State of Rebuild – Oakland Raiders

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How do you build a winning football team?  Over the next few weeks I am going to look at a handful of teams that are relatively early in their rebuilding process or on the verge of a possible rebuild.  The purpose of this is not to reflect on past regime decisions compared to the current decisions but rather to start the analysis from day one and evaluate personnel decisions along with contract structures and styles to see if certain trends help produce a winning franchise.

State of the Franchise and Front Office

It’s well recognized by even the most diehard Raider fans that the team hasn’t lived up to its mantra “Commitment to Excellence” for a very long time.  General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen enter their second year with the Raiders in one of the most unique situations I can remember.  To put it simply, McKenzie has blown the whole thing up.  This is essentially an expansion team that has been broken down to the bones and in the early stages of a massive and complete rebuild.  For a great in-depth look at how the Oakland Raiders got to where they are, I encourage you to read Joel Corry’s piece by clicking here.

la_a_mckenzie-allen01jr_576

GM Reggie McKenzie and HC Dennis Allen

With McKenzie seemingly purging the roster completely, the Raiders have amassed a stunning $50,321,847 in dead money this year, effectively decimating this year’s salary cap.  In my opinion, it’s an absolutely brilliant maneuver.  The Raiders weren’t going to compete for a Super Bowl this year, let alone a division title, and were anchored down by terrible contracts and personnel decisions.  By cutting loose the awful contracts and biting this bullet this year, the Raiders are set to have almost a complete clean slate heading into 2014.  The Raiders currently have the smallest amount of money committed to players under contract next year at $51,476,044, and are set to lead the league in cap space going into next year by a long shot even after factoring in the $6,609,588 of dead money.  With a cleaned out roster and tons of cap space, it will be interesting to see if McKenzie builds through the draft and avoids free agency like he did when he was the Director of Football Operations for the Green Bay Packers or splurges with all the available funds.

Despite all the pessimism around the chances of the Raiders winning more than a handful of games this year, there was a brief moment during last weekend’s contest against the Colts where everyone watching thought, “The Raiders might actually win this game.”  But alas, a late interception by Terrelle Pryor sealed a week 1 loss for the Raiders to the relief of nearly half the Survivor Pool participants who confidently picked the Colts.

Contract Strategies and Trends

There isn’t a ton to look at in this section yet.  Most of the players McKenzie has brought in this offseason have similar style deals, usually one-year in length, with a small to medium sized signing bonus, and a workout bonus usually ranging from $100,000-$250,000.  Some of these players include S Charles Woodson, CB Mike Jenkins, and DT Vance Walker.  McKenzie for the most part has avoided using roster bonuses but there are a few exceptions including Tracy Porter’s $187,500 RB and Usama Young’s $65,000 RB, both of which are in 2013.  After using the franchise tag on S Tyvon Branch last offseason, McKenzie also used a pair of roster bonuses when the Raiders agreed to a new contract with him before the deadline that contained a $1,000,000 roster bonus in 2014 and 2015.

McKenzie’s biggest free acquisitions over the past two offseasons were G Mike Brisiel and LB Nick Roach.  Both contracts are set up very similarly with Brisiel’s 5-year deal and Roach’s 4-year deal both containing a standard breakdown of P5 (base) salaries, signing bonuses, and workout bonuses.  Brisiel was brought in last year to play guard in the zone-blocking scheme, but after one unsuccessful year the Raiders have abandoned it.  Brisiel’s underwhelming play last year and an offensive-line scheme change led to what was originally believed to be a pay-cut.  Instead it seems to be more of a normal restructure.  This is odd because it was widely believed that Brisiel wouldn’t quite fit into the Raider’s new scheme, and would only have cost $2,240,000 in dead money to move on from him.  Now it would cost almost $3,930,000.  If Brisiel turns his play around this year than there is nothing to worry about, but if he continues to struggle, now the Raiders are committed even more to a player they don’t want, and had the chance to bite a smaller bullet earlier.  For what it’s worth, PFF graded his first game against the Colts as an average performance.

Of course there is always K Sebastian Janikowski.  The longtime Raider was given an extension through the 2017 season maintaining his status as the leagues most expensive place kicker.  From what I can tell, Janikowski’s P5 (base) salaries are guaranteed in 2013 and 2014 at $3,500,000 and $2,700,000 respectively, and with small signing bonus proratations, it’s basically only a 2-year deal.  If the Raiders finally decide to move on from the Janikowski era after the 2014 season, it will only cost them $360,000 in dead money in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

McKenzie also extended long snapper Jon Condo shortly after Janikowski.  Condo’s deal isn’t anything special contractually, just a standard P5 (base) salary and signing bonus, but yet again a Raider who plays special teams is being paid at the top of the market.  For more details on Condo’s extension, click here.

 

Biggest Upcoming Roster Decision

The comical but semi-realistic answer to this question would be Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater but it is the NFL, and despite Oakland’s current situation, the Raiders are by no means guaranteed to have the 1st pick in the 2014 draft (looking at you Jacksonville).  The Raiders actually host the Jaguars this week and are giving 6 points now in what could be a decisive game for determining who has the 1st overall pick in next year’s NFL draft.  The real decision then is between Matt Flynn and Darren McFadden.

