ESPN.com's John Clayton broached a rarely-discussed facet of NFL finances -- annual payroll -- and noted in his weekly mailbag that no division will pay out more cash to its players this season than the NFC North.
Payroll figures are entirely separate from the salary cap and are relevant for different reasons. For me, the best way to view payroll is over an extended period of years to measure financial commitment from ownership (or lack thereof). Because in any given year, of course, contractual oddities and timing can combine to impact cash flow dramatically.
A perfect storm of sorts has emerged in 2013 to put three NFC North teams among the five highest payrolls in the NFL, according to Clayton's figures. The Detroit Lions are No. 1, the Green Bay Packers are No. 2 and the Chicago Bears are No. 5. The Minnesota Vikings are currently No. 12, but they will move up once they sign their trio of first-round draft choices.
The chart below offers details, via ESPN's Roster Management System, for why NFC North payrolls are so high. The Lions, for example, will pay quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson a combined $56 million as part of their recent contract extensions. They also owe $12.3 million to rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and $7 million to cornerback Chris Houston in the first year of his five-year contract.
The Packers, meanwhile, will pay a combined $62 million in cash to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews. They also owe $8.25 million to tight end Jermichael Finley, $6.5 million to cornerback Tramon Williams and $6.2 million to defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.
The Bears don't have any balloon-type payments due, but they have six players who will earn at least $6 million in cash this season. The Vikings, finally, will pay tailback Adrian Peterson and defensive end Jared Allen nearly $30 million this season, while receiver Greg Jennings will get $13 million and offensive lineman Phil Loadholt will earn $10 million.
What does this all mean in the end? We all know that spending money doesn't necessarily equate to winning. But having teams/owners who are willing to absorb big payroll figures is better than the alternative. These days, at least, no one in the NFC North is trying to win on the cheap.