The Broncos Options with Russell Wilson

Following another poor performance by the Broncos offense I had a number of questions pop up regarding any possible outs in Russell Wilson’s recent $245 million contract extension and what would be the realistic timetable for moving on from Wilson. Much like Aaron Rodgers’ contract the deal is a bit complicated but there is far less chance of retirement or trade in this situation.

Wilson’s contract was very aggressive from the start. Wilson’s contract fully guaranteed him $124 million at signing, the highest level of any contract in the NFL other than Deshaun Watson’s and about $21 million more than Kyler Murray’s $103 million guaranteed at signing. There are more guarantees that he can unlock based on his roster status on certain dates in the offseason. These dates are all early in the league year and very friendly to Wilson.

2023 Salary Cap Scenarios

Wilson’s contract is similar to Aaron Rodgers’ in that he has guaranteed Paragraph 5 salaries which are backed up by option bonuses in his contract. If the option is exercised the P5 reduces accordingly.  If the option is not exercised than the P5 stays at the full amount. Since the expectation is that the option will be picked up the cap numbers we show illustrate the cap charges based on the option being included.

Wilson’s 2023 salary is technically $28 million and will reduce to $8 million when and if the option is exercised. The exercise date of this option is very early in the 2023 league year. Even if the Broncos were considering his release they would pick up the option just for cap purposes.

Things would be more complicated for 2024. Here we technically have a salary of $39 million for the season, all of which is guaranteed. $22 million of this would be moved into the prorated category early in 2024 if the team exercises the option. However, the option date is not until early in the 2024 league year so if Wilson were released in 2023 it would all accelerate onto the salary cap.

So without modifying the contract at all here would be the dead money associated with a release next offseason.

CategoryDead
2022 Bonus$40,000,000
2023 Guarantee$28,000,000
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000
Total Dead Money$107,000,000

Obviously, no team is going to take a $107 million cap charge so any team considering this would instead use a post June 1 designation. There are multiple ways to do that. The first would be to not exercise the option and just June 1 him. Here would be the associated cap charges in 2023 and 2024 if they did that:

Category2023 Dead2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$30,000,000
2023 Guarantee$28,000,000$0
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$77,000,000$30,000,000

That reduces the dead money to $77 million in 2023 and allows the team to defer $30 million to 2024.

The next option would be to exercise the option bonus and then designate him a post June 1 release. While there are some rules about renegotiating contracts and post June 1 designations I do believe that exercising the option would be allowed. If I am wrong, then this scenario does not exist.

Category2023 Dead2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$30,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$16,000,000
2023 Guarantee$8,000,000$0
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$61,000,000$46,000,000

This can get the Broncos to a $61M/$46M split which is still massive. Just to put that in perspective the Broncos are estimated to have around $21M in cap room next year and this type of cut would reduce it by close to $40M (Wilson’s 2023 cap charge is currently just $22M).

In order to make the numbers work more efficiently I would assume that the Broncos would need to move up his 2024 option into 2022 by converting the salary to a signing bonus which I imagine they would have the right to do since most teams have auto conversion clauses. The reason they would need to do this in 2022 is that you lose the post June 1 designation if you modify the contract after the season.  

The Broncos have about $11M in cap room to work with this year so they could, if they wanted to, convert almost all of Wilson’s 2024 salary. Let’s say they converted $35 million of it to a 2022 bonus. The new breakdown of the contract from a cap perspective would be as follows assuming they exercise the 2023 option.

Category2023 Dead2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$30,000,000
2022 Bonus 2$7,000,000$21,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$16,000,000
2023 Guarantee$8,000,000$0
2024 Guarantee$4,000,000$0
2022 Carryover Loss$7,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$40,000,000$67,000,000

This would move the split to the more reasonable $40M/$67M category. Please note that the $40M in dead money is not the actual dead money but the effective impact on the cap. Technically the dead money would be $33 million but the team would lose $7 million in carryover which effectively makes the dead money $40 million. That would still be really hard to work on the cap but in theory it would be manageable. They could further reduce these numbers by also manipulating the 2023 P5 into a 2022 signing bonus as well but it would be a minimal change and they would lose almost all ability to recover any money if Wilson signed with another team assuming he has P5 salary offsets.

Still while this may be feasible on a piece of paper, paying a player $67 million in salary guarantees to go away would pretty much be the death blow for a general manager. While the timing of the Wilson contract extension was always a terrible one I’m not sure how much the new ownership really pays attention to that. $67 million to go away on the other hand….

With all that in mind it is hard to see a scenario where Wilson leaves the team in 2023. If anything, perhaps they trade for a young QB who has already been declared a bust (see Wilson, Zach) and hope they can find something there to compete with Wilson.

2024 Salary Cap Scenarios

The real decision point for the Broncos will come in 2024. If Wilson is on the roster on the 5th day of the league year in 2024 then his 2025 salary will also be fully guaranteed and that salary is large- $37 million. Currently that is only protected for injury. This is why bringing in some competition for Wilson in 2023 makes sense because if Wilson struggles again the team should bench him if only to protect themselves from an injury kicking in the $37 million in salary protection in 2025 as well as $4 million in 2026 injury protection.  

Here would be the costs associated with a regular release of Wilson in 2024.

