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Aaron Rodgers Unhappy in Green Bay

The fact that Aaron Rodgers was upset last year with the way the Packers handled the draft was pretty well documented and now it looks as if he is sending out feelers on getting moved in a trade.

These threats from players are often hollow because of the massive costs that can be associated with sitting out/retiring and for Rodgers this should also be the case. Rodgers signed a new contract in 2018 which paid him a $57.5 million signing bonus. There is still $23 million of that money outstanding in his contract and all subject to forfeiture if he were to walk away from the NFL. In addition his $6.8 million roster bonus that was paid this year would also be in jeopardy. Such forfeitures would not begin to trigger until training camp which is a good distance away but would have to be in the mind of Rodgers if he held out for any period of time. There are also now mandatory massive fines in the CBA. Rodgers would lose $50,000 a day if he did not report to camp and held out. There are also minor fines for missing other offseason activities.

These are reasons why the teams often hold all the cards in player disputes like this. They have tremendous financial leverage over the player and know that it is very difficult for the players to actually hold out when the time comes for the real football season to begin.

The Packers, who have all kinds of salary cap issues in 2021, notably did not restructure Rodgers contract for salary cap relief. This is something that they could have done without any renegotiation but the fact that they did not indicates that they want to keep the door open to a trade in the future. That future is in 2022 not 2021.

The cost to trade Rodgers on the cap would be $38.356 million, a loss of $1.1 million in cap room for the year. It would also mean that the team paid Rodgers $6.8 million in 2021 just to trade him. If they delayed a trade until June the cost would be more affordable with “just” $21.152 million dead this year and the balance deferred to next season. Given that everything the Packers have done this offseason would indicate that they want to give it one last shot with Rodgers a trade would pretty much throw their team into chaos.

Trading Rodgers in 2022 would cost $17.204 million on the cap. He has no offseason roster bonuses that year so they would have time to work out a trade and not be required to prepay anything prior to a trade which is what would occur this year if they traded him. Ever since they drafted Jordan Love all signs pointed to a 2022 divorce and even if Rodgers wants to hasten the divorce the Packers hold the leverage to not allow it until next year.

Is Saquon Barkley’s Option Fair for the Player?

The Giants announced they have picked up the $7.217 million fifth year option on running back Saquon Barkley today. I guess that is somewhat noteworthy but not really that interesting in the grand scheme of things, but the number caught my eye as something I had not really paid attention to before. The number illustrates a bit of an oversight in the CBA that the NFL and NFLPA really should aim to fix.

The current CBA does a better job than the prior one in calculating the fifth year option number with four possible tiers depending on playing time and honors. Barkley fits into one of the top tier categories due to his Pro Bowl selection in 2018. Yet his salary cap number will drop from $10.02 million to $7.217 million. That doesn’t seem right.

Barkley’s option number is supposed to be tied to the transition tag which is the average of the top 10 salaries at the position over the past few years. Between the fact that the salary cap crashed this year and he plays the least valuable position in the NFL that number is low. Even the franchise tag would only have been $8.655 million.

However the NFLPA always had protection for their highly compensated players in the event of this by having the tender be worth no less than 120% of their prior year salary. For Barkley that would be $12 million in 2022 based off his 2021 cap number. But instead of a 20% raise, Barkley will take a 28% loss despite reaching one of the top tier levels.

How far off is Barkley’s number from everyone else?  Here are the first round picks at their current option levels and their 2021 cap numbers.

