Jason Fitzgerald

Recent Posts by Jason

NFL Stock Down: Week 7

Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have hurt their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Brian Hoyer- Maybe Hoyer was reading into the press clippings too much but this was a dog of a game that looked more backup level quarterback than competent starter. To complete 39% of your passes against Jacksonville is about as bad a game a player can have in the NFL. For a player at his level he cant afford many games like this.

CJ Spiller- I always dislike putting an injured player in this category, but this was really devastating for Spiller who will likely miss the rest of the season. Spiller needed more of an opportunity in his walk year to do something special enough to warrant a mid tier contract. Now he could be looking at either a one year “prove it” type contract in the same pay range of Knowshon Moreno or a far lesser two year contract like Ben Tate.

Osi Umenyiora- Another game and another empty stat sheet for Umenyiora. The Falcons are not out of the race because the NFC South is so bad, but if there is a player they should trade its Osi, who doesn’t fit in the system and isn’t benefitting either side by remaining in Atlanta.

New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Andy Dalton- When Dalton is bad he can be atrocious and after a hot start it looks like the Bengals have entered the bad Dalton period of the season. The franchise QB finished the day 18 of 38 for a sad 126 yards and no scores. That can’t be what the Bengals expected when they signed Dalton to a $16 million a year extension this offseason.

NFL Stock Up: Week 7

Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.

Stock Up

Russell Wilson- It makes no difference to me that Seattle lost the game. Seattle fans are watching Wilson enter another dimension with his play this season. Wilson was already set to make a killing on an extension, but he’s very quickly putting himself in a different statistical class. The more they entrust him with the ball the better and better he is going to look.

Dez Bryant- Bryant is a physical marvel and took over the game in the second half. He faced some tight coverage against the Giants but nothing seemed to diminish his game. There are few receivers that would have consistently pulled down the passes he was pulling down. I think a strong argument can be made that he is the best receiver in the NFL.

Demaryius Thomas- Thomas had another exceptional game in his walk year, this time catching Peyton Manning’s record breaking touchdown and adding another 171 yards to his stat line. Thomas has been unstoppable the last three week and unlike former running mate Eric Decker will not get the label of being a Manning creation. Thomas will be one of the top 5 paid receivers by next season.

New Contract Player Of The Week

Golden Tate- There have been a few games this year where Tate was someone I considered for this, but there was no denying him this week. He finished the day with 10 receptions for 154 yards including a ridiculous touchdown where he outran the whole Saints defense.  He would be the best receiver in Seattle had they kept him.

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 7

Last week I went 9-5-1 SU and 9-5-1 ATS. Sadly I split on Thursday when ideally I wanted to lose on both choices and see the Jets win outright.  The yearly record now stands at 62-29-1 and 54-35-3. Onto week 7….

COLTS (-3) over Bengals- The Colts are on a roll right now and clicking in almost every phase of the game while the Bengals have struggled on defense the last two weeks. The Bengals need to right the ship but this is not the team to do it against. Colts 34 Bengals 27

Titans (+5.5) over REDSKINS- Everyone know I don’t think much of Tennessee so this pick shows how little I think of the Redskins. Washington will make enough mistakes to keep the game with 5 points, though I would be surprised if they lost the game outright. Redskins 23 Titans 19

Dolphins (+3) over BEARS- Miami comes off a heartbreaker loss and this has the makings of another close one that I think they will lose. Should be a good game with the Dolphins defense doing enough to stay in the game, despite being on the road. Bears 24 Dolphins 23

Browns (-5.5) over JAGUARS- Unless the Browns have a letdown game I cant see any way the Jaguars compete. Jacksonville is one of the three worst teams in the NFL and outside of the young QB may not have any bright spot on their roster. Browns 34 Jaguars 13

