Thoughts on the Jaguars, That Superb Defense, and Blake Bortles

The Jaguars defense has played at an elite level this season. They have kept opponents to an average of just 15.3 points per game, a mark which no team has achieved since the 2013 Super Bowl-winning Seahawks (14.4).

They are talented and productive, while also being relatively young when you consider that several of their stars are aged between 23 and 26 — Jalen Ramsey is already a top shutdown corner at age 23; Telvin Smith at 26 has built on his hype and is entering his prime as one of the better defensive playmakers in the league; AJ Bouye is also 26 and has earned every cent of his big deal; and then there’s three players under 24 who are thriving in the system – Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Dante Fowler Jr. Continue reading Thoughts on the Jaguars, That Superb Defense, and Blake Bortles »

Thoughts on Dolphins QB Situation

With Ryan Tannehill potentially lost to injury the Dolphins have turned towards Jay Cutler to see if there is interest in taking over for the season. Cutler was released by the Bears this offseason and garnered little interest on the free agent market before deciding to go into a career in broadcasting. He has a history with Miami’s head coach, but it’s a move that I don’t think I would make unless the cost is very cheap.

The cost aspect is hard to judge. In free agency we can usually find many comparable situations but I’m not sure I can come up with a comparable in this case. The two most logical comparisons are Sam Bradford last year being traded to the Vikings and Chad Pennington way back in 2008 signing with the Dolphins during the summer.

However neither was unemployed for the entire year the way Cutler was. Bradford was slotted in as the starter of the Eagles and was traded when the opportunity presented itself. Pennington was well on his way to being named the starter for the Jets when they made a trade for Brett Favre. I guess you could throw Favre into the mix as well. I’m sure there must be some others I’m forgetting but with my Jets hat on, the most legit comp I could come up with was the Jets signing Vinny Testaverde off the couch in 2005 to try to salvage a season that got derailed when Pennington went down to injury early in the year.

Because two of those players came over via trade I don’t think they really have much meaning beyond the fact that both were paid high salaries and there was no attempt at a pay cut. The Jets and Vikings simply paid top dollar. Testaverde was at a point in his career where he was a minimum salaried player and was generally thrilled to get a chance to come back to New York so he was never going to push the issue.

Pennington is really the best example. He earned $4 million in base salary from the Dolphins in 2008 after being scheduled to earn $6 million with the Jets. He had played the prior season with the Jets for $4 million and was on a contract that paid him $5.25 million per year. Pennington also had another $1.75 in incentives which he earned which essentially let him earn back his Jets pay.

Cutler played last season on a contract that paid him $18.1 million per season and he earned $16 million in 2016. If we apply the same situation to Cutler as Pennington we are likely in a range of $13-16 million for the year with another $2-3 million in incentives. While its possible Cutler could sign for less, the end of his career seemed to have more to do with lack of good money offers than anything else. Cutler has made close to $118 million in his career and has never come across as the type that was playing just because he loved it ala Favre. He really doesn’t need the job unless Miami makes him a real concrete offer.

That’s a big price for a team with $18 million in cap room this year and more importantly just $3 million in estimated space for 2018. That kind of salary effectively puts Miami “all in” on 2017 and in looking at their roster I don’t know how wise of a decision that is.

While the Dolphins made the playoffs last year I don’t think anyone took them for real. In my efficiency rankings I do I believe they projected to be a 7 win team and most advanced metrics put them in the same range. I can’t point to anything they did this offseason as a major change and the Julius Thomas for Branden Albert move is probably a downgrade in overall impact.

Here is the thing with Cutler. For all the arm talent that he has and all the money he has earned, he has never really had a run in which you could point to him as the reason a team won games. He had a talented team around him in Chicago with Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall and it never really amounted to much. As the talent around him fell so did the record.

If you are a team like the Texans that has had a dominant defense or running game I get the idea of a Cutler type since he’s a professional QB that is a known. If Russell Wilson went down with an injury in Seattle or Dak Prescott went down in Dallas I get the concept of bringing in Cutler. It’s the same reason why the Vikings, who had a young and very good defense, brought in Bradford to try to manage the offense while the defense won games.

That isn’t Miami. Miami has a pretty average defense and an inconsistent offense with a few pieces, none of whom can keep the QB upright. Miami isn’t much different than Baltimore and I cant imagine Baltimore considering bringing in a Cutler with the roster they have. Its not worth the resources.

