Panthers Open Up More Cap Space

The Panthers cleared $4.69 million in cap space by restructuring the contract of Matt Paradis. The team converted $7 million of Paradis’ salary into a signing bonus to prorate that money over three years. Of those three years, two are void years. If the Panthers do not come to terms on Paradis on an extension by around the time of next years Super Bowl he will leave them with $8.69 million in dead money charges.

The Panthers were no longer in bad shape with their salary cap following the releases of Kawaan Short ($8.6 million saved), Steven Weatherly, ($5.9 million saved), and Michael Palardy ($1.9 million). Tre Boston was also informed he will be released and it looks as if the team is holding off on that move to make it a June 1 cut. By using a June 1 cut the Panthers will create $3.5 million rather than just under $1 million in cap room over the summer. That is money that can be used to sign rookies after the draft.

Carolina now has around $31 million in estimated salary cap space, 8th most in the NFL. This move, which was not really necessary at this time, likely signals that the Panthers are going to be pretty aggressive in free agency this year. If they wind up restructuring the contracts of Shaq Thompson and/or Christian McCaffrey that would definitely be a strong signal to the NFL that they will be a big player in free agency.   

The Biggest Dead Money Cap Charges Of All Time

With much being made of the large salary cap charges associated with cutting or trading certain players this year I thought it would be fun to a take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the biggest dead money charges of all time and see how they rank with compared to the big moves from this year. Rather than looking at them strictly by dead money I wanted to look at them as a percentage of the salary cap which puts them all in a proper perspective(we will use $180M for this year). Please note that this may not be a comprehensive list as it is just a list of players we have records of through the years.

15. Drew Bledsoe, Patriots- $6.67 million/9.38% of 2002 cap

The emergence of Tom Brady in New England made their former starter expendable despite the fact that Bledsoe had just signed a nine year contract extension. Bledsoe had received an $8 million signing bonus as part of the contract and only one year had been accounted for (during that era proration was allowed to be longer than five years). This was actually a highly debated topic at the time as Bledsoe was a proven QB and Brady, despite the Super Bowl win, was not. Money was a big part of the debate given the size of the dead money relative to what was just a $71 million salary cap limit. Bledsoe was traded to the Bills for a first round pick which was used to select solid defensive end Ty Warren. Obviously the Patriots made the right choice as Brady became the greatest QB of all time while Bledsoe was cut from the Bills in 2005.

14. Nick Foles, Jaguars- $18.75 million/9.46% of 2020 cap

The end result was one people saw coming from a mile away. The Jaguars were in desperation mode following a failed bid to return to the playoffs and signed Foles to a big $22 million per year contract. Foles had basically been a failure as a NFL starter but had an epic playoff run that culminated in a Super Bowl and followed that up with another late season surge while in as an injury replacement. Foles would only start four games for Jacksonville missing a good portion of the season with an injury and then being benched for poor play. This could have been far worse for the Jaguars who not only paid Foles a $25 million signing bonus but were on the hook for another $15 million in guarantees. Foles agreed to take a massive reduction in pay to facilitate a trade with the Bears which actually let the Jaguars escape on the cheap relative to what the Dolphins had to do the year before to essentially pull off the exact same trade.

13. Brock Osweiler, Browns- $16 million/9.58% of 2017 cap

This was a bit of a miscalculation by the Browns who took a somewhat innovative step of paying for a draft pick by taking on Osweiler’s fully guaranteed $16 million salary from the Texans who the year before signed Osweiler to a bad contract. The Browns gave up $16 million and a 4th round pick for a 2nd round pick and a 6th round pick. At the time I think they believed they could flip Osweiler for another pick by eating half the cost. Needless to say they found no takers and wound up cutting Osweiler and paying him $16 million (they did receive a small credit the following year for salary earned by Osweiler with the Broncos). Houston took Carlos Watkins with their pick while the Browns wound up using the lesser pick to trade up and select Roderick Johnson and then used the second rounder on Nick Chubb. Not sure paying $16 million for the right to draft a running back is worth it but that was a new regime making the pick so its hard to know the ultimate strategy. In light of some later trades it would seem the Browns overpaid here.  