Seahawks (-6) over RAMS- While the Seahawks have not looked great every week and may be a bit distracted by the Percy Harvin trade, the Rams defense is so bad that it’s the perfect cure. I’d venture that the talking point after this game is how great the Seahawks are now that Harvin is out of the locker room. Seahawks 34 Rams 17

PACKERS (-6.5) over Panthers- A few weeks ago I would have just passed this game off as a blowout, but Cam Newton has been so much better that I’m excited to see how it plays out. I think this will be close with the Packers pulling it out at the end. Packers 31 Panthers 24

RAVENS (-6.5) over Falcons- Atlanta really needs this game after last weeks dud against the Bears, but this is such a bad opponent for them. The Ravens are playing extremely well and are always a toug team at home. Ravens 34 Falcons 17

Vikings (+5) over Bills- If there is a snoozefest of the week it will probably be this game. Neither team can do much offensively so the game likely comes down to what team makes a defensive play or special teams play. Buffalo’s defense is the one I would expect to do just that, but not enough times to cover the points. Bills 17 Vikings 13

LIONS (-1.5) over Saints- Im amazed at the turnaround of the Lions defense and I fully expect them to shut down what is a very over rated Saints offense. I don’t know if the Lions offense can score that much but they don’t need to even against the Saints. Lions 23 Saints 16

CHARGERS (-3.5) over Chiefs- Chargers were not great against the Raiders, but did make the plays they needed at the end of the game to avoid the upset loss. Chiefs have had the extra week to prepare but its not a great matchup for them and I cant take Alex Smith over Phillip Rivers. Chargers 23 Chiefs 17

Giants (+6.5) over COWBOYS- I whiffed badly on New York last week, but I can’t imagine they will be that bad two weeks in a row. Dallas looks like the better team but Im not sure if they are really a full touchdown better. Cowboys 26 Giants 21

Cardinals (-3.5) over RAIDERS- If the Raiders have a hangover from last weeks close loss to their division rivals then this could get ugly. Cardinals 27 Raiders 13

49ers (+7) over BRONCOS- This should be a good Sunday Night game. Both teams have good defenses and both have effective offenses. Id be a little worried about this pick if the Broncos get out to a fast start, but as long as the Niners can play at their tempo this should be close. Broncos 24 49ers 21

Texans (+3) over STEELERS- Not sure anyone is getting excited about this game. Pittsburgh continues to disappoint and there is no real reason to assume they will win this game. Texans 23 Steelers 17

Seahawks Trade Percy Harvin to the Jets

According to Jay Glazer the Seattle Seahawks have traded wide reciever Percy Harvin to the New York Jets for a mid round draft pick. In my opinion this is one of the rare actual “work out best for both sides” trades.

The Seahawks acquired Harvin via trade in 2013 from the Minnesota Vikings in what was a bit of a head scratcher. Seattle gave up their first round pick in 2013 and a mid round pick in 2014 for the rights to Harvin. Harvin had worn out his welcome in Minnesota due to his unhappiness with his contract following an injury filled season. The Seahawks would turn around and sign him to a $67 million, 6 year contract that contained $12.85 million per year in new money. The salary moved him, depending on how one valued it, into either the top 3 or top 5 at the position in salary despite never having a 1,000 yard season.

The Seahawks paid Harvin $14.5 million in 2013 to catch 1 pass for 17 yards in an injury filled regular season. Harvin would have two big runs and a kickoff return for a TD in the Super Bowl that year. Since the Jets played their game this week Harvin I believe will be paid by Seattle, leaving Seattle with a $4.5 million bill for 22 receptions for 133 yards. This will likely go down as one of the worst trades in NFL history.

Moving on from the contract and getting anything in return was good for the Seahawks. It seemed clear he did not fit in their offense and they had no idea if there was a way to utilize him. Seattle will now save $6.47 million in salary cap space and salary this year by trading him, money that can be rolled over to the 2015 season and used for the Wilson extension. Harvin will carry a $7.2 million dead money charge on the Seahawks 2015 salary cap, which represents another $5.7 million in freed up cap space, though it was likely they were releasing him next year anyway.

