Dallas Cowboys: Navigating The Salary Cap


I had planned, time permitting, to do these cap breakdowns towards the end of the season or in the offseason, but with the Dallas Cowboys making the news today with Adam Schefter’s report that they are $31 million over next years’ projected salary cap I figured this was a reasonable time to look at the Cowboys.

I’m going to base everything off my estimates which have Dallas with a payroll of about $145 million for 46 players next season. That number seems to mesh with most reports so it should be a reasonable starting point. It should be noted that the 46th player under contract here is Jeff Olson an injured player who will be released as soon as he is healthy enough. With the cap currently at $123 million that obviously leaves some distance between my estimates of $22 million over the cap and Schefter’s reported $31 million. So how do we account for the discrepancy?

Well first of all his information is likely from someone projecting at least 51 players, and most likely a full 53. To get from 46 to 53 we need to add 7 futures contracts which will add $2.94 million in salary. We also need to account for the 2011 draft classes “Proven Performance Escalator” which is a bump in salary to the RFA tender for those who played in either 35% of the total snaps from 11-13 or 35% in two of three seasons from 11-13. That would include RB DeMarco Murray, G David Arkin, and WR Dwayne Harris and add another $2 million if all 3 qualify, putting our number at $27 million, leaving us just $4 million short. CB Orlando Scandrick, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, and DE Justin Durant I know have escalators/incentives in their contracts. While I don’t know how much those incentives are worth I’ll give you a guess that we are looking at close to $4 million to give us the $31 million figure Schefter was given. So we are probably working with a roster that is around $29-30 million over the salary cap when the top 51 accounting takes place.

Getting around the 2014 salary cap

Sites like mine and various media reports can sometimes blow a teams’ cap situation out of proportion.  From my time working exclusively covering the Jets salary cap I saw this occur twice, once in 2009 and again in 2013. While the 2013 situation was not great it was never as overblown as portrayed by a salary cap sheet. In 2009 the salary cap situation was actually fine. What occurs is that teams often have contracts that are designed to be restructured or terminated to aid a teams’ salary cap. That does not show up in a static chart.

The one contract Dallas has that is designed that way is Tony Romo’s. Romo has a salary cap figure of nearly $21.8 million in 2014, but the contract contains two “empty” proration years in 2018 and 2019 that were there to absorb restructured dollars. This is no different than Joe Flacco’s contract with the Ravens containing two option bonuses for cap purposes, except for the Ravens their salary cap will look fine on paper because they chose to use options in the initial deal. Dallas never does that and instead makes their situation look worse than it is.

It is basically a given that Dallas will reduce Romo’s base salary in 2014 from $13.5 million to $955,000 and convert the remainder to a bonus. That will free up $10,036,000 in salary cap commitments and reduce his cap figure to $11,737,000. That’s the intended value for Romo’s contract and will shave $10 million off Dallas’ $30 million overage. The team will also carry over around $2 million in cap space so we are looking at a team that is $18 million over prior to free agency.

The Cowboys have one major problem moving forward and that is the lack of cap relief the team can find by releasing players. While Romo fits the intended restructure category, the team has nobody in the intended release category. My estimates only have 8 players that would save Dallas more than $995,000 in cap room via release. These include starters Dez Bryant, Barry Church, and DeMarcus Ware. The following would be the releases:



Net Savings

Phil Costa



Jeremy Parnell



Mackenzy Bernadeau



Justin Durant



Kyle Orton






The net savings, after factoring in costs of replacements, are just $4.6 million. We mentioned that Bernadeau likely has an escalator worked into the Schefter estimate so we’ll call this $5.5 million in savings. That brings Dallas to approximately $12.5 million over the cap. I think it’s also safe to say that if the Schefter figure includes Arkin’s and Harris’ PPE that neither will happen due to playing time so we are around $11.1 million.

I know some will discuss the additional savings that could be realized with the June 1 designation, but a June 1 cut stays on the books until June 1 at the full cap charge. That designation will only be used to create functional cap room during the season and is only going to be used on players whose dead money and salary cap charge are essentially equal. The only real candidate for this is Doug Free whose $3.5 million dollar salary guarantees early in the League Year, but with Brian Waters contract expiring Free should have a role in 2014 either at Guard or Tackle especially since he has played so much better this season.  Miles Austin is another candidate but they don’t actually have a need to cut him until after June 1.

