After a year of big spending the Jets had a relatively quiet offseason, but still have plenty of questions that linger. Unlike most teams there are still a good deal of moving parts on the Jets despite the fact that the prime free agency period is complete. Today, I’ll look at some of those questions today as they pertain to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Muhammad Wilkerson, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and the relative health of the Jets salary cap. Continue reading The Big Questions that Face the Jets »
Today’s podcast breaks down the quarterback market after the first few days of free agency where we saw Brock Osweiler get a four-year, $72 million contract with Houston and the Broncos trade for Mark Sanchez on a one-year, $4.5 million contract with only $1 million guaranteed to replace him for the time being and where the Jets allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to test the market and he found no takers.
We had both ends of the spectrum, teams overspending on unproven quarterbacks like the Texans and teams like the Broncos and Jets sticking to the kind of run-first, defensive formula that the 2000 Ravens and 2013 Seahawks provided the blueprint for from a salary cap perspective.
Over the last two weeks I have given my opinions on the upcoming class of free agent running backs and wide receivers, and this week I turn my attention to the quarterbacks. Since there are not many starting quarterbacks who will be available I have also included thoughts on the bigger name players who will likely be rumored to be moved in the offseason. As usual I will give my opinion on some salary ranges for the players and remember you can always keep up with NFL free agents on our free agent pages.
Sam Bradford, Eagles
Bradford may be the hardest player to value in quite some time. Rarely do former top draft picks at the position hit true free agency (plenty are released and available) but there is a real chance Bradford will make it there. Bradford has been in the NFL for six years and at best you can give him an incomplete as a pro. He had five injury riddled seasons in St Louis and at no time during his healthy periods did he look as if he was a special quarterback. He was traded to the Eagles this year and has continued to battle inconsistency. Continue reading 2016 NFL Free Agency: Quarterbacks Overview »
Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.
Knowshon Moreno– Moreno ate up the Patriots last night rushing for 224 yards. He has been a beast all season, resembling nothing of the frustrating player that has suited up for Denver since 2009. Moreno gained more yards on the ground than Peyton Manning threw for in the air and he is averaging over 74 yards a game. He’s also added almost 350 yards receiving as well. Moreno’s contract will void this offseason making him an unrestricted free agent so his rebirth is coming at the perfect moment. He apparently was injured in the overtime and hopefully it is nothing serious but he has more than earned a new contract with his play in 2013.
Karlos Dansby– I have to imagine Dolphins fans are wondering where this player was in Miami because he has been a very good player and excellent fit inside the Cardinals defense. Dansby was signed to a low cost one year contract in Arizona this offseason and has far exceeded the contract this year with his play. On Sunday Dansby was credited with five solo tackles and had an interception that he returned for a touchdown. The touchdown broke the game wide open giving the Cardinals an insurmountable 21 point lead. He leads all linebackers this year in both unassisted tackled and passes broken up. Dansby isn’t a young man anymore but he has probably earned himself a two or three year contract based on his play with the Cardinals.
Brandon Marshall– On a day where little went right for Chicago, Marshall continued his dominant season with 10 catches for 117 yards, his 3rd 100 yard game in the last 4 games. Marshall has one year remaining on his contract after this season and with the Bears in a state of flux it is very likely that Marshall could see himself with a new contract either with Chicago or another team if he is traded in the offseason. Marshall has been a model citizen since leaving Miami and ranks second in the NFL in receptions and 9th in yards. His production is consistent year after year and shows no signs of going down. Most important he is one of the rare players in the NFL that seems QB proof in that the production remains constant regardless of who he plays with.
New Contract Player Of The Week
Ryan Fitzpatrick– I’ve always given Fitzpatrick a lot of grief for somehow tricking the Buffalo Bills into paying him as a true starting Quarterback off a few game hot streak despite years of being relegated to backup status. On Sunday, however, there was no doubt that Fitzpatrick played to the level of that contract, even if that contract does not exist anymore. Signed in the offseason as insurance for injury prone Jake Locker Fitzpatrick revived the Titans playoff chances with a 320 yard, two touchdown game that his team won in the final seconds on the road against the Raiders. You can not ask for more than that out of anyone.