From the Jets perspective the team was devoid of talent and it was worth taking a risk on a player like Harvin. His ability in the short passing game should fit with what the Jets are currently running on offense and allow Eric Decker to see less help when he goes down the field.  In theory it can open up two layers of field if teams still have any fear of Harvin or he re-earns the fear of defensive coordinators.

The Jets had the lowest payroll in the NFL and one of the largest cap surpluses in the league. Harvin will eat up $6.47 million of the Jets cap room this year in what will amount to a half season audition to keep his contract. In 2015 Harvin will carry a $10.5 million salary and salary cap charge.  None of that money is guaranteed so if Harvin fails to perform the Jets can either release him or look to renegotiate the salary back down to a more reasonable price range that fits with his performance. Harvins total contract value over the next four seasons works out to $10.375 million per year so there are many ways to work within the contract to reduce the salary while keeping his value at a high level to keep any egos happy.

For the Jets there is no risk here. He is not displacing anyone of importance on the team. He can be released at any time. The Jets cap space was projected to be so high that there was likely no way they could spend all of it so even if he stays at his full price it does not make a material impact in any plans moving forward. The Jets also are in a position where thy will need to spend money just to meet the salary minimums in the CBA so this gives them a chance to see a player in uniform before commiting that money to him, which is always a plus. I would assume that this does mean Jeremy Kerley will not be back with the Jets next season.

Harvin will get to be one of the rare players in the NFL that will be paid for two bye weeks. The Seahawks already had their bye week while the Jets is still upcoming.

I’ll update Harvin’s contract to reflect the trade later tonight or early tomorrow morning. But for now you can view is old contract here 

Mock Contract Negotiations?

A while ago Ryan Feder, who contributes to the site and is a law student at Tulane, made an interesting suggestion to me about trying to potentially incorporate some mock negotiations into the site. With the NFL season near the mid-way point and some fanbases already turning towards 2015′s free agent class I wanted to see if anyone was interested in signing up to participate with other readers of the site in trying that out?

For the purposes of this we would be using the scenario that the team is trying to extend a specific player who is either slated to be a free agent or entering the option year of his rookie contract.

While I do not have a set format in mind I would think the best thing to do would be to indicate if you would prefer the role of the team side or player side, though you could be assigned either role depending on if we have enough for both sides. From there Ill probably randomly assign a player.

Everything would be sent via email between the two sides in an attempt to strike a deal and then we could publish the messages or parts from them to share the negotiation if you guys were agreeable to have them published.   If not and you just wanted some feedback when trying it that would be fine as well. Id say we could limit it to three sets of offers and counters so its not overdone. Of course some might just get done after one offer. I also think that before you begin it would be good to jot down a few key things that you are trying to accomplish in the contract so thats its easier to distinguish why a deal could or could not be reached, rather than saying it after the fact.

Each offer should include not just a general number but a pretty detailed breakdown of the contract struture, which would include signing bonus, guarantees, guaranteed structure, roster bonuses, and base salaries. Incentives can also be included. A teams salary cap position should be taken into account (i.e. it would not be realistic for the Saints to extend Mark Ingram on a contract that includes a $9 million cap hit in 2015), but you would not need to adhere to the team philosophies (i.e. Green Bay demanding per game bonuses, Steelers not guaranteeing base salary). Contract structures can simply be done in Excel and pasted to a word file with some notes outlining dates and bonuses.

The only requirements for a participant would be that they can commit the time to put in a reasonable effort and are willing to do some research to argue and justify the points they are making in their offers. I dont think it benefits anyone if they dont have the time or they just throw out a crazy number because it sounds good.

Anyway Im not sure if there is any interest in doing this but if you think you might be interested please email me at jason@overthecap.com.

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 7 Thursday Night Football

Last week I went 9-5-1 SU and 9-5-1 ATS.  The yearly record now stands at 61-29-1 and 54-34-3.