PlayerTeam2021 Cap NumberOption NumberChange
Baker MayfieldBrowns$10,569,130$18,858,00078.4%
Saquon BarkleyGiants$10,025,602$7,217,000-28.0%
Sam DarnoldPanthers$9,794,266*$18,858,00092.5%
Denzel WardBrowns$9,449,886$13,294,00040.7%
Bradley ChubbBroncos$8,847,213$12,716,00043.7%
Quenton NelsonColts$7,771,018$13,754,00077.0%
Josh AllenBills$6,910,056$23,106,000234.4%
Roquan SmithBears$6,049,098$9,735,00060.9%
Mike McGlinchey49ers$6,006,052$10,880,00081.2%
Minkah FitzpatrickSteelers$5,233,381*$10,612,000102.8%
Vita VeaBuccaneers$4,716,803$7,638,00061.9%
Da’Ron PayneFootball Team$4,587,660$8,529,00085.9%
Marcus DavenportSaints$4,372,423$9,553,000118.5%
Tremaine EdmundsBills$4,028,037$12,716,000215.7%
Derwin JamesChargers$3,941,939$9,052,000129.6%
Jaire AlexanderPackers$3,834,325$13,294,000246.7%
Leighton Vander EschCowboys$3,769,750$9,145,000142.6%
Frank RagnowLions$3,748,226$12,657,000237.7%
Billy PriceBengals$3,726,702$10,413,000179.4%
Rashaan EvansTitans$3,683,652$9,735,000164.3%
Isaiah WynnPatriots$3,640,608$10,413,000186.0%
D.J. MoorePanthers$3,554,509$11,116,000212.7%
Hayden HurstFalcons$3,511,465*$5,428,00054.6%
Calvin RidleyFalcons$3,468,415$11,116,000220.5%
Rashaad PennySeahawks$3,425,366$4,523,00032.0%
Terrell EdmundsSteelers$3,403,842$6,753,00098.4%
Taven BryanJaguars$3,231,122$7,638,000136.4%
Mike HughesVikings$3,139,654$9,577,000205.0%
Sony MichelPatriots$3,063,039$4,523,00047.7%
Lamar JacksonRavens$3,013,708$23,106,000666.7%

The average increase was 128% if we take out Barkley’s number and Lamar Jackson’s astronomical raise. No other player is under a 32% raise  and that number is for a player who hasn’t even hit 20% playtime in his first three years.  Barkley is at -28%.

Clearly this is not the intent of the rule and it is one that should be fixed. While this has impacted some players in the past to some extent (Ezekiel Elliott would not have gotten a 20% raise for example) all would get a raise. Most likely this will impact highly drafted running backs but could also impact the occasional safety or defensive tackle who might be drafted near the top.

I think if I were Barkley I would file a grievance about it and see if there is a chance to change the interpretation of the CBA. While the CBA does state that the option shall equal the transition tender that applies in the 4th year of the contract perhaps he can argue that the transition tender in his case should equal a 120% raise which is supposed to supersede the transition number when the transition tag is calculated to be below a players current salary. He probably doesn’t have anything to lose if he does challenge it.

In any event this is one of those minor things that sometimes we don’t really think about until it happens and something the two sides could agree to fix in a side letter, if they have not done so already, so it does not hurt another player in the future.    

Teddy Bridgewater Traded to Denver

The Denver Broncos have made a trade with the Carolina Panthers for QB Teddy Bridgewater, who was going to be replaced by Sam Darnold this season. In order to facilitate the trade it sounds as if Bridgewater will agree to a reduced salary and that the Panthers will eat most of the cost.

With such a low salary and draft compensation I would expect the Broncos to continue to look at QB’s as Schefter mentioned. This is basically the money that you would pay a backup and it should give the Broncos some insurance if Drew Lock fails to improve this offseason. While Bridgewater has limited upside he has proven to be capable of managing a good offense and the Broncos certainly have talent on that side of the football.

For the Panthers this is another in a long list of bad deals over the past few years. They grossly overpaid Bridgewater in free agency at $21 million a year with $33 million guaranteed at signing. This is the type of free agent that is generally a disaster signing and Bridgewater joins the list of names like Nick Foles who cashed in off limited games and desperate franchises.

Bridgewater will end up pocketing $31 million from the Panthers for 15 starts and 4 wins. The team will carry $17 million in dead money this year and his release will create about $6 million in cap space for Carolina in 2022. The reason that Bridgewater agreed to a reduced salary is because he had $10 million of his salary guaranteed this year. The guarantee had offsets so he was locked into a $10 million salary no matter what. By only paying $7 million the Panthers will save $2 million more than if they had cut him and allowed him to sign for the minimum with another team.

