Salary Cap Set at $143.28M…Franchise Tags Announced

The NFL officially set the salary cap at $143.28 million for the 2015 League Year, a growth of slightly more than $10 million from 2014. Unlike the 2014 salary cap jump this one was somewhat expected so I don’t believe it has the same impact as last year’s number, but it is certainly a good thing for the players and teams in the league. The NFL also announced the finalized adjustements for the 2014 season, but those numbers had already been used in our salary cap pages for some time.

With the cap set the NFL also set the official franchise and transition tag numbers, which were necessary to allow teams to use their tags by the 4PM deadline today. Officially six players were tagged. Those players were

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants- $14,813,000

Justin Houston, LB, Chiefs- $13,195,000

Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys- $12,823,000

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos- $12,823,000

Charles Clay, TE, Dolphins- $7,071,000 (transition tag)

Stephen Gostowski, K, Patriots- $4,560,000

The only surprise on the list was Clay who is a decent player, but never someone considered to be in the upper echelon of the position. A $7 million salary ranks second in the NFL among tight ends and 7th in salary cap hits.

Players who were rumored to be tagged that were not included Ndmukong Suh (whose tag number was so high it’s hard to believe it was a rumor), Jerry Hughes, Julius Thomas, DeMarco Murray, Jeremy Maclin, and Devin McCourty. In some cases that is an indication that the tag was considered too high for the value of the player, but it does not mean that the teams will not continue to work on an extension.

Please note that franchise tenders are not contracts until signed. Players remain free agents and are free to negotiate with any team in the NFL. However the tags allow the team to match any offer sheet signed by the player. In addition a team with a franchise player that fails to match a contract will receive two first round picks as compensation. Because of that any movement usually requires a trade since two first round picks is considered too large a price to pay for any player. This is not the case for the transition tag where they only have the opportunity to match.

Teams have until 4PM on March 10 to tender their exclusive and restricted free agents. The RFA tenders should be $3.352M (1st round), $2.356 (2nd round), and $1.542M (ROFR/Original Round). Expect those tenders to begin trickling in this week.

We’ll be constantly updating our salary cap estimates, free agency pages, and everything else as we get information. Feel free to contact us with anything you see in error or additional information that we do not have. Our goal is to keep that as accurate as possible for anyone who uses OTC.

Official Salary Cap Space Update

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While we keep our own estimates of salary cap space on the website for the current and future seasons, the numbers are not official. We do our best to track the cap but with injury settlements, grievances, and all kinds of behind the scenes action we can’t be perfect (though our numbers are proving to be pretty good) . That said we were able to obtain the official cap numbers for the league via a source which are accurate through the transactions on September 6 and with teams considering adding veterans in week 2 this is a good time to get an idea on what teams can spend.

There are a few moves of note that were made over the weekend that will impact these numbers, namely the Dolphins extension of Koa Misi as well as the official release of a few players on Injured reserve by a number of teams. I believe the Panthers had two players released on Saturday that would certainly alter their numbers and teams began signing players again on Monday and suspensions were also lifted for some players. Many of the weekends moves(not the Misi extension) are already reflected in our cap estimates which makes it difficult to compare side by side, but most figures were within a few hundred thousand.

There are three teams with under $1 million in cap room- the Saints, Vikings, and Giants. The Giants are the most interesting of the group because they are in desperate need for a running back but only have $494,000 in cap room to spend. The players they are looking at would all be minimum salary benefit players (555K base cap hit prorated at 522K for 16 weeks) and they would replace someone earning either 480K or 405K so they have the cap room to execute the move but just barely. Any further injuries could significantly compromise the Giants salary cap to the point where they either need to play with 52 players or further restructure contracts for cap relief. Once S Will Hill and DT Markus Kuhn come off of the suspension list and PUP list respectively  the Giants will gain some cap space as they will replace two players off the current active roster, however that process does not begin until week 5, so they need to be injury free the next two games.

Not surprisingly the Browns have the most cap room in the NFL at $24 million with the Bills and Dolphins both coming in just under $20 million. All told six teams have over $10 million left to spend while 20 teams have less than $5 million, which could make for a sluggish environment for in season contract extensions unless the player is already playing under a very high cap charge.

On a cash basis we were informed that eight teams do not currently meet the yearly team cash spending allotment. No penalties occur for that as you have a four year period to spend 89% of the total unadjusted cap, but those are teams that will need to be spenders in the future. Of those eight teams only four were significantly under (Raiders, Jaguars, Redskins, and Panthers). Leaguewide spending is about 99% of the cap. The NFL has to spend 95%, again over a 4 year period, so they should be comfortably ahead in 2013.

