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NFL Raises Salary Cap Floor to $180 Million

The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to raise the salary cap floor, previously set at $175 million, to $180 million. This rumor had been circulating for about a week and our salary cap estimates on the site already took this raise into account. The salary cap in 2020 was $198.2 million and this would be the steepest drop in NFL history if it happened.

As for what triggered the raise who knows. Its such a minor bump that perhaps it was done simply to bring some added clarity to the salary cap situations for some teams. It may have simply been the NFL showing more willingness to borrow from the future or the NFLPA conceding a little on benefits.

The NFL is looking to move to 17 games this year which requires them to negotiate a new media contract if they want to have 17 games. That could be a standalone deal or extending one of their current deals I believe the way that works is if a new deal is negotiated they will recalculate the salary cap for any new money that comes into circulation from the TV contracts. If the league doesnt think that they will have a deal in place before they set the cap, maybe this is just taking into account a minimum expectation for a rise in rights fees which may or may not be in place before March 17. Considering how minor of a bump this is to come so late in the game maybe this is the reason for it.

Teams do need some clarity on the salary cap before they can proceed with certain moves with player contracts so any guidance helps. Usually teams have clarity in December so this is very different.

I have read a lot of speculation on this impacting budgets but at this point owners should know the impact Covid had and will have advised accordingly. The bigger issue is how do GMs fit it all into the salary cap.

Not only do they need to know this years cap but likely have some guidance on next years cap as well. If they know that the cap next year would jump back to $220 million this becomes a much easier situation to navigate. If next year is expected to be $190 million than all teams are doing is pushing problems from 2021 into 2022. Once the league informs people of payback schedules for the revenue losses and the TV deals are finalized will we likely have a normal league year.

Thoughts on Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers

There has been a lot of speculation about Roethlisberger’s status with the Steelers and that speculation has gotten louder following Kevin Colbert’s comments today that did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement for the future Hall of Fame QB. I think there are some misperceptions about the situation so I figured I would share are some thoughts on Ben and his future with the team.

Part of the problem in the Roethlisberger discussion likely comes from Roethlisberger himself. Following a disappointing exit from the playoffs.

The key word here is restructure which is very different than not caring about pay. In a restructure a team simply takes a players salary, subtracts out from it the minimum paragraph 5 salary, and converts the remaining amount to a signing bonus. This concept is likely one of the biggest areas that people get wrong all the time when discussing contracts.

Players never take a pay cut in a restructure. That is why they are usually more than happy to restructure and in most cases it is a right that the teams have at their disposal based on the initial contract. If anything the restructure is beneficial to the player in the long term. Its a pure salary cap thing.

The notion of a pay cut has to do with the massive salary cap number that Roethlisberger has. His $41.25 million salary cap number is the highest in the NFL, but most of that is made up of sunk costs. Of that $41.25 million, $22.25 million was already paid to him and would stick with the Steelers if he was cut. His actual salary of $19 million is tied for 11th in the NFL. It is the same salary made by Alex Smith this year and just a bit more than Teddy Bridgewater.

The reality is there is no lower he can really go in any realistic fashion. The drop from Bridgewater’s 15th ranked $18 million salary to number 16 is nearly $6 million to Taysom Hill, a backup in New Orleans. That is followed by NFL luminaries such as Marcus Mariota, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum. The only notable player on a salary that low is Deshaun Watson, whose salary is so low only because he received a massive signing bonus last year and then his salary explodes up next year.

Looking back at the players who were Ben’s contemporaries there is also no justification. Philip Rivers completed his contract with the Chargers in 2020 and never had to modify his contract. Eli Manning played out his entire contract with the Giants, earning $17 million as a backup in his final season. Roethlisberger’s status with his franchise is certainly as solid as those two players and I am sure believes he should be treated the same.

