The salary cap has been a stark reality of the NFL for decades now. We even define the history of the game since its inception as ‘the salary cap era’, which greatly limited teams’ ability to spend on its players, and gave said players greater freedoms to move around and get the best offers for themselves.
It’s made anybody who is more than a casual fan dabble into the financials of the sport as they contemplate whether or not their favorite team can afford to sign one free agent or another. You have to fit 53 players, plus a practice squad, among other expenses, under the cap every year.
So if you were a new team this year, and you were permitted to sign any player in the league that you wanted, as long as you can fit them all under the cap, who would make up your roster? This was the principle of a recent exercise for an article at NFL.com, with some restrictions. The roster ended up with two members of the Pittsburgh Steelers: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
While nothing was written specifically about Smith-Schuster, he was included in the second group of three wide receivers, with his $2.4 million 2021 salary cap hit. The other receivers on the roster were Justin Jefferson, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, and Allen Lazard.
Fitzpatrick was kept as a starting safety along with Justin Simmons. “Fitzpatrick has 11 interceptions and 29 passes defensed in three pro seasons”, it is noted. “He’s the best single-high safety in the NFL and has been a first-team All-Pro selection in each of the last two campaigns”.
Neither T.J. Watt nor his older brother, J.J., made the list, and it was admitted that this was among the hardest decisions that had to be made in order to put the roster together. “The NFL’s sack leader in 2020, T.J. Watt had a spot on this roster for the better part of its construction. The thought of Watt and Garrett hunting quarterbacks together was quite enticing, but ultimately, I couldn’t fit in T.J.’s $10.0 million fifth-year option”, it’s written. Fitzpatrick has a cap hit under $3 million this season.
Garrett, Jaylen Ramsey, Chase Young, Aaron Donald, Chris Jones, Trent Williams, Travis Kelce, and Patrick Mahomes were among the players on the list who had the largest salary cap hits, all based on their actual 2021 numbers.
Personally, I would have readily swapped out Garrett for Watt, with less than $1 million separating their cap figures, but needless to say, I’m biased. Both are among the very best young pass rushers in the game right now, and you certainly can’t go wrong with either of them.