Mike Florio had an interesting thought today at PFT in which he speculated that Aaron Rodgers could decide to use the Covid protocols to opt out of his contract for the year and avoid the potential hold out fight that might occur during the summer if he chooses to not attend camp. Rodgers is widely known to be at odds with the Packers over his future and the Packers have done little to pacify the situation which could make for an explosive summer. Rodgers has millions of dollars at risk if he holds out for the season (he has up to $13.7M in forfeiture that is possible) but none if he opts out. That doesn’t make Rodgers free and clear but it does pause the clock for both sides for a year and really would put the Packers in a stronger position next year.
If Rodgers opts out of the year his cap charge would drop from $36.702 million to $6.8 million, a savings of $29.902 million. That is money that the salary cap starved Packers could use to extend a player like Davante Adams or simply carry over to next year when the Packers situation goes from bad to worse. Next year Green Bay is projected to be $35 million over the salary cap.
With an opt out Rodgers contract from 2021 would toll to 2022. That would drop his salary cap number from $39.852 million to $30.402 million, a savings of $9.45 million. Ultimately that would mean that via the opt out the Packers would go from $35 million over the cap to about $4 million under the salary cap. The opt out would give the Packers essentially a free opportunity to look at 2nd year player Jordan Love as the starter for the team and gather the information necessary about Rodgers future.
When the Packers drafted Love the plan was likely to allow Rodgers to start in 2020 and most likely 2021 with a chance to phase out during the year if Rodgers did not play well. If Rodgers played poorly in 2020 they would have made the move to Love this year. Rodgers may have thrown a monkey wrench into those plans when he was spectacular in 2020 giving him all kinds of leverage to not only expect to be the starter for all of 2021 but to basically look for an assurance that he would be the starter the next few years and if they would not do that then they should trade him.
Trading Rodgers was always going to be near impossible this year. There is no way to sell a fanbase or veteran team on trading the MVP of the league for a complete unknown. In turn the Packers have gone on a bit of a campaign trying to paint Rodgers the villain calling him complicated and publicly admitting that he is tearing apart their fanbase this offseason with his feud with the team in the event that he does not show up or is able to force a trade. Packers management would look terrible if they traded Rodgers, even under those circumstances, and he flourished while Love struggled.
The cost to trade Rodgers would remain high ($31.556M) next year but there would be no rush for Green Bay to execute the move and they could in theory even delay it to June 2 if they found a partner to play ball since his cap number would have dropped by so much following the opt out. The decision would also be far easier for all involved since they would have 16 games of Love to evaluate. If Love is terrible then they know it is time to mend the fences with Rodgers and continue the relationship with no threat of benching for the next three years. If Love is good they can trade Rodgers without all the negativity that would come with it this year.
The Packers would also retain the same rights to forfeiture as they currently hold next year if there was another blow up between the two sides. When the contract goes on pause due to Covid all the rights transfer forward even those pertaining to recovery of a $6.8 million bonus that was paid this March. So really there is no harm to Green Bay at all unless they are worried about Love starting at all this season and if they were we probably wouldnt be here right now because they would have gone well out of their way to make up with Rodgers. So definitely an interesting theory even if it is a big longshot.
In a surprising move the Steelers announced the release of starting guard David DeCastro. DeCastro is a 9 year pro who has been named to six Pro Bowls and was a two time All Pro and has played his entire career with the Steelers. DeCastro was entering the final year of a five year, $50 million contract extension that he signed in 2016 and was to count $14.2975 million against the salary cap. His release clears $8.75 million for the Steelers and will leave them with $5.5475 million in dead money.
Everything about this release is odd. DeCastro’s $8.75 million salary was certainly reasonable and a fair market or better value for a player with his history. Had the Steelers looked for a pay cut that would have come back in February so it is doubtful that it would have been in play here.
While the release does bring the Steelers some salary cap relief that is relief that would have been needed in March, not June. Since DeCastro is in the final year of his contract nothing is gained by waiting until June to release him. The Steelers cap is in order for the season by this point so I don’t see a salary cap angle here either.
Some have hinted at retirement and while I guess that is a possibility you would think after a nine year career with a team they would give you a retirement sendoff and place you on the reserve list not tweet out an announcement about his release.
