Quarterbacks mean so much to NFL teams that it's impossible to overpay one that is an average starter or better. It makes sense, then, that quarterbacks have the biggest cap figures for 2013.
Spotrac.com lists the top ten salary-cap figures in the NFL this season, and the top five all come at quarterback. The only surprise is that defensive players make up spots six to 10.
The players with the highest salary-cap figures don't necessarily have the highest salaries in a given year. Bonus money, incentives and proration of previous bonuses all play into a "cap number."
Still, the cap number provides an interesting snapshot into how a player is valued as a percentage of his team. Here are the top five cap numbers this year:
1. Eli Manning, New York Giants: $20.85 million
2. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: $17.82 million
3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: $17.5 million
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: $17.4 million
5. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: $17.11 million
Rivers' name sticks out. He signed a seven-year deal in 2009, but his play slipped last season. If he takes another step back, this number will look particularly egregious. Stafford actually lowered his cap number for the next two years by tacking extra years on to his deal last week in an extension. Joe Flacco's per-year average is much higher than Stafford's, but Flacco's cap hit is lower for this year.
Peyton Manning signed a five-year deal before last season. He essentially had to prove he was healthy and effective to keep the contract going. That wasn't a tough decision, and now his contract is guaranteed next season. Let's look at the next five:
6. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings: $17.06 million
7. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears: $16.18 million
8. Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $16 million
9. Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs: $15.5 million
10. Cortland Finnegan, St. Louis Rams: $15 million
Allen and Peppers might not get paid at this level much longer. Allen is in a contract year, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he left the Vikings via free agency in 2014. Peppers is still a very valuable player, but the Bears will consider cutting him one of these years if his play declines.
Revis amazingly got all the money he was hoping for despite tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and not yet hitting the free-agent market. It was a huge boom or bust gambit by the Bucs. Hali isn't always mentioned among elite pass rushers, but he's very consistent. Finnegan earned big bucks in his first year in St. Louis.
Whether we are measuring cap number or total salary, it always strikes me as a little crazy when non-quarterbacks reach the highest levels of the NFL pay structure. Finnegan, Peppers and Revis are worth plenty, but they aren't as valuable to a franchise as a top-10 quarterback.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.