- The premise for the following exercise was simple: Assemble the best possible 53-man NFL roster under the salary cap, using each player's 2015 cap charge. I tried not to just pick the best players available based on the money, but to find players within each position group and unit who could complement each other. I wanted a balanced offense, a 4-3 defense and a roster that could hold up on special teams as well.
I followed two rules: No rookies, and stay under the NFL's $143,280,000 salary cap. In certain instances, I chose to move players out of their natural positions because I felt like it meshed with this roster's strengths. Representatives from 27 teams are included -- the Cowboys and Bills led the way with four picks each, while the Patriots, Saints, Buccaneers, Titans and 49ers got shut out.
Without further ado, the best NFL roster $142,383,980 can buy.
(I put asterisks next to the players who would start for this team in Week 1.)
Andrew Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdowns in 2014. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
*Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts ($7,034,363): This will likely be the last year I can afford Luck on my ultimate roster, as he's due to get a massive deal next offseason. But for now, with the 20th-highest cap hit among quarterbacks, he's a no-brainer to be my starter.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings ($1,556,705): Bridgewater showed impressive accuracy (64.4 completion percentage) and toughness as a rookie. It might take him a little time, but he has tools to be a good quarterback in this league.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders ($1,220,864): Carr started all 16 games last year and certainly has some improvements to make, but I think he will develop at a good rate this year. I expect him to take a leap in Year 2 now that he has two good weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. If Carr was ever forced into action on this team, he could win a lot of games with the talent around him.
LeSean McCoy has rushed for more than 1,300 yards in each of the last two seasons. AP Photo/Bill Wippert
*LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills, ($5,500,000): I'm still a huge fan of one of the NFL's shiftiest players. He can make you miss in the open field, shows speed to go the distance and has fine hands to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers ($1,123,800): A year after ranking second in yards from scrimmage (2,215), Bell is a no-brainer at his price tag, even when you factor in his two-game suspension to start the season. Bell -- who has the best hands of any RB and is only getting better -- will be my starter in Week 3
Alfred Morris, Washington ******** ($1,572,775): Morris is more than just a bruiser; he has excellent footwork, which is a big reason he has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his three NFL seasons. Entering a contract year, he should be motivated to take his game up a notch.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers ($925,203): Every team needs at least one big, physical running back with the ability to wear down a defense. That's Lacy, whose cap hit ranks 56th among running backs in 2015 and makes him one of the league's best bargains.
*Kyle Juszczyk, Baltimore Ravens ($660,146): I like fullbacks who are versatile, and Juszczyk fits the bill. At 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, he can clear out a running lane with the best of them, while also being a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. I want defensive coordinators to have to account for every player on this team.
Odell Beckham Jr. had 12 touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie. AP Photo/Seth Wenig
*DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans ($2,080,009): A physical football player with some of the strongest hands in the game, Hopkins hasn't come close to fulfilling his potential, which is a scary thought for opponents. His 15.7 yards per catch since 2013 ranks 10th overall -- and he'll become a much bigger focal point of Houston's offense with Andre Johnson now in Indy.
*Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants ($2,365,045): No surprise here. Beckham can line up at any WR position on the field and create an instant mismatch. He has the speed and route-running ability to garner a lot of attention from the defense.
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears ($1,447,036): I feel like you always need a few steady, consistent players on every roster, and at his current cap price, Jeffery was an easy player to add. He's one of only six WRs to have at least 85 catches in each of the last two seasons. Jeffery understands how to attack the ball in the air and win the tough catches.
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers ($1,741,875): Benjamin proved to be an instant-impact rookie, racking up 1,008 yards and 9 TDs. He's a big play waiting to happen, and at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, he adds some good size/speed to my WR depth chart.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins ($789,752): Versatility is one of Landry's calling cards; he can play in the slot, outside the numbers and provide some value in the return game. The reason he makes this squad is because of his competitiveness. He has a knack for coming up with some big catches.