Carolina’s depth chart at the QB position takes a hit with the trade and Darnold has never played 16 games in his three year career so a backup could be important. That said there is no way they could justify the cost for Bridgewater. Whether they are content with PJ Walker and Will Grier for next season or look for a cheap veteran remains to be seen. I still think that if the right QB fell in the draft that they could possibly pick someone and maybe they hope that this prevents the Broncos from making a trade ahead of them in the draft.

Further Breaking Down the Top 15 Contracts By Draft Status

Yesterday I looked at where the average top 15 player comes from in the draft and I wanted to expand on that today a little bit. The first thing I looked at this time was just expanding the numbers out to the 2nd round of the draft. The numbers in the chart represent the percentage of top 15 valued contracts that were selected in that range.

Position% Drafted Top 10% Drafted 11-32% Drafted 33-48% Drafted 49-64% Drafted Round 1% Drafted Round 2% Drafted Round 3 to 8

The interesting numbers here is that final column. Cornerback and left tackle basically leave you no opportunity to find a star outside of round 2. The odds are also against you for linebacker, interior d-line, quarterback and edge. The linebacker number surprised me as I usually consider that a position you can draft lower but I guess while you can find good players late the stars are mainly coming in round 2. As you move down the charts you can see how certain positions are still seeing over 50% of the stars come later in the draft.

When looking at some of the draft numbers in round 2 I started to wonder if teams at the end of round 1 don’t approach the draft from an optimal point of view. This was something we noticed in our Draft book where the long term hit rates at the top of round 2 were actually a bit better than the end of round 1 even if the end of round 1 did give slightly better overall results due to less flops.

My thought was that the teams at the end of round 1 are often playoff teams and they sometimes approach the draft different having more of a short term focus where they look for an immediate need compared to the bad teams at the top of round 2 just aiming for talent. So I wanted to break down the hit rates between picks 21 and 32 and compare that with 33 through 44. In addition I looked at the percentage of draft picks at each position between 21 and 32 between 2016 and 2020.

Position% of Picks Used, 21 to 32Top 15 Contracts, 21 to 32Top 15 Contracts, 33 to 44

In looking at the numbers I would say it is pretty clear that receivers are over-drafted at the end of the first round. Teams are investing heavy in the position and the results have been pretty poor both at the end of round 1 and start of round 2. Whatever teams are identifying in these players there are more falling through the cracks than seem to be selected in these ranges. Whether teams might want to adjust their criteria for ranking or simply wait on the position it should be open for change.

Corner and Edge are both right in their approach. They hit rates at the end of round 1 are massive and for Edge in particular the round 2 players are not there so it is a “now or never” kind of position. Running back, right tackle, and center are probably also the correct allocations.

Linebacker has two takeaways for me. One is that like receiver maybe teams need to reconsider what they are looking for with more hits coming in the front end of round two. The other is that with valuable talent seeming available in those next 11 picks that is a position that might be under drafted if teams change their approach. While the impact of the position isn’t great I could see the logic in not picking a receiver, running back, etc… and instead “reaching” for a linebacker.

Safety clearly is a position like that as well. A ton of the top deals come between 21 and 44 yet only 7% of picks are spent on safety. This is another one where if you have a safety on your board and you are contemplating between a safety and receiver or how teams currently rank a linebacker opt for the safety if the goal is finding a star.

Finally 20% of our top tight ends come from the front end of round 2. Now there are tons of tight ends available late in the draft so while I would rarely advocate for a tight end this high maybe it should be more of a consideration over a wide receiver if you must take a shot at upgrading the passing game.

