With so much Antonio Brown news today and so many questions
about how things work on the salary cap I decided to throw together a quick
post on the topic that will hopefully answer the questions I have been getting.
So lets take a look.
What is the dead
money and cap savings is Brown is cut?
If Antonio Brown is cut the Steelers will need to account
for at least $21.12 million on the salary cap. This dead money is from a $19
million signing bonus that was paid to Brown in 2017 and $12.96 million salary
conversion paid to Brown in 2018 to help the Steelers with their salary cap
this season. The $19 million was prorated over five years and the $12.96
million over 4 years. Both have three years of proration remaining and the
Steelers need to account for all of that remaining money whether or not he is
on the team next year.
If Brown is released the team will save $1.045 million in
cap room. At least $495,000 of that would be offset by whomever takes his place
on the roster so the effective cap savings are nil.
Wait I read that they
will save $15.2 million if they cut him and millions more in the future? What gives?
The $15.2 million is the amount of cash that the team saves
this year if they release Brown in March. From a salary cap perspective this is
money that is saved for the future though it is not realized this year. The best
way to visualize this is to do a quick scenario analysis based on when the
Steelers move on.
Cap if Cut in 2019
Cap if Cut in 2020
Cap if cut in 2021
As you can see they save $15.125 million by cutting him now
versus 2020 and $26.425 million by cutting him now versus 2021.
This type of analysis makes plenty of sense when you are
talking about an underperforming/declining player. If you have an 80% chance of
cutting a player in 2020 you may as well just bite the bullet and do it now
even if it looks bad on the cap. This is why decisions are made on players like
Ndamukong Suh in Miami to cut now rather than later. It’s a strong argument for
why the Giants should have moved on from Eli Manning this year.
Brown isn’t that type of player though. The odds of Brown
being cut for football reasons in 2020 are very low so there is no need to
accelerate the process nor any try benefit to it because he is worth the contract
that he is being paid. If you are cutting Brown it’s because you think there is
some irreparable damage between the organization and him that you can not fix.
You aren’t going to give it a shot in 2019 only to cut him in 2020. Either the
Steelers are in or out. This type of matrix should play no role in this
Is the salary cap a
concern at all for this move?
Yes and no. In general the salary cap is no longer a barrier
for moves like this. Salaries have not kept up with the rising salary cap and
teams have learned to work the system better to absorb cap hits like this one.
The only true protection players have anymore are fully guaranteed salaries and
teams pretty much only peg those to years of expected contributions.
That said it is still a ridiculous number. The highest one
year cap charge we have is a $19.3 million cap charge for Peyton Manning in
2012 which was offset in part by the fact that the team declined an option on
him. After Manning we are looking at Brock Osweiler at $16 million in 2017 and
Jason Pierre-Paul in 2018 at $15 million. Ndamukong Suh had over $22 million in
dead charges but they were split across two years and not a single season.
To put things in perspective the Steelers have had a total
of about $31 million in dead money combined across three seasons! This would be
completely against their way of doing business to take on that kind of charge
no matter how upset the player is. So the big number should give the Steelers a
lot to consider for this season.
What about a post
June 1 cut? Does that make it cheaper?
A June 1 cut allows you to manipulate the accounting for
dead money on a contract. In this scenario what happens is the Steelers would
release Brown on the first day of free agency with the June 1 designation. From
the start of free agency to June 1, Brown would still count on the Steelers
salary cap at $22.165 million- his full cap charge. On June 2nd
Brown would be removed from the books as an “active” player and only have his
prorated charge count against the cap, which is $7.04 million. That would lead to a cap savings of $15.125
million in 2019.
But don’t get too excited. The other $14.08 million would
simply move to 2020. So all the June 1 does is delay the inevitable.
Typically a June 1 is used when a team can not deal with the
salary cap charge of releasing the player because of other cap related issues.
Using the June 1 in cases like this allows the team to pretty much spend right
up the cap in March when free agency is in full swing knowing that they have a
big cushion coming their way in June which can be used for rookies and as a
safety net in the regular season. The Dolphins were a team that kind of used
this strategy this year.