Travis Kelce led all tight ends with 7.3 yards after the catch in 2014. AP Photo/Ed Zurga
*Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs ($853,826): As long a Kelce stays on the field, he's going to be productive. His rare size/speed combo makes him tough to bring down in the open field (7.3 yards after catch in 2014, first among TEs), and I really like the way he secures the football. Kelce was an excellent draft pick for the Chiefs, and a huge bargain for this team.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers ($6,300,000): While Kelce provides some game-breaking ability, Olsen is a steady force in the passing game. He has eclipsed 65 catches, 800 yards and 5 TDs in each of his last three seasons. A smart football player who is a reliable weapon on third down, Olsen's speed still gives linebackers fits in coverage.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles ($1,467,054): I like tight ends who are reliable and catch the football, and Ertz does both. He's extremely productive in the passing game, and at just 24, will only continue to get better.
Tyron Smith is one of three Cowboys on Mark Dominik's ultimate offensive line. Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
*Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons ($3,733,977): Matthews started 15 games last year as a rookie, and I think he'll develop into the NFL's premier left tackle. He's a masterful technician, a great pick by the Falcons -- and a bargain for me.
*Tyson Smith, Dallas Cowboys ($5,039,000): Right now, I see Smith as the most dominant tackle in the game. His core strength, length and power are impressive -- and even better, he can play both tackle positions. Smith, my third-priciest offensive player, is a worthwhile investment.
*Travis Fredrick, Dallas Cowboys ($1,873,644): If you can't tell, beefing up the offensive line was a huge priority of mine, so I targeted quite a few pieces from the Cowboys' elite front. Fredrick, just 24, is already one of the league's best centers.
*Kyle Long, Chicago Bears ($2,263,896): When you watch Long play, you can really see he loves the game. He can play either guard position and has the natural, functional football strength to get it done in the trenches.
*Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys ($2,038,136): Yes, another Cowboy, and he's a steal at $2 million. A smart, sound young player who understands angles and leverage, Martin fits nicely on this roster.
Larry Warford, Detroit Lions ($849,250): Warford has been a welcome addition to the Lions' O-line. His toughness and experience makes him a good fit here.
Ricky Wagner, Baltimore Ravens ($621,140): After five seasons at Wisconsin and two in the NFL, Wagner has accumulated a ton of high-level playing time for a 25 year old. He has been a really good right tackle and with his salary so low, he was one of the best deals to put on the offensive line.
Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns ($1,241,295): Tough, patient, physical and a quick learner, Bitonio had a stellar rookie season. He'll be a fixture along Cleveland's O-line for years to come and certainly a great player to put on this team.
Seantrel Henderson, Buffalo Bills ($522,700): A former seventh-rounder, Henderson looks to be one of the steals of the 2014 draft. He started all 16 games for Buffalo as a rookie, and he gives my team some great depth at the tackle position.
Justin Houston led the NFL with 22 sacks last season. Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
*J.J. Watt, Houston Texans ($13,969,000): He's the best defensive player in the league, so yes, I will gladly take on his near-$14-million cap hit, knowing his impact on the game will be second to none. Watt can do it all.
*Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins ($6,100,000): Suh's cap hit will balloon to $28.6 million next season, but for now, his $6.1 million charge in 2015 is a worthwhile investment. And come on, Suh and Watt together? This has the makings of one of the best defensive lines you could ever see.
*Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams ($2,303,750): When building this team, I wanted to have defensive ends and defensive tackles playing traditional roles. Donald's quickness and ability to make plays in the backfield makes him a perfect run-stuffer in the middle of my defense.
*Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs ($5,100,000): Houston's new contract won't start getting pricey from a cap standpoint until next season, so the NFL's sack leader in 2014 was an easy choice to play right defensive end in my 4-3 scheme. If you couldn't tell, pressuring the QB was one of my top priorities with this squad.
Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills ($8,060,000): Dareus is one of the better pass-rushing DTs, but he's on this roster to shut down the opposing team's run game. At 6-foot-3, 331 pounds, he's almost impossible to move out of the middle.
Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins ($1,701,520): Vernon is a physical outside rusher and a really fine tackler. His salary won't stay this low much longer, so I was happy to add him to the team.
Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets ($2,742,000): Yes I know he'll be sitting out the first four games of the season, but remember, I can only dress 46 of these players every week. When he comes back, I have no doubt he'll again prove to be one of the league's most disruptive defensive linemen.
Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles ($3,258,563): The best player on the Eagles' defense, Cox has the whole package -- good size and strength, the requisite toughness and elite production. And as an added bonus, I think he can line up at both DE and DT.