Miami has Matt Moore on the team and is there that kind of difference between Moore and Cutler on this particular team?  I don’t think there is. Part of the issue with Moore, and probably why the Dolphins feel the need to make this move, is that he was a mess in the playoffs. Moore gives the team essentially no chance to compete against good teams. But Moore does give them a chance to win against teams like the Jets, Bills, Chargers, Saints, Ravens, Bucs, Titans, and Panthers.

Does that mix really change with Cutler?  Maybe hes not as embarrassing against a good team but hes never shown an ability to beat those teams either. There are games Moore could lose if he was on a team with a really good defense, but that’s not Miami either. To me this is just a lateral move that is more psychological because of the name. $5 million is fine for him, but once you are going over $10 million its just wasted money for the same result.

I don’t anticipate the Dolphins to be much different with Moore than they would have been with Tannehill.  The lone difference is that Tannehill still had some potential there and a ceiling that maybe we had not seen. Maybe the day was coming when Tannehill could win a game for the team. I cant look at Cutler and say he is going to win a game for the team that they would not have won anyway. Hes never done it on teams similar to this so why would it change now?

The other thing about the Dolphins is the future of Tannehill. Ive gotten some questions about this the last few days and I slant towards thinking that his Miami career could be over especially if they do sign Cutler. Since Cutler is giving up a broadcasting career to make this move and it would be hard to picture Fox, NBC, or CBS taking him right away again after this, he should look for a second year with the team.

Tannehill has also been injured two years running and there are a number of intriguing free agents next year. You cant wait forever for a QB to potentially develop and if you can sign Drew Brees or Kirk Cousins you will make that move. There are other options out there too next year that would be at worst lateral moves from Tannehill.

So when you hear about Tannehill wanting to avoid surgery again to rest the knee and hope for the best, its probably in his best interest to do so. If he at least sees the field this year he will give the Dolphins consideration to keep him at a $17.5 million salary next year. If he was to get injured later in the year and be forced to get surgery its likely that a $5.5 million injury guarantee would kick in and at least give Miami a good reason to not release him and to give him the opportunity to reclaim a starting job. So if he fights surgery I think there are a lot of reasons for him to do that.

NFL Cutdown Day 2015 Part I: Salary Cap Considerations

Its not often that the first cutdown day in the NFL brings with it much news, but over the last 24 hours there have been a few moves with cap implications and there may be more to come as teams need to reach 75 players by Tuesday at 4PM. I’ll keep this as a running thread for updates on some of the name players that are moving on from their teams over the next day so to discuss the cap implications so check back every now and then for updates. Continue reading NFL Cutdown Day 2015 Part I: Salary Cap Considerations »

Vikings Extend John Sullivan

The Vikings have extended the contract of center John Sullivan through 2017 according to ESPN’s Field Yates.  Technically the extension is valued at one year for $8.5 million, but the reality is that the contract is a $2.25 million raise for this season and $3 million over the next two years. Such a contract avoids any potential contractual problems this summer, keeping the team’s starting center happy and fully involved with the team.

Sullivan, who was scheduled to earn $4.75 million this year, will now earn $7 million, but just $1 million of that raise comes from a signing bonus, which keeps the Vikings accounting records clean in the event they want to move on from Sullivan at any point in the future. His actual “extension year” carries a $5.5 million salary, but he could be released that year with just $333,334 remaining on the salary cap, so this is essentially a pay as you go style contract.

The Vikings lost $1.333 million in cap room by extending Sullivan. Sullivan had previously counted for $6 million on the cap. His new cap charge this year is $7.333333 million. The following two seasons will have Sullivan at cap charges of about $5.83 million each year. Sullivan had been OTC’s pick for best contract on the Vikings due to their decision to lock him up early rather than allowing him to test free agency. The $6 million he can earn over the next three seasons puts him somewhat back in line financially with his actual production.

49ers Stars Planning Retirement

Per multiple news outlets it sounds as if both Patrick Willis and Justin Smith will retire from the NFL rather than returning to play to the 49ers in 2015.  The deal will clear a great deal of cap space for the 49ers, but will also mark the end of the careers of two exceptional players who helped the 49ers to a period of great success that nearly culminated in a Super Bowl win.

Willis was the premier inside linebacker in the league for his generation. He was rewarded with a $10 million per year extension in 2010 that has stood as the gold standard for the position since then. The 49ers and Willis did a wonderful job in working together on his contract such that they dumped millions of charges into the uncapped 2010 season and expected down 2011 season to make his cap hits manageable in the future. Willis really had no “dead money” protection in his contract by agreeing to such a structure. Because of the way his contract worked Willis will only count for $843,500 against the 49ers salary cap if he retires. That will give the 49ers $7,424,500 in cap relief this season, which is a significant number.

