Introducing Commitment Index
Part 3: Measuring the Mortgage
Part 1: The “Mortgaging the Future” Assertion
Part 2: The Trough Model and the Folly of “Matching Cash With Cap”
In Part 1, I explained that the concept of a team “mortgaging its future” only matters to the degree that the team has mortgaged its future relative to the other teams in the league. As a result, the Mortgaging the Future Assertion should not be used in a vacuum with respect to a given transaction, but rather within the context of the position on the mortgage continuum on which every team in the league sits at that point in time.
In Part 2, I explained that the trough-like nature of the NFL salary cap dictates that the most common way in which teams supposedly mortgage their future – by incurring cap debt upon the proration of signing bonuses – does not actually lead to any mortgaging of the future if the team has enough cap space in the present year to avoid cap debt by earmarking cap space to be rolled forward. However, a team may consciously decide to incur cap debt, and therefore mortgage its future relative to the other teams in the league, for entirely rational reasons. Today, I will identify the degree to which each team has decided to do that relative to all of the other teams in the league.
In order to “measure the mortgage” for each team, I first calculated the total amount of future signing bonus proration that each team is accountable for in all future years (i.e. 2016 and beyond). For all of the reasons I have previously enumerated, I then subtracted from that number the amount of cap space that each team currently has in 2015. The resulting number for each team represents that team’s cap debt. The following numbers are recorded as of immediately following the draft (excluding any draft pick contracts), but include the transactions related to Whitney Mercilus, James Jones, Kamerion Wimbley, and Ryan Tannehill.
|Team||Mortgage||Cap Space||Cap Debt|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||$11,289,128||$(25,910,618)||$(14,621,490)|
|New York Jets||$28,605,898||$(10,355,039)||$18,250,859|
|St. Louis Rams||$27,167,705||$(8,755,206)||$18,412,499|
|San Diego Chargers||$35,729,586||$(15,700,332)||$20,029,254|
|New York Giants||$36,614,385||$(6,972,313)||$29,642,072|
|San Francisco 49ers||$50,374,020||$(6,313,247)||$44,060,773|
|Green Bay Packers||$63,259,134||$(16,528,182)||$46,730,952|
|Kansas City Chiefs||$50,705,952||$(2,487,991)||$48,217,961|
|New England Patriots||$59,273,415||$(5,910,487)||$53,362,928|
|New Orleans Saints||$69,967,987||$(3,904,372)||$66,063,615|
However, cap debt is not the only type of future cap commitment that can mortgage a team’s future. The other type is future fully guaranteed base salary (or roster bonus, used here interchangeably). As was identified in Part 1, commitment of future cap dollars may lead to decreased roster talent if the players receiving the guarantees turn out to be unproductive, as the team will have less flexibility to make changes. As a result, the next step is to add future fully guaranteed base salary to cap debt. The results are as follows:
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||$(14,621,490)||$10,165,342||$(4,456,148)|
|St. Louis Rams||$18,412,499||$14,639,060||$33,051,559|
|San Diego Chargers||$20,029,254||$16,347,067||$36,376,321|
|New York Giants||$29,642,072||$7,012,352||$36,654,424|
|San Francisco 49ers||$44,060,773||$2,628,061||$46,688,834|
|Green Bay Packers||$46,730,952||$1,956,580||$48,687,532|
|New England Patriots||$53,362,928||$5,583,959||$58,946,887|
|New York Jets||$18,250,859||$49,237,195||$67,488,054|
|New Orleans Saints||$66,063,615||$9,522,313||$75,585,928|
|Kansas City Chiefs||$48,217,961||$27,686,700||$75,904,661|
In order to arrive at Commitment Index, I then found the average Commitments across the 32 teams, and then divided each team’s individual Commitments by this average. The resulting output displays each team’s degree of future cap commitment as a percentage of the average of all teams. Displaying the outcome as an index is appropriate because it emphasizes that the important consideration is where each team stands in terms of future cap commitment relative to all of the other teams in the league. The results are as follows:
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||No Commitment|
|St. Louis Rams||73%|
|San Diego Chargers||81%|
|New York Giants||81%|
|San Francisco 49ers||103%|
|Green Bay Packers||107%|
|New England Patriots||125%|
|New York Jets||149%|
|New Orleans Saints||167%|
|Kansas City Chiefs||167%|
In other words, the Miami Dolphins have committed more than twice as much of their future cap space as the average team, and the Cincinnati Bengals have only committed approximately one quarter as much of their future cap space as the average team.
It is important to keep in mind what information Commitment Index conveys and what information Commitment Index does not convey. Commitment Index does not declare which teams are in the “best” or “worst” cap situation. Commitment Index does not account for the number or quality of future draft picks that each team currently possesses. Commitment Index does not attempt to quantify the amount of talent, or the average age, of the specific players that each team has signed under contract for future years.
Commitment Index does, however, identify how much flexibility each team has with respect to its salary cap. We cannot predict how well each team will draft in the future. We cannot predict how lucky or unlucky each team will be with respect to injuries in the future. We cannot predict how quickly the players on each team will decline in production in the future, or whether the players will even remain on their current teams as they reach free agency. And we may not even be able to accurately quantify how much talent each team currently possesses. But, we can assume that a team with more flexibility will be better equipped to deal with unfavorable outcomes in the aforementioned categories than a team with less flexibility.
A team with a very high Commitment Index is not necessarily in a bad situation; as long as it chose to commit to the right players and gets some lucky breaks along the way. A team with a very low Commitment Index is not necessarily in a good situation; it might be a sign that the team has no players worth committing to. But if injuries and age and unlucky bounces and draft randomness persistently work to erode competitive advantages and cause all teams to regress to the mean, then a team would be well served by maintaining more flexibility than its competitors to deal with such challenges.
Bryce Johnston is the creator of Commitment Index and the co-creator of Expected Contract Value. Bryce earned his Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center in May 2014, and currently works as a corporate associate in the New York City office of an AmLaw 50 law firm. Before becoming a contributor to overthecap.com, Bryce operated eaglescap.com for 10 NFL offseasons, appearing multiple times on 610 WIP Sports Radio in Philadelphia as an NFL salary cap expert. Bryce can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com or via Twitter @NFLCapAnalytics.