As far as the market for the older player it depends on what you think of the player. Roethlisberger threw for 3,800 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a playoff team. Rivers was the same age when he left the Chargers and was around 4,600 with 22 TDs and 20 picks. Drew Brees was a few years older and missed 5 games while on a pace for around 4,300 yards. Tom Brady was 4,000, 24 and 8 in his last year with New England. All three signed for $25 million. That is probably the fair market number if you think he is a starter.

The only older name I can really think of that took a pay cut was Peyton Manning who dropped his salary from $19 to $15 million with a chance to earn that $4 million back in incentives.

If you think Ben is done then the salary is much lower. Cam Newton signed a contract with a max value of $7.5 million. Andy Dalton had a max value of $7 million. Joe Flacco had a max value under $5 million. The base pay of these deals was much lower than these max numbers.

But if you are the Steelers are you really going to go to your HOF’er and tell him he is worth $7 million or less? If you are doing that you are basically telling him to leave the team because you dont think he is a starter in the NFL anymore.

There are ways for the Steelers to create more cap room with the existing salary than just by a pure pay cut, but it would require the Steelers to either use void years or to put together a market extension for Roethlisberger. The Steelers are not a team that uses void years which is the only reason I could see the extension being a possibility. His salary would remain the same as it currently is and you would prorate the balance over the max of five years.

That would drop his salary cap number from $41.25 million to $26.91 million and leave the team with $14.34 million in dead money next year if they use the void concept or he retires. If they did a legit extension I would guess that you would be looking at a $25.585 million cap charge in 2022.

On a straight pay cut there would be no money in 2022 and his cap charge would be $22.25 million plus whatever his salary is. So at least $29.25 million if he played for $7 million and $37.25 million if he played for $15 million. It wouldn’t make sense for them to say they need a pay cut and void years for cap relief since he can point to getting to nearly just as low a number without a pay cut.

In hindsight the Steelers probably made two mistakes with the Roethlisbeger contract. The first mistake was only doing a two year rather than a four year contract extension. I guess this was an easy way to make him a $34 million QB while figuring that they could go to him in 2022 and offer a $25 million contract. Just for cap purposes alone it probably made more sense to work more on the extension as a $30 million per year longer term contract. It would have made this deal easier to work with now.

The second was the restructure to the contract last year. While at the time Covid was at it’s infancy and teams could not have expected this type of revenue decrease, Roethlisberger was coming off a big injury and they were putting a ton of dead money and/or a big cap number into this year. The better approach would have probably been to have considered modernizing their approach and using the void years last year. Has they done that his cap figure this year would have been around $30 million and there would have been room to get his numbers down even further or potentially use the June 1. The restructure though was probably necessary given their cap issues.

I think the closest situation to Ben is Brees last year. Brees looked as if father time was catching up to him but it was also clear that the Saints had no options other than Brees. The Steelers have no QB without Ben. The players on the market are names like Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Newton, Flacco, Jacoby Brissett, Jameis Winston, etc…The dead money from Roethlisberger plus the salary from one of these players is likely leaving them with around $27 million in cap charges, the same number that they can bring him down to this year with an extension or void years.

Brees came back as the best chance for the Saints for $25 million and in a game of chicken Roethlisberger for $19 million would seem to make more sense than the alternatives who are available.

Brees and Saints Renegotiate Contract

Per a league source, Drew Brees and the Saints have agreed to a contract renegotiation that will reduce Brees’ salary cap charge by nearly $24 million and help the Saints navigate a very messy salary cap situation in 2021.

The move is something I suggested a few months ago when discussing the Saints as a way to keep Brees’ salary cap number low while he decides if he wants to return to play football or retire. Brees original contract had a $36.15 million salary cap charge if he was on the team and a $22.65 million cap charge if he retired.

By bringing his salary down to the minimum the Saints will be able to hold his salary cap charge at $12.225 million while Brees ultimately decides his own future. If he retires the Saints can then hold him on the roster until June 1 and then place him on the retired list on June 2nd, allowing them to split his $22.65 million in dead money across two years- $11.15 million in 2021 and $11.5 million in 2022.

The Saints are currently estimated to be about $78 million over the salary cap with plenty of cuts and restructures to go.