The Raiders and Flynn restructured his deal in May to create a little cap space, which in turn aided in bringing back Charles Woodson to the silver and black.  As a result, Flynn goes into the 2014 season with a cap charge of $7,625,000.  Had he won the job, and presumably would have been the starting quarterback going into next offseason, that figure isn’t terrible at all.  But after losing to Russell Wilson in Seattle last year, Flynn lost the quarterback competition again, this time to Terrelle Pryor.  Whether Pryor is the starter heading into 2014, or the Raiders use a high draft pick on one, the total cost allocation of the quarterbacks for the Raiders is still going to be a friendly figure, making keeping Flynn at the high cap number, even as a backup, reasonable.  If they decide to cut him, it would cost the Raiders $2,625,000 in dead money in 2014 as well as throwing away the 2014 5th round pick and most likely the conditional pick in 2015 that was paid to the Seahawks for Flynn.  Jason pointed out one additional reason the Raiders might choose to keep Flynn around – to reach the CBA mandated minimum cash spending.  Remember the CBA divided the actual cash spending by the teams into 4-year buckets.  Because the Raiders payroll is so freakishly low this year, they are one of the few teams that could plausibly not reach the minimum threshold.  Keeping Flynn, and paying him, would help the Raiders reach that threshold.

mcfaddenAs for McFadden, it was reported that the Raiders haven’t officially reached out to him about signing an extension before he hits free agency next offseason. The 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft is entering the sixth season of a disappointing career.  The best player comparison I can think of going into this season for McFadden is 2008 2nd overall pick Reggie Bush.  Before being traded to Miami prior to the 2011 season, many of the concerns about Bush are shared by McFadden now; unproductive, injury-prone, and underachieving.  Through the first five years of each of their careers, one of those players played in 57 of 80 possible games, scored 23 rushing or receiving touchdowns, and compiled 4,803 yards from scrimmage while the other played in 60 of 80 possible games, had 29 rushing or receiving touchdowns, and compiled 4,232 yards from scrimmage.  Player 1 is McFadden and Player 2 is Bush.  Both stat-lines are extremely similar and fall far short of the expectations both franchises had when they selected the running backs at the top end of the Draft.  While I personally don’t see McFadden resurrecting his career like Reggie Bush has, I think it’s more than likely this is the final season Run DMC spends in Oakland, completing the eradication of the Raiders’ 1st round picks.

This is going to wrap up the preliminary look at some of the franchises starting their rebuilding process, in the midst of it, or on the verge of one.  There are a few more teams we could have taken a look at but I either felt that they are going to be sufficiently analyzed on the site already (Jets) or would repeat some of the styles we’ve already started analyzing from previous teams.  I’ll probably do a check-in article sometime towards the middle of the season to look at some of the moves that have been made since the articles were written and a general progress report on how their season is currently going.  As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or disagree with anything – don’t hesitate to comment or reach out to me.

Past ‘State of Rebuild’ Articles

Philadelphia Eagles

Chicago Bears

Buffalo Bills

San Diego Chargers

Ryan Feder
Tulane University Law School
J.D. Candidate 2015
@RyanFeder
rfeder1@tulane.edu

State of Rebuild – Philadelphia Eagles

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How do you build a winning football team?  Over the next few weeks I am going to look at a handful of teams that are either relatively early in their rebuilding process or on the verge of a possible rebuild.  The purpose of this is not to reflect on past regime decisions compared to the current decisions but rather to start the analysis from day one and evaluate personnel decisions along with contract structures and styles to see if certain trends help produce a winning franchise.

State of the Franchise and Front Office

There might not be a team in the NFL with more question marks heading into the 2013 season than the Philadelphia Eagles.  Like most of the teams featured in this series, the Eagles have greatly underachieved and fallen far short of expectations in recent years.  After the “Dream Team” stumbled to a disappointing 8-8 record in 2011, the wheels really fell off the wagon in 2012.  A 4-12 season was bound to come with serious consequences, and none was greater than the departure of longtime Head Coach Andy Reid.  The awful 2012 season was the final straw that ended a 14-year tenure that included 9 playoff appearances, 6 NFC East Division Titles, 5 NFC Championship Game Appearances, 1 Super Bowl Appearance, but no Lombardi Trophies.  Reid wasn’t on the market for long, as he quickly agreed to become the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

kelly and roseman

HC Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman

One man who survived was General Manager Howie Roseman.  Entering his fourth season as GM, Roseman is going to be the longest tenured General Manager in our case study.  The University of Florida and Fordham Law School graduate now faces at least a partial rebuild after two incredibly disappointing seasons following an NFC East Division title in his first year as GM in 2010.  Roseman grabbed one of the biggest headlines of the offseason when he successfully lured offensive-guru Chip Kelly from Oregon to become the 21st Head Coach of the Eagles even after Kelly announced he was going to remain at Oregon.