I had not followed his situation closely but from my timeline on Twitter it does look as if he was absent from most offseason activities so there must have been more there than just the typical veteran decision to not attend offseason programs. Perhaps he just wanted to go and the Steelers honored his wishes, but I’m genuinely surprised by this release and usually you can see most releases coming from a mile away. This one I didnt have on the radar at all.
Edit: Just after posting this I was told that DeCastro’s release carried a non-football injury designation. I would guess that this means he has been hurt and the Steelers are indicating that he was hurt outside of the course of football work. So at least that sheds a little light on why they might be releasing him.
In a pretty strange move the NFL and NFLPA have apparently agreed to a cap on the salary cap in 2022 with the cap ceiling being set to $208.2 million. I can not recall the NFL ever doing this before. I have seen floors set for the league, such as this past year, but never a ceiling. In terms of planning this really adds an element of certainty that the league has probably not had before.
The league and the union deferred millions of dollars in cap losses from the pandemic to 2022 and possibly 2023 to prevent the cap from falling down into the $150 to $160 million range in 2021. We had estimated that under a normal growth rate adjusted for lower attendance that this would likely bring the cap to about $203 million in 2022 assuming that they put at a pretty good amount of the remaining shortage from 2020 into 2022. The fact that they agreed to this makes me think that the league is now projecting a much higher adjustment for 2021.
The league by rule has to more or less provide a good faith estimate of revenues in the early winter. Those revenue projections become the basis for the salary cap that year. When the cap was set this year the pandemic was still a strong consideration and I would assume that this was reflected in estimates of local revenues that would reflect 50 to 70% capacity. Now the pandemic looks to be in the rearview mirror (knock on wood) and the expected capacity leaguewide should be 100%. That makes this years estimated way lower than expected which could lead to a very big positive adjustment on the cap, one that perhaps far outweighs the remaining negative one from last year.
By making an agreement to “cap the cap” the league maintains cost certainty and prevents a potential big uptick in salaries to meet CBA mandated requirements. Since 2011 the NFL has done everything in its power to maintain very steady increases in the cap. This was in direct contrast to old CBA agreements in particular the 2006 agreement that saw a massive jump in the cap which in turn led to massive increases in player contracts almost immediately. The 2011 CBA prevented that. My guess is this increase, which will be about 14%, reflects the maximum the NFL would want to see the cap increase year over year and will allow them to pay back whatever benefits and other losses were deferred due to the pandemic. It probably gives some insight into what may also occur once the big TV deals begin to roll in starting in 2023.
In any event I think this is a good faith gesture by the NFLPA to agree to this. They and the owners did a fair job of navigating the pandemic and they prevented what could have been a bloodbath among veteran players. This is good news for most teams in the NFL though it also takes out the chance to get a salary cap miracle for teams like the Packers, Cowboys, Rams, Saints, and Texans all of whom project to be over the $208 million cap next year. The NFL is good with these projections and the same way that the floor for 2021 ended up as the cap I would expect them to reach this ceiling next year. We have updated all the cap charges on the site to reflect the salary cap limit for next year.
The other day on Twitter I posted something looking at average snaps per year played by draft picks and UDFAs and I had a few requests for a larger time period so I went back and looked at every draft since 2011 to look at the snaps played by draft picks. Just to get a bit of the calculations out of the way the snaps are just for snaps played for the team that drafted the player (i.e. in 2021 any snaps played by Sam Darnold for Carolina would count as a 0 for the pick). Secondly I calculated the average snaps for each slot by year so I could easily adjust the numbers for players in the middle of their rookie contracts. I then summed up the average for each contract year to come up with the expected 4 year total. Here is what the data looks like.
The results here are pretty much what you would expect with a pretty predictable decline as we travel through the draft. While not all snaps are created equal it is somewhat notable that a good percentage of 2nd round picks track similar to many of the 1st round picks. This pretty much goes right in line with the findings Brad and I had in the Drafting Stage (and many others have had when doing draft research) that the gap traditionally assigned to draft picks makes little sense and that it is more based on the emotion involved that leads to the “we cant miss” attitude that leads to big trade ups. If you hold that false assumption that every trade up is going to land you Patrick Mahomes rather than Mitch Trubisky it makes sense to overpay but in probably about 75% of the cases you land Trubisky.
