, but I felt that was kind of cheating with the Cowboys starter set for a huge contract extension soon. Former starter Teddy Bridgewater is probably the best backup quarterback in the league entering 2019. Rookie Trace McSorley is an underrated passer will do anything that’s asked of him as the third quarterback.


Running back

Saquon Barkley ($5.7 million)

Alvin Kamara ($1.05 million)

Chris Carson ($0.7 million)


Many know-it-alls insist that spending money or a high draft pick on a running back is a recipe for disaster, but the Giants are more than thrilled to have the best player at his position and a gamebreaking, generational talent in Saquon Barkley. He’s an easy choice that I locked in for a spot on this roster at $5.7 million. While Barkley can stay on the field all three downs and would be lethal with Tom Brady throwing him passes, Alvin Kamara would arguably be a more explosive James White that could dominate underneath and on option routes. Chris Carson has an all-around skillset that basically makes him a must-roster at under $1 million.


Wide receiver

Julian Edelman ($6.1 million)

Mike Williams ($5.4 million)

Calvin Ridley ($2.5 million)

Curtis Samuel ($1.8 million)

JuJu Smith-Schuster ($1.1 million)

Chris Godwin ($0.9 million)


Figuring out the playing time for this receiving corps would not be fun, and that’s one of the downsides to this exercise. Julian Edelman taking a Patriots discount gives him just a $6.1 million salary to pair with his longtime quarterback, and his presence on the roster would give Brady a trusted security blanket. JuJu Smith-Schuster is an elite receiver that will get a monstrous payday soon, and he has the versatility to play outside or in the slot (and he’s also a great run blocker). Mike Williams would be an ideal red-zone threat at the very least, but he’d likely get most of the playing time as the third receiver; Calvin Ridley and Chris Godwin would be right behind him as technically-sound receivers that can also take the top off the defense, though. Curtis Samuel keeps getting better as a receiver, but he’d likely mostly be used on gadget-type plays and returns.


Tight end

O.J. Howard ($3.01 million)

Noah Fant ($2.3 million)

George Kittle ($0.7 million)


This roster with Brady at quarterback would have the flexibility to totally shift gameplans from week-to-week, but the two-tight-end sets with George Kittle and O.J. Howard would be insane. They can both stretch the field and do damage after the catch, and defenses would have an incredibly difficult time trying to stop all the dynamic on this offense. First-round rookie Noah Fant would be the ideal backup that can play either spot if Kittle or Howard goes down.


Offensive line starters

Laremy Tunsil ($4.0 million)

Quenton Nelson ($5.4 million)

Jason Kelce ($2.4 million)

Shaq Mason ($7.3 million)

Mike McGlinchey ($4.2 million)


Because he plays for the Dolphins, Laremy Tunsil is one of the most underrated players in the league—he’d be a very good protector of Brady’s blindside at just $4 million. Left guard Quenton Nelson was named an All-Pro after his rookie season for the Colts last year, so he was someone that had to be on this roster. Jason Kelce’s $2.4 million cap hit makes him an easy choice at center, and his athleticism would be useful in getting out in front to throw blocks for Barkley and Kamara. The Patriots extended guard Shaq Mason with a big new contract, and I believe his $7.3 million salary for 2019 is worth it to ensure the interior offensive line is a major strength. Mike McGlinchey looks like a franchise bookend after his rookie year for the Niners last season. The entire NFL was available to choose from, so it’s not like it’s difficult, but I think this would clearly be the best offensive line in the NFL.


Offensive line reserves

Isaiah Wynn ($2.6 million)

Cam Robinson ($1.9 million)

James Daniels ($1.6 million)

Orlando Brown Jr. ($0.8 million)


I went with some versatility for the backup offensive linemen. Isaiah Wynn didn’t play at all last season because of injury, but he can play either left tackle or guard. Cam Robinson can play either tackle spot and was in consideration to be the starting left tackle while saving money for another position. James Daniels is switching to center this season for the Bears, but he played guard last year. And Orlando Brown Jr. is another monstrous right tackle that would be a perfect backup for McGlinchey that can also play the left side.





Defensive line

Aaron Donald ($17.1 million)

DeForest Buckner ($5.8 million)

Jonathan Allen ($3.1 million)

Kenny Clark ($3.0 million)

Christian Wilkins ($2.8 million)

Dexter Lawrence ($2.4 million)

B.J. Hill ($0.9 million)


Brady headlines the offense, and the best defensive player in the league headlines the defense, as Aaron Donald’s record-breaking contract holds only a $17.1 million cap hit for 2019. The back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year seems to be getting better each year. DeForest Buckner is coming off a 12.0-sack season and is also an impact player against the run that would fit the two-gap, 3-4 defense we would run. Jonathan Allen is also a fit for this defense, and there would be a heavy rotation to keep everyone fresh. Rookie Dexter Lawrence might start at the nose, but Kenny Clark, Christian Wilkins, and B.J. Hill could all play there or at defensive end.


Outside linebacker

Leonard Floyd ($5.0 million)

Josh Allen ($4.3 million)

T.J. Watt ($2.5 million)

Lorenzo Carter ($0.9 million)

Shaquem Griffin ($0.6 million)


Shaquem Griffin is listed as an outside linebacker here, but most of his contributions would come on special teams. The starters off the edge would likely be Leonard Floyd and T.J. Watt (one of the biggest salary bargains in the NFL at $2.5 million after 20.0 sacks through two seasons including 13.0 last year). I like Floyd’s versatility and top-notch ability dropping back in coverage. First-round rookie Josh Allen was arguably the best player in the 2019 draft and could get significant playing time, while Lorenzo Carter was a steal in the third round of the 2018 draft.


