There are times when people can take a very short sighted approach to running the salary cap of a football team. Often we only think in the now and for fans like myself that is pretty much expected. I mean who wants to sit there and look at a huge cap charge for someone on your roster that is underperforming or even worse not even there to play. But for those in charge of each teams salary cap you should only take a short sighted approach if your team has no other options because of the cap position you are currently in. Otherwise you always need to have an eye on the future and maximize your payroll flexibility to improve the team in future years.
Multiple outlets reported today that the Buffalo Bills are not certain about bringing back QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and many have criticized the option because it does little to help the Bills today. The primary reason people point at is the fact that, if released, Fitzpatrick will still occupy $10 million in cap room on the teams roster. He currently occupies $10.45 million so once you factor in a replacement player the net cap gain is 0. It almost seems like a pointless move.
Managing the cap effectively means looking into the future to see why this is a move that should be made now unless you think Ryan Fitzpatrick gives you a real opportunity to make the playoffs in 2013. As you look further into the cap sheets for Fitzpatrick and you get to 2014 you see a more reasonable dead money charge of $7 million which represents a cap saving for the Bills of $3.55 million in 2014. Sounds great and most will look at that and say Fitzpatrick gets one more chance to prove himself and then you move on next season because it make sense from a cap perspective to gain space in 2014 rather than take a neutral position in 2013. But is that really wise?
If you let Fitzpatrick play out 2013 because you fear the dead money associated with him how does that improve your team in the future? What happens to your team in 2014? You take an unnecessary $7 million dollar dead money charge for Fitzpatrick. So its not just the cost this year of keeping Fitzpatrick that we have to look at when managing the teams salary cap. If you decide that this cap charge is too high to release him you are essentially stating that you are willing to use $17.45 million in cap space on Ryan Fitzpatrick over the next two years. That is insane given his level of performance over his career. Release him now and it only costs the Bills $10.4 million, that’s a big cap savings for the team. Now it might be a different story if the Bills were in a bad cap position, but being between $19-20 million in cap room they have enough space to sign their rookie class, key free agents, and maybe more. On top of that his release gives the team $10 million in real cash to spend by dumping him now. It is a no-brainer to strongly consider this option.
Now the other option for the Bills is to attempt to get Fitzpatrick to agree to a significant paycut. None of Fitzpatrick’s $7.5 million dollar cash salary is guaranteed and we all know that no team in the league outside of the Bills would consider paying Fitzpatrick that much, even in a down QB market. Mike Vick, who has significantly more cache than Fitzpatrick, received a 1 year deal worth $7.5 million plus incentives. Tarvaris Jackson received a $2.25 million dollar contract with incentives. A few years ago Matt Moore signed a contract worth $2.5 million a year plus incentives. Fitzpatricks original deal with the Bills was around $2.6 million a year plus incentives.
You can see where this should be headed. The “high end” backup QB market is in the ballpark of $2.5-$3 million a season plus incentives and Fitzpatrick won’t fetch any more than that on the open market. If he wants to stay in Buffalo that is the number the Bills need to work with and have him accept to compete for the job this year. Otherwise he needs to be released. It’s the only way to appropriately manage the salary cap and prepare for the future.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.