The first restructure will probably be that of CB Brandon Carr. Carr has a $12.2 million dollar cap charge in 2014 with a $7.5 million base that makes up a majority of the charge. With a conventional restructure they can save $4,908,750 in cap space. By adding a voidable season, which is likely what they would do, they will save $5,236,000.

Fitting the Romo restructure category will be that of newly extended LB Sean Lee. Lee has a $5.5 million base salary in 2014 with empty proration years in 2018 and 2019. These seasons are just waiting to have money pushed into them. By reducing his salary to $730,000 and prorating the remainder they will create $3.816 million in cap room while adding $954,000 to the next four years. This puts Dallas in a position where they are approximately $2 million over the cap with three restructures (two of which were planned on signing) and five cuts.

Going forward Dallas is going to have a very difficult decision to make regarding DE/OLB DeMarcus Ware. Ware will be 32 years old in 2014. He is the lone Cowboys whose release or trade saves significant money- $7.4 million. Ware’s cap figure in 2014 is $16 million and then $17.5 million in 2015. These are very difficult cap numbers for 32 and 33 year old pass rushers. Julius Peppers has that kind of figure this season and won’t be back in Chicago next year. The going rate for older rushers is around $5 million a year. Ware will earn $27 million in cash in 2014 and 2015.

The reality is Ware really needs to have his contract ripped up and to take a paycut that makes him the highest paid older player rather than one of the highest paid player, but Dallas’ negotiations throughout history would give them almost no leverage to even push it. It would require a complete philosophical change. Most likely they will look to restructure his contract, which in my mind would be a disaster, but I don’t see them going another route.

If the Cowboys go all in with Ware and reduce his salary to the minimum they can save $8,471,250 against the salary cap even if they do not add void seasons to the contract.  The problem with that move is it pushes Ware’s salary cap figure to $20.3 million in 2015 with a whopping $13,789,000 in dead money if they need to release him. Is that worth doing?  Probably not and the team needs to avoid touching that deal if at all possible.

The team is probably best suited to first restructure the contract of Jason Witten and reducing his base salary from $5 million to the $955,000 minimum. This creates $3,031,500 in cap space which should be enough to at least get Dallas to be cap compliant. Witten will be 32 next season but his cap charges, even if he begins to decline, are more reasonable at 33 than Ware’s would be.

The other move would be to work with Austin on his contract. Personally I don’t believe Austin is worth the headache. He’s missed a few games this season and has slid down the depth charts. Austin really should be by ace in the hole. I cut him in June and free up $5.5 million to move the Cowboys to around $6 million in cap space which I can use for the rookie class when they sign in June and July.

If something disastrous happens I can then work with Ware but Ware is a deal Dallas should only touch as a last resort. The door needs to be open to take him off the roster in 2015. There are also a few other small deals that Dallas could terminate to gain a few hundred thousand here and there.


Where Will Dallas Stand

What works to Dallas’ favor in all of this is that the only starters who are free agents next season are G Brian Waters and DT Jason Hatcher. The team won’t have the money to go into free agency and replace them with starters, but you can find rotational players that may fit in the limited budget. These are also draftable positions, specifically on the offensive line where many teams find first year starters.

Dallas starting lineup would have an average age  of about 27 years with the offense being the problem unit, featuring four players over the age of 30. If Romo and Witten can continue to perform age should not be a primary factor of weakness in 2014. Basically what this amounts to is that the team in 2014 will look almost identical to the team in 2013 and 2012.

2015 Salary Cap Outlook

By reworking the contracts of Romo, Carr,  Witten, and Lee we added $5,785,000 to the 2015 salary cap. That’s not too bad, but the roster at this point is in shambles and our top 5 players now account for nearly $76 million in cap commitments. The team will already have $9,086,200 in dead money on the books via the June 1 release of Miles Austin and Doug Free’s contract voiding.

Not including the 2014 draft class, Dallas would have around $109 million in salary cap commitments in 2015 with just 22 players under contract. One would assume that the team would invoke the option on starting Tackle Tyron Smith, which would be equal to the 2014 Transition tag. In 2013 that was $8,709,000 so we’ll assume $8.7 million for 2014 as well.  I think it’s safe to assume two players from the 2012 draft class will earn the PPE adding around $1.3 million in cap to our total giving the team $119 in cap committed to 23 players.