12. Andrew Luck, Colts- $18.4 million/9.78% of 2019 cap

Luck’s abrupt retirement from the Colts in 2019 left the Colts with a massive bill in 2019. Luck still had $12.8 million in bonus prorations remaining on his contract from a $32 million signing bonus he was paid in 2016 and also had received $12 million in roster bonuses earlier that year. The Colts had to account for $18.4 million of that when he retired and then deferred another $6.4 million to 2020. The Colts had the right to go after all $24.8 million but decided not to apparently in the hope he would return to the team in 2020. The end result for the Colts was a wild use of cap space on quarterbacks- a total of $79.6 million in salary cap charges in 2019 and 2020 for Luck, Jacoby Brissett, and Philip Rivers.

11. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins- $18.42 million/9.79% of 2019 cap

Miami signed Tannehill to a questionable contract extension in 2015, though in hindsight maybe they had the right player but the wrong coaches around him.  Tannehill’s contract was turned into a salary cap minefield with an ill advised $16.685 million salary conversion in 2018 when he had three years remaining on his contract. They wound up looking to dump him the next year and it was costly. There was $11.1 million remaining from that conversion and $2.3 million from his original signing bonus. It got worse from there because Miami wanted to get something in return for him even though his value in the NFL was next to nothing. Miami paid another $5 million in 2019 to Tannehill as a prepayment of his contract with the Titans to get a 4th round draft pick as a return. Tannehill has been to the playoffs two years in a row. This pick was sent away to the Steelers as part of the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade in 2019.

10. Darrelle Revis, Jets- $13.0 million/10.57% of 2013 cap

Revis’ first tenure with the Jets came to an end in 2013 when yet another contract dispute between the two sides saw the Jets ship their star cornerback off to the Buccaneers for a 1st round draft pick. Revis was a great player for the Jets in 2009 and 2010 but their whole relationship was filled with contract disputes. Revis held out as a rookie before scoring a big contract from the team. After quickly outplaying the deal he held out again in 2010 before the two sides agreed to a famous “band aid” contract. The Jets put all kind of contract language in this one to prevent another hold out but rumblings had already started in 2012 that he was trying to get a new deal and by 2013 he was very vocal about it. With a new general manager in place not looking to deal with this he just traded him out. Revis’ dead money came from $12 million in remaining prorations from an $18 million option bonus paid in 2011 and a $1 million workout bonus that Revis earned from the team prior to the trade.

9. Brandin Cooks, Rams- $21.8 million/11.00% of 2020 cap

Cooks set the single season NFL record for dead money last year at $21.8 but was surpassed in less than one season. The Cooks deal was a heavily frontloaded contract which saw the dead money skyrocket due to the use of a $17 million option bonus in 2019. Cooks had some issues with concussions while the offense seemed to move away from really needing to utilize Cooks’ vertical abilities. Rather than sinking another $8 million into Cooks they decided to trade him and a 4th to the Texans who sent the Rams a 2nd round pick in return. The Rams used the pick on receiver Van Jefferson. Cooks’ dead money consisted of $4.2 million in prorations left from his 2018 signing bonus, $13.6 million remaining from the option bonus, and $4 million in guaranteed payments the Rams made to Cooks the month prior to the trade.

8. John Randle, Vikings- $7.5 million/11.13% of 2001 cap

Randle’s contract with the Vikings was a bit of a trailblazer contract in the NFL. It was one of the first deals to contain all kinds of guaranteed salaries throughout the contract, roster bonuses at key decision points, and an incredibly big signing bonus relative to the size of the contract. When the Vikings and Randle split the team still had to account for two years of proration from a $10 million signing bonus and a $3 million conversion bonus plus $2 million in salary guarantees. Randle would sign a five year contract with the Seahawks after being cut. He played three seasons in Seattle.

7. Richard Seymour, Raiders- $13.71 million/11.15% of 2013 cap

This was peak Raiders when it came to contract mismanagement. Oakland agreed to a two year, $30 million contract with the 32 year old defensive lineman. To make the numbers work the Raiders utilized four void years on the tail end of the contract. Of the $30 million contract, all of which was basically guaranteed, $28.165 million wound up being prorated. Seymour played 24 games in two years and was done in the NFL while the Raiders were left with the bill. There was a reason players talked about the Raiders as basically being your retirement plan during this era and this illustrated it perfectly.

