Minimum Cash Spending in 2020

With free agency rapidly approaching one of the questions I am getting pretty often these days is about the spending requirements in the CBA. For those unfamiliar with the NFL CBA there is a rule that requires teams to spend at least 89% of the salary cap over a four year period. The current period, which began in 2017, ends this league year and could give some idea as to who will spend this year on contracts.

Though our cash numbers that we trace are not going to be 100% accurate they should give us a pretty strong estimate of the teams that are in danger of not meeting the 89% threshold. Through last season we did not have any teams that were under $473.9M in spending, which was the mark required to be on pace to hit the 89% mark. The teams that were closest, the Cowboys, Ravens, Colts, and Chargers were all between $477M and $485M. There is a quirk in the rules that could impact teams in cap trouble (spending on bonuses in contracts in February of 2017 should not count towards spending but we track them as cash for the year)  which means maybe the Cowboys and Ravens were slightly under but if it’s the case it should not be by much.

Assuming the cap reaches $200 million this year the four year spending number will jump to $651.8M. Per our estimates we have 11 teams that are under that mark. Of those 11, six should be compliant just by signing their draft picks. Those teams are the Cardinals, Buccaneers, Patriots, Giants, Broncos, and Dolphins. That should leave us with six teams that may have little choice but to spend in free agency this year. Let’s take a look at those teams.

Colts, $43M under– The Colts have pretty much avoided spending in free agency the last few years even with a huge surplus of cap space.  Last year when the unexpected retirement of Andrew Luck came down and the team surprisingly did not ask him to repay millions in bonuses paid just months before the retirement and then followed it up by a seemingly crazy decision to agree to a one year, $28 million extension for Jacoby Brissett I surmised that the team was going to be so far under the spending limit that both decisions were in part driven by this. Seeing how far under they are now I think backs that up. Indianapolis will likely make up half of their shortage in the draft but they will most likely have to finally go out and spend at least a bit in free agency this year especially if they do not keep tackle Anthony Castonzo. The Colts may not want to get tied down to anyone for too long so this may wind up being the landing spot for “rehab” projects that take a one year deal in the hope of improving their stock.

Cowboys, $45 million under- Despite what most people think of the Cowboys they have basically managed a low cost roster for years now. They have a reputation for spending wildly but the fact is they have not really signed a notable free agent in ages. They should hit this number with two tags this year on Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Even if Cooper signs elsewhere just the tag for Prescott should be enough since they have other free agents to sign plus $14 million in draft pick bonuses to pay out. So I would not expect them to be forced into anything in free agency.

Ravens, $47 million under– Between a tight salary cap and a cautious approach to extensions and free agency the Ravens have been one of the lowest cost teams in the NFL. Certainly this year they got the most bang for the buck with a low cost team that outperformed all expectations going into the season. The team will probably spend around $15 million on draft picks so they are still well under. This is likely part of the reason why rumors are circulating that the team is considering franchising Matt Judon. A tag for Judon would cost around $16 million and put them much closer to the number. Even if the tag was simply just to trade him part of that logic I am sure is that the most they could receive as compensation is a 3 and that would require extra care in free agency something they couldn’t pull off last year with Za’Darius Smith.  The Ravens did increase payroll last year (they went from being close to the lowest spending team in the NFL for 17 and 18  to around 20th in 2019) and did sign Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram but if there was a year for this team to be even more active in free agency this is probably the year. This is probably a logical spot for some veteran players to chase a ring.

Chargers, $48 million under– The Chargers have more or less been resigned to the fact that they were not going to be a legit competitor last year only adding veteran Thomas Davis and backup QB Tyrod Taylor as UFA’s last season. The team will spend $25 million on their first two draft picks alone so its around $20 million they need to spend. I could see this going one of two ways. Either the team signs a few veterans and someone like Marcus Mariota to just hit the minimum spending number or they try to make a splash for their move and go after either Tom Brady or Drew Brees (I personally cant see Brees leaving the Saints but you never know) , tag tight end Hunter Henry, and actually spend quite a bit in free agency to compete. I see this as one of the more fascinating teams in free agency this year that could stun some people with their decisions.

