Earlier this week, I posited the question on Twitter for two nearby teams that were having poor years: What if the Saints and Texans merged rosters?
They seemed to have rosters that would fit together well, with each team having a strength where the other hand a hole, and vice versa. To make it more interesting (and also realistic), I decided to look up the 2015 cap hits for every player and build the team under the salary cap (listed on spotrac.com as $146,025,476). My goal here was to create the best 53-man roster possible while remaining under the salary cap.
I’m only considering players who were on the team as of this week, when I wrote this– not players who were on the team earlier in the year (like, say, Akiem Hicks or Kenny Phillips for the Saints).
And here we go. Texans fans are likely to be unhappy for a little while.
- Drew Brees (age: 36, 2015 cap hit: $23,800,000)
- Luke McCown (34, $665,000)
- Garrett Grayson (24, $618,291)
- Total: $25,083,291
This one is fairly straightforward. Brees is the only NFL-caliber starting quarterback on either roster, so he has to make the team, even at his age and cap hit. McCown is by far the cheapest of the next three options (Brian Hoyer’s cap hit starts with a 5, which would be fine if it were one digit fewer). And Garrett Grayson is the best prospect for the future. (Tom Savage is on injured reserve; we’ll get to IR at the end of the roster, but frankly, Grayson is the best prospect irrespective of Savage’s presence.)
- Mark Ingram (25, $2,000,000)
- C.J. Spiller (28, $2,000,000)
- Khiry Robinson (25, $585,334)
- Marcus Murphy (24, $452,322)
- Austin Johnson (FB) (26, $510,000)
- Total: $5,547,656
I know this one will make Texans fans unhappy. It’s pretty straight-forward: Arian Foster is a 29-year-old running back with a significant injury history and a cap hit of over $8.7M. You might be able to justify paying Foster and carrying one fewer running back if he could still reliably perform at his peak level, but at his age, you can’t count on that.
With Foster too expensive to risk, I think the rest of the Texans running backs are pretty bad, so this was fairly easy. No one besides Foster on Houston’s roster is even as good as Khiry Robinson, let alone Ingram and Spiller. Marcus Murphy adds value as a kick and punt returner. I went with Austin Johnson over Jay Prosch, knowing little about fullbacks, because he’s cheaper (and I don’t know how much Prosch plays, if at all).
- DeAndre Hopkins (23, $2,080,010)
- Brandin Cooks (22, $1,905,330)
- Willie Snead (22, $435,000)
- Jaelen Strong (21, $627,995)
- Nate Washington (32, $615,000)
- Total: $5,663,335
DeAndre Hopkins is a budding superstar, an obvious choice for our #1 receiver and a must-have even at five times the cost. Brandin Cooks hasn’t turned into the star the Saints envisioned, but at his current age and cap number, he’s still a bargain– and he’s more suited to this role, the #2 to Hopkins’ #1. Willie Snead has come on strong as arguably the Saints’ most reliable receiver. Jaelen Strong is very young and a fine prospect to ease along in a fourth or fifth wide receiver role. I chose Nate Washington as the “cagey veteran mentor” to round out the bunch. Marques Colston is too expensive and has seemingly lost it. You could argue for Cecil Shorts, but Washington is on a one-year minimum deal and Shorts is being paid $6 million for two years. Even though he’s younger, I’m not sure he adds much value to the team at all, let alone over Washington. Cooks, Snead, and Strong can contribute on special teams, so I wasn’t worried about finding a player to fit that type.
- Ben Watson (34, $1,900,000)
- Josh Hill (25, $586,668)
- C.J. Fiedorowicz (23, $730,826)
- Total: $3,217,494
It was a lot easier to justify Watson for the top spot after the game he had Thursday night against Atlanta. He’s the best do-it-all guy on either roster. Hill has the most athleticism; Fiedorowicz is a guy I don’t think is all that special, but is young, cheap, and has a relatively high draft pedigree (then again, I’m not sure if the Texans understand the draft).
- Duane Brown (30, $9,500,000)
- Terron Armstead (24, $769,359)
- Andrus Peat (21, $2,071,544)
- Total: $12,340,903
A no-brainer. This might be the best trio of tackles in the league.
- Jahri Evans (32, $7,000,000)
- Brandon Brooks (26, $1,696,359)
- Xavier Su’a-Filo (24, $1,261,727)
- Total: $9,958,086
Evans is on the decline at 32, but he’s still the best guard on either team. Brooks is not someone I know much about, but I’ve generally seen his play well-graded and spoken fairly well of– or at least well enough to be the team’s other starter. Su’a-Filo is on this team for roughly the same reason C.J. Fiedorowicz is.
- Max Unger (29, $3,000,000)
- Ben Jones (26, $1,662,362)
- Total: $4,662,362
It’s easy to pick both starting centers when they come this cheaply.
TOTAL OFFENSE: 24 players, $66,473,127
I’ve listed the team in a base 3-4, which made the most sense to me with the personnel I had to work with.
- J.J. Watt (26, $13,969,000)
- Cameron Jordan (26, $4,169,000)
- Bobby Richardson (22, $436,666)
- Jared Crick (26, $1,639,875)
- Total: $20,214,541
Watt and Jordan are a fantastic duo to have here and well worth the money. Bobby Richardson has played well so far his rookie season, particularly against the run. I don’t know much about Crick, but he’s cheap and he plays a lot of snaps for Houston, so he makes the team.
