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Bengals best in the NFL when it comes to managing salary cap

Cincinnati's staff has done a great job of signing star players to team-friendly deals.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It takes great management to make a team great, and the Bengals' staff has been excellent over the years. Seattle, Denver, Green Bay and New England have all done a great job in salary cap management, but Cincinnati has been the best in football, at least when it comes to backloading contracts and mortgaging the future.

Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap noticed the Bengals have been extremely successful when it comes to cap management, observing that while the Bengals "may [have] the shrewdest front office in the NFL, they get ignored because they lose every year in the first round and nobody pays attention to them."

Fitzgerald praised Cincinnati's ability to sign players to reasonable long-term deals, urging NFL fans not to ignore the value the Bengals drive from their long-term contracts.

One of the reasons why Cincinnati's cap strategy has been so successful is because the team front-loads contracts for its valuable players. Vontaze Burfict's contract was ranked as Fitzgerald's fourth-best bargain of any NFL deal, excluding rookie contracts. The Bengals owe Burfict less than $4.3 million over the next two seasons. The overage on Burfict's contract is almost -$1.9 million, meaning that he has a cap hit of almost $2 million less than what his year-to-year value would normally be.

To clarify, this doesn't mean that the Bengals are signing players for less than what they're worth. Cincinnati paid Burfict very well, rewarding him with a four year contract worth almost $20 million. But because the team structured Burfict's contract so that the cap hit would decrease on a yearly basis, his value increases as years go by.

Here's a look at Burfict's contract. From 2016-17, Burfict's contract comes at the best value for any linebacker in football.

Year Age Base Salary Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Workout Bonus Cap Hit Dead Cap
2014 23 $700,000 $775,334 $3,800,000 - $5,275,334 $6,904,334
2015 24 $1,050,000 $775,000 $3,150,000 $200,000 $5,175,000 $5,675,000
2016 25 $2,850,000 $775,000 - $200,000 $3,285,000 $1,550,000
2017 26 $3,750,000 $775,000 - $200,000 $4,725,000 $775,000

The Bengals have 32 players signed to non-rookie contracts, and it's the team's ability to create value in those contracts that makes Cincinnati special. The 32 players signed on those contracts will remain in Cincinnati for a combined 63 years, meaning, of the players signed to non-rookie contracts, most players have two years remaining in their contracts. The total overage in those contracts is more than -$7 million, which is nearly three times as much negative overage as the next closest team in football. This negative overage speaks to the value the Bengals find in their players' late contracts; Cincinnati's cap structuring allows the team flexibility that no other team in football has. Cincinnati's negative cap overage per player is twice as much as the next-closest team, and its negative cap overage per year is nearly twice as much as the next team as well. Here's a table showing the five teams who are doing best in terms of cap overage, which shows the gravity of how successful the Bengals have truly been.

Team Players Years Overage Overage/Player Overage/Year
Colts 35 64 $819,774 $23,422 $12,809
Jaguars 39 81 -$1,038,333 -$26,624 -$12,819
Rams 26 49 -$1,857,150 -$71,429 -$37,901
Raiders 24 41 -$2,357,578 -$98,232 -$57,502
Bengals 32 63 -$7,022,379 -$219,449 -$111,466

It takes outstanding cap management to retain so many impact players and Cincinnati's front office has done a fantastic job at doing just that. These numbers should be very encouraging to Bengals fans, as they show that the team is able to discern whether to sign its players for a fair price or let players walk. The Bengals maximize the value of their players, so look for the team to sign George Iloka, Marvin Jones, Adam Jones and other of their free agents at the right price. With Tyler Eifert, Kevin Zeitler, Shawn Williams and others set to hit free agency in 2017, this is encouraging at the very least.