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Building an NFL offense under the salary cap

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20: New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady (12) points to a defender during the National Football League game between the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers on November 20, 2016, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

When the assignment came to build a 53-man roster to compete this season, working from the entire pool of players across the NFL while staying under the salary cap, I thought I had my work cut out for me. There are so many things to consider on a project like this: Scheme fit, personnel deployment, special teams, cost affordability and even character, let alone getting your talent level to the point it needs to be to win a Super Bowl.

But, thanks to a rising swell of young talent across the league, I believe I built a roster that would destroy any team in the NFL. That’s not back-patting either, as my 7-month old daughter could have thrown together a high-caliber group thanks to the way rookie contracts are handled these days. But summer content is about fun, and there were still instances where I had to be smart with the way I handled a unit’s construction.

Remember, the salary cap is $167 million this season and this roster is just being built to compete in 2017, not beyond. I avoided true rookies in place of proven NFL guys, and tended to invest more in positions or roles I believed were of significant value to building an NFL team. Today you can check out my team’s offense, tomorrow the defense.

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady — $14 million

Dak Prescott — $635k

Analysis: Remember, this team is just being built to compete in 2017, and right now I’m not sure there is a better quarterback in football than Tom Brady. Nineteen signal-callers will make more than Brady this season, including Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck, two others I would have strongly considered.

Adding Dak Prescott for the affordable price of his rookie contract was easy, as he gives the roster a strong, young starter who should thrive behind an impressive offensive line if called upon. Bonus? Both of these guys eat, sleep and dream about football 24/7. If we need a third quarterback, I’m sure Ty Montgomery can do that too.

Running backs

Ezekiel Elliott — $6.35 million

David Johnson — $800k

Ty Montgomery — $788,636

Patrick DiMarco — $1.8 million

Analysis: Once you’ve wrapped your mind around the fact that Patrick DiMarco will make more than David Johnson this season, understanding this list becomes easy. Elliott and Johnson will split the duties in the backfield, as both are scheme diverse runners more than capable of shouldering a heavy workload. Johnson’s ability to split out wide as a receiver will allow both players to be on the field at the same time, though sitting another one of the other skill players on this team would be a brutal decision.

Montgomery is an ideal third-down back who will have to blackmail someone to get touches in this offense, and DiMarco gives our team the blocking back we’ll need for the short yardage situations we’ll probably never be in, because good luck holding Elliott, Johnson, Brady and this group of receivers to less than 10 yards per play.

Wide receivers

Odell Beckham Jr. — $3.3 million

Mike Evans — $4.6 million

Jarvis Landry — $1.1 million

Martavis Bryant — $724,805

Tyler Lockett — $891,688

J.J. Nelson — $667,450

Analysis: Odell Beckham and Mike Evans are not only an affordable top tandem, they’re also two of the top six or seven pass-catchers in the NFL, which made them pretty easy choices. We’ll move them around offensively, but for the most part expect those two outside with Jarvis Landry in the slot, where we take advantage of his route-running, ball skills and blocking when running out of spread looks.

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Martavis Bryant is a luxury piece who will stretch the field and replace Landry in the red zone while Beckham kicks over to the slot. Tyler Lockett is one of the better return men in the league and has crazy upside as a slot receiver, and J.J. Nelson’s speed will let us stretch the field if Bryant goes down. Also, let’s be honest, this receiving corps would need to contract malaria for Lockett or Nelson to see the field on offense.

Tight ends

Travis Kelce — $5.4 million

Hunter Henry — $1.4 million

Cameron Brate — $690,000

Analysis: Anytime you have the chance to add a top-two tight end in the NFL to a receiving group that includes four of the top 15 wide receivers in the league, you should. Kelce might be covered by opponents’ top corners in Kansas City this season, but in our offense he will draw much more favorable matchups.

His and Hunter Henry’s abilities as blockers will let us go heavy when we need to, which obviously won’t happen because you’d have to be wasted to take any of our wide receivers off the field (and because we’ll be averaging 10 yards per play). Cameron Brate could probably start if necessary, but Travis Kelce is our man so Brate will have to be content with special teams.

Offensive tackles

David Bakhtiari — $6.1 million

Mitchell Schwartz — $6.9 million

Taylor Decker — $2.4 million

Ryan Schraeder — $2.3 million

Analysis: Though one of our pass catchers will be open in approximately 0.44 seconds on every passing play, protecting Brady for the one Hail Mary we’ll throw at the end of every game to attempt to run up the score was a priority. Bakhtiari might have been the best pass protector in the league last season, and Decker is the perfect affordable backup. Schwartz is the best right tackle in the NFL, and Schraeder remains an underrated player who also came fairly cheap.

Interior line

Richie Incognito — $4.9 million

Brandon Scherff — $5.7 million

Travis Frederick — $4.5 million

Mitch Morse — $1.2 million

Gabe Jackson — $1.9 million

Cody Whitehair — $960,129

Analysis: Incognito and Scherff give us two hogs on the inside that will get after folks and set the intimidation meter on high. Then again, so will one look at our skill players, but I digress. Frederick is the best center in football and came at a decent price; his scheme-diverse abilities and mental processing will help us avoid mental errors regardless of what we’re running offensively.

Morse and Whitehair could play multiple positions at a high level, and one of them might hop in for Incognito when we go zone-heavy in our attack, as the Bills guard has mostly run gap/power concepts in his career. Jackson can play in multiple schemes and will give anyone who crosses him a rough ride, which is exactly what we’re looking for up front.

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