While the Eagles may not be a contender right now, the team still a ton of cap room and serious talent across its roster.  The Eagles currently have just under $21 million in cap room despite eating some dead money costs after moving on from 2011 1st round pick Danny Watkins and 2011 free agent prizes Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin. In the NFC East, a division with no clear-cut favorites yet again, the Eagles might be able to make some noise while also transitioning their roster.

 

Contract Strategies and Trends

Although we have a lot more data available due to Roseman’s longer tenure, I’m still going to keep the analysis consistent with the theme of State of Rebuild and try to only look at the more recent moves.  The Eagles seemingly use most of the contractual tools we have been going over including the standard roster bonuses, per-game roster bonuses, workout bonuses, and the Minimum Salary Benefit (Felix Jones).  What is more interesting is the amount of money the contracts are actually worth relevant to the rest of the league. Players such as Lesean McCoy (3rd), Jason Peters (1st), Trent Cole (5th), DeSean Jackson (8th), Connor Barwin (10th) and Todd Herremans (10th after switch to Guard) are all being paid near the top of their positions on an Average Per Year basis.  While the Average Per Year amount of a contract isn’t by any means a full-proof barometer, the Eagles have an exorbitant amount of players being paid near the top of their respective positions for a team that has struggled so mightily.  This isn’t to say that they aren’t very good players, but it is interesting to me that a team with so many highly paid talented players is now trying to find a way to re-do their roster.

The Eagles do have a few interesting contracts on the books that I felt would be worth taking a look at.  The Eagles are another one of the teams we have looked at recently that have used a very low P5 (base) salary and a high roster bonus in the first year of a new deal.  Some of the Eagles players with this setup include DT Isaako Sopoaga, S Patrick Chung, FB James Casey, and CB Bradley Fletcher.  Just as a brief refresher, this type of deal gives the team some cap flexibility by limiting 3rd year guarantees and prorated bonuses while it gives the player the money up front and protects against potential forfeitures.

There is one more little nuance to these four deals that I found particularly interesting.  There are no official Team or Player option contracts in the NFL like you see in some of the other major sports, but the way the Eagles structured these contracts essentially turn them into 1 year deals with 1 or 2 yearly team options.  As an example we’ll look at James Casey’s new deal.

As you can see, if you click here to view James Casey’s salary cap page, in year 1 of his new deal Casey has a low $715,000 in P5 (base) salary and the large $3,300,000 Roster Bonus.  The remaining two years of his deal only contain unguaranteed P5 (base) salaries of $3,985,000 in 2014 and $4,000,000 in 2015.  What does this mean?  For one thing, it fully illustrates the benefits to both the team and the player we noted above.  Casey gets a substantial amount of cash right up front with more protection than a signing bonus and the Eagles now have an extremely cap friendly deal as long as they can eat the higher cap number in the first year of the deal.  They could have turned that same $3.3 million roster bonus into a signing bonus but that would have meant prorating it over 3 years.  With this setup, after 2013 the Eagles have a clear and easy decision to make – Is James Casey worth $3,985,000 to us this year?  If that answer is yes, they will basically be exercising a team option to keep him under contract.  If the answer is no, the Eagles can release him with no cap penalties in 2014 or 2015.  The deals for Sopoaga, Chung, and Fletcher are all setup the same way and as you can see, for a team looking to have a quick turnaround, the idea of keeping a good player or releasing an unwanted player at no cost is extremely beneficial.

The really interesting scenario I wanted to take a look at is the one that got the most attention during the offseason for the Eagles, Michael Vick’s paycut.  I’m almost reluctant to use the term paycut, because to me they basically just tore up the old deal and created a truncated 1-year deal.  There are a lot of moving parts to this whole scenario and because of that, this explanation might get a little confusing but I am going to do my best to get the big picture across.

Before even looking at the new deal, it’s important to look at a few of the factors leading up it.  One of which is before the paycut, the Eagles were prepared to move on from Vick.  Vick was set to count $16,900,000 on the cap this year and the Eagles weren’t going to have him on the roster at that figure.  At first Vick said he wasn’t going to redo his deal, which led most to believe he would simply be released.  Next, Vick was guaranteed $3,000,000 of his P5 (base) salary in 2013 and if the Eagles decided to release him, he would have cost them $7.2 million in dead money over the next three years ($3 million + $4.2 million of remaining prorated signing bonus).  Finally, Vick reportedly had suitors in the event he was released.  It was reported that the Browns, Cardinals, and Bills were among the teams that were interested in Vick in the event he became available.

vickWhether it was Chip Kelly convincing Vick to stay, or Vick realizing on his own that this offense might be the lynchpin to an Arizona Cardinals Kurt Warner-like resurrection, the two sides agreed to a new deal that would keep Vick an Eagle for one year.  This is where some things might get a little confusing.  Prior to the paycut, Vick still was under contract through the 2016 season, had $3 million of his 2013 P5 (base) salary guaranteed, and $4.2 million of prorated bonus money still to be accounted for on the cap.  After the paycut, the 2014, 2015, and 2016 years of the contract were voided, none of his P5 (base) salary was guaranteed, and all $4.2 million of prorated bonus money accelerated into the 2013 season as one hit.  I know it’s messy, but before showing the revised deal I wanted to at least attempt to show where some of the core parts of the new deal came from.  Vick’s new deal is a 1-year deal with an unguaranteed P5 (base) salary of $3.5 million and a signing bonus of $3.5 million.  In addition, Vick has a per-game roster bonus of $31,250 and a playtime incentive bonus of $500,000, both of which are not guaranteed.