Category2024 Dead
2022 Bonus$30,000,000
2023 Bonus$16,000,000
2024 Guarantee$39,000,000
Total Dead Money$85,000,000

Clearly this is a big number so again we would be looking at a post June 1 designation. Again you should have the ability to pick up the option for 2024 and then use the June 1 before the 2025 guarantee kicks in. If I am wrong about using the June 1 after the option is exercised they would simply move that option up into 2023 with a bonus conversion to essentially get the same impact here.

Category2024 Dead2025 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$20,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$12,000,000
2024 Guarantee$17,000,000$0
2024 Bonus$4,400,000$17,600,000
Total Dead Money$35,400,000$49,600,000

This gets the team a nice split across the two seasons and prevents the 2025 guarantee from kicking in. They could manipulate these numbers a bit more to change the split but this at least seems like a realistic option and they would likely recover a few million in 2024 salary if Wilson signed elsewhere.

2025 Salary Cap Scenarios

If Wilson makes it past the vesting date for his 2025 guarantees (the 5th day of free agency in 2024) to kick in then the numbers get worse for release due to that 2025 salary now being guaranteed.

Category2025 Dead
2022 Bonus$20,000,000
2023 Bonus$12,000,000
2024 Bonus$17,600,000
2025 Guarantee$37,000,000
Total Dead Money$86,600,000

Even with a June 1 split it would be ugly.

Category2025 Dead2026 Dead
2022 Bonus$10,000,000$10,000,000
2023 Bonus$4,000,000$8,000,000
2024 Bonus$4,400,000$13,200,000
2025 Guarantee$37,000,000$0
Total Dead Money$55,400,000$31,200,000

Both scenarios are worse than the 2024 release which is why I would look at Wilson’s 2023 season as being the determining factor. If he returns to playing around a Pro Bowl level you can risk the 2025 guarantee by bringing him back in 2024. If he plays in 2023 the way he has in 2022 there is no way you can justify opting into another $37 million in guarantees because of how ugly it would look to cut him in 2024.

One final thing. These numbers would all change if Wilson were traded, but I did not include any trade scenarios since I can not think of any logical reason a team would trade for him in 2023 or 2024.

The Best Free Agent Signings of 2022

With every team having played at least eight games I wanted to look back at free agency and look at how some of the signings have fared. For this post we will look at who, thus far, looks to be the best signings of the year (my selections for worst can be viewed here). Many of these signings were pretty under the radar when they happened which goes to show how unpredictable free agency is. In order to qualify, a player had to switch teams this year in free agency, so a free agent opting to return to his former team would not count (i.e. Geno Smith) nor would a contract extension (i.e. Maxx Crosby). 

10. Von Miller, Bills- 6 Years, $120M, $45M guaranteed

I was a little hesitant to include Miller because his contract is massive and there is a great deal of guaranteed money still to come for an older player, but Miller has certainly impacted the Bills defense and given them a consistent presence for their pass rush. Miller is on pace for 14 sacks and while there have been better value signings I think Miller has hit most of the expectations of the Bills so far. Probably not a contract for the long haul that works out but short term it has been a winner.

9. Mack Hollins, Raiders- 1 Year, $2M, $700k guaranteed

Hollins is a standout special teams player and paid for that role but has developed into a vital piece of the Raiders offense. Hollins is playing 93% of the Raiders offensive snaps this year and is on pace for an 800 yard season. He has outplayed the far more expensive Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller when they have been healthy and has likely set himself up for a big raise in 2023 if he continues to establish himself as a number two receiver.

8. Ethan Pocic, Browns- 1 Year, $1.2M, $1M guaranteed

Many teams subscribe to the belief that center is a position that can get good production from lower cost players and that has certainly been the case for the Browns and Pocic, who the team signed in late March to compete for the job. He has been outstanding- PFF grades him second among all centers and we have him valued as the third best center on the season. His stock should increase significantly in next years free agent group, but for this year it was incredible value for the Browns.

7. Jacoby Brissett, Browns- 1 Years, $4.7M, $4.5M guaranteed

The Browns had no idea how many games Brissett would be needed for when they made this signing but they did a good job in targeting him. Brissett is earning millions less than what he earned as a Colt and even a few dollars less than his run with the Dolphins and he has had the best season of his career, averaging over 230 yards per game, a QBR of 61.5, and a PFF passer grade over 70.  While the Browns are only 3-5 he isn’t the reason for their record and is giving the team great value at his salary.

6. Steven Nelson, Texans- 2 Years, $9M, $4.5M guaranteed

While the Texans are slowly fading into oblivion Nelson is quietly having a Pro Bowl level season allowing around 10 yards per reception on a 60% reception rate. You can easily make the case that he has been a top 15 player at the position and the Texans have some terrific cost certainty with Nelson also under contract for the 2023 league year.

5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chiefs- 1 Year, $3.8M, $2.5M guaranteed

The Chiefs were interested in Smith-Schuster in 2021 and he turned them down to return to Pittsburgh but the Chiefs remained interested and took a chance this year and it has really paid off for the team so far. Smith-Schuster is second to only Travis Kelce in targets, receptions and yards and has shown a much better connection with Patrick Mahomes than any of their other free agents or draft selections. He is on pace for well over 1,000 yards  which will reduce the “value” in the contract (odds are he will earn at least $4.5 million in incentives) but this has been a major pickup for the powerful Chiefs offense.