Bills, $53 million under– Buffalo had to go into a spending freeze due to the mess that the roster was a few years ago and just started to spend a bit last year as they came out from it. The team will only cover around $16M in draft pick spending so the Bills look to be a hit destination for free agents. The team has a huge surplus in cap space so they can probably structure a number of contracts favorably to maintain flexibility after 2021. Buffalo hasn’t signed a notable free agent in ages and I could see that changing this year. While I don’t think anyone is sold on Josh Allen as the guy this is the window to take advantage of his contract so if there is a time to take more risks its 2020 for Buffalo.

There are a few other considerations this year for some of these teams. If they were to extend or restructure players after the season (February 2021) or late in the season signing bonuses should count to help teams meet the number. If the CBA is not extended there are rules that would make it more difficult to do (i.e. extending a Josh Allen in February might not be the easiest thing to accomplish) but it is another route to hit the necessary spending.

The other big question is how do teams approach contracts now that the CBA could expire? I think this year’s free agent group is very strong and we should see a record number of double digit annual contract values being signed but since most teams don’t need to spend will they see this as an opportunity to try to break the union? 

The last time the CBA was set to expire spending hit record lows relative to the salary cap. In part that was because of rules (free agency was more restrictive in 2010 with a number of UFA’s being classified as restricted) but if you want to break any potential strike one of the ways to do that is to not be aggressive in free agency. This week we have seen reports of the NFLPA attempting to advise the players as to how much it would really cost to strike and if there is a thought that this could occur teams may “independently” come to the same conclusion that overspending in 2020 is not wise which could make for a very different free agent period.

Explaining Some of the Different Salary Cap Rules for 2020

As of right now the 2020 NFL offseason and regular season will be a bit different due to the fact that the CBA is expiring. If you follow me on Twitter you have probably seen a few comments here and there about the different rules but I thought it would make some sense to talk about some of them here.

1. There is no June 1 Cut

The question I’ve gotten the most in the last few weeks has been “Hey Jason where did the June 1 option go on the cap and calculator pages” and the answer is quite simple. As of now it doesn’t exist so rather than have people be confused about ways they can manipulate the cap we simply removed it from most of the pages on OTC. For those unfamiliar with the June 1, it was a date in the NFL calendar that was used to defer acceleration (dead money from future years) due to signing bonus prorations to the following league year. So when you cut a player all the cap dollars have to be taken in 2020. While this sounds bad to most fans its not that big of a deal. Only a handful of teams in recent years have had such a bad cap/contract situation where they have needed to use the June 1 so most times deferring money to the following year is just due to circumstance not need. If you wanted to put a number on this the average team should plan on keeping an additional $3-$3.5 million to account for cuts that normally would be treated as a June 1.

2. Teams have Both a Franchise and Transition Tag at their Disposal

In a normal year a team can designate just one player either a Franchise or a Transition player. In 2020 they can designate both. So for a team like the Cowboys with a set of major free agents this is a very useful tool as it gives them the ability to, at the very, least match any offer received for two players. In a normal year a team like Dallas would franchise Dak Prescott which would leave Amari Cooper and Byron Jones free to find employment. Now only one of those two will be 100% free. It’s important to note, though, that you can’t use two Franchise tags or two Transition tags, it’s a one and one situation.

3 Expect some Funky Sounding Contracts due to the 30% rule

To prevent teams from dumping huge amounts of cap into what may one day be uncapped seasons the league has a rule in place that does not allow raises of more than 30% of a player’s cap charge minus the signing bonus proration in 2020. So if a player has a cap charge of $6M in 2020 and $3M of that comes from a signing bonus it means he is only allowed a $900,000 raise in any season beyond 2020. Basically the rule is in place to prevent teams from using a signing bonus and from backloading contracts.

There are creative ways around this by using escalators, incentives, option bonuses, and other mechanisms so it just requires more time for team and agents (or self represented players) to finalize a deal. But we have already seen this going on in 2018 and 2019 and it led to a whole bunch of confusion in particular when Carson Wentz, who signed a deal in excess of $30M a year, had a contract that averaged millions less on paper to comply with the 30% rule but had a million and one ways to unlock the full contract value through escalators and incentives that had a 99.99999999999% chance of being earned.

Because so many don’t know about some of these rules and there is such a rush to report on a contract I can already envision all kinds of mis-information about option years, completion bonuses,  guaranteed salary, and annual contract values. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of fluff in contracts that gets leaked out to make contracts sound better than they are but this year it’s a different story. If you are old enough to remember the old rookie contract system these contracts will all need to be written like those were. The difference is that back then people knew that Sam Bradford’s $20M contract (or whatever that number was) was really a $78M one. This is the same concept it’s just that people don’t know as much about it.