Driving in today I flipped over to Mike and Mike on ESPN and heard them having a discussion about Kirk Cousins the backup QB of the Washington Redskins and how valuable a piece he is to the Redskins. The discussion centered around a comment made by Peter King that insinuated that a team drafting in the upper half of the first round should consider giving up their pick (I believe the number they used was 7) for him. I immediately thought that would make an interesting discussion.
Cousins has clearly fallen into the “backup legend” category where we all get so enamored with the position and the prospect of finding a great talent to start for our team. This time last season Cousins was almost an afterthought. Cousins was drafted with the 7th pick in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. This wasn’t Geno Smith falling from the top half of the 1st to the 2nd round as Cousins was projected to go anywhere from the late 2nd to the early 4th, which is exactly where he went. The scouting on him was pretty consistent: efficient player but will never be more than a game manager.
The draft pick itself was considered questionable at the time because the Redskins had just given up a draft fortune to select Robert Griffin III with the 2nd pick in the draft. To select another QB when you had just parted with so many picks seemed like a poor use of limited assets. Cousins began to create a little buzz in the preseason where he completed nearly 58% of his passes at over 13 YPC, but when Cousins was elevated from 3rd string to 2nd string over Rex Grossman more than just a few were surprised.
Once RGIII got injured Cousins got his regular season opportunity and yet another “backup legend” was born. Cousins first led a comeback against eventual champion Baltimore Ravens and then was terrific in his lone start throwing for 329 yards against the Cleveland Browns. Last night Cousins went 6 of 7 for 52 yards in a preseason game which sparked the discussion about his upside. How quickly everyone forgets just where the young QB was a year ago as he battled for a backup job.
The best comparison one could probably for Cousins would be the career of Matt Schaub. Schaub was drafted with the 27th pick of the 3rd round in the 2004 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Schaub was brought in to be a backup to Mike Vick. Vick was a phenomenon at the time. The 1st overall pick in 2001, Vick was the most electric player in the NFL and had a reputation that far exceeded the actual play on the field. There were also questions about his durability making a backup seem like a bigger need than for other teams. Schaub was good in the preseason and got one start in his Atlanta career where he threw for 298 yards against the Patriots. Schaub became the “backup legend”.
The price for Schaub was nothing like was being suggested on Mike and Mike. The Texans gave up two second round draft picks to acquire him. Schaub has gone on to have a solid but unspectacular career and has also been dogged by injuries at times. But he has probably been the most successful of the star backups. Other recent names who turned preseason and less than one season samples into starting jobs have been Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Anderson, Matt Cassel , and AJ Feeley. None were successful. Kolb, Cassel, and Feeley were all acquired via trade while Fitzpatrick and Anderson were signed off their samples.
Trading a high first pick for a backup QB is a recipe for disaster. Part of the benefit of the top 15 pick now is the slotted pay scale. It allows teams an opportunity to mold a cap friendly roster around a number of potential superstar young talent. When you trade that draft pick for a “backup legend” it’s not just a draft pick being given up, but often large sums of money. Assuming a team was to trade for Cousins next season they would only have Cousins under his rookie contract for two seasons. If they waited one more season it would only be for one. After that he hits free agency.
When you make that trade commitment a financial one goes along with it. In essence you have traded the new rookie wage scale for the old one. For the group above here are the awarded salaries of the more recent backups to riches stories:
3 Year Cash
Of all the deals Cassel was far and away the worst, which was just a sign of how inept the Chiefs front office was. Cassel has almost no pedigree at all (he was a 7th round pick) and they gave the farm away for him. At least in Fitzpatrick’s case there was no trade involved and the three year money total was smaller.
Of course the other question is whether or not a team would even consider giving up the first round selection for him. This is not the Bears trading for Jay Cutler. Most of the teams that would consider trading for Cousins are those same teams that have a scouting department that gave him a 3rd round or worse grade. Maybe he has done enough in the preseason and limited game action to up that grade but it’s unlikely without an extensive look that a teams’ scouts would recommend giving him a 1st round grade, let alone a top 10 grade, especially factoring in the cost. Plus there are going to be teams that say Mike Shanahan runs a very QB friendly offense that turned players like Brian Griese and Jake Plummer into adequate players.