Stafford and Goff Swap Teams in Mega Trade

The first big trade of the season has already been agreed upon and it is a pretty big one

This is a pretty interesting trade that is more NBA style than NFL style. Because the Rams do not have a first round pick this year the actual 1st round draft compensation won’t take place until 2022 and 2023 and the Goff inclusion feels a bit like when you add in a player just to make salaries offset.

For the Rams to make this trade they had to find a trade partner for Goff and since trades cant be executed until the start of free agency well it pretty much had to be in this trade to make it happen. The Rams will take on $22.2 million in dead money for Goff which is a cap savings of $12.75 million from his current salary cap number. They will take on $20 million in salary from Stafford this year so they will have a net negative of $7.25 million on the cap.

I would expect the Rams to restructure Stafford’s contract as soon as the trade is official (or get the two sides for cap purposes to agree to a joint restructure of both using guaranteed roster bonuses that come in after the trade) by prorating at a minimum his $10 million roster bonus. If they want to go the full void year route they can reduce Stafford’s cap number to $4.86 million, a $15.14 million savings. This would put the Rams overall in a $7.89 million better position than with Goff. Because Stafford is so cheap doing that would only make his cap number in 2022 $26.8 million. This seems like a no brainer move to do and one the Rams could not do with Goff due their uncertainty with him in the future. For 2022 its a major win for the Rams with a $23M salary for Stafford compared to a $26 million salary for Goff. The salary cap differential is about $10 million

One thing that I should point out here is that the Rams likely could not have made this trade had they restructured Goff to the full extent last year which they wisely did not do, restructuring just enough salary to get by rather than going all in. It was a smart play to keep their options open.

The Rams have now all but gutted their opportunity to grab young talent via the top of the draft. In 2017 they traded their first round pick as part of a package to pick Goff in 2016. In 2018 they traded their first round pick to the Patriots for Brandin Cooks. In 2019 they traded out of the 31st pick and into the 2nd round. They sent their 2020 and 2021 picks to the Jaguars for Jalen Ramsey and will send their 2022 and 2023 picks to Detroit.

I love the aggression but this is a hard way to build a team. The Rams are probably better than anyone in the NFL, though, at trading away some bad contracts and at least getting something in return so they will gain more mid round picks through the years. In that respect they usually do well in the getting picks in the 2nd and 3rd round and have access to top 100 talent, just not top 32 talent. I am sure they looked at this as an upgrade on offense that can help them get a bit more vertical and make better use of their receivers while also putting them in a better cap position overall.

I guess it is possible they extend Stafford but given how much they paid Goff they may want to take a wait and see approach on that. Stafford may prefer that as well as the market is only going to increase and he is young enough to take full advantage of it.

Overall this is a must win now trade for the Rams. I have my reservations about Stafford but the Rams had reached whatever peak they could reach with Goff. They were not going to get better they were just going to go in circles of being a 9 or 10 win kind of team that probably had a peak level of 2nd round of the playoffs. But their cost benefit with Stafford ends by 2023 whether due to extension, franchise tag or having to go in a new direction. If somehow the team has a bad season the way Houston did this year its a disaster. That situation is highly unlikely but has to be part of the analysis. It is worth noting that Stafford hasnt been very successful in his NFL career and while some of that is playing for a bad franchise he certainly has not overcome situations the way elite QB’s have in other spots.

For the Lions this is a bit of a gamble. They will carry $19 million in dead money for Stafford which opens up $14 million on the cap. They bring in $28.15 million in cap charges for Goff, so this is a net negative of $14.15 million on the cap (assuming the Lions would have brought in a Taylor type as starter lets call it a $9M net negative). As I write this out that really makes no sense at all especially given the future numbers here so maybe the Rams are going to pick up some of the cost of the Goff contract. Either that or they really love Goff.

Goff already has $15.5 million guaranteed in 2022 and another $10 million is guaranteed for injury. That vests to full in early 2022. Essentially that locks the Lions into a $26.15 million cap hit in 2022 unless they can flip Goff in another trade. Stafford would have cost $23 million.