6. Antonio Brown, Steelers- $21.12 million/11.22% of 2019 cap

Brown is pretty much responsible for the new movement in the NFL that has shifted more power to the players if they make a lot of noise about their situation they may be able to make a move out. Unlike the Revis drama this wasn’t really about a contract though that may have been a small part of it. Brown just wanted a change of scenery despite agreeing to a contract extension just two years earlier. The Steelers held firm on this one for a bit in large part because of the big investment they had in him until the noise became too much and they traded him to the Raiders for a 3rd and a 5th round pick. The dead money came from a $19 million signing bonus paid in 2017 and a $12.96 million bonus paid in 2018. Brown was the first player to cross the $20 million dead money mark, a record that did not even last a year. The Steelers took Dionte Johnson and Zach Gentry with the picks while the Raiders dealt with the “summer of Brown” which led to his being released for conduct.

5. Jared Goff, Rams- $22.2 million/12.33% of 2021 cap

We may be experiencing something new in the NFL where teams with mediocre QB’s are finally deciding that it is better to part ways with the player than to continue a push to mediocrity for the next few seasons. The next step will be to see if they stop doing extensions and instead play out the Kirk Cousins type scenarios. While I do not think you can fault the Rams for doing this contract with Goff it is a tough pill to swallow when the alternative was to just force him to play out his rookie contract and save millions of dollars doing that. The Rams had paid Goff a $25 million signing bonus in 2019 and a $9 million bonus in 2020 to give the Rams some cap relief last year. They packaged two first round picks along with Goff to bring in Matthew Stafford to bring a little more upside to the position.

4. Steve McNair, Titans- $13.46 million/13.20% of 2006 cap

The McNair contract was a wild one and one of the ways of adding years for relief in the earlier days of the cap without really doing an extension. McNair had three years remaining on his contract with the Titans with cap hits in the $10M+ range. In order to get more cap relief they needed to add years to the deal but by no means should a player just add contract years. Instead they came up with a contract that was designed to force the Titans into a decision. In 2006 they either had to pay McNair a $50 million option bonus to kick in the 2007 to 2009 seasons or they had to pay him an extra $1 million to play out his deal. This allowed the Titans to prorate a bunch of money into the future, paying a $6 million bonus in 2004 and $6.75 million bonus in 2005. When 2006 came things got strange. The Titans barred McNair from their facility fearing he might get hurt and he filed a grievance which he won. The Titans traded him to the Ravens rather than dealing with it. The dead money also included prorations from 2001, 2002, and 2003 as this deal was loaded with bonuses for cap purposes.  

3. Peyton Manning, Colts- $16.0 million/13.27% of 2012 cap

If Twitter was a bigger thing back in 2011 and 2012 I wonder how this whole scenario would have been received. There was no discounting Manning’s place as one of the greatest of all time but he was undergoing surgery to his neck when the Colts agreed to a contract with him that included a $20 million signing bonus and $54 million to be paid in the first two years of the contract. Manning never played a down with the team due to injury and the team changed course in part because of the large payment due the following year and the chance to draft Andrew Luck. Manning would go on to sign with Denver after being released by the Colts where he was paid a more realistic $38 million over the first two years of the deal with some injury considerations being afforded to Denver if his neck was a problem.

2. Troy Aikman, Cowboys- $10.06 million/14.93% of 2001 cap

The great Dallas teams of the 90s had been completely gutted by the cap and Aikman was one of the last remnants of that group. The Cowboys actually signed Aikman to a new long term contract in 1999 but it was really just for salary cap relief. Back in those days that was the way things were done more than void years like we see now. Aikman missed 5 games in 98, 2 games in 99, and 5 games in 2000. Since 1997 the team was 24-28 in games he started and the concussions had really begun to pile up. Dallas released him and Aikman retired a few weeks later. This is the first $10 million dead money charge we have a record of. It took nearly 20 years to get to $20 million to give you an idea of how big this number was for the time.

1. Carson Wentz, Eagles- $33.82 million/18.79% of 2021 cap

This is the new addition just today to the lit and it is a whopper. This was essentially the same as the Jared Goff contract situation except the Eagles were far more aggressive on using Wentz for cap relief. Wentz was paid a $16.4 million signing bonus in 2019 and a $30 million option bonus in 2020 only to be benched at the end of the 2020 year. Just today the report came out that he will be traded to the Colts in return for a 3rd and 2nd round pick next year that could increase to a 1st rounder depending on how he plays. The numbers here are nuts. The next closest player we had a record of was Aikman at 14.9% and even if the cap was normal this year Wentz’ dead money would represent about 16% of the salary cap. As I mentioned above it took nearly 20 years to go from $10 to $20 million in dead money and the jump from $20 to $30 million only took a year due to Wentz. My assumption is that this number will hold for quite some time given the way teams now approach the salary cap and it may fundamentally change the way some extensions are approached in the future.