So what does all this actually mean?  When the deal was redone, Vick wasn’t named the starter, as that was a recent development.  But at the time, it gave Vick a chance to compete for the starting job in a system he might be able to flourish in and it gave the Eagles an opportunity to see if he was worth keeping for the year with limited added risk.  If the Eagles had cut Vick in March, they would have had to sign a replacement level backup quarterback and gone with Nick Foles as their starter.  Suffice it to say; I don’t think Chip Kelly ever wanted that option.  By keeping Vick, even if he lost the competition and the Eagles decided to cut him, it would have cost them $7.7 million, only $500,000 more than if they had cut him originally in March, which is basically the cost of signing the replacement level backup quarterback.  The Eagles essentially got a starting quarterback tryout for the cost of a replacement level player.  In the end, they didn’t just get a tryout of Vick; they got their starting quarterback for the year.  What happens after this year is totally up in the air.  My guess is the Eagles decide to move on from Vick (again), but who’s to say what happens if the Eagles offense clicks on all cylinders with Vick at the helm.

Biggest Upcoming Roster Decision

Aside from the obvious question of what the team is going to do at quarterback after this season, there are a few roster question marks that will need to be addressed.  When the Eagles traded a 4th round pick and swapped 3rd round picks to the Houston Texans for Demeco Ryans last year, it was proclaimed as an absolute steal for the Eagles.  One year later, it seems more likely that Ryans will never revert back to his pre-achilles injury days.  Unless Ryans’ play this season improves, the Eagles will most likely move on and create quite a bit of cap relief.  Because he was acquired in a trade, all of his prorated signing bonus money was accelerated into the Texans’ cap in 2012, leaving the rest of his contract free of guarantees for the Eagles.  If the Eagles decide to move on from Ryans after the 2013 season, they would save the entirety of his $6.9 million figure in 2014 as well as an additional $6.9 million in 2015.

deseanOne more position to look at for the Eagles is at Wide Receiver.  With former 1st-round pick Jeremy Maclin sidelined with a torn ACL and set to be a free agent after this year, the situation was already one that needed to be addressed.  To further stress the issues with the position, the Eagles decided to keep Riley Cooper after his racist outburst.  The Eagles decided it was more worthwhile to deal with the distraction of keeping Cooper around than release him and incur $42,871 in dead money this year, the final year of his contract.  What complicates things further is DeSean Jackson’s contract.  With Jackson set to count $12.5 million on the cap in 2014, $12 million in 2015, and $12 million in 2016, something is probably going to happen next offseason to adjust those figures.  Jackson would still have $6 million of his $10 million dollar signing bonus to be prorated over the remaining years at $2 million per year, making cutting him relatively inexpensive.  If Jackson chooses not to renegotiate his deal, the Eagles could save around $30 million of cap over three years by releasing him.  The fact of the matter is that barring an explosive year under Chip Kelly, Jackson just is nowhere near a $12 million dollar a year receiver in this league.

In the next few days we’ll be wrapping up the first stage of State of Rebuild with a look at the Oakland Raiders.

Past ‘State of Rebuild’ Articles

Chicago Bears

Buffalo Bills

San Diego Chargers

Ryan Feder
Tulane University Law School
J.D. Candidate 2015
@RyanFeder
rfeder1@tulane.edu

State of Rebuild – Chicago Bears

How do you build a winning football team?  Over the next few weeks I am going to look at a handful of teams that are either relatively early in their rebuilding process or on the verge of a possible rebuild.  The purpose of this is not to reflect on past regime decisions compared to the current decisions but rather to start the analysis from day one and evaluate personnel decisions along with contract structures and styles to see if certain trends help produce a winning franchise.

State of the Franchise and Front Office

When the Bears hired Phil Emery to replace Jerry Angelo as General Manager a year ago, it was said that then Head Coach Lovie Smith was safe for the year.  With one of the most feared defenses in the league and a defensive-minded head coach, Emery made it a priority to improve a struggling offense by trading a pair of 3rd round picks to the Miami Dolphins for mercurial wide receiver Brandon Marshall.  The defense continued its dominance in 2012, but despite an All-Pro season from Brandon Marshall, the Bears offense overall struggled again and ranked near the bottom of the league.  Despite the poor offense, the Bears managed to finish the season 10-6, with all 6 of their losses coming at the hands of playoff teams.  However, 10 wins were not enough to make the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to the division rival Vikings, nor enough to convince Emery to retain Lovie Smith (or his long-time defensive anchor Brian Urlacher).  Again looking to improve the Bears offense, Emery hired offensive-minded Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to fill the vacated head coaching position.

trestman emery

HC Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery

Trestman spent 17 years in the NFL, mostly as an offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach, before becoming the head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.  Trestman lead the Alouettes to three Grey Cup appearances and back-to-back- championships in 2009 and 2010.  Personally, as a law student, the most interesting aspect of Trestman’s road to the NFL is prior to joining the University of Miami Hurricanes football program as a volunteer coach and quarterback’s coach; Trestman earned his law degree from the University of Miami School of Law and became a member of the Florida bar.