The Lions can also restructure the Goff deal for cap relief and create up to $20.325 million in cap space without adding in void years. That makes this trade a positive on the cap by about $6 million. It would limit the ability to trade Goff the next year and bring his cap hit into the $33 million range in 2022. If they plan on Goff as starter for at least two years this makes sense. If they do not then I’m not sure if it would be wise to do. Perhaps a smaller restructure.

I do like the future number 1s for a few reasons even though some people will discount them. The Lions already have the 7th pick in this years draft so they already have a top pick. Odds are any trade partner would have landed in the mid 20s. Even if the Lions made an attempt to go from 7 to 2 that pick may be looked at as less valuable than a future 1. The cost for the Eagles to do that trade was the 7th pick, a 3rd round pick, a 4th round pick and a future 1st and 2nd rounder. A trade like this I think gives the Lions better ammunition this year if they were looking to make that kind of move. They also may just look to pick a QB this year at 7 and then figure out how to fill in the blanks in drafts that they will get to scout in a much more traditional manner.

There is also future value in this. The thing I mentioned above about the lack of first round picks can give an eye toward the future. Stafford, for all the hype in his career, has only been to the playoffs three times in his career and his teams have finished with 6 wins or less four times since 2012. Since 2012 the Lions have had just three winning seasons. That should give the Lions two chances to earn a much better pick in the future compared to one in the mid 20s this year and then the chance that the Rams stumble in 2021. This can also be a path to a QB and its more likely given Goff’s contract that this is the way they go rather than looking to draft QB this year as well.

So for building for the future I like this type of draft compensation. It gives the new front office and coaching staff a chance to get their feet wet and get a better feel for what they need rather than going for the immediate rebuild and putting all their eggs in one basket so to speak. It gives the team a year to see if Goff can also revitalize his career giving the team relatively cheap access to a starting QB for four years if this works out.

If the Rams did not pick up any of the salary in this move then I think for this trade to work for Detroit they need to have Goff be a productive starter for the team. My feeling is that Stafford had a good enough contract and was young enough to get two 1st round picks or a 1 and a 2. Maybe Im off base on that but if thats the expectation then there is no need to take on the Goff salary to get the same return unless you really expect something out of Goff.

Goff hasnt been atrocious he just has been under a microscope because of the contract so maybe they do see this as getting your cake and eating it too with two first rounders and a 27 year old former number 1 pick that you have under reasonable cost control for four seasons. If Goff can be productive this is a terrific trade.

The Lions dont currently have any receivers under contract of note so I am curious as to how they now look at Kenny Golladay. Golladay should be a tag candidate that I had assumed they would trade but maybe not now. Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are also free agents. You would think with Goff on the team at least one of those top two has to be back next year.

Exploring the Costs of Trading Star QB’s in 2021

With the rumor mill in full swing on quarterback trades and cuts I thought this would be a good time to go over the actual costs of moving players since there is so much confusion around the dollars and cents of these moves both for the teams moving the players and the teams potentially obtaining the players.

Before getting into the numbers I wanted to talk about the aspect of a June 1 trade. This is consistently coming up because of the easier to digest salary cap numbers but let’s just get that one out of the way to start.  No team is agreeing in principle to a trade in March and not executing the trade until June. While the offseason programs may again be Covid impacted the fact is the player would miss the offseason and there is always the chance something happens between March and June that could impact it. It would also require the teams looking to trade the players carry them at full cap charge until June 2 which does nothing to help their salary cap. It also requires in many cases renegotiating contracts to move bonuses out of the way.  So unless there is an injury that forces a team to trade late I don’t see this as an option for anyone so I am not going to include those scenarios. So with that out of the way let’s look at the players in the rumor mill.