Given that the Steelers are not really a big free agent
spender and their cap, while not great, isn’t problematic, Im not sure they would benefit from this unless
just from a psychological standpoint so they don’t see the big $20M number in
one year. Its also worth noting that in 2020 there could be some different
rules regarding dead money and some teams may not want to push too much money
into 2020 from 2019.
What about a trade? How much cap relief is there is a trade?
A trade and a cut are treated identical on the cap unless
the player has guaranteed salaries remaining in his contract. Brown has none.
So cut or traded the cost is $21.12 million on the cap.
Can we designate him
a June 1 trade?
Nope. The June 1 designation only is allowed on players who
are released. You can still get the benefit of post June 1 accounting on a
trade but that means you have to make the trade on June 2 or later. That is
problematic for a few reasons.
The main issue here is that Brown has a roster bonus due if
he is on the roster on the 5th day of the league year. That payment
is then the Steelers responsibility and counts on the Steelers cap regardless
of whether or not he is traded. So the dead money moves to $23.62 million in
total, and the number for this year up to $9.52 million. That moves the savings
down to $12.625 million rather than $15.125 million.
The sides can avoid this by renegotiating his contract to
delay the bonus until later in the year (say training camp) but would require
it to be guaranteed and likely with language that doesn’t void the guarantee if
he doesn’t show up to workouts, mandatory OTAs, etc…Since the relationship is
that bad I couldn’t see either side doing that. Plus there is no guarantee a
trade occurs and neither side would want this drama dragging on into the
There is also zero benefit for Brown to delay his release
into the summer. If released from his contract he will have the best
opportunities to earn a big contract in March not July. So he should not work
with Pittsburgh on anything that prevents him from hitting free agency in those
first days of the league year.
Well what about the
team acquiring him can’t they do something to make the dead money less?
No. The dead money is a sunk cost. There is nothing Brown
can do to make a trade more appealing for the Steelers nor anything a team
could do to trade cap space for Brown to make the dead money less difficult for
the Steelers. It’s against the rules.
The only way to offset some of the salary would be to make a
star for a star kind of trade with a team that had excessive cap room to eat
other costs. Lets say the Giants created
a bunch of cap room releasing some veterans and were willing to do a Beckham
for Brown swap (and this is pure fantasy, nothing more or less). The Giants could in theory prepay $10M of
Beckham’s salary as a bonus before the trade. In this case rather than taking
on $17M in Beckham salary plus the $20+M in dead money for Brown they only take
back $7M in salary for Beckham. It’s a $10M swap. You could do something
similar by signing a free agent the Steelers want and then trading him to the
Steelers after you pay him the signing bonus and in return get Brown.
Would a team want to
trade for him? What is their cap cost?
If a team traded for Brown they would get him at cap costs
of $15.125 million in 2019, $11.3 million in 2020, and $12.5 million in 2021.
None of that is guaranteed either. So the team would get one of the top wide
receivers in the NFL at a cost of $12.975 million a year with no guarantees. Of
course they would want to trade for him. That’s a steal. I mean Allen Robinson
as a free agent got $14 million a year with $25 million in injury protection.
Sure Robinson is younger but there is no comparison.
Why would Brown want
to be traded?
He shouldn’t want to be traded. If he wants off the team he
should do everything in his power to be released from his contract. There is
far more money in free agency for him than the risk free $13 million a year a
team would acquire him for in a trade. While he can’t block a trade he can do
enough to make teams wary of trading for him unless they give him a raise.
Should the Steelers
move on without him?
Probably not. From a financial perspective it makes no
sense. Though he probably won’t be happy as he loses more targets to JuJu
Smith-Schuster the team is better off with both on the field than off it. The
team is built to compete now and you maximize that with the most talent you can
get on the field. Brown may be an issue at times but there is no reason the
team can not work through this and get everyone on the same page
professionally. Its just hard to really come up with a scenario where the
Steelers make out better without him than with him.