3A. These 30% Rules also Impact Renegotiations

What that means is that teams who usually convert millions of dollars to a signing bonus in February to create salary cap space in March won’t be allowed to do it that same way because they have to be 30% rule compliant and remember signing bonus prorations won’t count in the equation. This is why there was a flurry of renegotiated contracts in the last week of the 2019 season primarily by the smarter salary cap strapped teams (Falcons, Eagles, Lions, etc…) as it was easier to accomplish last year by some liberal use of what is and is not considered a likely to be earned salary escalator or de-escalator and putting in option bonuses that can be exercised and prorated in 2019.

Admittedly I’m not as up on how these incentives can be used now that the season is done but we are technically still in the 2019 league year so there may be some ways teams can use the same methods now (Im sure they cant use options to create cap space because they cant increase a cap charge for 19) but the few teams that did it at the end of the year were the smart ones.

4. Teams have to account for all incentives in 2020

Normally when it comes to incentives the way it works is if the incentive was reached the year before it counts on the cap and if it wasn’t then it doesn’t count. At the end of the year the league then determines who did and did not actually earn those incentives and adjusts the cap the following year. For 2020 all of this happens in real time so teams will need to carry the cap space to account for all possibilities.

As an example, since it was well publicized, Richard Sherman earned $4 million in incentives in 2019 from the 49ers. The 49ers were not charged for that on the salary cap because Sherman did not meet the criteria in 2018. Instead they will have their 2020 salary cap knocked down by $4 million. If that same situation occurred in 2020, the 49ers would be required to have $4 million in cap space to cover the incentive.

It will also work the other way too. This year Sherman should carry a $4 million LTBE incentive on his cap figure because of what he did last season. If he does not hit those same incentives the 49ers would then receive $4 million in cap room once it becomes apparent that he will not earn the incentive.

The latter situation really doesn’t help a team too much since it would be near the end of the season when these go unearned, but teams with a great deal of incentives in their contracts will likely need to prepare for the first scenario to avoid in-season problems. Preparing most likely means hoarding a few million extra in cap room.

5. Void Years May be a Problem

We all know that teams use void years in contracts to dump salary cap dollars for the future. It’s a big discussion point right now because of the pending free agency and huge void year prorations for Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Teams often use multiple void years to make cap hits work. That will be fine this year as well except for 1 year contracts.  This is a problem because the void occurs in what is technically still the 2020 league year (the 2020 league year runs until the first day of free agency in 2021). This is never an issue for teams because that void date is post June 1 of the prior year so the money follows the calendar year for all practical purposes.

Since there is no June 1 all the money from those voids should accelerate into 2020 when the void occurs. That means teams will need to carry the cap room to cover those cap charges essentially rendering the void useless. As an example Drew Brees has a 2021 void year charge of $5.4 million. Assume the Saints bring him back on a new one year contract for 2020. The way they have always done Brees’ recent deals would be to do something with a low salary, huge signing bonus, and two or three void years to dump that money. Assume between the existing void and any new ones that there is $20M in void year cap charges. Well once the deal voids the Saints need $20M in cap to cover it. So my opinion is that teams with Brees type players will actually have to negotiate two year contracts likely using the “Revis structure” from his time with the Patriots where you make the second year salary so high that you will be forced to cut the player thus making it a one year deal but protecting yourself from the void charges since in this case you actually release whenever football resumes. So if you see someone like Brees get a $40M a year deal with a big 2nd year payment relative to the 1st its really a one year deal written in a manner to protect both parties.

6. Expect a Second Salary Cap Adjustment

Usually the NFL salary cap is set around the combine in late February/early March. That number is then firm for the rest of the year. Normally the accountants then go over various items to determine where things may have been off and whatever that number is usually gets baked into the cap the following year. This time around I believe they have to issue the adjustment for this season and it should come in later April or early May. The last time this happened in 2010 every team got an additional $4 million or so in cap space to use. If that happened here it would be a help for teams that may have been relying on that June 1. Of course the adjustment could be negative too but Id think that is much more unlikely.

