Free Agency AfterMath: Commitment Index and 2017 True Cap Space

As most of the prominent free agents have been signed and much of league-wide salary cap space has been spent, today I will examine the ramifications the transactions have had on Commitment Index and True Cap Space for 2017.

Commitment Index:

Commitment Index measures net future salary cap commitments (prorated signing bonus amounts and guaranteed base salaries net of current salary cap space) relative to the average net future cap commitments of all teams. The primary concepts are as follows:

  • Only actual commitments are relevant to evaluating future spending capacity (as opposed to scheduled salary cap numbers of existing contracts).
  • Committing future salary cap space is only potentially detrimental to the extent the team does not possess at least an equal amount of current salary cap space available to be carried forward to future years to negate the future cap commitments.
  • Net future salary cap commitments should be measured on a relative basis because a team only disadvantages itself in terms of future spending capacity to the extent it makes more net future cap commitments than the other teams in the league (if every team “mortgages its future” to the same degree, then no team has really “mortgaged its future” at all).
  • Scoring highly in Commitment Index is not necessary a “bad” situation to be in, but it indicates a lack of flexibility in comparison to other teams. In that sense, whether or not the team is in long-term salary cap trouble depends in part on the strength of the roster to which the team has committed.

These numbers are based on what is included on Over The Cap as of the evening of Sunday March 20th. The following contracts are known to not be included: Ian Williams, Steve McLendon, Zane Beadles, Kelvin Beachum, Tyvon Branch, Jarvis Jenkins and Quinten Coples.

Commitment Index as of March 21, 2016
Team Proration Guarantees Cap Space Net Commitment Index 3/9/16
PHI 73,317,683 48,173,488 (12,595,358) 108,895,813 240% 419%
BAL 112,662,692 2,844,759 (7,555,014) 107,952,437 238% 492%
DAL 87,750,575 16,476,625 (10,670,381) 93,556,819 206% 409%
KC 66,814,590 22,448,220 (6,293,708) 82,969,102 183% 240%
HOU 50,170,219 41,111,182 (9,829,389) 81,452,012 180% 50%
ATL 57,380,148 31,074,756 (9,498,064) 78,956,840 174% 166%
NYG 69,296,396 25,079,872 (18,844,166) 75,532,102 167% -55%
BUF 65,868,911 16,138,491 (7,034,472) 74,972,930 165% 368%
PIT 66,723,176 4,092,128 (2,186,807) 68,628,497 151% 275%
MIA 58,863,893 22,396,267 (18,031,807) 63,228,353 139% 299%
NO 50,693,999 11,178,913 (817,519) 61,055,393 135% 209%
NE 59,063,518 3,627,112 (13,445,157) 49,245,473 109% 143%
CAR 68,284,691 1,235,794 (20,581,131) 48,939,354 108% 236%
SEA 55,457,814 (8,823,186) 46,634,628 103% 148%
SD 48,216,832 11,544,945 (13,287,533) 46,474,244 102% 73%
ARI 45,669,675 2,745,192 (6,183,618) 42,231,249 93% 157%
WAS 49,929,992 6,191,735 (14,494,604) 41,627,123 92% 161%
NYJ 24,287,718 19,192,007 (2,281,841) 41,197,884 91% 144%
DEN 34,342,748 10,763,990 (5,567,446) 39,539,292 87% 108%
GB 48,268,889 1,933,146 (12,692,706) 37,509,329 83% 157%
LA 20,745,398 23,019,620 (15,226,577) 28,538,441 63% -95%
TB 14,613,157 32,276,265 (18,995,430) 27,893,992 62% -95%
OAK 17,156,122 28,578,528 (18,395,641) 27,339,009 60% -173%
DET 39,275,635 3,302,633 (18,014,864) 24,563,404 54% -16%
TEN 35,572,237 16,859,313 (31,348,573) 21,082,977 46% -50%
MIN 21,271,013 9,369,662 (12,427,111) 18,213,564 40% -15%
CIN 33,029,402 2,392,790 (20,083,041) 15,339,151 34% -33%
JAX 33,832,835 34,945,255 (57,587,270) 11,190,820 25% -280%
CHI 23,447,215 9,375,284 (23,948,272) 8,874,227 20% -125%
IND 26,113,143 1,174,582 (21,198,459) 6,089,266 13% 43%
CLE 27,093,070 8,712,917 (42,181,184) (6,375,197) -14% -28%
SF 33,315,621 3,106,960 (58,843,242) (22,420,661) -49% -132%
 

The Texans and Giants made the largest leaps up the Commitment Index rankings, and farther down the list the Raiders and Jaguars began to move up from the bottom. The teams that have largely sat out of free agency – such as the Browns, Colts and Packers – have slid down the list as other teams have moved ahead of them in terms of net future cap commitments. The lack of transactions of some other teams that have been historically active in free agency – such as the Cowboys, Bills, Saints and Dolphins – would have been predictable by looking at their Commitment Index scores measured as of last summer.

