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2015 NFL Salary Cap Dream Team

How to put together a team that would win the Super Bowl, go undefeated, and still be compliant with the salary cap.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The salary cap plays an increasingly important role in building and maintaining a winning team in the NFL. Could you put together an undefeated, Super Bowl-winning team, restricted only by the salary cap? How far away are the St. Louis Rams from putting together a team good enough to win the Super Bowl?

Team Selection Rules

The roster must be comprised of 53 players. The composition of the dream team roster must reasonably resemble a typical NFL roster (ie. the team cannot have 12 WR's or only 1 QB).

The roster must include 5 rookies, but only one can be a 1st round pick (after #15) from the 2015 NFL Draft.

The dream teams' 2015 total salary cap hits must exactly match the league average adjusted team salary cap for 2015 ($148.84 million).

The roster must include 12 players with 2015 salary cap hits exceeding $3 million.

2015 NFL Salary Cap Dream Team

The accompanying chart presents the 53 players selected for the dream team (position, player, salary cap hit in millions, NFL team):

C Travis Frederick (1.9) Dal Cameron Erving (1.7) Cle
RG Kyle Long (2.3) Chi Larry Warford (0.85) Det
LG Zack Martin (2.0) Dal La'el Collins (0.44) Dal
RT Taylor Lewan (2.6) Ten Ricky Wagner (0.62) Bal
LT Tyron Smith (5.0) Dal
TE Rob Gronkowski (8.7) NE Zach Ertz (1.4) Phi Ladarius Green (0.77) SD
WR Jordy Nelson (4.6) GB DeAndre Hopkins (2.1) Hou Jarvis Landry (0.79) Mia
WR Odell Beckham Jr. (2.4) NYG T.Y. Hilton (1.7) Ind Reuben Randle (1.0) NYG
RB Le'Veon Bell (1.1) Pit Latavius Murray (0.61) Oak David Johnson (0.59) Ari
RB Eddie Lacy (0.93) GB Jeremy Hill (0.85) Cin
QB Andrew Luck (7.0) Ind Russell Wilson (1.7) Sea
PK Dan Bailey (2.5) Dal
P John Hekker (2.4) Rams
ST Matt Slater (1.8) NE
LS Jake McQuaide (0.85) Rams
DT Aaron Donald (2.3) Rams Grady Jarrett (0.50) Atl
DT Ndamukong Suh (6.1) Mia Sheldon Richardson (2.7) NYJ
DE Michael Bennett (8.0) Sea Akiem Hicks (1.7) NO
DE J.J. Watt (14.0) Hou Olivier Vernon (1.7) Mia
MLB Bobby Wagner (1.4) Sea Eric Kendricks (0.94) Min
WLB Lavonte David (1.1) TB Jelani Jenkins (0.70) Mia
SLB Von Miller (9.8) Den Jamie Collins (1.1) NE
CB Richard Sherman (12.2) Sea Xavier Rhodes (2.1) Min E. J. Gaines (.54) Rams
CB Chris Harris (3.0) Den Jimmy Smith (3.6) Bal Janoris Jenkins (1.6) Rams
SS Glover Quin (3.6) Det T.J. McDonald (0.79) Rams
FS Earl Thomas (7.4) Sea Tyrann Mathieu (0.86) Ari

Team Building Strategies

One of the first things I noticed when looking through NFL contracts was the value available at the offensive skill positions. Tremendous production and talent were there for the taking at very little cost. Tapping into that value became a cornerstone of my team building efforts.

I was on the lookout for players whose 2015 salary cap hits were ridiculously low, for no other reason than the way their new contracts were structured. Ndamukong Suh, Chris Harris, Tyron Smith, Jimmy Smith and Jordy Nelson were all tremendous bargains as a result. In each of their cases, the 2016 salary cap hit drastically increases relative to the 2015 salary cap hit.

Continuity and the ability to gel together are very important considerations for offensive lines. With that in mind, I selected 3 young, accomplished starters from the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line. As an added bonus, they came at a relatively low cost.