4. Uchenna Nwosu, Seahawks- 2 Years, $19.1M, $10.6M guaranteed

The Seahawks envisioned an expanding role for Nwosu when they signed him away from the Chargers and he has already more than earned his contract for the year. Nwosu is playing 80% of the Seahawks defensive snaps and has produced 35 pressures, 8 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. He has just about matched his career high in every possible statistical category and he still has 8 games left in the season.

3. James Bradberry, Eagles- 1 Year, $7.3M, $7.3M guaranteed

The Giants tried to trade Bradberry this offseason and found no takers, allowing the Eagles to swoop in and take a one year flier on Bradberry to see if he could recapture what once made him one of the hottest free agent cornerbacks a few years ago. Bradberry has dominated since becoming an Eagle this year. His 38.4 passer rating against is the third best in the NFL and we have him valued at nearly $18M in production. This is arguably the best non-QB value free agent in the NFL with the only negative being that he is under contract for one season and will likely command a major raise next year.

2. Za’Darius Smith, Vikings- 3 Years, $42M, $11.5M guaranteed

Smith has been an outstanding pickup for the Vikings. His 46 pressures lead the NFL and he has 8.5 sacks on the year. I’m not sure anyone saw this coming as he entered free agency off injury and was making the turn to 30 this year. We have him providing the Vikings with $25M in value with his performance this year which is basically top of the line production for an edge rusher. The only reason I didn’t put him at number 1 is simply because of all the incentives in this contract. While nobody is going to complain about him earning them, his effective cap charge next year will be over $22M following adjustments and LTBE valuations on the cap.

1. D.J. Reed, Jets- 3 Years, $33M, $21M guaranteed

While all of the attention on the Jets defensive turnaround has been focused on the great play of 1st rounder Sauce Gardner, it has been the addition of Reed that has prevented the opposition from taking advantage of the matchups across from Gardner. Reed has been fantastic this year allowing under 9 yards per reception and building on his breakout season in Seattle last year and has yet to miss a snap. Reed is the 18th highest paid corner in the NFL and is ranked 11th in coverage by PFF and carries the 5th highest OTC CB valuation at just under $20 million. An incredible bargain paying immediate dividends for the Jets.

The Worst Free Agent Signings of 2022

With every team having played at least eight games I wanted to look back at free agency and look at how some of the signings have fared. For this post we will look at who, thus far, looks to be the worst signings of the year (don’t worry we will have a best of list soon enough). Many of these looked like good signings when made and illustrate how difficult free agency can be to project even when you have years and years of footage of the player. To qualify you had to switch teams this year in free agency, so a free agent opting to return to his former team would not count (i.e. Jameis Winston) nor would a contract extension (i.e. Aaron Rodgers).  The year is still young and some of these players will have plenty of time to turn things around.

10. C.J. Uzomah, Jets- 3 Years, $24M, $15M guaranteed

Most things have gone right for the Jets this year, but they missed on Uzomah who was targeted to be a receiver in the offense and has instead simply played the role of an expensive, average blocker. Uzomah had a career year with the Bengals in 2021, playing over 70% of the snaps and snagging 49 receptions. This year he is playing under 50% of the offensive snaps and may not reach 20 receptions. Uzomah has $7 million guaranteed next year and a cap hit of $10.3 million.

9. Russell Gage, Buccaneers- 3 Years, $30M, $20M guaranteed

I guess the Bucs envisioned Gage as the 3rd big weapon in a big passing attack, but instead he is the third target in a pretty anemic offense. Gage is on pace for under 500 yards on the year and seems like an afterthought on offense more often than not. His $10M 2023 salary is guaranteed for injury with $5 million of it already fully guaranteed. Gage’s cap charge next season is $12.16 million, a big number for a team with cap troubles and perhaps no QB.

8. Chase Edmonds, Dolphins- 2 Years, $12.1M, $6.1M guaranteed

How bad was this addition?  The Dolphins traded him away as part of the Bradley Chubb deal after paying out nearly $5 million of his $6.1 million salary. Prior to the trade Edmonds was averaging a paltry 2.9 yards per attempt and had just 120 yards for the season. The team just misjudged everything about this one from the contract total down to the fit with the offense. 

7. D.J. Chark, Lions- 1 Year, $10M, $10M guaranteed

Everyone understood this signing when it happened- it was a one year gamble on a player who had over 1,000 yards with the Jaguars a few years ago and an injury last season kept him from being a possible marquee free agent- but that doesn’t mean it wound up a good one. Chark has again nursed injuries, only appearing in 3 games this year. In those three games he has yet to reach the 100 yard mark for the entire season. He is currently on IR and will likely sign elsewhere for a fraction of this price in 2023.

6. Julio Jones, Buccaneers- 1 Year, $6M, $6M guaranteed

What the Buccaneers saw in Jones last year with the Titans that made them think signing him made sense is anyone’s guess, but Jones has again struggled with injuries and has largely been ineffective with a total of 8 receptions for 125 yards. Of those 125 yards, 69 came in week 1. Perhaps he can re-find the fountain of youth if they make the playoffs. Jones will have $3.5M in dead money next year when his contract voids.