While we often all buy into the fantasy aspect of the NFL and the throwing away of draft selections it has been some time since teams decided to throw first round picks at lower regarded talent. I believe the last two big ones were Rob Johnson in 1998 and Trent Green in 2001. Johnson was a 4th round pick with only one start under his belt which led to the Bills trading a 1st and 4th for his services. It is a trade so bad that it is still talked about to this day. Green was a journeyman type QB who was displaced by injury and replaced by Kurt Warner. At the time I think the feeling was that Green was just as good and that the Chiefs were getting a steal for a 1st round pick. Green would have a decent career with the Chiefs, who really have gone overboard with the trading for QB’s dating back to Joe Montana.
Really unless you have the exceptional pedigree teams are not going to throw away a first rounder and all that money on a player. Here are some of the potential starter trades since the Green trade to Kansas City.
|two 1’s, a 3rd, and Kyle Orton|
|1st* round pick|
|1st* and 2nd*|
|2nd and 4th*|
|2nd and 2nd/3rd*|
|2nd* and DRC|
|1st round swap (2 slots) and two 2nds|
|2nd round swap (20 slots) and 3rd*|
|2nd round pick|
|1st round swap (7 slots) and 3rd|
|2nd (plus Mike Vrabel to KC)|
|* means actual slot unknown at time of trade|
The marketplace really has been the 2nd round for players that do not have that elite pedigree. Of the younger talent, Cutler, who came from a Shanahan system and looked like one of the greatest prospects on the planet, is the only one to garner a fortune in compensation, losing the 11th and 18th pick in the 1st round. Kolb cost a 2nd and a player which is more or less the equivalent to the two 2nd rounders traded for Schaub. Alex Smith could be the same.
So it would be stunning, based on pat history, if any team in the NFL drafting in the top 10 would even consider trading for Cousins at that price. I tend to think that there may be more reservation as well due to the recent series of bust signings on questionable players with the small sample sizes. Over the next two seasons Kolb, Cassel, Fitzpatrick, and Matt Flynn will carry $23,950,000 in dead money for their respective former teams.
Flynn, who had backed up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and flashed in relief, expected to be involved in a bidding war of sorts when the Packers let him hit free agency. Teams were much more cautious with Flynn, a 7th round selection, than they had been with other players. Eventually he signed with Seattle for a base value of $19.5 million over three years. That was still good money, but not Kolb or Cassel money. Flynn of course was traded after just one season when unheralded rookie Russell Wilson outplayed Flynn by a significant margin in training camp and the preseason.
But right now I think many of us are going a little overboard on the expectations for Cousins in the trade market. Players don’t go from being 4th round draft picks to top 10 commodities based on a start and some preseason games. Maybe if he had close to a full season of work someone with a late 1st round pick might make a move, but the market is really a 2nd rounder and that’s assuming teams have not grown cold to the prospect of trading for someone else’s bench player rather than just drafting one themselves. The financial commitment can be so large when you trade for a QB and is there really that much that separates Kevin Kolb from Blaine Gabbert? Gabbert is certainly cheaper. Neither has been very good. Gabbert had and probably has more upside.
I would think applying the Schaub test is really the right way to look at Cousins. Schaub has been the QB on two teams that made the playoffs and has twice gone to the Pro Bowl. He has started 79 games in 6 years and won 44 of them. Just a year after signing an extension many fans can’t wait to get rid of him because they feel the flaws, more or less the lack of physical tools that helped push him to the late 3rd round in the first place, will keep them from winning a championship. In hindsight would you have been happy giving up the 7th pick in the NFL draft and somewhere around $60 million dollars for Schaub? Probably not.
Now none of this is to say that Cousins can’t be better than Schaub. For all I know Cousins may be the next Tom Brady, who the Patriots wisely chose to stick with over Bledsoe in 2001. But as a teams’ GM or cap manager you have to weigh the risks associated with such a trade. You are losing four low cost seasons of a tremendous upside draft pick and replacing it with a high financial commitment for a player just a few years ago you felt did not have the tools to warrant a 2nd or 3rd round selection. To pull that top 10 pick the player needs to be proven which means at least two years of significant meaningful game experience. Otherwise the 2nd round maximum is as far as a team should ever be willing to go.