Here are the official cap figures as of September 6:

Browns

$24.13

Dolphins

$19.54

Bills

$19.41

Jaguars

$17.98

Eagles

$17.21

Packers

$10.88

Bengals

$8.26

Patriots

$7.89

Buccaneers

$7.84

Titans

$7.72

Panthers

$7.69

Broncos

$7.68

Falcons

$4.87

Cardinals

$4.06

Chargers

$4.00

Raiders

$3.99

Seahawks

$3.67

Bears

$3.66

Jets

$3.41

Lions

$3.16

Texans

$2.91

Colts

$2.65

Chiefs

$2.56

49ers

$2.17

Ravens

$1.97

Cowboys

$1.89

Redskins

$1.85

Steelers

$1.52

Vikings

$1.42

Saints

$0.94

Rams

$0.78

Giants

$0.49

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Contract Year Series, Geno Atkins

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Geno Atkins #97 DT, Cincinnati Bengals

When discussing NFL Draft steals, a name that is rising up the list, like a rocket, is Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Tackle- Geno Atkins. The knock on Atkins prior to the 2010 Draft was he is simply too small to play as an interior lineman in the NFL. Well the past three years have obliterated the experts’ opinion of him. From a production standpoint, Pro Football Focus has graded Atkins as the highest ranking player on the Bengals defense for each of his first three seasons. With 12.5 sacks, 54 tackles, and 49 QB hurries, his 2012 season ranks with the best players -defense or offense- since PFF began ranking players in 2008.

Let’s analyse Geno Atkins’ market value. The highest paid NFL DT is the 3rd overall pick from the same draft, Tampa Bay Bucanneers’ Gerald McCoy. McCoy has recorded a total of 9.0 sacks and 69 tackles in his entire 3-year career. This stat line has cost the Bucaneers $12.7M APY and considering his Pro Bowl nomination in 2012 they should be happy with his deal. There are two other DT’s that have crossed the $12M APY threshold- Haloti Ngata and Ndamukong Suh. After these three players, there is a large break to the next level between $8M-$8.5M range of Randy Starks, Henry Melton and Vince Wilfork.

McCoy will command at least $12M and possibly upwards of $13.5 if he puts together another big year. Time is actually on the side of the Bengals in this negotiation as Atkins will be hard pressed to repeat his amazing 2012 season. This is also one of the few situations that the franchise tag will be a cost savings as well as a time filler for the Bengals. I looks as though Atkins won’t hit the open market until after the 2014 season.

Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $67.5 million

Contract Year Series, Matt Ryan

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Matt Ryan #2 QB, Atlanta Falcons

by Paul Carrozzo

On July 9th, Matthew Stafford signed a 5 year $76.5 million contract with the Detroit Lions.  That signing along with the rumors leading up to the signing put Matt Ryan back on the mind. After watching the Baltimore Ravens gamble and lose with Joe Flacco, the question on most fans minds is how soon Matt Ryan’s contract will be extended by the Falcons.  Ryan is in the final year of his rookie contract (6 year $67.5 million) and is in position to really break the bank on his next contract.

We must remember where the Falcon franchise was in 2008 when they drafted Ryan 3rd overall.  The Mike Vick disaster had the club searching for a new face that it could be proud.  Matt Ryan was the man that not only pulled the Falcons out of the depths of public outcry, but it can be argued that the Falcons are now completely distanced from the incident because of Ryan.  How can something as unprecedented as this be valued?  It really is up to the Falcon brass to weigh in, but my assumption is that the Falcons will not go into the season without extending Ryan.

Oddly enough, it is the contract that Vick signed with the Eagles in 2011 that most closely resembles Ryan’s present value.  Add that skill valuation with the goodwill he has created in Atlanta, and it is a recipe for a Top 5 QB contract.

Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $86 million

Contract Year Series, Jairus Byrd

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Jairus Byrd #31 FS, Buffalo Bills

by Paul Carrozzo

When Barry Bonds was in the midst of his steroid stupor, MLB pitchers strategically began walking him for the opportunity to face the next hitter in the San Francisco Giants lineup.  The logic was simple enough for even the most casual baseball fan to understand.  The risk of pitching to Bonds had exceeded to value of offering the Giants a free base.  It became the equivalent of handing money to the bully as a preemptive strike as to not go through the hassle of him attempting to take it with force.

A very similar function is happening in the NFL but with much less fanfare.  We all remember Deion Sanders, in his prime, taking half the field away from the offense.  Teams decided to just not throw to Deion’s side of the field.  To a lesser extent, (although listening to the New York media you would think an even greater) Darrell Revis has had a similar effect on offensive play calling in recent years.  What the casual fan has not realized is a Free Safety in Buffalo that has built a reputation to stay away from.  Jairus Byrd was the 42nd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and afforded the Bills the ability to trade their 2008 FS, Ko Simpson, a week before the ’09 season started.  The son of a former 2-time Pro Bowler Gil Byrd, Jairus impacted the league almost immediately.