Not among those 23 players is superstar WR Dez Bryant who will end up being the recipient of the Franchise tag, which should be valued around $10.6 million. Seven draft choices from 2014 should cost around $6 million in 2015 cap dollars. This brings Dallas to a fair estimate of 31 contracts of $135.6 million. If the remainder of the offseason roster is filled with players earning the minimum the salary cap will stand for Dallas at $144,300,000.

2015 Problems

We just navigated 2014 which seemed to be even worse so why is this different?  Assuming the Bryant and Smith moves and one 2014 rookie starting the team would be looking at returning just 12 or 13 starters from the 2014 team.  Of these starters Romo will be 35 while Ware and Witten will be 33. Neither Carr nor Lee would be youngsters anymore at 29 years old.  These 5 players account for $74.3 million in cap charges and there has to be real questions about how much further can you push on with the same group.

Romo would carry a $27.782 million dollar cap charge in this scenario.   The team could save $12.824 million in a restructure which virtually guarantees Romo will be QB through 2017 as his 2017 dead money would rise to $14.636 million if cut. Even at 38 years old he would still cost $8.921 million to part ways with.

Releasing Ware saves the team $12,186,000, which is why I would not want to touch his contract in 2014. He needs to go in 2014 to allow the team to move forward.  There really are no other options. Through all the restructures we had to use for 2013 and 2014, Carr is already going to cost $11.36 million to release in 2016. I can’t go further in on a cornerback about to turn 30.   Same goes with Witten.

2015 and Beyond

Most likely, barring a salary cap explosion in 2015, those two moves will give Dallas a few million to work with to fill all their open roster spots with players other than rookies. The two franchise type players will need to be signed to long term contracts with low cap charges in the first two years to help deal with some of the issues in 2015 and 2016.

Dallas is not going to trot out 10 rookies to start for the team if at all possible especially with Romo still at the helm.  That is going to require significant creativity to do. They have to avoid doing anything with Ware, unless it’s a major paycut, and the desire to rework Carr’s deal another time. I would imagine the end game is something similar to what we saw in New York in 2013 with a slew of minimum salary benefit contracts filling out the roster.

By 2016 the team should move into full turnover mode with Romo being the last man standing from the old guard. Witten and Carr will combine for over $14 million in dead money in 2016, which should mark their fourth year in a row with well above the average dead money on their salary cap, but it should help them avoid the one mega season of dead money that has hit some other squads.

Can They Survive the Cap

In terms of success this is really a two year window for Dallas. They will cruise to a division title in 2013 because the NFC East is so bad. At this point it’s about gearing up for the playoffs. It is why if they are really considering a trade to upgrade a position it makes sense to do as long as they realize it is a one year commitment and they will move on next year. This is the best chance Dallas will have and you have to do everything you can to make it happen. If Dallas believes Maurice Jones-Drew can help them win its worth the $2.2 million carryover loss they would have.

2015 is really the year for the massive shakeup which Dallas will probably piece together over a few years rather than just one massive dump in a single season.  By then many of the playmakers they have will probably be too old to make the same type of contributions that they are making now. But Dallas should be able to navigate 2014 without too much issue contractually. The problem is if everyone gets older a year earlier than expected. That is what is happening in New York in 2013 as they hung on one year too long with an overpriced veteran group. If 2014 ends up being a poor season on the field it will be a bleak outlook for the future because the team is still going to be stuck in neutral when it comes to making big additions over the next two seasons due to cap constraints. For better or worse they have to win with this group.


Projecting a Contract for the Saints Jimmy Graham


One of the biggest name free agents in 2014 will be Tight End Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. Because of his incredible start to the season, racking up 593 yards in just 4 weeks, he and his pending contract have become discussion points around the league, so we’ll take our look as well at Graham and see what could lie in store.

Statistically Speaking

I think there is a perception around the NFL that Graham had little to gain by having another incredible season this year. I actually agreed with that until running some of the numbers on Graham for the last two years where and comparing them with a number of other “high end” Tight Ends in the NFL over the same time frame. While Graham produced the most yards of any player at the position over the two year period he was also the most targeted player at the position.  His numbers were actually behind those of Rob Gronkowski on a per game basis. Here are the two year averages at the position for the top 10 in cumulative yards from 2011 and 2012.

TE market 1

Had Graham been extended before this season I would think it would be arguable about approaching the contract numbers of Gronkowski. Unless the argument is strictly based on games (which is certainly important) Graham would not track as the best in the NFL at the position. That changes for Graham this season.