Deshaun Watson, Texans

Watson wants out from Houston and has been very vocal about it. He costs just $15.94 million on the salary cap this year and trading him would increase that number to $21.6 million a loss of $5.66 million. There are some complex ways that Houston might be able to reduce that (you can listen to this past weeks podcast for that) but it’s highly unlikely that happens. The only way they make this trade is if the relationship is beyond repair. Watson’s contract would be desirable for any team in the NFL. The cap charges for the acquiring team would be $10.54 million, $35 million, $37 million, $32 million, and $32 million. That works out to a five year, $146.54 million contract, an average of $29.308 million a year. The team can restructure that deal for more equal cap hits if they want. Almost every team in the NFL would take that deal but Houston shouldn’t want to give that up.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers

The Packers drafted Jordan Love in 2020 which seemed to signal that they think the end is coming for Rodgers. Considering he will be 38 in 2021 and 39 in 2022 that is probably a reasonable assumption. Rodgers played great this season and should win the MVP award but was clearly frustrated following this week’s loss in the playoffs which started the trade speculation. Rodgers will cost Green Bay $37.202 million on the cap if he is on the team and $31.556 million if traded. Considering the team just invested a ton of money in their left tackle and will likely invest a ton of money in their wide receiver, it would make no sense for Green Bay to not have at least one more year with Rodgers and that group. Rodgers situation reminds me a little of Tom Brady’s at the end of his run in New England when after years of not complaining about his contract he began to feel slighted by the organization and became more of an issue. The Patriots added incentives into the contract to make the sides happy and something like that could work here, especially since the Packers will likely wind up restructuring this contract for cap relief even though they will want to maintain a trade window for 2022 and 2023.

A team acquiring Rodgers would take on cap hits of $22.72 million, $25.5 million, and $25.5 million over the next three years. This is pretty much right in line with the salaries for older quarterbacks- Brees, Brady, and Rivers have all been on $25 million a year deals- so it’s fair value. A team really enamored with Rodgers might offer more money to extend the term but I’m not sure they could justify the five year value for the team jumping far above these numbers. This move makes little sense for Green Bay the way I see it.

Jared Goff, Rams

Goff has fallen far enough the last two years to where he is going to be criticized because of his contract value as much as his play. The Rams GM would not openly commit to him, but the numbers here only play out for the Rams if they can find a trade partner. Goff counts $34.95 million on the salary cap in 2021 and cutting him would cost the Rams an obscene $65.2 million($49.8M as a June 1 designation) while cutting him a check for $43 million so let’s not talk about cuts because they cut Todd Gurley. This is a completely different animal when it comes to salary. Trading Goff, however, would cost $22.2 million if executed before the 2nd day of the league year, and $24.7 million if executed after that date which is reasonable if they have another QB they can acquire.

The question is would anyone want him? Assuming the trade is made at the earliest date the cost for Goff would be $28.15 million in 2021, $26.15 million in 2022, $25.65 million in 2023, and $26.65 million in 2024. The team would certainly be on the hook for his entire 2021 salary and $15.5 million of his 2022 salary with the balance of his 2022 salary becoming guaranteed in early 2022. Essentially this is a 4 year, $26.65 million per year contract with $54.3 million guaranteed. That’s not terrible but may be looked at as too pricey especially since he would likely be going from the Rams to a team just like the Rams- a decent team without access to a better QB.   So I’m not sure who would see the upside unless the Rams picked up some of the cost or included a draft pick. Unless the Rams can get someone like Watson or Rodgers in a trade that seems counter-productive. You cant rule it out but I would lean more toward him remaining.

Carson Wentz, Eagles

I’ve gone over Wentz multiple times before so I won’t spend a lot of time on it. Wentz costs the Eagles $34.67 million on the cap in 2021 and $33.8 million if traded before the 3rd day of the league year and $43.8 million if traded after that date. The cost to cut Wentz is $59.22 million prior to June 1 and $34.67 million if designated a June 1 cut. Wentz earns a $15 million guarantee for 2022 if he is on the roster on the 3rd day of the league year as well.  A team acquiring Wentz would carry cap hits of $25.4 million, $22 million, $25 million, and $26 million so four years for and average of $24.6 million a year with $47.4 million guaranteed (Yes its less if the Eagles pay that $10 million but that would not makes sense for them from a cap standpoint). So this is a better contract to take on than the Goff contract but there are probably more questions with Wentz than Goff. Goff you know is serviceable. The Wentz we saw last year was not. A trade makes some sense for Philadelphia but they would be best off restructuring the deal for cap relief and seeing if he can be traded the following season or coached back to a higher level of play.