Tyrone Crawford, Dallas Cowboys ($828,813): The Cowboys are expecting big things from Crawford in 2015, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will get the most out of him. Crawford is still a work in progress, but it's worth taking a chance on him at this price.
Luke Kuechly had a league-high 153 tackles in 2014. Grant Halverson/Getty Images
*Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers ($4,002,283): Boy, it didn't take Kuechly long to become one of the NFL's best linebackers. A tackling machine (295 tackles over three years!), the Boston College product has great instincts. With his range and toughness, Kuechly will be at the top of his game for a long time.
*Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks ($2,970,663): At one point, I had Wagner and Lavonte David on the team, but they both did new deals. Thankfully, Wagner's is much more cap friendly in 2015, so I get him and his tremendous production starting at my weak-side 'backer spot.
*James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams ($4,275,000): I spent a little money on Laurinaitis, thinking he could fill a void at strong-side linebacker and provide great leadership in the locker room. I also like the idea of having three starters who can fill-in at the middle linebacker position if need be.
C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens ($1,997,273): Mosley ranked eighth overall with 129 tackles in 2014. Pretty impressive for a rookie. He can get downhill and in the backfield in a hurry.
Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers ($2,160,728): Shazier battled some injuries as a rookie, but I saw enough on tape to think he'll be the talk of the league in 2015. He can play anywhere on the field with his speed.
Sio Moore, Oakland Raiders ($840,708): Moore checks off all the boxes -- size, speed, toughness, instincts, desire. Best of all, he's an excellent tackler, who's an absolute steal at his current cap number.
Joe Haden has 16 interceptions in five NFL seasons. Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports
*Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns ($11,700,000): I could've affordedRichard Sherman ($12.2 million cap number), but in my mind, Joe Haden is the best young cornerback in the NFL. With his elite athletic ability, I feel comfortable asking him to shut down half of the field.
*Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams ($1,587,829): Jenkins won't be underrated for long. He's a top athlete at his position, showing the ability to change directions, cover deep and make plays on the ball. He's also a willing tackler in the run game, a rarity for someone his size (5-foot-10, 198 pounds).
Darius Slay, Detroit Lions ($1,442,537): Slay made huge strides in his second NFL season. He has excellent body control, good foot speed and the quickness to stay in position throughout the play. I see him as one of the best corners in the NFC this season.
Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers ($1,792,955): I know he battled some injuries as a rookie, but trust me, San Diego has found one of the game's best young cornerbacks. Watching Verrett's tape, it became pretty clear he has the ability to cover in the slot and on the perimeter.
Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals: ($688,556): With special teams being such an important aspect of the game, Bethal is a worthwhile add. He's one of the best gunners on punt coverage in the NFL.
Johnathan Cyprien has accumulated 100-plus tackles in each of his two NFL seasons. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
*Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns ($2,356,000): A former undrafted free agent, Gipson has blossomed into a great player. His hands and ball skills give quarterbacks pause about throwing in his direction.
*Johnathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars ($1,491,574): Cyprien is one of the league's most physical young safeties. He plays the position with extreme toughness, accumulating 100-plus tackles in each of his two NFL seasons.
George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals ($1,582,075): Iloka gives me a smart player who can handle either safety position, while still being a productive player (74 tackles, 3 INTs in 2014).
Ron Brooks, Buffalo Bills ($760,135): I picked up Brooks specifically to play on the punt team opposite of Bethal. I don't think many teams will be busting long returns against that duo.
Connor Barth, Denver Broncos ($745,000): I had Barth in Tampa, and trust me, he's a clutch kicker. That's a trait you really appreciate as a general manager. Every field goal is tough to watch, but it got much easier when he was kicking.
Dave Zastudil, Arizona Cardinals ($1,637,500): Zastudil understands how to work the ball when needed, and has the leg strength to drive it down the field. He's one of the league's top punters, and I don't see any reason that can't continue.
Clint Gresham, Seattle Seahawks ($845,000): He just signed a three-year extension with Seattle -- and if John Schneider and the cap-strapped Seahawks made Gresham a priority, then I figured I should too.
De'Anthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs ($623,027): I wanted an explosive returner on the roster, someone special team coordinators had to gameplan for every week. Thomas' elite top-end speed makes him a constant threat to go the distance.