5. Folorunso Fatukasi, Jaguars- 3 Years, $30M, $20M guaranteed

Fatukasi left the Jets to join the Jaguars in free agency, but it has been a rough change so far for the defensive lineman. Fatukasi is grading under 60 on the year by Pro Football Focus. He has been credited with 15 tackles, none for loss, a big drop from last year where he had 46 tackles, 5 for loss with the Jets. You would expect these numbers from a sub $3 million player. He has provided similar pass rush numbers to last season but the Jaguars are looking for more overall consistency. He has a $12.8M cap figure next season and his salary is guaranteed.

4. Allen Robinson, Rams- 3 Years, $46.5M, $32.1M guaranteed

The Rams took a shot on the talented Robinson and assumed his disappointing 2021 season was due to unhappiness with the Bears and the talent he was playing with Chicago. Unfortunately, things have not changed much this year. Robinson is on pace for just 530 yards and hasn’t shown much chemistry with Matt Stafford. His 31 YPG would be a career low for any season in which he appeared in more than 1 game. Finding a trade partner may be difficult but this has the feeling of one of those Rams contracts that they admit the mistake on and move on despite the cost associated with it.

3. Cedrick Wilson, Dolphins- 3 Years, $22M, $12.8M guaranteed

Wilson had the few breakout games in the second half of last season which caused the Dolphins to aggressively go after Wilson in free agency. Unfortunately for Miami, Wilson has more or less gone back to matching his earlier years in Dallas with just 6 receptions for 63 yards on the year. He is only logging 20% playing time in Miami and it is looking less and less likely that this changes. Miami’s passing attack has been on fire with the addition of Tyreek Hill so they aren’t sweating this miss too much, but it was a clear miss. $5 million of Wilson’s salary in 2023 is guaranteed which probably makes him a strong “pay and trade” candidate next offseason.

2. Chandler Jones, Raiders- 3 Years, $51M, $32M guaranteed

The Raiders expected big production from Jones and it hasn’t happened so far. In 8 games Jones has just 0.5 sacks and 1 tackle for loss while his 17 pressures rank just 57th among edge defenders. In contrast Von Miller, who was the other available veteran pass rusher, has 7 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 29 pressures. Jones’ cap number jumps to $19.4 million in 2023 so the disappointing Raiders are going to need him to recapture some of that Arizona magic over the next year and a half to justify this decision.

1. J.C. Jackson, Chargers- 5 Years, $82.5M, $40M guaranteed

While many questioned how Jackson would perform outside of New England, I don’t think anyone expected the drop off that occurred this year. Jackson was graded by PFF at a lowly 28.7 on the season and our valuation of Jackson is under the minimum for the year, basically putting him in the category of players fighting to stick it out on the roster each week.  Jackson, whose big claim to fame was big interception totals with the Patriots, failed to snag one this year and was pulled midway through a game this season before suffering an injury that will force him to miss the rest of the year. The Chargers frontloaded his contract this year ($28M as a first year salary) in hopes that he would be a big part of the defense but they will have to wait until next season to see if he can make the contract look like a better decision.   

Looking Ahead to the Saints 2023 Salary Cap

Every year we discuss the Saints future salary cap and every year it is met with a response that the “cap doesn’t matter and it is easy to find a way”, but that excuse holds more merit when the team is a playoff team and you are living for today rather than tomorrow. This year it is different for the Saints. Last year the team won 9 games and nearly made the playoffs but now the team is staring at a 2-5 record and is on pace to be one of the worst teams in the NFL.

The Saints typical strategy to manage the salary cap is to “kick the can” on all of their players. This year it was an absurd amount of can kicking. As of last week the Saints had committed to $190.8 million in prorated money for the 2022 season. That is $21.2 million more than the next closest team (Rams) and $86.5 million more than the NFL average.

Of that $190 million, $122.3 million was in the form of restructure bonuses- salary conversions of existing player contracts for salary cap relief. That was $66 million more than the Buccaneers who ranked number two in the NFL. The average conversion for the other 31 teams in the NFL was just $17.2 million with a median of about $16 million.

The Saints have 21 veteran players at or near the minimum salary this year who also have prorated money in their contract, three more than any other team and much more than the NFL average of 9. All but three eligible players on the roster have a base salary under $2 million. The players over the $2 million number include PJ Williams, who had a contract that for cap purposes had a salary that was treated as if it was the minimum for cap purposes and the other was kicker Wil Lutz.  The team was in such a tight cap position that they recently converted the remaining salary of RFA WR Deonte Hardy but since they waited five weeks his prorated salary may be over $2 million for the year. Everyone else has a salary about as low as allowed by NFL rules. Overall the Saints 2022 roster has 56% of their cap commitments tied up in prorated money, tops in the NFL with the Packers a close second. This is about 20% points more than the league average.

Looking ahead to the 2023 season the Saints situation looks bleak. The team currently has 34 players under contract who currently account for $258.9M in salary cap charges. They have four player contracts that will void, leaving the team with $21.2M in salary cap charges if not extended. They have about $4.5 million in dead money on the books as well. While they do not have to bring the roster to 51 players in the offseason that will cost at least $12.75 million on the cap if they do. 