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.

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.

Deshaun Watson Unhappy with Texans

It is now being reported in multiple places that Texans franchise QB Deshaun Watson is unhappy with the Texans organization which has led to trade speculation. Trading Watson would seem like insanity but the questions are coming so I may has well tackle the main ones here.

What is the cost to trade Watson?

The salary cap cost for the Texans if they were to trade Watson would be $21.6 million. This would cause the Texans to lose $5.66 million in cap space in 2021.

What is the salary cap cost to acquire Watson?

Because the Texans paid Watson a $27 million signing bonus last year the cost is very affordable. A team would be on the hook for $10.54 million in 2021, $35 million in 2022, $37 million in 2023, and $32 million in 2024 and in 2025. The average cost would be just $29.3 million per year which is way under the market for quarterbacks so it would be a bargain bin contract compared to Watson’s talent level.

Why would the Texans trade Watson?

I have no idea. Watson is the lone reason to want to be the GM and coach of the Texans. If you get rid of Watson you are left with nothing. You have an older declining defense, you traded your best wide receiver away and your second best wide receiver is a free agent, and you lose salary cap space to boot. On top of that the Texans as part of their extension paid Watson $27 million than he was already scheduled to earn on his rookie contract. Usually you don’t sink $27 million into a player to go 4-12 and turn around and trade him when he was never the problem in the first place.

How much would the Texans want for Watson?

It would have to be a lot. I’ve seen some people say the first pick in the draft but that would not be even close to enough. The first thing to consider is that Watson is a sure bet. He is a top 5 QB in the NFL. I don’t care what the supposed upside is of Trevor Lawrence- it’s still a gamble and it would be an expensive gamble as well.

While we can look at the rookie contract as cheap (Lawrence’s contract will average about $9 million a year) once we look at that $27M prepaid on Watson its basically sinking about $16 million per year over the next 4 years into Lawrence in a straight up trade. That’s still affordable but who would you rather be? The team holding Watson for under $30 million a year for the next five years or the team with Lawrence for $16 million over the next 4?

The franchise because of their prior trade is basically in shambles. They effectively have no draft picks this year to build around so you would be throwing the rookie into a not great situation by any means. Your cap situation gets worse in 2021 via trade so you cant go out and just buy some guys this year to put around him and without those 2021 picks you are pushing draft pick help (for the most part) into 2023 when their 2022 draft class has a year of experience under their belt. . Realistically that gives the Texans a two year window with Lawrence in 22 and 23 before he looks for a massive extension, assuming he is as good as Watson.

I just cant see any motivation for the Texans to make this trade so they would need to be blown away for the trade.

As a frame of reference Jared Goff cost the Rams two first round picks, two second round picks, and two third round picks back in 2016. RGIII cost the Football Team three first round picks and a second round pick in 2012. Watson for a first round pick would be robbery considering hes a stud and teams were willing to give this up for a chance to draft someone as good Watson.

The cost for veteran players has also gone way up recently. Jalen Ramsey cost the Rams two first round picks. Jamal Adams cost two first round picks for Seattle. Laremy Tunsil cost the Texans two firsts and a second. These were non only for non-QB’s but were for players who had no long term contract. The Texans already paid Watson $27M of his contract.

The only way you can make this trade if you are Houston is if you get enough to recover from their prior trades and rebuild their entire team. At a minimum I think you would be looking at three first round picks and two second round picks to acquire Watson. Possibly more than that.

What teams would they trade with?

There are only two teams that I think make sense and that’s the Jaguars and the Jets. They have the top two picks in the draft which gives you a viable path to a QB prospect. Both have additional first round picks this year. Both have tons of cap space to take on a bad contract like Whitney Mercilus who has $10.5 million in guaranteed salary. Both have bad rosters and even with a great QB might still not make the playoffs.

I know some might include Miami but I dont see that. Dropping to 3 is a much bigger perceived drop and Miami is likely a lock for the playoffs with Watson so your 2022 upside isnt as high. Plus what are you really doing? Getting back what you gave up for Tunsil? That would look terrible.

The Jaguars being in division might make it less likely than the Jets but Lawrence is the guy you really want to get in this trade. The Jets would likely have to have a better package to make up for that.

Will Watson be traded?

Well if you made it this far I think you would already know my answer on this being no. It just doesn’t make sense for Houston to trade away a top QB like Watson who is in his prime. It is Houston so you can never say never, but it just would make such little sense. My guess is this is a situation with some hurt feelings on Watson’s side for feeling as if the Texans didn’t look to him for advice and its something that will go away after everyone talks things out and gets on the same page for 2021.