Graham is on pace for a 118 reception season for a ridiculous 1897 yards. His catch rate is up to nearly 70% and he is averaging 16 yards per reception. With Gronkowski on the shelf with another set of injuries Graham has distanced himself from the field and even if he slows down on the year, he should have done enough to break away from the pack. But if Graham finished the year with 1000-1100 yards I don’t think his leverage would nearly be as high as many people believed coming into the season.

Pushing Beyond the Position

Graham is going to shatter records this year with the type of season he is having which is going to bring up the major question of whether or not Graham should be treated as a Wide Receiver or a Tight End.  From a contract standpoint there is a major difference between the two positions. The highest paid Tight End averages $9 million a season. $9 million is less than Miles Austin makes per year with the Dallas Cowboys. So the disparity between the two positions is great. But this is an argument that no player has been able to win in the past. Can Graham?

The current highest ever receiving total for a Tight End is 1,397 yards which was accomplished by Gronkowski in 2011. Graham’s 2011 output of 1,310 yards ranks second all time. Only four players in the history of the NFL have produced more than 1,200 yards at the Tight End position. So the type of numbers Graham is producing are historic, but are they WR contract worthy?

For Graham to be in the conversation we obviously need to make some assumptions. The assumption I will make is that he will finish the year with about 1,540 yards, meaning he’ll produce for 13 weeks this season at his current rate and have three games of no production.    This averages out to about 90 yards a game down the stretch of the season which is not unreasonable all things considered.

I want to take the three year averages for Graham and compare them to the top 10 paid receivers in the NFL at the time they signed their contracts. So for Brandon Marshall we will be looking at his 3 year stats from 2007 through 2009 with the Denver Broncos and not with the Dolphins or Bears since those stats had no bearing on the contract he received. I will also include Gronkowski’s numbers for the last three seasons in the mix.

TE market

Graham, if he meets the production levels of the assumption, does not just track with the most highly compensated players in the NFL, he exceeds their performance. He ranks 2nd in receptions, 5th in targets, 2nd in yards, 2nd in touchdowns, 3rd in yards per game, 3rd in catch rate, 9th in yards per reception, and 7th in yards per target. Those would be exceptional numbers and he will likely be the first Tight End to produce at this kind of level walking into a contract year (I say likely because Tony Gonzalez possibly could have been in a similar spot back in 2005).

One of the arguments against Graham will likely be the offense that he plays in inflates his stats because of all the weapons the team has at their disposal. While there is some truth to that he is the most targeted receiver on his team the last few years and is the player who should get the most defensive attention on the Saints team. Saints QB Drew Brees does spread the football around so he may not be a number 1 like a Brandon Marshall who has the entire passing game run through him, but it does compare favorably to many on this list including Wallace, Jackson and Harvin.

Perhaps the bigger argument against Graham will be age. Graham, despite so few years in the NFL, will be 28 in 2014. So this is not signing a very young player like Gronkowski who will only be 25 next season. He is going to be looked at as more of a veteran in terms of years ahead of him. Still this is a prime age and the continued success of Witten, Gonzalez, Gates, plus numerous Wide Receivers over the age of 30 should help him fight any such arguments.

The Saints First Move

In hindsight the Saints probably made a mistake not extending Graham this season. Part of that was circumstances as the Saints had, and continue to have, a poor salary cap situation and they decided to try to keep the team intact rather than creating room that could have allowed for an extension that would have been slightly less than the one given to Gronkowski. Now he should surpass Gronkowski by quite a bit. At this point I’m not sure the Saints would even benefit from an extension now rather than next season.

The Saints, despite the cap woes, will apply the Franchise tag to Graham to control his rights next season. This is where Graham will need to argue that he is a WR and not a TE with the League. The Franchise tag for a Tight End is in the ballpark of $6 million compared to $10.5 million for a Wide Receiver.  The Saints will need to shave significant salary to be cap compliant in 2014 so that extra $4.5 million is of major importance. Getting the WR designation would also remove the threat of the Exclusive franchise tag as it would be in the ballpark of $14.5 million for a receiver and just $8.5 million for a TE.

Removing that threat is important for Graham, who will not want to play under any tag provisions that will only bring him closer to 30 when true free agency finally begins. In 2012 the Saints applied the Exclusive tag to QB Drew Brees. The two sides fought over a contract until mid-July when the Saints finally gave in to Brees’ desire to earn $20 million a season. Graham’s best contract will come from a situation where he can shop himself around the NFL even at the cost of a number 1 draft pick. If he gets that WR designation the Saints will be in a position where they are forced to negotiate for cap purposes.