Contract Strategies and Trends

Finishing up his second offseason as General Manager, Emery has utilized standard roster bonuses, per-game roster bonuses, and workout bonuses to continue the improvement of the Bears offense.  After slapping the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte last year, and a contentious negotiation, the Bears and Forte agreed to a four-year extension through 2015 worth roughly $30.4 million.  Forte’s deal has a few nuances worth taking a look at.

The first of which is why Forte had a $5 million roster bonus due in the first year of his extension in 2012 compared to such a low P5 (base) salary of $800,000.  I am assuming that the roster bonus is paid up front and is not deferred, which is sometimes the case.  I first came across a scenario like this when looking at Paul Kruger’s new deal with the Cleveland Browns (Julius Peppers has a similar structure that was done under former GM Jerry Angelo).  Kruger is due a $6,285,000 roster bonus compared to his $715,000 P5 (base) salary in 2013, the first year of his new deal.  At first I could not wrap my head around the purpose of this.  Forte and Kruger were both guaranteed to make the team in the first year of their deals, so why make that guaranteed money a roster bonus and not just guaranteed P5 (base) salary or part of the signing bonus?  After some discussions with Jason and a little digging into the CBA, a few reasons made sense.

From the team’s point of view, they are creating cap flexibility by limiting 3rd year guarantees and higher prorated bonus hits by guaranteeing the money up front in a roster bonus.  This could be done through the P5 (base) salary as well, but players prefer to have the money up front rather than later in increments.  The trade-off for the team is a higher cap hit in year 1 of the deal, but with lower guarantees later, making it easier for the team to move on.  A look at Forte’s contract shows that he is not guaranteed any money in 2014 and 2015 and the only possible dead money costs would be the prorated amount of his signing bonus of $1 million each year, a cost of only $2 million to move on before the 2014 season and $1 million before the 2015 season with cap savings of $5,500,000 and $7,800,000 respectively.

From the player’s perspective, receiving the guaranteed money in the form of a roster bonus presents two interesting perks.  The first of which is rather simple and was mentioned earlier – when given the choice of receiving a $5,000,000 bonus, would you rather receive it in one lump sum up front or in weekly, monthly, or even yearly increments?  NFL players, like everyone else,  prefer to have that cash in hand as soon as possible; which is why they prefer the guaranteed amount in a lump sum roster bonus as opposed to P5 (base) salary in game checks.  The second perk for the players derives itself from one simple sentence in the CBA, which states,

“With respect to roster bonus, option bonus and reporting bonus, a forfeiture may only occur if the Forfeitable Breach occurs in the same League Year in which the bonus is scheduled to be earned.”

What this means is unless the player receiving the roster bonus, in this case Matt Forte, had breached his contract to the point where a forfeiture of salary was in order, the breach had to be in 2012, the same league year in which the roster bonus was received.  If Forte breaches his contract during the 2013 season, his $5 million dollar roster bonus would not be part of his possible salary forfeiture.  In contrast, if the same $5 million had been part of the player’s signing bonus or P5 (base) salary, the signing bonus money can always be attacked regardless of which year the breach occurred in or the player could forfeit P5 (base) salary if suspended.

The other interesting part about Forte’s contract is use of both standard and per-game roster bonuses throughout his deal.  On top of the $5 million standard roster bonus Forte received in 2012, he is due a $4 million standard roster bonus and $468,750 in per-game roster bonuses.  The 2013 per-game roster bonus is actually $31,250 per game but because Forte missed one game in 2012, for cap purposes the per-game roster bonus is treated as a LTBE (likely to be earned) incentive.  If Forte plays in all 16 games this year, he will earn $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses (31,250 x 16) and his cap number will be adjusted up accordingly.  The opposite is also true if Forte plays less than 15 games.  Forte is also due per-game roster bonuses of $53,125 per game in 2014 and $65,625 per game in 2015 as well as yearly $100,000 workout bonuses.

Another tool Emery has used to add veteran players without compromising future cap space is the Minimum Salary Benefit.  For a more detailed description of how the MSB works, click here to look at an article Jason wrote earlier this year.  The long and short of the MSB’s purpose is to help teams avoid signing a younger player over a veteran if the main reason is cost.  The CBA mandates a higher minimum salary for veterans based on how many years they have played in the league.  The choice of a cheaper younger player or an older more expensive veteran provides little incentive for the team to choose the veteran.  The MSB looks to provide an incentive to choose veterans who if not for the mandated CBA salary would likely play for cheaper to stay in the league.  Veterans have to meet the following criteria, which I grabbed from Jason’s article, in order to qualify for a MSB contract.