PATRIOTS (-9.5) over Jets- There just is not much for me to like about this game. Geno Smith on a short week and back to playing in the super handcuffed offense does not make me think that the Jets can compete offensively. The Jets should be able to generate a pass rush to frustrate Brady a bit, but as we saw with the Broncos game last week you can only get to the QB so many times in a game. They need the secondary to step up, not play 10 yards off the receivers on every play. The Jets best chance in this game is overconfidence by New England. The Patriots are already talking about using Darrelle Revis on offense, which is basically an admission that they believe they will be up huge in the 4th. Some of New Englands worst moments come when they take teams like this too lightly. I’ll be hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Patriots 34 Jets 17

Examining the Upcoming Free Agency of DeMarco Murray

The Dallas Cowboys will have an interesting contractual decision on their hands with running back DeMarco Murray. Murray is on pace for a 2,000 yard season, a feat just 6 players have accomplished since 1980. He has become the focal point of a Cowboys offense that has become a throwback to the decade where teams featured one running back and the offense flowed through that player. Set to be a free agent the question is how should the Cowboys approach the contract.

The Running Back Market

There is really only one massive contract for running backs, the contract for Adrian Peterson which averages just over $14 million a season. Prior to receiving that contract Peterson’s top season saw him run for 1,760 yards and he had run for no less than 1,298 yards in a season. Former Titans’ running back Chris Johnson had maxed out at 2,006 yards which also led to a contract worth around $14 million a season. Johnson was released this past year and its likely Peterson will be released following this season.

The secondary tier begins with LeSean McCoy of the Eagles at $9 million a season. McCoy earned his deal following a 1,300 yard season that he combined with contributions in the passing game. Arian Foster earned a similar number based on a 1,600 yard season at the age of 24. Matt Forte ranks third in the tier with $7.6 million a year, bringing an all around game to the table. His max rushing yardage was just over 1,200 yards but he was also consistently adding around 500 receiving yards a season.

Free agency has not been kind to runners who hit the market in the last two years. Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson topped the list at $4 million a season. Those players were considered proven commodities, but with a lot of wear and tear on their bodies. Those figures were nearly matched by completely unproven players Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown at $3.5 million a season.

With Johnson’s big contract void and Peterson’s soon to be, those two data points should be essentially useless for Murray. The secondary tier will likely shrink considerably this offseason as almost every one of those players could be a cap casualty following the season. The Chiefs and Seahawks did give moderate extensions to Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch to make certain they reported to training camp, but neither contract indicated a long term commitment to either player.  Most likely that will be the tier that Murray will look to fit into with the Cowboys.

The question the Cowboys need to ask is should he fit there?

Is Murray’s Dominance Sustainable?

It’s easy to look at Murray’s numbers and say you have to pay him because the risk of losing him is too great and if he goes the offense may go with him. Thus you simply pay him more than the highest paid player, McCoy, at the position. But when you make statements like that you have to try to gain a better understanding of what Murray is expected to do in the future, rather than overpaying for the present.

The reason many teams began to shift away from the runner dependent systems was because of the inability to sustain the big numbers they were put up at a young age. Millions of dollars would be invested in a player only to have the player’s production rapidly fall off a cliff with no possible out for the team due to the cap charges associated with releasing the player.

There are 43 players who began careers in the NFL after 1980 who posted seasons of more than 1,500 rushing yards and continued to play football (Robert Smith retired following his big season).  13 of those players produced a second season of at least 1,500 yards (Arian Foster is could be number 14 this season if his body can hold up). So it would be fair to say that a back that produces 1,500 yards has around a 30% chance of doing it again. Just 8 of the players produced at least a third 1,500 yard season. Here is the breakdown of 1,500 yard rushers’ future performance.