If you add that all up it would bring the team’s top 51 to about $297M in cap commitments. While the salary cap is an unknown next year that number is, by far, the worst in the NFL. It would put them around $70 million over a $225 million salary cap and $60 million over if they just leave the roster with the existing players.  At an average age next year of 27.6 it is also the oldest group of players in the NFL.

Here is what the salary cap looks like for the Saints next season

Name2023 Salary CapDead Money if CutCap Saved if Cut
Michael Thomas$28,263,000$25,452,000$2,811,000
Cameron Jordan$25,737,250$23,486,500$2,250,750
Marshon Lattimore$22,464,317$43,006,471($20,542,154)
Ryan Ramczyk$21,441,321$39,965,287($18,523,966)
Andrus Peat$18,371,000$16,984,000$1,387,000
Alvin Kamara$16,093,000$15,372,000$721,000
Jameis Winston$15,600,000$11,200,000$4,400,000
Taysom Hill$13,925,000$23,775,000($9,850,000)
Demario Davis$13,276,000$13,104,000$172,000
Erik McCoy$12,680,000$17,480,000($4,800,000)
David Onyemata*$10,192,555$10,192,555$0
Tyrann Mathieu$8,900,000$14,600,000($5,700,000)
Marcus Maye$8,600,000$11,950,000($3,350,000)
Marcus Davenport*$7,626,941$7,626,941$0
Wil Lutz$5,620,000$1,920,000$3,700,000
Chris Olave$4,379,971$15,767,895($11,387,924)
Bradley Roby$4,145,475$2,412,426$1,733,049
Carl Granderson$4,140,000$160,000$3,980,000
Cesar Ruiz$4,034,290$4,034,290$0
James Hurst$3,761,000$2,044,000$1,717,000
Payton Turner$3,415,837$3,234,450$181,387
Tre’Quan Smith$3,400,000$1,500,000$1,900,000
Nick Vannett$3,365,000$765,000$2,600,000
Trevor Penning$3,214,390$11,571,804($8,357,414)
Tanoh Kpassagnon*$1,992,000$1,992,000$0
Alontae Taylor$1,637,431$2,847,321($1,209,890)
Pete Werner$1,550,368$747,156$803,212
Zack Baun$1,506,762$264,762$1,242,000
Paulson Adebo$1,375,912$514,548$861,364
Zach Wood$1,345,000$175,000$1,170,000
Adam Trautman$1,302,473$208,073$1,094,400
Landon Young$982,445$84,890$897,555
Dylan Soehner$876,668$6,668$870,000
Smoke Monday$876,666$13,334$863,332
Lewis Kidd$871,667$3,334$868,333
Rashid Shaheed$870,000$0$870,000
D’Marco Jackson$829,229$237,687$591,542

*cap figure assumes contract voids

Once the Saints reach 51 players it should be noted that every release will also see a player earning at least $750,000 take the cut player’s place on the roster. With that in mind only seven players on the roster would have a net savings over $1 million. Not one player would be over $4 million in savings. If you cut every single player with positive net savings on the roster you would only create $21 million in net cap space, a far cry from the $70 million necessary to function. It more or less leaves them in a position where doubling down is going to be necessary to some extent. So what options does the team have?

The first thing that New Orleans has to do is to be realistic about their team moving forward. They have not been that the last two years, especially this past offseason. Barring an incredible turnaround over the next few weeks the Saints are going to have to make decisions about the future of certain players on the roster by December rather than waiting until next year.

The NFL gives teams the ability to designate two players per year as post June 1 cuts.  What that means is you can defer the acceleration of dead money to the following year but it comes with a catch- you have to hold the player’s salary cap charge at the stated amount until June 1. That does not do you any good when you have players with cap hits over $20 million. You also can not use the post June 1 designation if you renegotiate the players contract after the season, but you can do it before the end of the regular season.

This was something I had discussed a long time ago and the Eagles wound up exploiting that loophole a few years ago by making future roster decisions in December and essentially asking the player’s agents to help them out with the salary cap. There was a time when most agents probably would have flat out denied such requests but nowadays the stronger relationships with teams go a long way, so rather than putting a team on their heels they work on helping them salvage their salary cap.

The Saints should choose two players to do that with this season. The first candidate has to be Michael Thomas. Thomas has $25.4 million in dead money if cut or traded and a cap figure over $28 million. In the last three years, Thomas has played in just 10 games and he has had a somewhat rocky relationship with the team as well. The Saints could go to him and promise him his freedom for 2023 in March as long as he redoes his contract.

To rework his contract they would remove all offseason bonuses and bring his salary down to the minimum of $1.165 million. To ensure his release the contract would contain a dummy salary in 2025 of some crazy amount that would be guaranteed if he were on the roster on the 2nd day of the 2023 league year. In that scenario his cap figure would be reduced from $28M to $12.978 million, a savings of $15.285 million. On June 2nd his cap would drop to $11.813 million and they would defer the rest of the $28 million in dead money to 2024. This is a significantly better option than taking $25 million dead for him in 2023 or restructuring the deal again and keeping their fingers crossed that he can be healthy and play at the level he used to play at.