Inside linebacker

Devin White ($5.3 million)

Roquan Smith ($4.2 million)

Leighton Vander Esch ($2.7 million)

Darius Leonard ($1.6 million)


Darius Leonard and Roquan Smith would be the likely starters at inside linebacker for this squad, but Devin White and Leighton Vander Esch are right there with them among the best stud off-ball linebackers in football. Leonard could also get more time off the edge to allow more playing time for White and Vander Esch. Overall, this entire front seven has the versatility to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 whenever necessary.



Stephon Gilmore ($9.1 million)

Marlon Humphrey ($3.2 million)

Tre’Davious White ($2.8 million)

Jaire Alexander ($2.7 million)

Deandre Baker ($1.9 million)

Desmond King ($.7 million)


All-Pro Desmond King will likely be a mainstay on this under-salary-cap roster until he gets a contract extension, as he’s arguably the best nickel corner and football with the ability to play safety—it still makes zero sense that he lasted until the fifth round in 2017. Marlon Humphrey and Jaire Alexander would be in the mix, but Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White might be the NFL’s two best corners entering this season, so they’d be in the outside. Deandre Baker is in a similar mold to White and Alexander in that he dropped out of the first half of the first round seemingly because he isn’t the exact size teams look for, but he’ll stay in the hip pocket of receivers.



Keanu Neal ($3.4 million)

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix ($3.3 million)

Derwin James ($2.8 million)

Eddie Jackson ($0.8 million)


The two First-team All-Pro safeties from last year, Derwin James and Eddie Jackson, would be the starters here, but Keanu Neal and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix provide sensational depth at safety. Again, Desmond King can also play some safety as the guy that’s probably most capable of dropping down into coverage against slot receivers.



Special Teams


Kicker: Justin Tucker ($4.7 million)

Punter: Ryan Allen ($1.5 million)

Long snapper: Joe Cardona ($1.0 million)


Justin Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history at over 90% of his field goals made, so he was a must-choose for me. I had Johnny Hekker as the punter initially, but we save some money and go with the left-footed Ryan Allen instead. And long snapper Joe Cardona has started 16 games for each of the past four seasons for the Patriots.



Starting lineups


Offense ($63.8M)

QB: Tom Brady ($21.5M)

RB: Saquon Barkley ($5.7M)

WR: Julian Edelman ($6.1M)

WR: Mike Williams ($5.4M)

WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster ($1.1M)

TE: George Kittle ($0.7M)

LT: Laremy Tunsil ($4.0M)

LG: Quenton Nelson ($5.4M)

C: Jason Kelce ($2.4M)

RG: Shaq Mason ($7.3M)

RT: Mike McGlinchey ($4.2M)


Defense ($52.4M)

DE: Aaron Donald ($17.1M)

DE: DeForest Buckner ($5.8M)

OLB: Leonard Floyd ($5.0M)

ILB: Roquan Smith ($4.2M)

ILB: Darius Leonard ($1.6M)

OLB: T.J. Watt ($2.5M)

CB: Stephon Gilmore ($9.1M)

S: Derwin James ($2.8M)

S: Eddie Jackson ($0.8M)

CB: Tre’Davious White ($2.8M)

NB: Desmond King ($0.7M)





Offense ($23M)

QB: Teddy Bridgewater ($3.3M)

QB: Trace McSorley ($0.5 M)

RB: Alvin Kamara ($1.1M)

RB: Chris Carson ($0.7M)

WR: Calvin Ridley ($2.5M)

WR: Curtis Samuel ($1.8M)

WR: Chris Godwin ($0.9M)

TE: O.J. Howard ($3.0M)

OL: Isaiah Wynn ($2.6M)

OL: Cam Robinson ($1.9M)

OL: James Daniels ($1.6M)

OL: Orlando Brown Jr. ($0.8M)


Defense ($40.5)

DL: Jonathan Allen ($3.1M)

DL: Kenny Clark ($3.0M)

DL: Christian Wilkins ($2.8M)

DL: Dexter Lawrence ($2.4M)

DL: B.J. Hill ($0.9M)

OLB: Josh Allen ($4.3M)

OLB: Lorenzo Carter ($0.9M)

OLB: Shaquem Griffin ($0.6M)

ILB: Devin White ($5.3M)

ILB: Leighton Vander Esch ($1.6M)

CB: Marlon Humphrey ($3.2M)

CB: Jaire Alexander ($2.7M)

CB: Deandre Baker ($1.9M)

S: Keanu Neal ($3.4M)

S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix ($3.3M)




As you’d expect when given the choice to build a roster that gets to pick and choose great rookie contracts and key difference-makers on relatively friendly veteran deals, this team looks like it would be dominant. I thought it was interesting that the backups on defense have an average salary of $2.7 million compared to less than half that on offense ($1.9 million). Meanwhile, spending on a stout offensive line to protect Brady along with the addition of a running back costing nearly $6 million led to the offensive starters making more than the defensive starters.


Overall, this is an extremely versatile team on both sides of the ball, with a ton of depth on defense in particular to keep everyone fresh all season and deep into the postseason.


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