- John Jenkins (26, $746,890)
- Tyeler Davison (23, $489,306)
- Christian Covington (21, $457,621)
- Kaleb Eulls (24, $438,333)
- Total: $2,132,150
One of the weakest groups on the team, but a very young one with lots of chance to improve playing between Jordan and Watt. Jenkins has the size to be a true nose tackle, so he’s the starter in the run-stuffing role. The word is that Vince Wilfork has looked ordinary, and even if he hasn’t, 2 years and $9 million is a lot for a 33-year-old nose tackle. (Though it’s not out of line with the kind of deals the Texans like to hand out– see “Reed, Ed.”) The other three are all rookies with varying talent level and skill sets; Davison is the most explosive of the bunch.
- Jadeveon Clowney (22, $5,062,045)
- Hau’oli Kikaha (23, $957,511)
- Whitney Mercilus (25, $2,979,030)
- Kasim Edebali (26, $512,000)
- Total: $9,510,586
Clowney hasn’t produced the big numbers yet, but he’s shown the flashes of greatness that made him the top pick in the draft. Kikaha now leads all rookies with four sacks (in six games); he’s been less flashy but steadily productive. Mercilus is a fine player, although nothing special, and Edebali has shown some signs of life as a rotational pass-rusher.
- Stephone Anthony (23, $1,404,766)
- Dannell Ellerbe (29, $1,900,000)
- Bernardrick McKinney (22, $971,840)
- Justin Tuggle (25, $585,834)
- Michael Mauti (25, $585,000)
- Total: $5,448,440
I hate to say it, but Brian Cushing might be done. He looks like a shell of his former self out there– and to make matters worse, he’s on the second year of a six-year deal, one where his cap hit each year is higher than the entire ILB crew I’ve assembled here.
Anthony is the star of the bunch, but Ellerbe has been surprisingly good, surpassing my expectations. McKinney is a long-term player there, though he’s more of a run-stopper. I had no idea whom to go with for the fourth ILB spot; Tuggle beat out Akeem Dent based on age, salary, and slightly higher PFF grade. Feel free to replace him if you like someone better. Mauti won the special teams roster spot with his blocked punt Thursday night.
- Keenan Lewis (29, $4,500,000)
- Johnathan Joseph (31, $11,750,000)
- Kevin Johnson (23, $1,827,166)
- Delvin Breaux (25, $439,000)
- Damian Swann (22, $481,807)
- Total: $18,997,973
Another difficult decision I had to make was Joseph vs. Kareem Jackson. I was initially on Jackson because he’s younger and had a lower cap hit, but upon further research, I discovered he’s graded out really poorly this year, and he’s in the first year of a four-year contract extension; he’ll be 31 when it ends. Joseph is 31 now, but his cap hit is lower for the next two years than it is now, and the team can cut bait after 2016 with no further penalty. With the play so far of youngsters Johnson and Breaux, that is likely to happen. Also, Lewis has proven himself a fine #1 corner, even if he is exiting his prime, and Swann has performed solidly so far after winning the Saints’ nickel job as a rookie.
- Jairus Byrd (29, $5,500,000)
- Kenny Vaccaro (24, $2,570,376)
- Rahim Moore (26, $3,000,000)
- Andre Hal (23, $527, 281)
- Total: $11,597,657
The Saints structured Byrd’s contract such that his cap hit makes him an affordable risk here– and even allows us to spend $3 million on Moore for when Byrd is inevitably injured. Vaccaro seems like an obvious choice, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Hal so far.
TOTAL DEFENSE: 26 players, $67,901,347
- Kicker: Zach Hocker (24, $435,000)
- Punter: Thomas Morstead (29, $3,400,000)
- Long Snapper: Justin Drescher (27, $875,000)
I chose Hocker before Thursday night, but he’ll probably be fired after that game. Well, the Texans already fired Randy Bullock this year, so I decided to go with the guy who stuck around the longest.
Morstead is more expensive than Shane Lechler, but he’s also twelve years younger and has a lifetime pass for hitting the greatest onside kick in NFL history.
Drescher is cheaper and younger than Jon Weeks.
TOTAL SPECIAL TEAMS: 3 players, $4,710,000
TOTAL 53-MAN ROSTER: $139,084,474
We’re still nearly $7 million under the cap, so I decided to add some players to our Injured Reserve list (who do not count against the 53-man roster, but do count against the salary cap):
- CB P.J. Williams (22, $494,651)
- SS Vinnie Suneri (22, $377,125)
- OLB Davis Tull (23, $373,433)
- TE Ryan Griffin (designated for return) (25, $381,611)
- OL David Quessenberry (25, $613,363)
- OLB Reshard Cliett (23, $340,621)
- QB Tom Savage (25, $408,146)
- OLB Anthony Spencer (31, $665,000)
- FS Rafael Bush (28, $1,900,000)
- Total Injured Reserve: $5,553,950
That brings the entire roster, 53-man and injured reserve, to a GRAND TOTAL of $144,638,424. Still close to $1.5 million and change to work with; if you’re not comfortable cutting it that close, I totally understand removing Bush from IR. The team’s only contracts that are both long and expensive going to legitimate stars like J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan, leaving money to extend key players currently on their rookie deals, such as DeAndre Hopkins and Terron Armstead, when the time comes. Not a bad spot to be in. Of course, it’s easy when you get to pick and choose from two rosters.