The team would then have to decide who would be the second player to do that with. The one that makes the most financial sense is Cam Jordan, but I would put the more logical candidate to be Andrus Peat. Peat’s re-signing with the Saints in 2020 is one they probably wish they could have back. They seemed prepared to let him walk until the price got low enough to where they brought him back. Peat was already showing durability concerns at that stage and he only played in 6 games last season. He has played in 5 game this year and has been a low grade players for at least the last two years.

Peat’s cap charge next year is $18.371 million. By doing the same trick as above they can lower it to $7.7 million and reduce the dead money from $16.9 to $6.54 million next year with the balance going to 2024. Between those two players the team will open up $25.95 million putting the Saints in a far more manageable position. But remember this has to be done this year to make it work for next year.

The next player the team will need to make a decision on will be Jordan. Jordan will be 34 next season and entering the final year of his contract. I can’t see a scenario where they release him unless he asks to be released. If he were to retire they could do the same trick as above and that can be done after the regular season (the Saints did this with Drew Brees a few years ago). Most likely he will finish his career in New Orleans so I would just expect this to be a kick the can contract. The max savings here on a straight conversion would be $11.068 million. While you are dumping more dead money to the future I would assume that 2024 would be a retirement and they would split that now between 2024 and 2025. Certainly not ideal but they are not in good shape.  This gets the Saints to about $23 million over the cap.

There would really be no reason to move on from Ryan Ramczyk who is only 27. The max conversion here would net them $10.336 million in salary cap savings in 2023 about $13 million away from being good to go (and maybe even good if the cap really spikes). This is a conversion that should be fine for now and the future.

Marshon Lattimore in an interesting discussion. He is also only 27 and the team is financially invested in him for 2023 but I do think a trade market could exist. That said they would lose $6 million in cap space so they would need to hold off on trading him until after June if they wanted to make cap space. His cap number is $22.4 million so they would have to get very creative to do that. The smart play for them might be to see about converting his guaranteed salary to a guaranteed option due late in the summer. That would allow them to drop his cap charge down by $10.736 million and still keep a trade to be a possibility since the option would only be the responsibility of New Orleans if Latimore is on the team after the date the option is due.

Erik McCoy has a $10 million roster bonus due in the offseason. That would seem to be a pretty easy decision to just convert to a prorated bonus and spread it out. That saves the team $8 million. That move puts the Saints under our theoretical cap of $225 million assuming that they do not sign any futures deals. I have seen teams in cap trouble avoid maxing out the roster (the Ravens I know did it in the past and I think the Falcons may have as well) but to be on the safe side I think they would need to make another $10 million or so in cap space.

Personally I don’t see the need for a kicker with a $5.6 million hit on the team. Cutting him saves $3.7 million. Lutz is in the final year of his contract. Tight end Nick Vannett did a strange restructure this past year and I believe gave up guaranteed money to stick with the team. Unless I’m mistaken they would pick up $2.6 million with his release as only a small portion of his 2023 salary is protected. The team more or less opted early into Carl Granderson as a RFA in 2023 and they probably should opt out now, saving $3.98 million in the process. I could see them wanting to hold onto him because of his age but they need to have a bigger role designed for him if that is the case.

If they do all of this it should give them the cushion they need to at least work with the roster a bit. They could cut Jameis Winston but with no QB under contract it may be better to just threaten the cut and bring his salary back down to around $5 million. The Saints likely screwed themselves over this year when it came to Winston due their pursuit of Deshaun Watson. When they failed to land Watson they went back to Winston, signing him a two year $28 million contract. The prior two years as a free agent Winston had signed for the league minimum to backup Brees and $5.5 million the next year to compete for the starting job. He was hurt after a few games and there was no real reason to bump the salary by so much other than they had no other option to go to at the time. Winston has been hurt again this year so they should aim to get it down by a good $7-$8 million with a chance for him to make it up in incentives.

I would not touch the contracts of Tyrann Mathieu, Alvin Kamara, or Marcus Maye. While they could create cap room with each player they are all more valuable in a trade or as a planned release. Mathieu’s salary drops to just $7 million in 2023 which should make him attractive to teams. If traded, the Saints would open up $1.3 million and avoid paying that $7 million salary so the gain over a two year period is pretty strong. There are no offseason bonuses to consider so they could trade him at any point before the trade deadline and save room for the future.

Trading Maye would open up $3.8 million though I think teams would hedge on his contract. He has a roster bonus due in March so they cant just hold onto him the way they would Mathieu to wait for a trade. I don’t see the future here to convert his bonus as that just seems pointless if you can be cap compliant with the other moves.

Finally trading Kamara saves $1.7 million if traded prior to his roster bonus being due and about $700K if traded after. While Kamara is not looked at the same way as Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers just received four draft picks from a desperate team for him. Even if I have to eat the $1 million I would rather hope for a trade rather than prorating the whole contract. If a trade is impossible at his salary (and it may be) they probably should work on reducing his salary from $11 million to $5 or $6 million or just move on. He has $4 million that becomes guaranteed early in free agency which makes cutting him hard once that is earned. Cutting him prior to that would be neutral on the cap but they would avoid $10 of the $11 million and that $1 million is probably covered by offsets.  That $10 million is money that would be saved for 2024.