7. There may be no Cap Carryover for 2021

Technically the CBA ends in 2020 so the concept of carrying over space seems unlikely. The last CBA was somewhat different with regard to carryover rules so its not fair to lean on that for information but it was a “start over” in 2011.  So it’s possible that the NFL would agree to just keep things going as if there was no interruption in 2021 but there is also no guarantee. Rather than chance losing it the smart teams should be putting voids and buyback options into player contracts this year which should be a way to accelerate future prorated money into 2020 and thus use up the cap room. Likewise if you want to cut a player who is underperforming you can do it after the season is over and use up some of that cap room that you have and get the player off the books for 2021.

Top Roster Salary Cap Charges vs Cap Space in 2020

During the Rams debacle last night I made mention of how much money they have tied up in the top players of their team, which was quite a lot. So with that in mind I decided to look at the entire NFL and see just how much each team has invested in salary cap dollars in 2020 just on the top 5 players on their roster. I also wanted to see how flexible teams are in that regard so to do that I wanted to look at how much teams could save by releasing any of those top players.

Now its important to remember that cap charges are always flexible. Based on rules in place it may be harder to manipulate those numbers next year than in a normal year if the CBA is not extended, but restructuring requires doubling or tripling down on a contract by pushing sunk cap costs into the future. In essence a short term solution. Teams could, in some cases, also open cap dollars via trades of these players, but for these purposes I didn’t include that because trades are still relatively uncommon and for many of these teams a trade is not a feasible cap option either due to sunk prorated costs.

So here is a graph that shows on the X axis just how much in salary cap in 2020 is tied up in the top 5 players on a team and on the Y axis we see how much a team can save with releases from this group of players. The release side of the equation only considers players that result in a gain in cap space if a player is cut, so for a player like Jared Goff who would cost millions above his cap number to cut he just gets a value of $0 because there are no savings since he likely would not be released for cap purposes. The average cap sunk into the top 5 is about $76.5 million and the average that can be saved is about $30.8 million.

The worst place to be in the chart is the bottom right quadrant. The bottom right are teams that are well above average in cap dollars committed to just 5 players and have generally no flexibility. At least for 2020 the same top players the team had in 2019 are likely going to be back in 2020. Generally these are the WYSIWYG teams. The Rams, Falcons, and Eagles stick out like a sore thumb.

The Rams have $108 million committed to Goff, Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Jalen Ramsey. They can only lop off $13.7M through cuts and that would simply be if they cut Ramsey which you know they are not doing. None of the others offer any savings.  Atlanta and the Eagles we have talked about here for a few seasons now. Atlanta has always walked a tightrope with their cap while the Eagles have pushed more and more cap to the future for some time. Basically the year that Howie Roseman came back into power they made a number of decisions that were going to lock them into a core group and they have kept with that philosophy. The Eagles would be unable to save a dime cutting any of their top 5 while the Falcons would save a measly  $4.95 million if they cut Desmond Trufant.

Each of these teams will have tough decisions as to whether or not they try to kick the can or just deal with it. None of them have good cap situations next year, all in the bottom third of the league in projected cap room and none look like real contenders at the moment.

You can argue about what is the next best spot. I’d probably lean top left though it depends on your roster construction. Generally these teams don’t have big numbers invested at the top and they have the flexibility to change up the mix. That’s great for bad teams like the Giants, Bengals, and Bucs that don’t have a good mix of players and great for the Ravens, Texans, and Colts who are all playoff contenders.

The top right means you have big money invested at the top but a lot of flexibility. So if you are a bad team it means you may have a chance to overhaul your roster and create some cap space in the process. However it also probably means you sunk a lot into 2019 and if it didn’t pay off its going to lead to two lost seasons. The Jaguars, Bears, Panthers, and to a lesser extent Redskins it that category. The most interesting team is the 49ers. Because they frontloaded certain contracts, in particular the one for Jimmy Garoppolo, and use late vesting guarantees they have a lot of flexibility with some pretty expensive players if things went south or they wanted to move on from one underperformer.

The bottom left has plusses and minuses. If you are a good team it’s a good place to be. It means while you don’t have much flexibility with this particular group of players you also don’t have a great deal invested in the top, so in theory you should have room to add more players or re-sign your own without issue. Now there are a few things to consider before patting yourself on the back if you are a Saints or a Patriots fan. The Saints have Drew Brees in the top 5 at an artificially low cost ($15.9M) and the Patriots don’t have Tom Brady at all ($6.75M). Both are free agents in 2020 but have millions upon millions in voidable year dead money they accrues if they are unsigned. Brees’ cap jumps to $21.3M if he isn’t retained or retires while Brady’s goes to $13.5 million.  Both will get big salaries if they stay so in reality both should be more over to the right. Dallas should be in position to retain their players while the other teams are in position to push some of their top 5 down. Overall Id lean towards this being the second worst quadrant but again it depends on the status of the team.