Using the numbers above I calculated the expected “return” for a draft slot. For the most part this was the average of the four draft slots before the pick and then three after the pick. There are other ways to do it but this was a quick and dirty method for something I wanted to do which was see what teams had gotten the most or least out of their draft picks since 2011. Here is a look at the average snaps above expected per year for each teams draft picks since 2011.
Basically the teams in the top right had a lot of picks and did really well with those picks while those in the top left hit a home run despite a limited quantity of picks. For those on the bottom the results have been poor in the draft. The avg. line isn’t at zero because of the method I used to calculate the projected snaps which wasn’t going to zero out.
Since 2011 the Falcons have been the top drafting team with pretty big contributions from players like DeVondre Campbell, Grady Jarrett, Ricardo Allen, etc… and not really busting out at the top though they did have misses in the second round. The Falcons players averaged about 50 snaps more per year than expected based on where they were selected. That produced around a total of 3,800 excess snaps per contract year for their draft picks.
The worst team was New England. This was in part driven by the use of a 2nd round pick on Jimmy Garoppolo who never had a chance to really play because of Tom Brady but they also had major whiffs with Ras-I Dowling, Dominique Easley, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, etc… which wasn’t enough to overcome the picks of players like Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. The average of 50 snaps per year less than expected per player was worst in the NFL.
Here is how the teams stack up since 2017.
We have the Bills in the top spot over the last few years which is a big reason why the team has made such a turnaround. The Patriots have still struggled and have maintained their spot as the worst return on the draft. I think the performance of the Packers and Seahawks picks should be troubling for their future as clearly their strength was prior to 2017.
Here are the numbers for each team in a table format.
The fact that Seattle signed Reed last season was actually a bit of a surprise. They failed to come to terms on an extension the prior year and more often than not the players do not come back to the team. The contract itself wound up a disaster for Seattle due to the structure of the deal.
Seattle clearly treated this contract as a two year contract not a one year and lets see kind of deal. Of the $23 million they committed, $14.5 million was paid out in the first year of the contract, a number that was close to what you would pay a franchise player. Seattle was supposed to get the second year at a low cost- $8.5 million- to justify the up front investment.
Seattle, however, flipped the cap charges in the opposite direction. They paid Reed $9.35 million on the cap last year and would watch his cap number after escalators jump up to nearly $14 million. With their salary cap a bit of a struggle right now it was going to be hard to keep him at this number to finalize their offseason signings and to sign their draft picks this year, unless they want to open up more cap room through older player restructures, which may have to happen anyway. Reed will still count for $5 million on the Seahawks cap this year.
This is a situation that Seattle likely should have been in front of last week before free agency began. Once they realized that they were trading for Gabe Jackson that should have been enough to realize that they needed more space this year than initially planned. They wound up using void years in pretty much all their free agent signings which they may have had to do with or without a Reed release but at least that would have given them more options when picking and choosing the structures of the contracts.
The Seahawks did go to Reed to lower his cap number according to Ian Rapoport which led to a breakdown between the two sides. because Reed only had one year left on his deal any reduction in cap room would have required the sides to negotiate a new contract that included void years. This was something that probably had a better chance of happening prior to free agency than after the initial wave of free agency. When a player watches you sign/trade for players and know that you may need room to sign others to extensions it may not sit well with someone who has zero long term commitment from the team. Seattle has plenty of cap room in 2022 which is likely another reason why he would have looked for an extension versus a conversion.
In the past players usually got something out of contract restructures for “the good of the team” which is why teams use the auto conversion clauses in their contracts. Like I said that type of clause would not apply here since it is his final year but it illustrates why these things happen. If they did threaten him with a release if he didnt accept the offer that is going to be looked at as a dirty move to pull that after a week of free agency is over and teams have made their signings.
Seattle will look to trade him in the next day or two. I am not entirely sure where they are with all their signings but they may need him to be off the roster to process a few moves. We estimated them to be about $6 million over the cap but that includes some signings not yet made official and also a Poona Ford extension that should lower the cap charge we have listed. I think (and I may be off on this) they have yet to make official Chris Carson, Benson Mayowa, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jordan Simmons, and Alex Collins.