Beyond that the Saints should just be trying to get by the 2023 season. They should not be in the business of prorating everyones contract. Signing free agents that they should not be signing by using void years and future guarantees. It should all be about getting things fixed and finding a way to be relevant in the future. If they did the above their cap position should go from 3rd worst in the NFL in 2024 to somewhere in the higher part of the bottom third of the league. If they just hold onto all of the players they will move into the worst position in the league come 2024.

To make matters worse for the Saints they made an absurd trade this spring where they sent off their 2023 1st round pick and 2024 2nd round pick to add an extra first rounder in this year draft. The selection became Trevor Penning. Penning has been on IR all season. It was a “win now” move of sorts for a team that had no business thinking they were a “win now” team. That is really the biggest lesson everyone should learn from this. When you do not have a viable QB on your roster in no way shape or form can you trade away a future number 1 draft pick unless it is for a quarterback. Rather than scouting the potential QB of the future the team is just hoping that they don’t have to watch the Eagles get a top 10 draft pick next year while the Saints try to navigate an old, expensive, declining roster.

Looking Ahead to the Packers Options with Aaron Rodgers

With the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers stumbling through the 2022 season I have started to get a number of questions pertaining to Rodgers and his contract. Rodgers signed a massive three year contract worth $150.8 million with virtually the entire contract guaranteed for injury and over $100 million fully guaranteed. Due to the size of the contract it is a complex deal and questions are being asked about his future and the Packers options with the salary cap, so I will try to explain the contract as best as possible given the information I have on the deal.

Rodgers currently has a salary cap charge of $31.6 million in 2023. $59.465 million of his $59.515 million salary for the year is already guaranteed. The Packers have the option to pay that salary out as a $58.3 million option bonus and a $1.165 million salary in order to drive his cap charge to the $31.6 million figure. The timing of the option works in the Packers favor for both trades and/or potential retirement as the official option decision does not have to happen until the start of the 2023 regular season.

What Happens in Aaron Rodgers Retires?

If Rodgers were to walk away he would forfeit all his rights to the $59.465 million in guaranteed salary for next year. In order to best accommodate the hit on the salary cap my assumption would be that the Packers and Rodgers would sign a new contract where the option bonus was eliminated and just a $1.165 salary remained. That would reduce Rodgers salary cap charge to $16,998,750 and they would carry him on the roster as a procedural move until June 2nd. At that point they would put him on the retired list. The salary cap charge in that case would be $15,833,570 in 2023 and $24,480,000 in 2024.

If they did not do that and processed the retirement right away they would take a salary cap hit of $40,313,570 in 2023 but none in 2024. The Packers have no cap space next year so it would seem more likely that they take the first approach.

What Happens if the Packers Trade Aaron Rodgers?

Rodgers does not have a no trade clause in his contract so he could be traded to a team as well.  The timing of the option should give the Packers all the way until the end of training camp to move him. The cap charge here would depend on when he was traded. If Rodgers were to be traded prior to June 1st the Packers would take on a $40,313,750 cap hit in 2023. If he was traded after June 1st it would be a $15,833,570 cap hit in 2023 with $24,480,000 due in 2024. This assumes that the Packers did not exercise the option before the trade. If the option is exercised then the trade number spikes to nearly $100 million. There should be no need to exercise the option until the last possible day.

For the team acquiring Rodgers they would be on the hook for the salary for the year. The cap charge would be $59,515,000 if they do not exercise his option and $15.79 million if they were to exercise the option. Rodgers has an injury guarantee of $49.25 million for 2024 but that does not become fully guaranteed until 5 days after the 2023 Super Bowl. If Rodgers was cut after 2023 it would cost the team $43.725 million on the 2024 cap. If he retired they could split that as $14.575 million in 2024 and $29.15 million in 2025 using a similar June 2nd date as mentioned above in the retirement option.

Can Aaron Rodgers be Cut?

No that is not a feasible option. Because his salary next year is fully guaranteed the Packers would take on over $99 million in dead money. While they could officially pick up the option and split that across 2023 and 2024 it would be about $31 million in dead money in 2023 and then $68.2 million coming in 2024.

Panthers Trade Robbie Anderson

Panthers wide receiver Robbie Anderson looks to be on the move following his dismissal from Sunday’s game by the Panthers coaching staff, with Anderson being traded to Arizona for the remainder of the season.

For the Cardinals this is an easy trade to make. Anderson will only cost them $690,000 on the salary cap this year and while he will cost $12 million next season, none of that number is guaranteed so they can walk away with no issues. They have not yet announced the trade compensation but it would be hard to believe that it would be much anything given how things ended in Carolina. Anderson should give them at least some insurance as a replacement for Marquise Brown who went down with an injury during the team’s loss to Seattle.

Carolina will carry about $10.2 million in dead money for Anderson in 2022 and another $9.7 million in 2023. Carolina, who was cap strapped earlier in the offseason and needed to make room to remain in the the hunt to acquire Deshaun Watson, had already paid out $11.765 million of Anderson’s salary back in the spring to help achieve that salary cap relief, so it is a big bill to pay for someone not on the team.

Anderson joined Carolina in 2020 on a two year, $20 million contract during free agency. Anderson had a softer than expected market so the Panthers took a chance and for one season it worked out with Anderson putting up a career best 1,096 yards and 95 receptions.