Finally just a quick guide to see how these teams stack up in actual cap space I plotted the top 5 cap charges against the estimated cap space for each team once they reach 51 players through futures contracts. Not much surprising here other than it really shows you how most teams are teams of haves or have nots. Teams with a lot invested at the top don’t have much cap room. Those without big investments at the top don’t really invest anywhere and have huge cap room. This is more just a weird way with how the league has gone which is seeing more and more teams with either the “go for it” approach with little future consideration or “punt the season away” approach with all consideration toward the future.

Projecting an extension for Cody Whitehair

By: Brad Spielberger  

Throughout the 2018 off-season, the Bears were in talks for an extension with their 2015 second-round pick out of Florida State, nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Ryan Pace extended one of the players that he was personally responsible for drafting in Chicago for the first time. So far the returns have been positive. Early extensions such as Goldman’s enable teams to have a better understanding of both their roster and salary cap situation for the following offseason before that offseason arrives. Last year the Bears knew they wanted to keep Goldman around. Agreeing to a deal as he was entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract was the smart decision to move up the timing of his deal before the market increased.

This off-season is no different. 

By the numbers

The second-round draft pick at No. 56 overall for the Bears in 2016 was Kansas State interior offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. Like Goldman, the veteran interior lineman is entering the last season of a four-year rookie contract. 

At every step of the way during his tenure with the Bears, Whitehair has demonstrated exactly what the Bears were seeking when they drafted him three years ago: versatility and reliability. Whitehair has shifted back and forth between center and left guard multiple times already and has featured well in both spots. He has even handled some duties at right guard in emergency situations. That the veteran has missed only 25 total snaps in three years (per TheQuantEdge), demonstrates just how dependable of a player he is. 

Pro Football Focus deemed Whitehair’s rookie season third-best among all centers since they began recording statistics in 2006. Here is what the analytics database had to say about Whitehair’s second season in 2017: 

“Though tasked with playing guard to the tune of 259 offensive snaps last season, Whitehair still predominantly played center and played extremely well at the position in 2017. Whitehair ranked fifth in run-block grade (81.8) and fourth in run-block success percentage (17.6) in 2017.”

Whitehair was not only PFF’s third-highest-graded center in 2016, he was No. 13 in 2017, and No. 10 in 2018. At the initial peak of his accomplished career, he allowed a grand total of zero sacks and zero QB hits in 2018. This was while playing every offensive snap. 

Run blocking may have suffered a bit for the whole Bears’ offensive line unit in 2018, which will have to be mitigated in coming years. But it was Whitehair and the Bears’ collective pass protection that took a major leap forward. 

Here was PFF’s review of the whole season for the big men up front in Chicago: 

“The Bears finished the season with the league’s second-best pass blocking efficiency of any offensive line, and this was yet another team without a real weak link. Rookie James Daniels ended up earning their lowest grade at 62.3 overall, but Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie, and Cody Whitehair were all over 70.0.” 

All of these accolades are great, which brings up an important query: why are the Bears moving Whitehair to left guard after he was one of the NFL’s premier centers (according to at least one metric) in the last three years? It’s a multi-faceted answer.

First, James Daniels is the more natural center, as it was his college position. Second, Whitehair struggled mightily with shotgun snaps in 2018. Matt Nagy utilized the shotgun formation on 79 percent of all offensive snaps in 2018, which was tied for the second-highest percentage in the NFL. The Bears cannot afford to be stressing over quality shotgun snaps. It should be a routine exchange and the more natural center in Daniels gives them that drilled regimen.

What’s most important in Whitehair’s position shift is getting the rest of the Bears’ offensive line to ascend. PFF had complements for Charles Leno Jr. and his run blocking, but the rest of the big boys struggled mightily. Pairing Whitehair and Leno Jr. together on the left side is a calculated decision from Nagy, Pace, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery are elite change-of-direction running backs who need space to work with before they can create magic out of thin air. Thanks to the presence of these two dynamic backs, I expect there to be a heavy usage of counters and cutbacks to the left side behind Leno Jr. and Whitehair. 