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Eagles get creative with the salary cap

In an interesting twist the Eagles have restructured the contracts of two players most assume are headed out the door in Alshon Jeffery and Malik Jackson.

So odds are they will still be on their way out but the Eagles pulled a nice little cap move that I talked about as a slim possibility regarding Carson Wentz and have mentioned as a way for the Saints to handle Drew Brees if he retires.

The trick the Eagles are attempting to use here is the post June 1 designation but to what I would assume is the maximum extent. Every year the NFL allows you to designate two players as a post June 1 cut which allows you to prevent any future bonus money from accelerating in the current league year.

However there is a caveat and it’s that you have to keep the players cap charge on your roster as is until June 2. So for the Eagles this would be a massive $18.49M for Jeffery and $13.6M for Jackson. That does nothing for the Eagles salary cap woes in 2021 since the savings won’t be realized at the start of the league year, forcing them to cut the players in February at dead money charges of $10.5M and $12.6M respectively.

I would imagine that what the Eagles did here was reduce the players salaries to the minimum (for the sake of easy math lets just call it $1M) in 2021 and add a 2022 league year salary that is worth somewhere around $20M. To ensure that the player is indeed cut and allowed to be a free agent there would need to be some trigger that occurs such as the 2022 salary completely guarantees on the 2nd day of the 2021 league year, forcing Philadelphia to cut the players.

Their 2021 cap charges in this scenario would reduce from $18.49 and $13.6 million to $6.49M and $4.6M, opening up a massive $21 million in cap space for 2021. When they June 1 the players to prevent the 2022 guarantee from kicking in the cap numbers remain at $6.49 and $4.6M until June 2 at which point they will reduce even further to $5.49M and $3.6M. The Eagles would then be on the hook for $5M and $9M for the two players in 2022.

Now I don’t know if this is exactly what they did or did not do but its the way that I would have approached it which makes me think they did something similar. In any event it’s a pretty creative use of the rules. As for why the players would accept such a thing? Well it does ensure their quick release and I’m sure keeps a solid relationship between the agent who rep the players and the organization as well.

Why the timing of the restructure? That’s also due to the rules. The NFL does not allow you to utilize the June 1 release if you renegotiate a players contract after the last regular season game basically to prevent this situation from occurring. So Philadelphia took full advantage of it here at the last minute,

Had the Eagles just played the contracts as normal they would have saved just $8.937M on the cap by releasing these two players as normal cuts. Now they should have an extra $12M on top of that. Its a brilliant move that really helps a rough cap situation next year.

Salary Cap Sunk Costs in 2021

With the 2020 regular season getting close to wrapping up and more and more questions coming about the 2021 salary cap situations for teams I wanted to look at the sunk costs facing each team. This isn’t a measure of how much maximum space can be created by cuts, restructures or trades just a look at what teams absolutely can’t get rid of next season under any circumstance.

So how did I measure sunk costs on a team?  First I looked at every contract on the books for 2021 and identified the prorated portion of the contract in 2021. Prorated costs are those that exist from bonuses that were already paid and can’t be changed (other than in rare circumstances of retirement or suspension) now matter what you want to do with a player contract.

The next thing I did was look at the salaries of all players drafted in 2019 and 2020 and considered their base salary as a sunk cost. Why is this sunk? Well you cant renegotiate a draft pick until they have at least three years in the NFL so these salaries cant change either (yes some of the players could be cut but they would just be replaced by an almost identical salary).

The third thing was to look at every player earning under $1.075M next year and consider that sunk since that is about as low as you can go. For every other player I considered $1 million a sunk cost since that is about as low as you can go on a restructure. In reality the sunk cost is higher than what I have estimated here because in that restructure a portion of the salary converts to a prorated bonus but if we started calculating that we have to get into cut vs restructure debates and so on. So we should take this as a minimum level of sunk costs. Finally we looked at the teams dead money on the books for next year which is clearly lost cap room.

Here is what I came up with for each team with the estimated unadjusted salary cap of $176M.