On the defensive side of the football, pass coverage, the pass rush, and a dominant defensive line were the primary considerations. Putting together a high-octane offense on the cheap allowed me to splurge on a number of defensive stars with large salary cap hits.

Many of the selections had special teams value in mind. The dream team roster includes plenty of options for the special teams units, and a number of fast, athletic players who would excel in any role.

I tried to avoid excessive homerism when making the selections. Aaron Donald, Janoris Jenkins and T.J. McDonald all represented tremendous value. E.J. Gaines was cheap, and may have been the steal of the 2014 NFL Draft. John Hekker is the best punter in the NFL. Jake McQuaide is a quality LS who seldom makes mistakes.

Five other St. Louis Rams players were considered for positions on the team: Robert Quinn, Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree, Michael Brockers and Greg Robinson. Quinn's salary cap hit was just too high (16.7M) to merit consideration. Second team LB's and DL were among the last positions filled on the team. Brockers (3.0M) and Ogletree (1.9M) couldn't be accommodated under the salary cap, with only $2.4 million in total left to spend on the final two positions. Robinson (4.8M) and Austin (3.5M) were too expensive relative to their production to-date.

Notes & Observations

The salary cap for this exercise was $148.84 million. I spent exactly $148.84 million, as required by the rules. The breakdown: Offense - $53.65M, Defense - $87.64M, Special Teams - $7.55M.

The following is a breakdown of where the players were selected in the NFL Draft: 1st round - 17, 2nd round - 13, 3rd round - 8, 4th round - 3, 5th round - 4, 6th round - 2, UDFA - 6.

21 players on the roster made the 2015 Pro Bowl.

Jordy Nelson is the only player on the team who has reached the age of 30 (he's 30). The next four oldest players: Matthew Slater, Michael Bennett, and Glover Quin (all three are 29), and Ndamukong Suh (28).

The five rookie selections: Cameron Erving (1st), Eric Kendricks (2nd), David Johnson (3rd), Grady Jarrett (5th), La'el Collins (UDFA).

The entire starting offensive line accounts for $13.8 million in salary cap hits. In contrast, the Rams' Rodger Saffold and Greg Robinson total $13.2 million in salary cap hits this year. Another disturbing thought: Rob Gronkowski's salary cap hit - $8.7 million. Jared Cook's salary cap hit - $8.3 million.

As noted in the rules, the dream team was allowed 12 players with salary cap hits exceeding $3 million. The 12 players total $89.9 million in salary cap hits. They are: J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, Von Miller, Rob Gronkowski, Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Andrew Luck, Ndamukong Suh, Tyron Smith, Jordy Nelson, Jimmy Smith and Glover Quin.

The Rams also have 12 players with salary cap hits exceeding $3 million. The Rams' 12 players total $80.6 million in salary cap hits. The 12 players are Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Jared Cook, Rodger Saffold, Lance Kendricks, Greg Robinson, Nick Fairley, William Hayes, Kenny Britt, James Laurinaitis, Tavon Austin and Michael Brockers.

Aaron Rodgers was initially pencilled in as the starting QB. I quickly found out that his enormous salary cap hit meant too many sacrifices at other positions. Luck and Wilson were bargains, but only for this season. They both will shortly become members of the $20M per year club.

The unit I'm most impressed with? The wide receivers. 6 players with $12.59 in total salary cap hits. No Dez Bryant or Calvin Johnson in this group. Just tremendous production:

  • Jordy Nelson: 1519 receiving yards - 13 TD's
  • Odell Beckham Jr.: 1305 receiving yards - 12 TD's
  • T.Y. Hilton: 1345 receiving yards - 7 TD's
  • DeAndre Hopkins: 1210 receiving yards - 6 TD's
  • Reuben Randle: 938 receiving yards - 3 TD's
  • Jarvis Landry: 758 receiving yards - 5 TD's

If you look very closely, I've deliberately included many players that could have been St. Louis Rams if Jeff Fisher and Les Snead had gone in a different direction in the 2012-2014 NFL Drafts. See how many of them you can spot!