Dolphins Trade Ereck Flowers to Washington

The Miami Dolphins continued their purge of 2020 free agent signings with a trade of Ereck Flowers to Washington in exchange for a swapping of late draft picks. The trade made little sense for Washington when announced given that Flowers was set to earn $9 million in salary until ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared this little nugget:

With Miami picking up all but $3 million of Flowers’ salary for the year the trade makes far more sense for the Football Team than before. At $3 million Flowers will be at the salary of a backup player and likely in a competition for a guard position. Given that the team already has $18 million tied up in franchise player Brandon Scherff it made little sense to spend $27 million on the position but this is basically a no risk signing. The $3 million salary is about equal to what Washington paid Flowers when they signed him in 2019 ($3.25 million) as a free agent so the salary and trade makes complete sense from their perspective.

Miami will have $8 million in dead money for Flowers- $6 million from this years restructure and $2 million remaining from last years signing bonus. Flowers was going to count for $10 million on the cap for the Dolphins so it will be about $2 million in savings this year on the cap and $3 million in cash. This move now gives the Dolphins the extra cap room needed to sign their rookie class this summer.

It has been a very interesting offseason for the Dolphins. The team made three pretty bold signings last year- Flowers at $10 million a year, Shaq Lawson at $10 million a year, and Kyle Van Noy at $12.75 million a year- and all three are now gone with Van Noy being cut and the other two traded. All three were questionable numbers but Miami had cap space to spare and a need to attract players.

That said they frontloaded the Lawson and Van Noy deals and with the money spent to get out of the Flowers deal they blew a ton of cap room on players they ultimately did not need. All told the Dolphins spent $45.525 million for one season apiece on those three players. The players are now playing for $7 million (Van Noy), $3 million (Flowers) and $8 million (Lawson) in 2021 for other teams, about $27.5 million less than what Miami paid them for their one season. They will carry $14.79 million on the cap in dead money for those three players in 2021. That’s a terrible ROI.

On the other hand you have to really like the Dolphins approach to admitting a mistake and finding a way to move on. $6 million on Flowers is better than $9 million for a player you do not want on the team. More often than not teams chase the sunk costs on these mistake signings and wind up spending even more on the cap by hoping things improve in the second year. In the studies we ran in the OTC Free Agency Guide it is usually year one that sees the best results for most players with declining production from that point forward so Miami is ahead of the curve with their strategy. That should be encouraging for Dolphins fans.

Miami was much less aggressive in free agency this year signing only one players to a $10M+ contract and that was Will Fuller on a one year deal which means there is no frontloading or future dead money. So everyone this time around is either on a one year contract or a low dollar figure deal that won’t require any significant future cap charges if things do not work out.

Where the Top 15 Paid Players At Each Position Were Drafted

With all the trade up talk surrounding the draft I wanted to take a quick look at where the top 15 salaried players at every position were drafted. For each position I put together a list that looked at the average round the player was selected, the median round for the group, the average and median pick, and finally the percentage of the top 15 drafted in the top 10 and the percent drafted in the rest of the first round.

PositionAverage RoundMedian RoundAverage PickMedian Pick% Drafted Top 10% Drafted 11-32

Just two positions, corner and left tackle, actually average a pick in the first round. Corner is clearly a 1st round dominant position with 73% of the top players coming from somewhere in round 1 left tackle has 67% in round 1 while the edge rusher is at 60%. The only other position with over 50% coming from the first round is QB where 53% were selected in the first round. QB is dominant for the top 10 with 40% coming from the top 10.

I think the takeaway would be if you are going to trade up into the top 10 it has to be for a QB and no other position. I think if you are going to move up in round 1 or into round 1 there is probably a case to be made that its reasonable to do if the pick is going to be a corner or a left tackle. I don’t think you would put Edge in that group though as the split is very even between top 10 and rest of round 1. That makes it a strong position if you have a top 10 pick but probably not one to move up for. On the other end of the spectrum your tight ends, centers, and right tackles come way later in the draft with average rounds close to 4 and median picks near 120. Generally teams do not draft these players high and Im not sure anything would indicate that there is an advantage to drafting the few who do grade that high since there seems to be good talent throughout. Overall I think most of those positions on the bottom of the chart likely do not even warrant a first round draft pick if there is a player who might not grade as well but is in the remote ballpark and he plays one of those top 7 spots

Should the Falcons Trade Julio Jones?

