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Mar 01

Franchising Hardy a Risky Play by GM Gettleman

All it took was one Adam Schefter tweet for DeMaurice Smith and the players to breathe a sigh of relief.  The salary cap has officially been set at $133 million for the 2014 league year—a $10 million increase from 2013.  By 2016 the cap is projected be as high as $150 million.

I’m skeptical of reading into salary cap projections for future years simply because past “expert projections” have been inaccurate.  As recently as a couple of weeks ago industry experts were all but certain that the 2014 salary cap would be $130 million—$3 million less than what it ended up being.

In March 2012, ESPNs John Clayton wrote this article that contained the following:

After having flat caps of $120.375 million in 2011 and $120.6 million in 2012, the NFL management council told clubs Tuesday that the cap won’t increase much in the next three years. In fact, the 2015 cap may go up to only $122 million, according to management council projections.

For whatever reason (probably mostly due to the complex formula that makes up the salary cap), projecting the cap is not something that industry experts have done well in the past.

It’s not a coincidence that teams began using the franchise tag on the same day this announcement regarding an increased salary cap was made. The Saints tagged TE Jimmy Graham, the Jets tagged K Nick Folk, and the Panthers tagged DE Greg Hardy.

But franchising a Kicker is a common practice and the Saints really had no choice but to franchise Graham.  It’s Carolina’s tagging of Hardy that’s by far the most interesting move to me.

By slapping Hardy with the tag, Panthers GM Dave Gettleman is saying two things: that he truly believes the cap will continue to increase, and that there is nothing more important than rushing the passer.

The $13.1 million cost of tagging Hardy comprises the majority of Carolina’s 2014 free agent spending money. And Gettleman made this decision in spite of Charles Johnson, the Defensive End who plays opposite Hardy, carrying a $16,420,000 2014 cap hit that increases to $17,420,000 in 2015.  He did it despite franchise QB Cam Newton entering the final year of his rookie deal and despite the contract of reigning DPOY Luke Kuechly expiring after 2015.

Gettleman also made the decision to tag Hardy knowing that all four starters in Carolina’s secondary—Cornerback’s Captain Munnerlyn & Drayton Florence and Safety’s Quintin Mikell & Mike Mitchell—are current free agents.

Before Gettleman was hired as Panthers GM (in 2013), he spent the 14 years prior as a high-ranking official in the Giants front office. He helped build both the 2007 and 2011 teams that sacked their way to Super Bowl victories behind relentless defensive line play, so he knows how important that aspect of the game is.

But both those Giants teams were more complete than the current Panthers, specifically in terms of offensive talent. The Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer tandem in ’07 and the Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz duo in ’11 were more talented than any of the Panthers’ playmakers, while Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs compare favorably to a declining Deangelo Williams and a constantly injured Jon Stewart.

I understand how difficult it is to let a player like Hardy walk in free agency.  A “homegrown” talent, the Panthers stole Hardy in the 6th round of the 2010 draft; he’s since developed into one of the game’s premier pass rushers. But the great front-office-men know how to build for both the present and the future. And sometimes doing so involves making tough decisions.

The Panthers—who had one of the leagues best defenses in 2013—still have plenty of holes to fill.  By committing so much money to Hardy, Gettleman may be setting the franchise up for failure in the coming years.

 

Andrew Cohen
@ajcohen03
ajcohen3@gmail.com

 

 

  • GeorgeOfClarence

    From a pure value perspective I think the question is can you tag and trade Hardy for a third round pick or better. Even under the opaque compensatory rules, the best compensatory pick you can get is an end of third. I think you can either trade Hardy for a third rounder or better, or sign him to a long-term deal. Definitely under one of those options it is better to franchise and at least subjectively it is better under both scenarios. Essentially, the worst thing you can do is let him play under the one-year franchise tag.

  • mike jones

    I only disagree with one thing. This panthers team is a lot better than those Giants teams ever were, their improbable runs not withstanding. That Giants defense wasn’t very good in either year. In 2007 the offense only scored 22 more points than the defense. In that year Eli manning was barely respectable as QB, just tipping an 83 qb rating. In 2011 the giants defense actually gave up 7 points more than their offense scored. They were outscored in the regular season. Those were teams that the pythag theorem says should have been only 8-8 and without some luck shouldn’t have even been in playoffs.

    It’s only with the afterglow of two superbwol wins that those teams look well put together at all. Anything is possible with a small sample size. Teams get hot. Maybe Gettleman realizes this team is better than anything he ever saw in NY.