With June 1 rapidly approaching I thought this would be a good time to update on the salary cap changes that will occur for a number of teams as well as some other thoughts on the subject. On June 1 the league changes their accounting rules for acceleration of prorated bonus money. If a player is cut prior to June 1 all of a players unaccounted for bonus money accelerates onto the salary cap. If a player is cut after June 1 the players unaccounted for money accelerates to the following season (in this case 2014) with only his current proration remaining on the 2013 cap books.
The NFL allows teams to cut up to two players prior to June 1 and designate them “June 1 cuts”. If this mechanism is used the team carries the players’ full cap charge in their top 51 until June 1. On June 2 the player is officially removed from the roster with only his current years proration remaining on the books and in many cases a dramatic increase in cap space for cap starved teams that need to sign rookies or have money on hand for in season roster management. 10 teams utilized the June 1 designation, with the Dolphins being the only team to use it on two players.
For many of the teams the money is desperately needed. The Oakland Raiders have yet to sign a draft pick as they remain right around the NFL’s cap limit, but on June 2 their cap will grow to about $7.86 million after Michael Huff drops off the books. The Steelers with almost no breathing room and less than $600,000 in cap room with 4 picks to sign will now have $5.59 million to spend, due to the June 1 treatment of Willie Colon. The Chargers, the other cap strapped team with less than $1 million in room, will remove Jared Gaither to jump to $4.65 million in cap space. The other teams with limited cap funds that will benefit from the June 1 rule are the Falcons and Ravens, both of whom currently have around $2 million in cap space.
Other teams such as the Bills and Dolphins will see large increases that will jump them very close to the top of the NFL in cap space. The Dolphins will jump from 15th to 7th in the NFL in cap space while the Bills will go from 7th to 5th. This is primarily because of the large cap investments that the teams’ made in mediocre players. Ryan Fitzpatrick current sits as the 2nd largest cap charge on the Bills active roster while Karlos Dansby has the highest cap figure of any Dolphin. Huff of the Raiders also ranks as the highest cap charge on his team.
Most of the players are all good enough to find another job in the NFL, only Gaither has not found a team willing to take him, but only 5 received multi-year contracts and the highest cap charge to be found is Tyson Clabo, now of the Dolphins, at $3.5 million. The June 1 rule really illustrates the mistakes that teams make when valuing players and structuring contracts. While Dansby, Huff, and Fitzpatrick were outrageous figures, 6 of the June 1 cuts still take up a top 5 cap spot on the active roster and 9 are in the top 10. The following table shows the amount of estimated cap space that was to be spent on these players, dead money the teams will carry, and how much cap new teams are going to pay these players this season:
|Original Cap Charge|
|2013 Dead Money|
|2014 Dead Money|
|New Team 2013 Cap|
So the cutting teams will carry more dead money this year than the players will collectively make from their new teams to play in the NFL. The league valued these players at 74.3% less than the teams original projections. Assuming that the average salary for the group in 2014 is $1 million each then those players will play football over a 2 year period for 50% less than the dead money totals that the original teams will now carry in 2013 and 2014. That’s one of the reasons why when we do some of the valuations on the site from a team perspective we try to take into account future productivity as this was, for the most part, money thrown away on players. These are the type of contracts that get General Managers fired over the long run.
As for the June 1 cuts themselves here is the list of players that will be removed on June 2 and what the projected cap totals for the teams will be based on the official salary cap numbers as of May 28, 2013.
New Team Cap Space
The Buffalo Bills continued their search for a Quarterback to get some return on significant defensive investments, this time signing former Cardinal Kevin Kolb to a two year contract. Sometimes as fans we get caught up in “name value” and memories and the immediate reaction to this signing was that Kolb was destined to be the starter and a sign that the Bills would not draft a QB. Kolb fed into it himself with the statement as to how he was in Buffalo to win a Super Bowl portraying himself as some type of superstar QB looking for a home. A closer look at the situation paints a much different picture.