All players with at least 4 credited seasons are eligible for the MSB. However, to qualify for MSB treatment your contract has to meet specific criteria, explained as follows:

1.  The contract must only be 1 year in length

2.  Additional compensation can not exceed $65,000 in 2013 (this number rises by $15,000 every 3 years, with the next increase set for 2015), and that includes bonuses from other teams

3.  P5 guarantees can not exceed the P5 salary of a 2nd year player, which is $555,000 in 2013

The end result is veteran players who qualify can be signed and paid their mandated minimum salary but for cap purposes are only charged the amount it would sign for a player who has been in the league for 2 seasons.  The Bears have used the MSB on a handful of players including Zack Bowman, Jonathan Scott, and Kelvin Hayden, who was just lost for the season with a hamstring tear.

A quick look at the two major free agent signings for the Bears this offseason shows a very simple contractual setup. Left Tackle Jermon Bushrod received a 5-year/$35.965 million deal with $11.715 million guaranteed while Tight End Martellus Bennett received a 4-year/$20.4 million deal with $5.215 million guaranteed.  Both players received the first year of their deal guaranteed ($715,000 each), with no roster bonuses, and a yearly $100,000 workout bonus.

Biggest Upcoming Roster Decisionbears FA

The Bears are not rebuilding.  They weren’t rebuilding last year and they aren’t rebuilding this year.  They finished last season 10-6 and barely missed the playoffs.  They also are loaded with talent, having four All-Pro’s last year, with WR Brandon Marshall and CB Charles Tillman earning 1st Team honors and DE Julius Peppers and CB Tim Jennings earning 2nd team honors.  So why do I think the Bears should be looked at during our State of Rebuild Series?  A glance at the free agency statuses of the projected offensive, defensive, and special teams starters should help provide a little clarity.

Through most of the offseason, the fact that so many projected starters will be free agents after the 2013 season was enough for many pundits to speculate that Emery would be doing a serious roster overhaul next offseason.  Jason actually took a look at the Bears current status and upcoming decisions in his article The Chicago Bears: Past, Present, and Future, which touches on a lot of the premises discussed here.  With starting quarterback Jay Cutler, franchised defensive tackle Henry Melton, strong safety Major Wright and All-Pro cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman among others all set to be free agents after this season, the team was set to look a little different even with a few extensions.  Then Emery said this,

“…where we’re at with our current salary cap and the room that we have in our cap in our efforts to put together a championship team in 2013, I do not anticipate that we will do any extensions of contracts during this season. All those will occur, with the players it will occur with, will happen in 2014 and not during the 2013 season.”

While the Bears do only have $2,192,768 of cap room right now, after saving $555,000 with the release of DE Jamaal Anderson today, a few extensions could easily create some sizable room. Emery’s decision to wait on any possible extensions until after the 2013 season only furthers the speculation that this year’s Chicago Bears could look considerably different than next year’s team.  Considering that it would cost nothing for the Bears to move on from WR Brandon Marshall, $1 million to move on from OLB Lance Briggs, and $2 million to move on from RB Matt Forte, if they wished to do so, we could be looking at a possible ground-zero rebuild going into next offseason.  The fact of the matter is if this team flourishes under new head coach Marc Trestman, all of this is moot.  But for now, it remains a very plausible possibility that the Chicago Bears will be rebuilding next year.

So what is actually the single biggest upcoming roster decision for the Chicago Bears?  It could be what to do with All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers in the event of a full rebuild.  Peppers is still due almost $37 million between the 2014 and 2015 season, and would cost $6,366,668 in dead money if cut or traded before 2014 and $3,183,335 if cut or traded before 2015.  It is highly unlikely that the Bears would outright release Peppers, but how much could they really fetch in a trade for a 34 or 35 year old defensive end?  If I had to pick one, it is whether to retain Jay Cutler.  Jason coincidentally wrote an enlightening article here, describing how Cutler’s market value may not match his play-level – barring a Joe Flacco -esque stock rise after his Super Bowl run.  However the simple answer is to close your eyes and throw a dart at the depth chart.  The question isn’t which single player presents the biggest question mark but rather whether the team as a whole will be remade.

Past ‘State of Rebuild’ Articles

Buffalo Bills

San Diego Chargers

Ryan Feder
Tulane University Law School
J.D. Candidate 2015
@RyanFeder
rfeder1@tulane.edu

State of Rebuild – Buffalo Bills

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How do you build a winning football team?  Over the next few weeks I am going to look at a handful of teams that are either relatively early in their rebuilding process or on the verge of a possible rebuild.  The purpose of this is not to reflect on past regime decisions compared to the current decisions but rather to start the analysis from day one and evaluate personnel decisions along with contract structures and styles to see if certain trends help produce a winning franchise.

doug_whaley.jpg_30ea03e4d780625de53d9a55a525f2f0State of the Franchise and Front Office

Since the 1999 season, 31 of the 32 NFL teams have made the playoffs in at least one season.  After five straight seasons finishing last in the AFC East, its fourth in a row under now former GM Buddy Nix, the Buffalo Bills are the lone team not to make a playoff appearance since 1999 and are in the process of a full rebuild.  With new General Manager Doug Whaley, Head Coach Doug Marrone, and first round quarterback selection E.J. Manuel, the Bills are hoping they can turn the franchise around and end the long playoff drought.  Whaley, who served under Nix as Assistant General Manager since 2010, assumes the vacated GM position created by Nix’s resignation after this years NFL draft.  Whaley received a contract extension in February and had been heavily involved in the coaching search that eventually led to former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone replacing Chan Gailey as the Bills new head coach.  Nix’s resignation as GM is not a clean cut from the organization though, as he is being retained as a Special Assistant to the team.