    • Andrew Cohen

      definitely more talented on defense and definitely less talented on offense– but would certainly not go as far to call a team that hasn’t yet won a playoff game (the franchise hasn’t in nearly a decade) “a lot better” than those giants teams (2 SBs in five years, were the 1 seed in 2008 as well)

      • mike jones

        Carolina looked very talented on offense just two years ago, when Chud was OC and Mike Shula was doing something besides coaching their offense. That year they were 12th in yards per game, and Newton had the 4th highest YPA in the league while passing for 4000 yards. As you undoubtedly know YPA is one of the most highly correlated single statistics we have to winning. Same exact team, just without Mike Shula who was brought in by Rivera to reign in Cam after Chud bolted to the Browns, when they real problem that year was the defense.

        The giants should not have, statistically speaking, even made the playoffs those two years they won it. The pytag theorem tells us this. Their yards gained and allowed tells us the points scored and allowed were not a fluke.

        If we replayed those seasons dozens of time and they play the same way most of the time they do not even make the playoffs. Our memories are colored by those improbable playoff runs that probably should not have existed considering the level of their play. A single bounce here or there and everything changes because those teams were so completely marginal. Don’t let our lizard brain tendency to emphasize single memorable events over patterns over emphasize the level of talent those teams had.

        /Btw, not a Carolina fan. Dolphin fan. Also a bettor who had a very large futures bet on carolina because recently they have been way undervalued based on their statistics and penchant for crushing weaker opposition.

        • B. Law

          Yeah, i agree with my boys being better than those Giants teams even though they somehow have rings but I think Shula’s offense is better for Cam. He played much better this season than any other even though his passing numbers were down. Though YPA is one of the most important factors in determining the outcome of a game turnover differential is the single most important factor. The offense was built to relieve pressure off Cam because he had so many turnovers in his first 2 seasons and it worked out but we didn’t continue to produce the results we produced early on in the season because of injuries to our offensive line causing our run game to taper off somewhat. Being 26th in overall offense can be attributed to us needing more explosive weapons for Cam to hit with those exponentially more accurate passes underneath and Shula’s emphasis on ball control and time of possession which greatly helped our defensive numbers.

  • Martin Colwell

    > It’s not a coincidence that teams began using the franchise tag on the same day this announcement regarding an increased salary cap was made.

    > By slapping Hardy with the tag, Panthers GM Dave Gettleman is saying two things: that he truly believes the cap will continue to increase,

    Can you explain this? Why does the increasing cap make it advantageous to use the franchise tag? My intuition says the opposite. I suspect you’ve probably written an excellent article on this already that you can point me to.

    • mrparabolic

      If the cap continues to increase, that means that the Panthers will be given extra cap room each year. That means that they will be able to afford all of their existing high priced contracts and still extend their expiring contracts next offseason. If he expected the cap to be flat next offseason, then he would be wise to start clearing some space now so that he would be able to make the signings/extensions that will be required next offseason.

      The franchise tag is always a percentage of the cap, so using the franchise tag in a vacuum is not really a function of whether the cap is going up or staying flat. But in the context of the Panthers, you can say, “Oh he’s not bothering to set any money aside this season. This will go bad for him if the cap increase is much smaller next season.”

      • Martin Colwell

        See in my mind if the cap is increasing then so will the salaries meaning signing a player next year will be more expensive than signing him this year. So the best strategy would be to sign as many players as you can to long term contracts locking them into 2014 rates. Then come 2016 all those previously thought to be expensive contracts will be real steals putting you in a great position. Putting off signing Hardy however would do the opposite right? You’ll have to sign him at 2015 rates which should be higher.

        Also this confuses me:

        > If he expected the cap to be flat next offseason, then he would be wise to start clearing some space now so that he would be able to make the signings/extensions that will be required next offseason.

        The Tag is a one year deal right? So how does a one year contract effect 2015? In fact why isn’t tagging Hardy rather than signing him on a multi-year deal considered clearing cap space in 2015? I guess they would have to sign Hardy next year though or sign his replacement but I can’t really see the difference.

        > “Oh he’s not bothering to set any money aside this season. This will go bad for him if the cap increase is much smaller next season.”

        Kind of the same thing. I don’t really understand how Tagging hardy is going to affect their cap situation next year since the tag expires.

        Or maybe is this all in the context that Hardy’s $13MM cap figure will make it hard to sign or restructure the other players they need this year without pushing the costs onto 2015?