New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a strategy when it comes to building his roster. He will shell out the big bucks if he players are at the top of the league at their position, but otherwise he will focus his attention on having better depth than any other team in the league.
I decided to break down the offenses in the AFC East to see how the Patriots compare to their rivals. It turns out that the Patriots are spending a lot on offense and the Jets- when they inevitably sign free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick- are the only team to come close.
I looked at the cap hits of the players to see how teams have created their offenses. It's important to note that cap hits are malleable as teams can adjust impacts with extensions or signing bonuses in order to free up space. But looking at cap hits show how a unit is created for this upcoming year.
Here's what we learn. All numbers from OverTheCap.com.
Patriots QB Tom Brady has a larger cap hit than any other quarterback in the division at $14.00 million. Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill comes in second at $11.64 million and he's likely to stay in 2nd, regardless of whether or not the Jets sign Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Bill QB Tyrod Taylor takes up roughly 20% of the cap space Brady does at $3.13 million, while Jets QB Geno Smith is an easy $1.60 million against the cap. Signs point to Fitzpatrick receiving roughly $12 million in 2016, but it's likely that the Jets will structure his contract so his cap hit falls across multiple seasons.
The Patriots have the 3rd most team-friendly running backs in the division. Brandon Bolden actually has the largest cap hit at $1.27 million this season, closely followed by Dion Lewis at $1.09 million. Every team handled the position differently.
The Bills are extremely top heavy, with LeSean McCoy carrying a $7.68 million cap hit in 2017, and the top back-up with a mere $600,000. The Jets have two mid-tier backs with Matt Forte and Bilal Powell at $3.00 million and $1.73 million, respectively.
The Dolphins just ignored the position with no back carrying a cap hit greater than $675,000.
The Jets have more money invested in their #2 wide receiver than any other team has in their #1 target. Brandon Marshall ($9.5 million cap hit) and Eric Decker ($8.00 million) both carry huge cap hits this season. The only other wide receivers in the division with a cap hit larger than $3 million are Patriots WRs Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman, and Bills WR Sammy Watkins.
The Patriots have the 2nd highest amount of cap space tied up in their top three wide receivers- Hogan, Edelman, and Danny Amendola. Amendola's cap hit of $2.89 million is greater than the #2 wide receivers for both the Bills and Dolphins.
The Patriots have more money tied up in their top two tight ends than any other team in the division, but Dolphins TE Jordan Cameron has the highest cap hit at $8.00 million. Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski ($6.62 million) and Martellus Bennett ($5.19 million) have the 2nd and 4th highest cap hits, sandwiching Bills TE Charles Clay ($6.00 million).
The Jets didn't really use the tight end position last season, and former 2nd round pick Jace Amaro has the highest tight end cap hit on the roster at a mere $1.17 million.
The Patriots are spending roughly the same amount of money on their offensive line as the Dolphins and Jets, but the roster construction is fairly different.
The Dolphins have a lot of cap space tied up in their left tackle Branden Albert ($10.15 million) and center Mike Pouncey ($10.03 million), and have invested two high first round picks in Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James.
The Jets have a good chunk of money invested in older veterans like tackles Ryan Clady ($6.00 million) and Breno Giacomini ($5.63 million), and center Nick Mangold ($8.60 million).
The Patriots have an interesting mix because no offensive lineman in the division has a larger cap hit than left Nate Solder's $10.32 million and Sebastian Vollmer has a cap hit of $5.21 million; the two combine for the largest offensive tackle cap hit in the division.
The interior is a different story, but that's because the Patriots are the only team in the division without a franchise center. Eric Wood, Pouncey, and Mangold are all on their veteran deals, while Bryan Stork is still fighting to win a role on the line.
Also of note is 6th lineman Marcus Cannon with a $4.75 million cap hit; no other team features a non-starter with a cap hit greater than $1.44 million.
The amount the Patriots pay their depth really stands out. Amendola, as the third receiver, Bennett, as the second tight end, and Cannon, as a back-up lineman, all tie up far more cap space than their counterparts on other teams.
The Bills spend the most on their running backs, the Dolphins spent the most on their offensive line, the Jets spend the most on their wide receivers, and the Patriots spend the most on their tight ends.
These expenditures really align with how each team wants to play on offense. Rex Ryan loves the ground-and-pound with the Bills, the Jets want to have an offense that can win with a journeyman quarterback, and the Dolphins have been trying to build an offensive line that can keep Tannehill from getting squished in the pocket.
And the Patriots have built a roster that can dominate with the low-risk, high-percentage plays in the middle of the field with tight ends and flanker receivers. The Patriots have invested a lot on the interior line in recent years, using top draft picks on Bryan Stork, Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney in consecutive years, as well as trading for Jonathan Coopers and signing Josh Kline to an extension. Hopefully these players will pay off to further strengthen the middle of the field.