1500 yard rushers

However, there is another factor that should be considered here and that is age. Many of the players on this list produced many of their dominant seasons in their early 20’s. Murray is already 26 years old. Just 10 players had a second season of 1,500 yards at the age of 27 or older. The only players to have at least a third 1,500 yard season at those ages were Barry Sanders and Tiki Barber.  Eric Dickerson was on pace for that type of year in the strike-shortened “scab” season.

There were 21 players in the NFL that had their first 1,500 yard season when they were 26 or older. Of those players just 5 did it again. Those players were Curtis Martin, Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes, Tiki Barber, and Shaun Alexander. I think when you factor age into play you would consider a 23% chance of hitting the 1,500 yard mark one more time and a very small chance (less than 5%) of getting there a third time.

How Many Good Seasons Should Dallas Expect?

For the purpose of this discussion I’ll adjust the 2014 stats and the strike seasons to represent a 16 game season. While we can look at the entire list of 43 players, I think we are better off filtering it down to players who are more representative of Murray’s age. I want to look at players whose first 1,500 yard season came between the ages of 25 and 28 and we want to see how they performed over the next five years of their careers. The reason for the five year period is because this should be the maximum contract length given to any player in the NFL that is not a quarterback.

I think most people have always considered a good season by a running back to be 1,000 or more rushing yards.  We can pretty much bank on Murray having at least one season of 1,000 or more yards. Of the group the only player to not gain 1,000 yards at some point after their first 1,500 yard season was Maurice Jones-Drew (McCoy is on pace to do so this season).

Getting a second 1,000 yard season might be more difficult. Of the 24 names who have had a second shot at 1,000 yards only 11 actually produced them. So there is less than a 50% chance that we can plan on Murray being able to give us two years of 1,000 yard production.

It gets bleaker after that. If we look at three years of 1,000 yard production we get Curtis Martin and Fred Taylor. Martin joined the 1,500 yard club when he was 28 years old while Taylor did it at 27. The only player to produce 1,000 yards four times after attaining his first 1,500 yard season in his mid 20’s was Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bettis was a plodder of a back and averaged around 3.8 yards per carry in most of those seasons. It is unlikely that any other team in the NFL would have given him the attempts needed to reach that number.

1000 yard rushers

When can those seasons be expected?

This is also an important question because it gives us some idea of perhaps how best to structure a contract to build in our optimum exit points. Here is the performance breakdown of the set of players used above in the five years following their 1,500 yard season.

1500yard rusher breakdown

What this tells me is that if Murray is to have another great season it is most likely going to happen in 2015. There is a 40% chance that he is going to come in at over 1,200 yards(a majority of those seasons are over 1,300 yards) and a 68% chance I’ll get over 1,000 yards from him.

In 2016 and 2017 the odds begin to move out of Murray’s favor. We have around a 15% chance of the great season and around 40% chance of just having a good season. Most likely if he is to have a second 1,000 yard year it will come in 2016 with a decline in 2017.

2018 and 2019 are not years where we would really consider Murray an asset. The odds are strongly against another 1,000 yard season  and the odds are strongly in the favor of producing less than 600 yards. At that age he could be unproductive or simply looking to retire from the wear and tear on his body.

Setting the Price

I want to work from the bottom up with Murray, so the first thing I want to do is determine how much I will guarantee him upon signing his contract. Based on the performance of past players I want to look at a 3 year value for Murray, which is going to equal the guarantee I offer him on a 5 year contract. The guarantee is the most important part of the deal because it will define much of the structure since I need to have years 4 and 5 be completely escapable with a reasonable dead money total.

For each tier of yardage I’ll set a price based on past salaries. Normally I would go in year by year and use different values(contract structures are often a waterfall with the largest payments coming in year 1 and gradual reductions throughout), but for illustration I will just use one value per yardage category.