A number of perennially successful teams – such as the Patriots, Seahawks, Broncos and Packers – occupy the middle of the Commitment Index rankings. These teams have talent on the roster worth committing to, but have avoided overextending themselves by committing too heavily to their then-current roster at any specific point in time. The Bengals should be commended for finding a way to keep a talented team largely under contract without actually making much of a true commitment in the contracts.

2017 True Cap Space:

The offseason transactions have also had an impact on the True Cap Space of each team in 2017. True Cap Space focuses on each team’s actual salary cap commitments, rather than the scheduled cap numbers of players currently under contract. The main point is that salary cap numbers can typically be avoided or manipulated through termination, trade or pay cut. However, certain amounts are fixed against the salary cap of each team. Prorated signing bonus amounts and dead money cannot be manipulated, traded, or deferred in any way. These amounts are completely “stuck” against the team’s salary cap. True Cap Space also considers fully guaranteed base salary, but in an environment where the Eagles can offload unwanted guaranteed salary in trades without attaching draft pick sweeteners, it seems more appropriate to focus on prorated signing bonus amounts and dead money.

As the chart below shows, the Ravens have already used up roughly $52 million of the 2017 salary cap. This is cap commitment that cannot be traded or avoided, and it will remain on the books regardless of whether the associated players remain on the team. At the other end of the spectrum, the Buccaneers have used up less than $9 million of the 2017 salary cap. The Eagles lead the league in total 2017 commitments by a wide margin, but a significant chunk of this commitment comes in the form of guaranteed base salary, which means that it can be traded to other teams.

Over The Cap currently shows the Buccaneers as having $74.76 million worth of salary cap space in 2017 and the Panthers as having $74.29 million. But despite these nearly identical numbers, the Panthers have truly committed roughly $22.68 million more to the 2017 salary cap than the Buccaneers. This is why looking at salary cap space as it is traditionally reported is misleading – doing so obscures the degree to which scheduled cap numbers of players under contract are (or are not) malleable. The Buccaneers and the Panthers do not have the same degree of flexibility in 2017 as it would seem by looking solely at the amount of cap space; the Buccaneers have noticeably more flexibility.

I should clarify that this analysis speaks solely to flexibility. I am not considering the strength of rosters or the number of impending free agents or the number of upcoming draft picks. All of these factors contribute to a more nuanced picture of the salary cap situation that each team currently maintains for 2017. Instead, I am simply identifying the amount of 2017 salary cap space that each team no longer has at its disposal in shaping its 2017 roster. But given the unpredictable nature of the NFL, more flexibility is certainly preferable to less flexibility if all else is equal.

2017 Salary Cap Commitments
Team Proration/Dead Money Fully Guaranteed 2017 Commitment
BAL 51,951,069 2,844,759 54,795,828
DAL 42,528,751 16,476,625 59,005,376
BUF 32,718,233 12,888,491 45,606,724
CAR 31,527,901 1,235,794 32,763,695
NE 31,280,863 3,627,112 34,907,975
PIT 31,163,847 2,989,828 34,153,675
ATL 30,789,294 28,663,134 59,452,428
GB 30,598,267 1,933,146 32,531,413
PHI 29,926,997 47,037,488 76,964,485
KC 29,555,772 20,706,288 50,262,060
NYG 27,344,882 22,682,365 50,027,247
DET 25,498,346 3,302,633 28,800,979
NO 25,345,184 9,190,255 34,535,439
ARI 25,103,564 2,745,192 27,848,756
WAS 24,898,404 2,863,694 27,762,098
SEA 24,633,601 0 24,633,601
HOU 24,311,411 39,305,809 63,617,220
MIA 23,699,144 20,478,103 44,177,247
SD 20,769,907 9,654,978 30,424,885
TEN 19,754,806 10,122,408 29,877,214
CLE 18,173,498 4,961,181 23,134,679
CIN 17,822,791 1,282,790 19,105,581
SF 17,136,557 1,329,784 18,466,341
DEN 15,842,839 9,763,990 25,606,829
JAX 15,023,477 31,307,041 46,330,518
NYJ 14,262,314 16,216,433 30,478,747
CHI 13,064,580 6,681,686 19,746,266
STL 12,763,322 20,699,642 33,462,964
MIN 12,292,930 7,169,522 19,462,452
IND 11,361,666 1,174,582 12,536,248
OAK 10,612,258 25,053,102 35,665,360
TB 8,848,510 28,384,273 37,232,783
 

Bryce Johnston is the creator of Commitment Index and the co-creator of Expected Contract Value.  Bryce earned his Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in May 2014, and currently works as a corporate associate in the New York City office of an AmLaw 50 law firm. Before becoming a contributor to overthecap.com, Bryce operated eaglescap.com for 10 NFL offseasons, appearing multiple times on 610 WIP Sports Radio in Philadelphia as an NFL salary cap expert. Bryce can be contacted via e-mail at bryce.l.johnston@gmail.com or via Twitter @NFLCapAnalytics