Taylor Gabriel and Cordarrelle Patterson running jet sweeps from the right side to the left should also be a feature of the Chicago offense in 2019. According to SharpFootball’s 2019 NFL preview, the Bears ran the ball behind the center and to the left more than they did to the right in 2018. This may have had something to do with Kyle Long’s absence. An understandable point considering Long’s proficiency as a bruiser in the running game. But I see this trend continuing, and perhaps expanding, in 2019.

While purely speculative, one can also assume that the Bears did not want to put too much on James Daniels’ plate in Year 1. It’s difficult enough to be a rookie in the NFL. If Daniels also had to learn all of the cadences and snap counts of a brand-new offense (along with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky), it could have been a disaster. The shift from center to left guard for Cody Whitehair and vice versa for James Daniels in 2019 makes plenty of sense, and better suits both of their skill-sets long term.

Now what effect does moving Whitehair from center to left guard have on his contract? Many seem to believe that left guards get paid significantly more than centers, but that is not the case. 

Below is a table with the top-five free agent contracts in each off-season based on average per year for both left guards and centers:

Top Five Free Agent Signings by APY

As you can see above, only in 2018 did the top-five contracts at left guard have a higher average APY than those at center. This is primarily a result of somewhat of an outlier of a contract – Andrew Norwell’s $13,300,000 per year free agent deal with the Jaguars. Norwell may have proven to be a cautionary tale for teams looking to extend their guards to big deals: he missed five games in 2018 and did not play particularly well in the other 11. In the 2019 free agency cycle, Rodger Saffold, another second-round draft pick and perhaps the best comparison to Whitehair’s situation, was the only left guard to top $7,000,000 APY. However, Mitch Morse, Maurkice Pouncey, and Matt Paradis all topped the $9,000,000 mark at center, and technically these are Whitehair’s cohorts of the past three seasons. 

Saffold received an overall PFF grade of 73.2 in his 2018 season with the Rams, compared to Cody Whitehair’s 70.4. A discrepancy that small doesn’t mean a great deal, both were good players last year. Whitehair has the benefit of youth, as he is just 27-years-old whereas Saffold is 31. 

If we look at the centers specifically, Morse is 27 and Paradis is 29. Two guys more relatable in age to Whitehair. They also played the same position as the Bears’ interior swingman the past few seasons. That makes them a potentially better gauge of his true market, even though he is sliding over to left guard for 2019. 

Morse was drafted No. 49 overall in the 2015 draft, one year before Cody Whitehair was selected at No. 56. Morse played out his rookie contract with the Chiefs and became an unrestricted free agent this off-season. While Morse did play at a high level when healthy, he missed five games in 2018 after missing nine games in 2017. There are some concerns about his concussion history, as he has already been diagnosed with three, and he remains in the Bills’ concussion protocol as of today, August 21st.

Paradis, meanwhile, is a journeyman center that was selected in the sixth round in 2014 and eventually placed on the Broncos’ practice squad. He became a UFA in 2019 after playing on a second-round RFA tender for $2.914 million in 2018. Paradis also missed seven games in 2018, though he hadn’t missed a snap in three years prior to that. Managing a PFF grade of 79 was all the more impressive in a shortened 2018 season.

Below is a table with each of the four player’s PFF grades since 2016: 

PFF Grades

While PFF grades are not the end-all be-all authority on player effectiveness, this table demonstrates the type of impact that draft pedigree can have on contract negotiations. Paradis is the only player taken later than the second round. Though he grades out better than the other three players above, he will have received the smallest contract of the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I believe Whitehair will come out with the largest contract of his peers.

The largest APY signing at left guard in 2018 was Norwell with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Norwell was an undrafted free agent with the Panthers and played on a RFA tender in 2017 before agreeing to terms in Jacksonville. It should be noted that the Jaguars went on a spending spree in 2018, shelling out the fourth-most cash in the league. Norwell’s three-year PFF grade average prior to 2018 was a 79.37. Norwell’s $13.3M APY extension under the 2018 salary cap equates to $14,125,620.80 APY under the 2019 salary cap. Norwell received $30 million fully guaranteed at signing out of a $66 million total, which is roughly 45 percent. Rodger Saffold, Mitch Morse, and Matt Paradis all received similar guaranteed-at-signing percentages of around 45 percent. 