Smith also found a home in San Francisco and became one of the best defensive ends in the NFL after signing with the team in 2008. He had signed a very reasonable contract extension with the team in 2013 despite possibly being able to earn more by playing his contract out and hitting the open market. The 49ers will carry $2.187 million in  dead charges for Smith, but it opens up $4.25 million in space for the team.

If both players do retire this will likely mark the end of an era for the 49ers. I had speculated that their window had shut last season when they struggled to remain in playoff contention. Now it looks as if long term stars in Willis, Smith and Frank Gore will be gone. Mike Iupati will likely not be back and Ahmad Brooks should soon be out the door as well. It is hard to say that this is a rebuilding effort, but the team will clearly be looking at many new faces for the first time in years.

Quick Thoughts on First Wave of Signings

Today was the first day of the “unofficial” free agency period in which agents can begin discussion with outside organizations. While no deals can be signed between players and new team’s, extensions are very common over the next few days. With a deadline of 4PM March 10, teams often put forth their best final pitch to a free agent. Player’s also should have a better idea of where they officially stand around the NFL over this talking period as they get a better feel of interest than they did at the combine. While we don’t have much in the way of specifics on the contracts let’s take a look at the general overview of the signings.

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers- 4 years, $40 million

This is a big number for Cobb, who has primarily been a slot receiver in his career. Prior to this contract the best real deal for a slot player was the Giant’s Victor Cruz coming in at $8.7 million a year. Cobb will also earn more than Jordy Nelson, by a few hundred thousand a year, which is a very good deal for him. Cobb is also young and the 4 year term will likely give him another chance for a big deal down the line. This deal is probably a sign that the Packers were afraid of losing Cobb if they played hardball to the deadline due to teams with increasingly large cap surpluses to spend. I’d consider this contract a strong sign overall for the receiver market and Jeremy Maclin in particular.

Kareem Jackson, CB, Texans- 4 years, $34 million, $14 million guaranteed

This contract sent shockwave around the NFL as two years ago a player like Jackson would have struggled to reach the $6 million a year mark, let alone a first year payment of $14 million. This is a thin group of cornerbacks and the Texans may have feared losing him because of that so they came in with a lucrative offer. If this is a sign of things to come then expect corner Byron Maxwell and safety Devin McCourty to get big money next week. However I do caution to take this deal cautiously as last season the Packers jumped the gun on a new contract with Sam Shields due to fear of losing him and as it turned out they overpaid considerably.

Derek Newton, RT, Texans- 5 years, $26.5 million, $10 million guaranteed

Though Newton had struggled through a good portion of his career he played well last season which helped him earn this contract. From an annual value persepctive this contract is below the top tier of the market (all at $6M or more) and kind of hits a mid point between the Breno Giacomini’s of the world and the top tier. That said the initial cash flows of $13.5 million over two years will track with the top tier, which I would imagine was a compromise on the lower APY. I’d consider this a pretty market neutral contract indicating minimal shifts from the past.

Doug Free, RT/G, Cowboys- 3 years, $15 million, $6 million guaranteed

I was a little surprised Dallas brought back Free only because it would have helped them slightly with their salary cap had they done this sooner. When they allowed his prior contract to void I assumed that the door was shut. From a football perspective this makes more sense than re-signing Jeremy Parnell who haa almost no track record whereas Free is a solid veteran. Based on the reported guarantee I would expect that Dallas can escape this deal after one season. The price is what was certainly expected for a veteran player.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints- 4 years, $16 million

Many people asked me how the Saints can be over the cap and sign Ingram, but the cap isnt a concern until March 10 at 4PM. By then the Saints will have restructured a number of contracts to be under the cap. Bringing back Ingram was likely a sign that there was lukewarm interest in Ingram at a high price outside of New Orleans so it made sense to come back to the place where he began his career. I would not be shocked if the first year payout and guarantee match the $5.2M or so salary he would have earned if the Saints picked up the option year on him last year. This contract should be a sign that the Marshawn Lynch deal has no bearing on the market and that prices will remain unchanged from last season.

Brett Kern, P, Titans- 5 years, $15 million

This is one of those signings where people get caught up in the $15 million number for a punter, but from an annual value perspective this only rank’s 8th in the NFL. Kern gets a lot of use in Tennessee so I’d say the contract is well deserved.