Even though Byrd had a solid first three seasons, 2012 was by far his best.  Already having a reputation to avoid throwing at him, the QBs in the NFL almost completely shut off the spiget.  According to Pro Football Focus, Jairus Byrd played 1047 snaps for the Bills last year and was thrown at 21 times.  Need to repeat that… twenty one times!  By comparison Eric Weddle (the best market comparison and 2nd highest paid FS in the NFL) was thrown at 34 times allowing 2 touchdowns against 3 interceptions.  Byrd did not allow an interception and picked off 5 passes.  Almost one quarter of the time teams threw at Byrd, he converted the opportunity into a turnover.  No wonder teams have decided to penalty box throwing at him.

Analysis of Byrd’s future contract value starts and ends with Weddle.  Even though Dashon Goldson just signed the highest contract for FS last year, it was a terrible value for the Bucanneers as they will soon find out that he can’t hold a flame to Weddle or Byrd..  As we can see Byrd minimally should be in the ballpark of Weddle’s record breaking 5 year $40mm signed just prior to the 2011 season.  Based upon his consistency and the progressively more respect that he has gained from the league, my argument is that he should exceed that contract.  The Bills decided to use their franchise tag on Byrd this season, which will make him a 27 year old free agent after this season.

Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $43mm

Contract Year Series, Hakeem Nicks

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Hakeem Nicks #88 WR, New York Giants

by Paul Carrozzo

When analyzing contract possibilities, we must remember that there is an ultimate bottom line to war that is waged between the player and the franchise that presently employs him. The franchise stands to benefit from the player’s heightened urgency through increased production on the field that given year. The player’s motivations are aligned with the organization as a good year means a bigger payday. Many times we see a team over pay for past performances similar to Joe Flacco’s blockbuster deal signed after he brought the Ravens a Super Bowl. “Past performance is no guarantee of future results” is the disclaimer on almost every investment prospectus. You would think that the men that own $1B+ franchises would be well versed in the concept and hence heed the warning. Or maybe the exact reason they are billionaires is because they have thrown caution to the wind in prior endeavors.

Hakeem Nicks came to the Giants as the 29th pick of the 2009 draft. The 6’1″ 210 lbs Nicks plays bigger than his frame would suggest. He has been a target of criticism for is inability to stay on the field, but can be dominant when in games. The Giants recently committed $46mm to another of their receivers, Victor Cruz, which will only increase the scrutiny from the New York media. Rueben Randle is an electrifying deep threat that will also be pushing Nicks for targets. When healthy, Giants quarterback, Eli Manning, likes to exploit the mismatches that Nicks creates on the outside.

Competing for WR free agent money in the offseason will be Kenny Britt of the Tennessee Titans and Jeremy Maclin of the Philadelphia Eagles. If Nicks can put up a full season of solid production I can see him in the getting paid as a Top 10 WR. If the Giants choose to franchise him after the season, he will cost $11mm for one year. Even if he has a terrible season, given his age and talent, he will command a minimum of $6mm APY.

Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $47.5mm

Contract Year Series, Jay Cutler

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Jay Cutler #6 QB, Chicago Bears

by Paul Carrozzo

Marc Trestman has been brought in as the new head coach of the Chicago Bears this off-season. Although Trestman has never been the head man at this level, his resume is impressive especially in the area of quarterback improvement. Only Bernie Kosar, in his injury/ heavy drinking part of his career, declined under Trestman’s tutelage. Whether Steve Young, Scott Mitchell, Jake Plummer, Rich Gannon or their CFL cohort Anthony Calvillo, each player’s productivity spiked when playing for him.

The Bears offensive line struggles were well documented in 2012. The additions of Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson in free agency along with the 20th pick in the 2013 draft, Kyle Long, significantly improved a line that allowed Cutler to be sacked 38 times last year. Slauson is known as a much better pass blocker than run blocker and the Bears were comfortable with the trade off in an effort to keep Cutler upright. Bushrod comes over from New Orleans where he has spent much of his time protecting Drew Brees.

The skill positions will see an upgrade with Alshon Jeffery looking to take a giant leap forward in his sophomore season. Pairing Jeffery with the Brandon Marshall and the addition of Martellus Bennett at TE places Culter as the recipient of an upgraded crop of receivers. Matt Forte will be another year removed from knee surgery and will also be a threat in the new Trestman passing offense.

The surrounding cast is set for Cutler to showcase his skills this year. For the Bears, forcing Cutler to play out the final year of his contract makes absolute sense, considering no one really knows how he will fit in Trestman’s offense. Maybe more importantly is the Bears salary cap situation which will almost force a liquidation of the Bears roster at the conclusion of the 2013 season. When a big market franchise needs to rebuild, they tend to re-sign fan favorites. Cutler, like Trestman, rubs people the wrong way and is not at the top of the fan’s list. One thing that would vault him there is a Super Bowl victory which has eluded this franchise since another pair of eccentric personalities ran the show.

Estimated New Contract: 4 years, $58mm