Contract Strategies and Trends

The succession of Nix to Whaley and subsequent retaining of Nix on staff poses an interesting question – will anything actually be different?  The Bills have not been shy about using both roster and workout bonuses in significant deals.  Over the past few years, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, and Leodis McKelvin all received substantial roster and workout bonuses in their respective extensions and Kyle Williams also received yearly roster bonuses in his.  Free agent acquisitions Manny Lawson and Kevin Kolb received both roster and workout bonuses as well in their deals this offseason.  Lawson is due a $500,000 roster bonus in 2014 and 2015, a $250,000 roster bonus in 2016, and a yearly $50,000 workout bonus as part of his 4-year deal while Kolb is due $250,000 roster bonus in 2013, a $1 million dollar roster bonus in 2014, and a yearly $100,000 workout bonus as part of his 2-year deal.

USA Today

The big elephant in the room though is Mario Williams’ behemoth contract he signed last offseason.  Williams’ 6-year/$96 million contract also has substantial roster and workout bonuses including a $10,600,000 roster bonus in 2014 and a yearly $500,000 workout bonus in 2013-2016.  Jason did a great job summarizing exactly why this deal does not make any sense considering the circumstances and why its such a cap killer in his Best and Worst Contracts: The Buffalo Bills.

“Williams was never a top pass rusher in the NFL. He has always been good but more like top 20 good, not top of the NFL good. Williams makes 14% more than Julius Peppers and about 26% more than Charles Johnson and Jared Allen, the next three highest paid players at the position. Williams 3 year average leading into his deal with the Bills in both sacks and tackles was worse than all 3 of those players yet he earned significantly more. Williams will cost the Bills $17.8 million in dead money if cut in 2014 and $12.4 million in 2014, making him a near impossible player to move on from in the near future. Williams can be productive but it is unlikely he can ever be productive enough to match the price that the Bills agreed to pay for him.”

One final thing to take a quick look at is the Bills’ dead money situation.  As part of their massive rebuild, the Bills released Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrence McGee, Nick Barnett, George Wilson, Tarvaris Jackson and Mark Anderson among other players and as a result racked up about $11.6 million in dead money so far for the 2013 season.  In year 1 of a rebuild, that figure is nothing to really worry about and by comparison is fairly low.  Other teams in the midst of a full rebuild like the Jets and Raiders have upwards of $21 million (mostly $13 million from trading Revis) and a whopping $50 million respectively this year.  The part to keep an eye on is 2014 where right now the Bills have the most dead money going into the 2014 season at $10 million due to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s $7 million and Mark Anderson’s $3 million respective charges.  By comparison, the Jets don’t have a single dollar of dead money charges right now and the Raiders only have Michael Huff’s $6.2 million charge.

JairusbyrdBiggest Upcoming Roster Decision

A few months ago, this section would have been all about what to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick and would have looked like a much more basic version of Jason’s great write up here.  Now the biggest decision for the Bills is how to handle their All-Pro free safety Jairus Byrd.  Instead of letting Byrd test free agency, the Bills used their non-exclusive franchise tag on him.  The non-exclusive tag for a safety this year is $6,916,000, contingent on Byrd signing his tender.  Under the non-exclusive tag, Byrd was free to negotiate with other teams, but if he agreed to terms with that team, the Bills had the right to match the offer or receive two 1st–round picks as compensation for Byrd.  Unsurprisingly, no team agreed with Byrd, and after extensive attempts by the Bills and Byrd to come to an agreement, a long-term deal could not be reached by the July 15 deadline.  Currently, Byrd refuses to sign his tender and his holding out of training camp.  The Bills’ hands are tied – by rule, they are unable to sign Byrd to a long-term extension until after the 2013 season or trade him until Byrd signs his tender.   Byrd’s options are now to sign his tender before week 1 of the regular season and play out the year under the franchise tag or wait until week 10 and sign his tender in time to play 6 games and get credited for the league year.  The best Byrd can hope for is to sign his tender and collect a nice paycheck this year and try to prevent the Bills from franchising him again in 2014.

Reports are that Byrd wishes to be the highest paid safety in the league and Bills seem to not be willing to match that demand.  Will that demand change by the end of the 2013 season? At the high-level Byrd has played consistently over the past few years, probably not.  Assuming that Byrd signs his tender at some point and gets credited for the league year, the Bills will have a few options once the season ends.  They can agree to a new deal with Byrd, franchise him for a second year in a row, or let him test free agency.  If they decide to tag him again, the price will be at 120% of his tag price this year, which comes out to about $8.3 million.  The bottom line is this situation is a long way away from being resolved whichever route the Bills decide to go.

