Recapping Todays News… Chiefs, Cowboys, Saints and more…

Today was the last day to designate a player a franchise or transition player which probably had a number of potential free agents anxiously waiting to hear if they were truly free or confined by the tag. While there were some moves made at the last minute many of the names that had been discussed in recent days, such as Greg Jennings, Aqib Talib, Jake Long, Sean Smith, and so on made out without getting franchised.

Kansas City Chiefs– The  most active team of the day the Chiefs locked up WR Dwayne Bowe to a 5 year contract and P Dustin Colquitt to a contract that should make him the highest paid Punter in the NFL. The ability to lock up up Bowe allowed the Chiefs to place the franchise tag on T Branden Albert.

While there have not been concrete terms on Bowe’s contract I have seen the numbers 5 years for $50 million floating around on Twitter. If that is the deal signed it will be a good deal for the Chiefs and probably signal a bad sign for Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings who were hoping to break the bank. They needed Bowe to pushed past Vincent Jackson and $10 million a year does not even come close. Now it is possible that the guarantees are similar as Jackson’s deal was originally a two year contract disguised as a 5 year contract prior to his late season renegotiation, but $50 million shows a depressed market possibility for the position. That said many times when contracts numbers like this just float around they prove to be false so we will just need to wait and see.

The Chiefs should still be  in a decent cap position even with the trade for Alex Smith on the horizon.  Once the team releases Tyson Jackson and Matt Cassel they will free up $20.845 million on the cap. Both moves seem like no brainers.

Dallas Cowboys– One step forward two steps back?  Dallas just seems like such a poorly managed team. Today the team cut S Gerald Sensabaugh to free up $1.4 million in cap room, their first real solid roster transaction of the offseason. They spent two or three days last week extending and/or restructuring contracts to get cap compliant and then they decided to again designate DE/LB a franchise player. This time around the tag should cost the team $10,272,200 which seems absurd for a team with salary cap problems. Can Spencer play in the new defense?  I would think so, but this is not a team that can really afford these luxuries.

This isnt a team in a championship game that wants to make one more run. I almost feel as if the owner still thinks its 2007 when Dallas played like an elite team with a young Tony Romo at the helm. They have not had a winning record in 3 years and when that happens you need to start making the tough decisions to not bring back players that are going to kill your financial structure down the line. This move puts Dallas back over the salary cap meaning more restructures. Romo is the one they need to get done and now they gave him even more leverage to make a killing. Even if they are going to entertain trading Spencer the damage is done because they need to get under the cap before a trade can occur. If this team doesn’t win next year its going to get ugly in Dallas which is rapidly turning into the Oakland Raiders of 2004-2011.

New Orleans Saints– The Saints reportedly restructured the contract of Brodrick Bunkley according to Mike Triplett of I’ll get the details up on the site in the next day or two but this is a team also living in the past. This move more or less guarantees Bunkley a roster spot in 2014 at a cap number above $6 million, a year where the Saints already have $126 million in cap commitments for just 39 players. To go further in on defensive players on an awful defense seems pretty illogical. I guess they are blaming everything on Steve Spagnuolo, disregarding the fact that the defense was pretty bad for about 5 years I guess you can argue that Bunkley was their best defender.

Miami Dolphins– The Dolphins franchised DT Randy Starks which puts the Dolphins interior line investments upwards of $17 million, 2nd highest in the NFL to only the Detroit Lions who have over $18 million tied up in Suh alone. With more and more teams passing the football and running alot less, I think it questions the philosophy of investing high in the interior unless it is for the rare players who are real game wreckers that can rush up the middle.

I understand the decision and financially it makes more sense to do this with Starks and try to work out a long term deal than overspending on Smith or Long on one year deals, but I think it definitely brings up a good positional spending debate. As the run offense went out of style in the mid 2000s the pay has clearly cycled away from the DT and out to the CBs. Miami is taking the opposite approach. The Dolphins now have about $57 million tied up in their defense with only $26 million in the offense, the lowest amount in the NFL. Clearly the rest of their spending needs to be on the offensive side of the ball.

Oakland Raiders– The Raiders reduced the salary of G Mike Brisiel by $3 million dollars. The move was first reported by Steve Corkran and he stated that this will save Oakland $3 million which would indicate a pure paycut rather than restructure. My experience would tell me hs got something in return, but that’s just a guess on my part.  I have not updated his cap number yet and will try to see if I can verify that he accepted a paycut, but if not Ill run with that number until I hear otherwise.

Carolina Panthers– I just wanted to throw this one in there because I know of all the teams this is probably the one with the largest discrepancy between the sites numbers and the reports. I do know that the figures we have are estimating Carolina between 1.5 and 2 million on the low end showing them with more cap room than they really have. I am not sure where the error is and whether I am missing a big dead money player or some type of incentives but I will try to work that out to get the number closer to the actual charge.