I will value a 1,600 yard season at $14 million, which is the top of the market even though that may not exist anymore. The 1,200 yard season I will factor in at $10.5 million a year, representing a raise from the current McCoy/Foster 3 year value levels of $10M to account for the increase in salary cap. A 1,000 yard season I’ll consider being worth $5 million, based on the Johnson and Jackson deals and between 800 and 999 yards being worth $3.5 million, which is around what teams will pay for the lower level talent. The next category has limited benefit so we will call that $1.5 million and for less than 400 yards I will only use $450,000, the average cost of a rookie the next three years.

If we multiply each percentage by the salary we get the following chart:

1500 yard rusher salary

$14.5 million is what I would call my reasonable price to guarantee Murray based on my three year expectation level.  I feel like I should be ok with that figure given the projected performance. That number alone is not going to get a contract done which is why I would only use it to set my guarantee. In general a full guarantee at the position should represent about 46% of the total contract value. So my offer to Murray is going to need to be somewhere in the vicinity of $31.5 million over 5 years.

If I factor in the 2018 and 2019 seasons I can bring my guarantee up to about $16.5 million. I would raise the amount guaranteed at that point to 48% and call it a $35 million contract. So I would be working between $31.5 and $35 million over 5 years. I would not go over that under any circumstance, and really anything above the $31 million I would probably walk away from. I’d likely consider 70% of the three year value to be guaranteed and I would raise that to 75% if I elected for the higher contract value, which is similar to what the Bears did with Forte a few years ago.

There are tons of cap possibilities with the contract depending on tolerance for cap hits in 2015 and 2016 versus the expected release date of 2017 and virtually guaranteed release date of 2018. Here would be a potential structure of the $31.5 million contract:

1500 yard contract breakdown

In this contract Murray receives a $5 million signing bonus, fully guaranteed 2015 salary and a partially guaranteed salary in 2016. In 2017 the cost to walk away is low enough that I can do that if necessary. My hope in the contract is that we can get two good seasons out of Murray. If I get one 1,200 yard season (preferably in 2015) and then a 1,000 yard year the following season I pretty much made my money back. I can then choose to chase a dream in 2017 or just release him.

The other course of action is to simply apply the franchise tag to Murray next year. The franchise tag will probably be in the ballpark of $10.5 million, which is similar to the cash value I had above in the first contract year. While that may be overpaying, I know that the best chance I have with him for another strong year is in 2015. He has a 40% chance of 1,200 or more yards and that is worth the salary if he gets there.

The important thing with the tag is I make no long term commitment to Murray if I use it.  If he does great then I get value. If he flounders I can negotiate a deal on my terms or just let him walk. Because of the way the position breaks down, the team will almost always have leverage negotiating with a running back. The longer I push off that contract the better off I can be.  I don’t think the tag is unreasonable in this case especially if his camp refuses to budge off a $9 million or so a year annual value, even if its unlikely to be found in free agency.

The Importance of the Contract

I find this contract to be a very important one to the future of the position. Most of the current contracts in that $7-9 million dollar range will be gone next year. It would not be shocking if the only player remaining in that tier is Jonathan Stewart of the Panthers who signed a ridiculous contract a few years back. If a 2,000 yard runner can’t break through and push past that figure it really means a very negative outlook on the position over the next 4 years. The running backs really need Murray to somehow break the bank on this contract even though there is no logical reason for the Cowboys or any other team to do that.

Most like the position needs younger entrants in the draft if it is to financially bounce back. They need the 21 year old underclassman to enter the draft, ala Clinton Portis a few years back, and reach that potential right out of the gates. At the most they would be 25 when getting a new contract and most likely just 24. Teams might give in more in those situations than they are now.

The only player on the horizon right now who could fit that bill is Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers. While he did not come out with the monster year he is on pace for close to 1,500 yards this season. He is just 22 years old.  If the Steelers can keep him going and limit the amount they use LeGarrette Blount, Bell can be the guy after the 2015/16 season to try to re-ignite the position. But that will be infinitely harder if he is working off lower rather than higher numbers set by Murray.