The Bills find themselves in a bit of a QB hole due to the poor decision made to extend journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a lucrative $59 million dollar contract after a handful of good games in 2011. I heavily criticized the move at the time on my nyjetscap site, (which in turn saw me criticized by Bills fans), because it was a move that had almost no upside and did not need to be done at that time. It was a situation where the Bills had struggled so badly for so many years, the only team in 2000s to fail to make the playoffs, and been perceived as a cheap organization that GM Buddy Nix got caught up in sending a message that the Bills organization was going to become a spender in the NFL. Unfortunately it was the wrong player and Fitzpatrick crashed the minute he signed his name on the dotted line.
Fitzpatrick now compromises the Bills spending allocation on the position for the next two seasons. The Bills designated Fitzpatrick a June 1 cut meaning he will count for $3 million in dead money in 2013 and $7 million in 2014. Not that the free agent market was going to provide strong QB candidates but $10 million in dead money is nothing to sneeze at. Cutting Fitzpatrick was absolutely the right move to make and restructuring his deal was simply going to eat into more cap room for no reason, but if there was one move that Nix would want back in his tenure it has to be the Fitzpatrick one.
With Fitzpatrick gone but not forgotten on the books the Bills are in a position where they needed to look for a stopgap player and continue to still look in the draft. The two are not exclusive events as many have portrayed. The Bills situation is not all that different than that of division rival Miami last year. In 2012 the Dolphins signed former Jaguar starter David Garrard in March to a one year contract to compete with Matt Moore, entering the final year of a two year contract to be the backup in Miami. When the draft came around the presence of low tier starters made no impact on the Dolphins’ draft decisions, drafting Ryan Tannehill with the 8th overall pick. In the Bills case the low salary of a rookie contract will counteract the $7 million in dead money that Fitzpatrick leaves the team in 2014.
The Bills and Nix are far more protective of their rights with their latest QB signings of Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Neither is signed to a big money deal and both will need to perform if they want to earn their keep. Kolb received a $1 million dollar signing bonus and will earn a $250,000 roster bonus if he makes the team in September. Jackson received a $500,000 signing bonus and will earn $450,000 if he makes the team in September. Kolb has an escalator in his contract for 2014 while Jackson can earn $2.25 million in additional 2013 compensation if he is named the starter and stays in that role.
The salary cap hits and contract makeup don’t proclaim the job to be Kolb’s by any means. Kolb carries a $2.5 million cap hit compared to Jackson’s $2.25 million. Kolb’s cash takehome in 2013 is $3 million while Jackson can max out at $4.5 million. Cutting Kolb before week 1 saves the team $1.9 million in cap and $1.9 million in cash consideration. The team would take on a $500,000 dead money hit in 2014 if released. Cutting Jackson saves $1.7 million in cap space and cash consideration not taking into account the incentives in the contract. In general the two deals are equal and both players need to be active to see the money come their way. If a third QB enters the mix it is likely that the loser of the preseason competition will be cut as the contracts were both designed to be team friendly, allowing the Bills to cut bait with minimal cash outlay.
Bypassing consideration of the draft is simply not an option. In the last two seasons Jackson has only suited up for 16 games, starting 14 of them and throwing for 3,091 yards. The often injured Kolb has played in 15 games, starting 14 of them, and thrown for 3,124 yards. Jackson’s TD/INT totals were 14/13 and Kolb’s 17/11. Kolb completes around 58% of his passes and Jackson right around 60%. Both players, especially Kolb, have name value but neither is likely going to amount to anything more than a 1 year fill in. Both players have had two teams look elsewhere for answers which is usually not the trait of a quality player. In a QB market where Drew Stanton earns $3 million guaranteed the dollar figures tell you everything you need to know about how the rest of the league values Kolb and Jackson.
Now it may turn out that there is no QB in the draft this year the Bills want to draft but the signing of Kolb wasn’t a sign that the Bills completed the search. All Kolb represented was a $1 million gamble that he might be better than the $500,000 gamble in Jackson for this upcoming season. Drafting a QB makes the decision that much easier to cut the cord on one of the two players come September and at least gives the Bills the upside they need to look at a potentially bright future. With Tom Brady getting older, the Jets in a rebuild, and the Dolphins having a question mark at the QB position, getting the young arm gives the Bills an opportunity to supplant the Patriots in a year or two as Brady nears the end of a dominant career, a similar strategy the Dolphins are using. Neither Kolb nor Jackson gives the Bills that chance, and they know it as evidenced by the contracts they have given the two players.