Sure, they both have to win this weekend first. Sunday’s pair of conference championship games have been cast as “old school” AFC and “new school” NFC, and the spending habits of all four contenders reflect that. The Broncos and New England Patriots are built around veteran quarterbacks, each spending at least one-fourth of its cap space on franchise signal-callers Manning and Tom Brady.
Manning carries the biggest cap hit of the remaining quarterbacks, costing his team $17.5 million, or approximately 25 times as much as Russell Wilson ($681,085). Neither Wilson nor Colin Kaepernick is even the highest-paid quarterback on his own team.
“Draft well” isn’t groundbreaking analysis, but the advantages of doing so will be on full display this weekend.
Seattle has received solid production (13th in Total QBR) out of a quarterback with the 54th-highest cap hit in the league, which immediately puts Seattle financially ahead of the competition. With all this cap room to spend, it’s no wonder the Seahawks' defense ranks first in Total QBR allowed, takeaways and defensive red zone efficiency, right?
Except most of Seattle’s impact players were homegrown and are on rookie contracts. Every member of Seattle’s secondary who played more than one snap last weekend was drafted by the team for a total cap hit of $9.1 million, just more than half of Manning’s $17.5 million cap hit.
Adding Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin (all drafted by Seahawks, on rookie contracts and played at least 40 snaps) brings the bill to $12.5 million for nine players. Eight of those players played at least 25 snaps last weekend.
A pair of castoff defensive tackles played big roles in Seattle’s divisional round win. Both Tony McDaniel (35 snaps) and Clinton McDonald (44 snaps) have outperformed modest price tags this season -- neither costing more than $605,000 to Seattle’s cap.
Free-agent signing Cliff Avril cost $3.75 million this year, but he rounds out an 11-man Seahawks defense that costs less than Manning alone.
By hitting in the draft this often, Seattle can afford a luxury item or two. Edge rushers Avril and Michael Bennett were signed in free agency, while Chris Clemons signed a contract extension to stay in Seattle in July 2012. The trio produced 22 sacks, 10 tackles for loss on rushing plays and nine forced fumbles.
Seattle’s financial day of reckoning is coming, with Bennett, McDonald, McDaniel, Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner scheduled for free agency after this season. Next year will be even worse. Six of the top 20 Seahawks defenders in snaps played this season are under contract past next year, with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright, Avril and Chris Clemons unrestricted free agents after 2014.
Like the rest of the NFL, Seattle will cross that bridge when it gets there. After all, there are two drafts between now and then.
Salary data provided by Roster Management System.