In this morning’s FMIA Peter King passed along that he would not be surprised if Julio Jones was traded with a note that the trade likely would not be finalized until June 2 which would allow the Falcons some much needed salary cap relief. Since then others have said there has been interest in a trade for Jones around the NFL. The Falcons are currently navigating their way through one of the worst salary cap situations in the NFL not just this year but also next year which should lead a lot of credence to these rumors.

It was really a tale of two very different contracts with Jones. The Falcons negotiated a strong contract in 2015 that averaged $14.25 million per season which was quickly surpassed in the market by inferior players. By 2019 Jones indicated he wanted a new contract despite having two years remaining on the old deal. Whether they misread the Falcons misread the market or were really just trying to make a star wide receiver happy they ended up signing him to a massive $22 million per year extension which has stood out as a bit of an outlier for the last two years.

Jones received $36 million in prorated money and a $27.6 million raise over the original terms of his 2015 contract that ran through 2020. The Falcons guaranteed $64 million dollars with full guarantees that would virtually run through the 2021 season. The contract made Jones un-cuttable through 2021- it would leave the Falcons with a $40.55 million cap charge- and virtually untradeable given their cap situation- his $23.25 million in dead money would be the same as keeping him on the team.

That leaves the June 2 as the only real option for the Falcons. By delaying  a trade until that time Atlanta can split that $23.25 million across two seasons. They would be charged $7.75 million on the cap this year, saving the team $15.3 million in cap space, and $15.5 million next year, which is about $3.7 million in savings for 2022.

When I discussed the Falcons on the podcast this offseason my thought was that the Falcons could not really support both Jones and Matt Ryan on the team for much longer. When the Falcons were desperate for cap savings this year it was notable that they restructured Ryan’s deal despite the future cap pain that would be incurred but they did not touch the contracts of Jones or defensive lineman Grady Jarrett. Not touching those contracts would always leave the team with a chance of a trade this year with an ability to create cap space in the summer if they did not trade the players.

While some may argue that given all the dead money in Jones’ deal that it makes more sense to hold onto him especially if no compensation will come until 2022, I think it makes far more sense to move on if they find the right package. Jones will be 32 this year and is coming off his worst season since 2013 as he dealt with injuries. His name value is still incredibly high and the contract so affordable for another team that they should be able to get a decent return. The fact that they would likely delay draft compensation until 2022 should only make the package stronger as teams will look at this as a “no payment, all reward” trade. You can’t guarantee any of that next year.

While Jones is certainly a legend in Atlanta they need to turn the page on this roster in the next year. Calvin Ridley is coming off a near 1,400 yard season as he took over the top duties in the passing game and is just 27. He will be looking for a lucrative extension and if you have to choose between the two players you need to choose the younger player especially if he grows with a young QB in the future.

The Falcons are also a team that does not have the cap space needed to sign their rookie class this year. They will be in the ballpark of $6 million over after rookie signings. That does not even account for the need for more money come September when the cap expands to the full roster and practice squad. Basically the team is $8-9 million in the hole right now. If the Falcons move Jones it fixes the issue for this year and helps them retain more flexibility for 2022. Restructuring his deal or that of another veteran does opposite for their long term health. Deferring any rookie costs to 2022 is also a help along with Jones’ split cap charges.

As for a team looking to acquire Jones it is very affordable. It is $15.3 million this year and $11.513 million in each of the next two years. Just $17.3 million is guaranteed so if things went really bad a team could walk away but at an average of $12.8 million a year even a diminished Jones would be reasonable value at that cost.

One of the lessons that I think we should be learning with some of these contracts is that the extension with two years remaining on a contract , especially for an older player or one at a position that breaks down, is often a mistake. If the Falcons trade Jones they will have paid him that extra $27.6 million just to complete his prior contract and not have him play a down for the team in the “new” contract years. Teams really need to weigh out the pros and cons of these mega deals and probably should really put in place policies of no negotiations until one year out for all players. It just makes it easier and avoids situations like this one.