Even though it was not a one year “prove it” deal the Panthers treated it as such and quickly extended Anderson after the season to a new contract worth $14.75 million a season. This would be a disaster for the team as Anderson only had 519 yards in 2021. Rather than paying the original $8 million salary and then letting him walk after a poor season, the new extension saw the team pay $12.5 million in 2021 and then an additional $12.31 million this year. For that extra $16.31 million in cash and cap the Panthers got 6 additional games, 13 receptions, 206 yards, and a touchdown of production.

Thoughts on Diontae Johnson and the Steelers

With the flurry of receiver contracts being signed I had a number of questions about Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson who is currently looking for a new contract before committing fully to the 2022 preseason schedule. The market has certainly exploded this offseason with 11 wide receivers signing new contracts worth at least $20 million per season. The rumor is the two sides are far apart on valuation which is not surprising since the Steelers have traditionally let many of their receivers walk when it was time to for an extension that would reach higher end numbers.

The first thing I wanted to do is to look at what would be considered a “top season” among recent NFL signings and compare it to what many would consider Johnson’s top season.

PlayerAgeRoundPFF GradeTGTRecYdsYPRTDTDPR
Metcalf25282.5129831,30315.71012.0%
Samuel26287.8121771,40518.267.8%
Brown25290.4106701,07515.41115.7%
McLaurin27377.6134871,11812.944.6%
Average25.82.384.6122.579.31,225.315.57.759.8%
Johnson26373.81691071,16110.987.5%

While I think Johnson does belong in the discussion with this group of players, he is a target monster compared to the other players but his numbers fall short in terms of overall impact with such a low yards per reception. Last season he ranked 12th in YPR out of the 14 players who had at least 130 targets per PFF in 2021. He was 29th among the 39 players with at least 100 targets in 2021. Of the 10 players with a lower yards per reception, 3 were tight ends and 1 is currently out of the NFL (Cole Beasley). The others were Keenan Allen, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jakobi Myers, Hunter Renfrow, Jaylen Waddle, and Robbie Anderson. All but Anderson would be considered “slot guys” and even he had over 200 routes out of the slot. Johnson had just 42.

Obviously there are other factors that can come into play regarding, that including poor QB play, but I could see how the Steelers may very well view his impact on the game to be more in line with the Hunter Renfrow end of the market vs the top end players but clearly that won’t get a deal done.

Johnson not looking to play without a new contract makes sense. While he has not had a good situation at QB this is arguably the worst it will be with Mitch Trubisky penciled in as the starter with first round draft pick Kenny Pickett and/or backup Mason Rudolph waiting in the wings. In the seasons when Ben Roethlisberger was healthy, the team generally threw the ball around 650 times a year.  That fell to around 500 in the year he was injured. With that kind of drop, Johnson’s overall numbers could drop significantly which could impact him in free agency. His former teammate went through a similar struggle as a free agent which could also weigh on him.

Still it is hard to imagine him agreeing to a contract in the sub $20 million per year range.  Here is the market breakdown of all the young receivers earning over $20 million a season and the relevant cash flow breakdown.

PlayerYearsTotalAPYTotal GuaranteeFull GuaranteeY0 Cash1Y Cash2Y Cash
A.J. Brown4$100,000,000$25,000,000$56,470,471$56,470,471$20,000,000$32,000,000$53,000,000
D.K. Metcalf3$72,000,000$24,000,000$58,220,000$31,000,000$26,779,529$40,999,529$53,999,529
Deebo Samuel3$71,550,000$23,850,000$58,167,000$41,000,000$20,832,000$32,077,000$53,999,000
Terry McLaurin3$69,600,000$23,200,000$53,154,118$34,654,118$26,525,000$31,700,000$50,200,000
D.J. Moore3$61,884,000$20,628,000$41,610,000$41,610,000$9,619,000$29,784,000$45,834,000

 Other than Moore, whose contract predated the market growth that occurred in free agency, the numbers are all pretty similar. The APYs are all between $23.2 and $25 million a season and realistically the Brown contract is only worth $23 million if you take out the inflated final year, giving us a market between $23 and $24 million a season. Guaranteed salary is between $53 and $58 million. Most of our differences come in the cash flow breakdown where there are some differences between the players at the start of the deals.

I think the argument would be that Johnson is in the class of McLaurin and to quickly discount the other three players all of whom have had at least one Pro Bowl selection, a higher draft grade, and arguably better high end seasons. McLaurin’s career has been more consistent than Johnson’s and even though McLaurin did surpass Brown in the true APY number he is well under him in cash earned through two years.

If the Steelers would like to get a contract done they probably have to follow a similar model, likely exceeding the McLaurin annual value to hit in the ballpark of $23.5 million a season but not reaching his cash flow numbers. Maybe a deal that offers about a $20 million raise this season, $30 million by next year, and then $47 or $48 million over two years before it reaches it’s max value. This is also a situation where the team could look for the extra year of control and do a 4 year rather than a three year extension as well.

Anything less than this I believe would make it hard for the Steelers to get a contract finalized given the way that contracts have recently gone. It would look like a big step back to drop below $20 million a season even if that happens to be where the Steelers view him at the moment.