Past ‘State of Rebuild’ Articles

San Diego Chargers

 

Ryan Feder
Tulane University Law School
J.D. Candidate 2015
@RyanFeder
rfeder1@tulane.edu
 
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State of Rebuild – San Diego Chargers

[adsenseyu1]

How do you build a winning football team?  Over the next few weeks I am going to look at a handful of teams that are either relatively early in their rebuilding process or on the verge of a possible rebuild.  The purpose of this is not to reflect on past regime decisions compared to the current decisions but rather to start the analysis from day one and evaluate personnel decisions along with contract structures and styles to see if certain trends help produce a winning franchise.

TelescoState of the Franchise and Front Office

The San Diego Chargers have continued to uphold their label as one of the NFL’s biggest underachievers.  After going 13-3 in 2009, the Chargers have since failed to win 10 games or make the playoffs.  Despite going 4-2 against AFC West division opponents, the Chargers finished the 2012 season a disappointing 7-9.  While not seemingly rebuilding, the Chargers did shake up the organization after another lackluster campaign in 2012.  Tom Telesco replaces longtime General Manager A.J. Smith, while Mike McCoy replaces Norv Turner as Head Coach.

 

Contract Strategies and Trends

With only one offseason of data, the sample size for how new GM Tom Telesco will structure his contracts is quite small.  Under former GM A.J. Smith, the Chargers rarely structured any contracts with roster or workout bonuses, with Nick Hardwick being the only player on the roster brought in by A.J. Smith not under his rookie contract receiving a roster bonus.  Hardwick is due a $500,000 roster bonus in 2013 and 2014.  Thus far, Telesco has utilized roster bonuses much more than his predecessor.  Free Agent acquisition Derek Cox is due a $300,000 roster bonus in 2014, 2015, and 2016 as part of his 4-year/$20 million deal and Dwight Freeney is also due a roster bonus of $500,000 in 2013 and $1 million in 2014 as part of his free agency deal after Melvin Ingram went down earlier this offseason with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Freeney’s $500,000 roster bonus in 2013 and $500,000 of the $1 million dollar roster bonus in 2014 are actually per game roster bonuses of $31,250 per game.  For salary cap purposes, the roster bonus is treated as a LTBE incentive.  Because Freeney played in 14 games in 2012, his 2013 roster bonus cap hit is currently $437,500 ($31,250 x 14).  This setup is an extremely team friendly mechanism for the Chargers.  The per game roster bonus works just like a standard P5 salary except the P5 is still fully guaranteed in the event of injury or deactivation while the per game roster bonus is not.  If Freeney plays all 16 games this year, his actual cap hit will be adjusted upwards after the season to the full $500,000 ($31,250 x 16) and if he plays less than 14 games, for example 0, his cap hit will be adjusted downwards after the season to $0 ($31,250 x 0).

Telesco has also been more proactive in using workout bonuses.  Last years third round pick Brandon Taylor is the only player on the roster from the A.J. Smith era who received a workout bonus.  Under Telesco, free agent acquisitions King Dunlap and Johnny Patrick, along with rookie wideout Keenan Allen, received workout bonuses in their new deals.

 

Philip RiversBiggest Upcoming Roster Decision

Is Philip Rivers still the future of the Chargers?  Once regarded as one of the bright young superstars under center in the NFL, Rivers has come under increased scrutiny after back-to-back subpar seasons.  With two years and just under $31 million left on his current deal, it would appear at first that Telesco’s hands are tied with his options at quarterback.  A closer look reveals that it’s quite an easy feat to accomplish if Telesco wanted to move on from Rivers and hand pick his own quarterback after the 2013 season.  Rivers has a cap hit of $15 million in 2014 and $15.75 million in 2015 but nearly all of the money in both years is unguaranteed P5 salary.  With only a $1.2 million hit of dead money in 2014 and no dead money hit in 2015, the cap effects of moving on from Rivers after 2013 would be negligible.

However, barring a catastrophic injury or an incredibly disappointing season, I do not see the Chargers moving on from Rivers.  An inept offensive line has failed to give Rivers a clean pocket consistently or provide any sort of viable running game.  If incoming first rounder D.J. Fluker can lock down the Right Tackle position and allow Jeromey Clary who struggled at Right Tackle to help shore up the Right Guard position, the right side of the offensive line might actually become a strength of this team rather than one of its biggest weaknesses.  With the potential upgrade to even adequate offensive line play, Rivers should look more like the top-tier quarterback we are accustomed to and less like the mediocre version we have watched over the past two seasons, making Telesco’s possible decision easy.

It is worth noting that Telesco is no stranger to franchise altering quarterback decisions.  During Telesco’s first season as an area scout with the Colts in 1998, the Colts drafted now division rival quarterback Peyton Manning 1st overall and was also part of the decision making process that landed 1st overall pick Andrew Luck in Indianapolis in 2012 before Telesco joined the Chargers this year.  While I do not think Telesco ultimately moves on from Rivers after the 2013 season, it is certainly an available option.

 
Ryan Feder
Tulane University Law School
J.D. Candidate 2015
@RyanFeder
rfeder1@tulane.edu