TeamPlayersSunk SalariesSunk ProratedDead MoneyTotal SunkAdjusted Cap% Sunk
Steelers35$33,669,869$77,521,903$362,959$111,554,731$180,930,00061.7%
Saints44$39,308,226$67,851,399$381,218$107,540,843$180,346,00059.6%
Eagles51$47,198,701$67,622,074$539,789$115,360,564$198,100,00058.2%
Falcons32$31,665,469$63,101,125$7,692,677$102,459,271$177,100,00057.9%
Packers41$39,327,833$61,011,199$353,142$100,692,174$179,250,00056.2%
Ravens40$37,357,923$50,235,641$10,438,777$98,032,341$177,870,00055.1%
Vikings47$43,374,515$45,336,866$507,314$89,218,695$179,500,00049.7%
Panthers40$37,544,997$41,964,070$9,155,549$88,664,616$179,750,00049.3%
Lions41$36,582,044$52,116,660$360,681$89,059,385$188,600,00047.2%
Rams45$39,009,722$36,279,082$8,591,765$83,880,569$181,341,00046.3%
Bears35$31,858,512$48,696,657$1,870,992$82,426,161$181,855,00045.3%
Cowboys46$41,670,352$40,691,239$9,082,046$91,443,637$201,977,00045.3%
Giants42$39,208,583$39,515,863$3,136,160$81,860,606$181,650,00045.1%
49ers34$30,709,461$40,270,589$7,933,306$78,913,356$177,520,00044.5%
Bills42$39,997,949$35,858,846$2,041,156$77,897,951$179,160,00043.5%
Patriots47$43,580,927$38,230,625$799,401$82,610,953$196,120,00042.1%
Broncos47$43,875,750$36,496,066$602,118$80,973,934$192,698,00042.0%
Cardinals33$29,622,528$45,071,601$640,839$75,334,968$179,800,00041.9%
Football Team49$45,123,109$33,853,777$573,441$79,550,327$197,460,00040.3%
Seahawks34$32,170,447$37,258,369$1,309,419$70,738,235$176,960,00040.0%
Browns44$40,089,143$41,348,185$508,602$81,945,930$205,371,03039.9%
Bengals38$36,095,968$34,995,209$2,364,427$73,455,604$186,146,81939.5%
Jets44$39,187,797$23,458,270$15,677,076$78,323,143$202,500,00038.7%
Chiefs36$31,600,149$37,465,049$693,526$69,758,724$180,572,00038.6%
Raiders39$40,444,781$26,926,554$1,220,765$68,592,100$179,682,00038.2%
Texans45$42,574,617$27,288,497$361,441$70,224,555$185,051,00037.9%
Chargers34$32,346,466$35,855,780$58,009$68,260,255$182,879,00037.3%
Jaguars47$44,515,053$26,523,024$3,083,098$74,121,175$198,786,00037.3%
Titans35$32,730,574$32,344,956$722,320$65,797,850$179,750,00036.6%
Dolphins42$39,769,388$29,058,758$444,629$69,272,775$189,500,00036.6%
Colts39$35,677,030$14,850,062$237,143$50,764,235$183,965,00027.6%
Buccaneers31$28,731,511$19,711,354$824,595$49,267,460$179,985,00027.4%

The top 5 should come as no surprise. The Steelers and Packers don’t do guarantees and use larger bonuses than most teams in the NFL because of that. The Steelers constantly restructure contracts as well which is why they have such a tough position with the cap next year. The Saints and Eagles kicking the can contract approach is well known while the Falcons use two tiered bonuses more than anyone else and also get into the restructures as well.

Also not surprising is the Bucs with the most flexibility. They don’t use prorated bonuses so they have no true sunk costs other than rookie bonuses. The Colts have used a similar approach and have the 2nd most flexibility. Team three is the Dolphins who have really utilized their salary cap purge better than anyone ever has. Thus far they have embraced a different approach which gives them a ton of flexibility for a time when they want to create a ton of cap room.

The Titans were a bit of a surprise for me. They have done a really good job at managing their cap in the last few years but I thought they had enough bigger deals to have more sunk costs but I guess not. The Jaguars on the other hand were not surprising as they have ripped apart their entire roster last year.   

If you are a Texans or Chargers fan you should be pretty happy as they have more flexibility than most people probably thought especially the Texans who have been crucified for contract decisions in the last two years. The Chiefs flexibility should be worrisome to the rest of the NFL and the Jets flexibility was compromised by the bad Maccagnan contracts clogging up the dead money part of the ledger. They have a ton of cap room though so they don’t need the flexibility this year. The team that surprised me the most was the Vikings at 7.  This is a team that has veered a bit off track in the last two years and I guess I didn’t realize just how much they veered off.