I do think that Brees’ contract is also helpful in that Brees was the first player in the NFL to break the $20 million dollar barrier. At the time the highest paid player in the NFL was Peyton Manning at $19.2 million and behind him was Tom Brady at a shade above $18 million. In terms of percentage raise over top of the market that would place Graham somewhere between $9.4 and $9.9 million a year which I would guess would be the absolute least he would take if his played trailed off dramatically over the next 11 games. Graham is superior to Gronkowski at this point so arguing a raise should be simple. At the least Graham should be making it a point to be the first TE to break the $10 million a year barrier the same way that Brees was the guy who broke the $20 million number.

Contract Guesstimates

Now even though the numbers are projected to be exceptional for Graham and he is going to enter a contract period off his best season, dreaming of Fitzgerald/Johnson money is ludicrous. These are players I refer to as “break the system” players in that their salaries are so far above the norms for elite players that they have broken the contract system in place in the NFL.

Last year Calvin Johnson’s contract represented a 67% increase over the 5th highest salary at the WR position.  In other words he(well actually Fitzgerald since he was the original huge contract) broke the pay system in place. That number has decreased now (44.7%), but in part that is because Johnson’s and Fitzgerald’s contracts raised the market for the likes of Bowe and Wallace. Other position busters include Adrian Peterson (86.3%, around 65% at time of signing) and Darrelle Revis (64.1%). You have to be a special talent to break the system. The other player who did it would be Chris Johnson, who set the standard a few days before Peterson received his extension from Minnesota. That is really it.

If I am Jimmy Graham I want to break the system. That has to be my goal in this negotiation. While in the worst possible case I may settler for $10 million a year the reality is that I want Graham to be a position buster. Gronkowski failed to do that. His $9 million a year salary represented a 24% increase over the 5th highest paid player at his position. Using this logic helps me avoid the WR vs TE debate. I will agree Graham is a Tight End provided that the Saints agree that he has separated himself apart from the field the way all the others have. I think that is an easier argument to have than first going down the Wide Receiver versus Tight End route.

The two star receivers were unique. They were devastating number 1 targets that could not be replaced and had created a great deal of separation between themselves and the rest of the receivers in the NFL. The two running backs were unique and had were the only non-QB’s in the NFL that teams felt they could build around. Revis, in his prime with the Jets, had no peer. All of these players impacted the game beyond the norms of their position.  Graham is that same type of player.

This is not a negotiation about earning “receiver money”. It should be a negotiation about recognizing how great the separation is between Graham and Jason Witten or Jared Cook. The numbers show how superior Graham is to those players.   You can compare him to a WR the way Revis could be compared to a pass rusher or Peterson to a QB. Those players could find ways to back that up and so can Graham if he finishes this season over 1,500 yards.

I want to be somewhere around that 65% raise level that most of the others were at the time they signed their contracts. Once Graham is signed the 5th highest contract on the books should be that of Antonio Gates at $7.235 million. That works Graham out to be just under $11.94 million a season.  That should be the fair number for him. It will ensure that he is the highest paid Tight End for, most likely, the entire contract.

Graham will probably earn anywhere from 48% to 50% of the contract in the first three years, based on some of the other contracts that we want to use as a guideline. Revis receives 50% over the first three years, though his deal contained no guarantees. Fitzgerald earned nearly 52.5% of the 6 year contract value in his first three new money years while Calvin Johnson and Peterson earned 48%.  Chris Johnson’s contract was just 4 years in length so we will throw that one out. Looking at those numbers it’s reasonable for Graham to receive around $34.38 million within the first three seasons of his contract. That number will far surpass the $30 million earned by Gronkowski .

In terms of a first year cash payout we come up with the following: Revis earned 16.7%, Peterson 20.8%, Fitzgerald 34%, and Johnson 29.7%. I think it’s also worth mentioning that Gronkowski earned 22% of his contract in the first year and that the Saints were willing to go to 40% of the contract value for Brees. Knowing that Tight End is not considered a premier position, I don’t think I would touch the WR numbers. Peterson and Revis would be in similar less importance positions and accordingly received much less up front. I think I would be happy hitting the same percentage as Gronkowski, which works out to a payout of $15.76 million in 2014. Regardless, he needs to earn about 34% of his deal in the first two years to keep pace with the “system breakers”.