Kirk Cousins, Vikings

This was a hot topic at the start of the season but died down when Cousins began to play better. Cousins count’s for $31 million on the Vikings cap this year and $20 million if traded, a savings of $11 million. Cutting would cost the team $41 million so that isn’t really an option and I cant imagine one that the Vikings would consider at all. The reason for Minnesota to consider a trade this year is because the cost to the acquiring team would be $21 million this year and $35 million next year. $56 million over two years is an affordable NFL contract, even with the amount being fully guaranteed. However, $35 million in 2022 is not an affordable deal for a team unless Cousins really ups his stock. This is probably a longshot as the Vikings would have to embrace a tear down if they did this. Like with Goff it would also require finding a team in a similar position as Minnesota where they have been ok but not great with Cousins. Teams like San Francisco, Chicago, and Indianapolis I guess would have some interest but it’s a low ceiling kind of move.

Matt Ryan, Falcons

The hiring of Arthur Smith should pretty much put an end to this speculation if it wasn’t dead already. Ryan’s contract really doesn’t work in a trade for Atlanta who is hard up against the salary cap this year. Ryan counts for $40.9 million on the salary cap this year and even if traded would cost the Falcons $44.4 million, more than his current cap number. There is a path to make that work but it would require 10 more dominoes to fall and basically going into a full rebuild but with Julio Jones on the roster. Teams would love to have him with salaries of $23 million, $23.75 million, and $28 million but this doesn’t work for the Falcons in my opinion. It might in 2022 but we can talk about that next year.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers

Jimmy G will cost the 49ers $26.9 million on the salary cap in 2021 and would cost the team just $2.8 million if cut. Garoppolo has missed 23 games in the last three years with injuries and has a lower ceiling than players like Goff and Cousins. I’m only mentioning him here because people bring his name up as a trade chip for the 49ers but he would cost a team $25.5 million in 2021. Imagine if a player like Garoppolo was a free agent off of all these injuries. Would a team sign him to a $25.5 million a year contract?  No chance. He also has a no trade but Im sure he would waive that if someone paid him this full salary. San Francisco should have looked at the veterans last year and while I understand why they didn’t given the Super Bowl appearance they should upgrade this year, but would wind up cutting their current QB in the process, not trading him.  

Matt Stafford, Lions

Stafford is the only player on this list that will be a lock to be traded given that the Lions and he have already agreed to part ways. He and Ryan were often lumped together this season as trade candidates but Stafford’s contract was more amenable to a trade. Stafford counts for $33 million on the Lions salary cap and will cost $19 million in dead money when traded or cut, a savings of $14 million. Some people have speculated that the Lions putting it out there that they are done with him will kill his trade value but I don’t see that. Stafford is just 33 years old and you are going to trade for a contract that will cost just $20 million in 2021 and $23 million in 2022. As a matter of perspective Kirk Cousins just signed an extension for two years that costs $66 million, so it would cost a team far more in salary to sign him as a free agent than to trade for him. Odds are he will get a three year extension but with the $46 million locked in, even a three year, $105 million extension would work out to be $30.2 million a season.

The Lions do have a deadline for a trade, as Stafford has a $10 million roster bonus due on the 5th day of the league year. That is another reason to put him out there early as this is a situation where you want to agree to a trade in the next two to three weeks and then execute at the start of free agency. It’s better to let teams like the Colts know they can come get Stafford before they really get into their offseason planning while waiting to find out if the Lions are or are not keeping Stafford. I would expect this to be finalized in a few weeks.