The Danger of the Contract Restructure

The other day ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweeted about how the NFL doesn’t really have hard cap like people think because of the ability to go “cash over cap”, meaning the ability to spend a large portion of cash dollars in one year but because of proration minimal cap dollars.

So that got me thinking that this might be a good topic for a post with all of the contract restructures going on.  The point that Mortensen misses is the fact that in the NFL at some point the bill becomes due. This isn’t a game where you can sit over the cap and use mid level exceptions to bring in competent veteran players. Essentially what happens to a poorly managed team is they either get stuck with significant amounts of “dead money” for cutting players or get stuck with “dead weight” players who must be kept on the team because of the high dead money charges associated with those players because the team went “cash over cap” at some point in the prior few years.

Currently I have $124.6 million in dead money around the league accounted for in 2013. That is an entire teams salary cap of just dead money. And I know there is more I just haven’t been able to accrue it all or discover all of it from last season as I work through the early days of the website. Last season the New England Patriots carried around $22 million in dead money because of poor roster decisions. They are still paying off Chad Ochocincos cap money.  That’s a great team but don’t you think if they had a little more money to spend maybe they would have gone that one extra game?

Let’s look at the New York Jets. That is my team and I know their cap as well as anyone with the exception of those who  work for the team. The Jets did what Mortensen is talking about in 2011. They went heavy “cash over cap” after back to back championship appearances to take another run at it. What happened?  The team bombed and finished 8-8. In 2012 the Jets had to be more fiscally responsible due to dead weight players such as Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, who could not be removed from the team due to cap considerations. Had the Jets not “gone for it” in 2011 those players would have been gone a year before. As soon as the cap allowed those two were released.

Restructures are part of the NFL. The tricky part is to not abuse the restructured deal. For those newer to the salary cap a restructure is essentially shuffling of money in a contract to lower the cap charge in the present.  Normally what happens is you convert a large portion of a players base salary into a signing bonus that is then prorated over the remainder of the contract. Some teams, like the Jets, will get players to agree to a lower salary via a pure paycut by guaranteeing a future years salary, but most go the bonus route.

The most recent trick that teams have begun using is the addition of voidable years onto the backend f a contract. That allows a team to push prorated money into years when the player will be a free agent. Sounds great, except when the player becomes a free agent all that money accelerates onto the salary cap. So the Dallas Cowboys, who have begun to extensively use this mechanism, are now locked into $8.181 million of dead money for Tony Romo if they cant extend him before 2014 due to these void years. And what does Dallas have to show for that?  No playoff wins and bad losses in week 17 to miss out to their hated NFC East rivals?

I think there is a limit to restructuring contracts to keep them reasonable for a team. With the exception of the QB position no player should ever be restructured more than once over the course of their contract. The career of the NFL player is too short and in most cases they will not have the impact needed to make a true difference in the outcome of the season. Once you do it you need to shelve it. Each restructure  more or less adds another season in which you are forced to keep a player and it is rare that teams hold onto players beyond their rookie deals for another 4 or 5 years unless money forces them to keep them forever.

The most active teams in the last few days in terms of restructures have been the Steelers, Cowboys, and Saints.  All three have basically become “serial offenders” of the restructure game and every year are faced with cap issues. Of the three Pittsburgh is the best managed and does not go the route of the voidable years which makes them much more responsible. That being said they have players at this point who are being restructured every season. They have tried to be very careful with doing it only with players that they think are long term contributors but they have some older players this year where they may feel the need to make more moves. The Saints are backloading contracts at the start and just going deeper and deeper seemingly afraid to break up a team that won a Super Bowl in 2009 and hasn’t come close since. Dallas pays high at the start of a contract with huge signing bonuses and still has the need to restructure contracts far out into the future. Clearly it hasn’t worked.

At some point the philosophy becomes a problem which is why the cap works in the league despite Mortensen’s claim. The Steelers have almost $120 million committed to the 2014 salary cap already. That’s not awful until you realize its only for 32 players. They have a little flexibility if they don’t go deeper but that’s not a good situation. He Saints have 45 players under contract at a payroll of just over $130 million and little room to go unless they want to push more into the future for players like Drew Brees who already have huge hits on the books. Come 2015 they have $97 million in salary cap tied up in 17 players.

And then there is Dallas. Dallas is in so deep on their players its ridiculous. They have $134 million set for the 2014 cap and that is assuming that Tony Romo is off the team at an $8 million dead money clip. Clearly Romo is going to be part of the team which is just going to push the number higher. Sure they will cut Doug Free and Jay Ratliff to get cap compliant at some point which will lead to a dead money charge of $11 million for two guys who have contributed nothing since being signed to overpriced contracts by the Cowboys owner.

Teams that consistently go “cash over cap” are not going to be able to escape a hard cap. It will always catch up with you. If a team is able to get to the Super Bowl and win that elusive championship maybe the fall wont be as hard but only 1 team can win it and most teams that consistently restructure year after year will likely be disappointed when its time to pay back the cap and they have no rings to show for it.