How to Keep Him on the Saints

Some of the numbers we are talking about are pretty steep. I currently have the Saints estimates around $138 million in 2014 cap commitments. Just to reach the salary cap limits they will need to bring that number down to around $124.5 million. $11.5 million will be created by releasing Will Smith and from there they will need to begin restructuring contracts to get below the salary cap limits and have room for completing their roster. Their cap does not get much better in 2015 either, so Graham is going to need to carry low cap figures in the first two years of his contract.

That will work in Graham’s favor because it is going to require the use of multiple prorated bonuses to artificially lower his cap numbers while keeping the cash outflows high.  Though I don’t believe the Saints are a big option bonus team I would imagine that the contract will either contain an option bonus in 2015 or be designed to allow for a conversion of salary to prorated bonus.

My proposed contract structure will contain a minimum salary in 2014 and close to the minimum in 2015. I would use a $15 million dollar signing bonus and a $7.5 million option bonus payable in 2014. I’d have the first two years salaries fully guaranteed with an injury guarantee in 2016. I don’t believe that the Saints would need to go higher than that on the guarantees unless they need to backup the option with a guarantee. Considering the dead money in the deal Graham probably can concede on the paper guarantees. Here would be a proposed contract structure:

graham proposed cap

And here is how our cash flows will work out:

Graham proposed cash

This is going to be a very player friendly contract that will essentially ensure him of earning those first three seasons. His fourth year is virtually guaranteed unless the Saints choose to designate him a June 1 cut. For that reason I would imagine in this structure a roster bonus of $4-$5 million being in place in 2017 to ensure a quick decision by New Orleans. The high cap figures in 2017 and 2018 should force the Saints into an early extension or a release which at 31 and 32 years old would be a final chance to cash in.

The Saints get the low cap figures in the first two years. Applying an exclusive tag to Graham in 2014 would cost around $8.5 million. Under this proposed deal he is only going to carry $9.33 million in salary cap charges in 2014 and 2015 combined. That is a major benefit for the Saints. The cap structure is flexible enough to keep the June 1 release a possibility in the fourth year so they would have some outs after investing around $34 million in Graham for three years in the event he or the team goes south.

Overall I would think if Graham keeps this pace up he will have an exceptional chance at reaching the numbers discussed here. In the NFL teams will always find a way to keep the players that they feel are irreplaceable and I would be quite surprised if Graham is wearing another uniform at any point over the next few years. I’d expect this deal to be done certainly before the 2014 offseason begins and maybe even this year if the Saints feel that they have unused cap room that can be used towards the contract.

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Monday Morning Stock Up

Matt Ryan- 22/29 for 262 yards in a dominating win against the Eagles in Philadelphia has made him just keep rolling along. Ryan has one more season remaining on his rookie contract at a modest salary of $10 million. The way he has established himself he is going to get that extension much sooner than later as the Falcons can not risk losing him. He is certainly in the same class as Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger at the time they all received their first extensions. The ballpark number for those players was $15-$16 million per year and well over $30 million in guaranteed money. The market has moved upward since then and Ryan is set to move that market for young players.

Jason Witten- 18 receptions for 167 yards is an insane day for a tight end. Witten is locked into a long term contract which is not going to change anytime soon. That said his contract contains no real guarantees from this point onward, but with Dallas always in precarious cap position his play makes him a prime candidate for a restructure for cap relief next season which will guarantee him more money in the form of a signing bonus and give him some added job security on the backend of his contract, which would now be protected by some dead money. As it stands now Witten has no dead money charges beyond 2015.

Josh Freeman- 262 yards in a big win on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. Freeman has quietly put together a solid season in Tampa Bay this year and rebounded nicely from his poor third season. Freeman is somehow lost in the shuffle when discussing the QB class from 2009. People rave about Matthew Stafford because he led the Lions to a 10 win season in 2011, but people seem to forget that Freeman did the same for Tampa in 2010, the team just failed to make it as a Wildcard despite the 10 wins. Freeman has established himself as a solid, if unspectacular QB, that should have a long term future as a starter. The Jets already rewarded Mark Sanchez with an extension and Freeman is a better player. Freeman is under contract with the Bucs through 2013, but they may lock him up ahead of time. He isnt in the same class as Ryan above, but he should earn a deal in the Tony Romo/Kevin Kolb range, between $11 and $12 million a year with $18-20 million guaranteed.