While Ryan Pace, Joey Laine and Co. have presumably attempted to negotiate a lower number by offering the extension a year early (a la Jaylon Smith in Dallas), Whitehair’s camp is still probably looking for top dollar. Pace had no problem making Eddie Goldman one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL last off-season after his third season. Expecting anything but a similar contract at left guard for Whitehair may be foolhardy. The goal for the Bears’ front office at this point should be to just keep the eventual number below Norwell’s.

Whitehair’s contract projection: 

Four years, $49 million ($12.25M APY), $22.5 million fully guaranteed at signing ($14.5 million signing bonus, $1.5 million 2019 base salary, $3 million 2020 base salary, $3.5 million 2020 roster bonus). 

In this deal, there will also be a 2021 roster bonus of $3.5 million guaranteed for injury only at signing. The roster bonus will become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year. Whitehair is currently due a $1,026,078 base salary in 2019 and the remainder of his rookie contract signing bonus is for $318,103. 

Below is a table with the full contract details, including a small $473,922 pay-bump to his 2019 base salary that becomes fully guaranteed:

Whitehair has too many positives working in his favor to not receive a strong, secure contract extension. He’s 27, a former second-round draft pick, extremely dependable and reliable, and capable of playing at a high level at multiple positions. The change of position in the contract year muddles negotiations a bit, but the left guard and center market are still pretty similar.

This projection is a very nice payday for Whitehair, especially when considering that the extension is a year early as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. For comparison’s sake, Jaylon Smith of the Dallas Cowboys just became the fourth highest paid inside linebacker (based on APY) in the NFL after starting just 22 games since being drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft (at No. 34 he went 22 picks ahead of Whitehair). As I mentioned at the top of the article, Cody Whitehair has missed only 25 snaps in his three year career out of a possible 3,073… Jaylon Smith has missed 26 starts out of a possible 48. The inside linebacker and interior offensive line market have nothing to do with each other, but consistency brings huge value, particularly to a position that relies on the unit to develop chemistry. 

Whitehair becoming the fourth highest paid left guard/center in terms of APY would mean his APY falls around $11 million. This estimate of $11 million APY was essentially where my Whitehair projection began, but the more I dove into the (scarce) resources available to determine Whitehair’s market, the more that number moved upward. 

All of the Bears’ moves to clear cap space prior to the 2019 free agency period and most recently with Charles Leno Jr. were not for naught, as another draft pick will be rewarded before the 2019 season kicks off. This hypothetical move will take up roughly $3.4 million in 2019 salary cap space, lowering the Bears’ number to around $18 million (per the NFLPA Public Salary Cap report dated 8/21/2019)

Looking Ahead to the Vikings 2020 Salary Cap

Following the Vikings extension of tight end Kyle Rudolph a few days ago talk jumped to the Vikings salary cap situation in 2020. Currently the Vikings have in the ballpark of $213 million committed to 2020, the second highest total in the NFL (the Jaguars are at the top around $215 million) which sounded the offseason alarm among Vikings fans and some media outlets looking ahead for what was a non-playoff team in 2018 which did not exactly add a lot of new parts for this season. So let’s take a look and see if the panic is warranted. Continue reading Looking Ahead to the Vikings 2020 Salary Cap »

Going Through Some Contract-Based Draft Needs for Contenders

The draft is the single most effective and cost-efficient way for franchises to replenish their roster. While the 1st round gets most of the headlines, the subsequent rounds are where teams can pick up young contributors at minimal cost. Leading up to draft day, this makes discussions about depth charts and draft needs important, but there is one aspect that is often overlooked.

You can guarantee that when GMs and their staffs write names on those cards, they have looked at more than just the shape of their depth chart. They must consider their upcoming free agents (both next offseason and the offseason after that), their possible and likely cuts in coming seasons, and not just how their roster looks currently, but how it is likely to look in 6 months, a year, or even 3 years. Continue reading Going Through Some Contract-Based Draft Needs for Contenders »

NFL Sets Salary Cap at $177.2 Million

Per ESPN’s Field Yates, and later confirmed by multiple sources, the NFL salary cap for 2018 has been set at $177.2 million for the season. This is right in line with the NFL projected range and our projection of $178 million for the season. The OTC pages should now be updated to reflect the change (if they aren’t showing that way they will shortly). If my math is correct (and it may not be) that should mean that the RFA tenders are now set at $1.907M (ROFR), $2.914M( 2nd rounder), and $4.149M (1st rounder).