2018 Miami Dolphins (Cap Numbers as of 1/26; source OverTheCap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)
The Miami Dolphins began their roster purge today with the release of three veteran players, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com. The players released are left tackle Branden Albert, defensive end Mario Williams, and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. The moves will give the Dolphins substantial salary cap relief and put them in a position to be big spenders in free agency. Continue reading Dolphins Begin Roster Purge »
There are a number of ways to look at roster construction in the NFL, and Nick recently did a great job with his roster texture charts(which you should read if you haven’t already), but today I wanted to look to see how teams really derive their value when they build a roster. Normally when we look at a roster we look at two basic numbers- salary cap charges and contract annual value- and then compare franchises across the board. But I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be a much more accurate portrayal if we put those numbers in perspective by seeing how much marginal value a team is really assigning to their highest paid players? For example Peyton Manning makes more than Darrelle Revis, but Manning plays a position where the average salary for a starter is over $12 million. Tehnically the Jets are giving up more by having Revis as the highest paid player on the team, even if Manning has a higher stated salary. So we can best define value by determining the cost above average a team spends on their top players on the team. Continue reading Examining the Marginal Value Implied in Player Contracts »
So, here’s how it works out when you break it down by the years:
Figure 1: Ryan Tannehill’s Contract and Projected Cap Figures
(Remember: Click on the figures to open them up and enlarge them.)
So on Tuesday, when I saw this contract, I was the guy I HATE, the Stephen A. Smith type, provocative assclown who thinks they know everything. I tweeted out, “Tannehill could be a terrific QB, I believe in him, but Tannenbaum just paid him like he’s already arrived.” To be honest, I kind of took my pent up annoyance with Ndamukong Suh’s current contract and let that spill over into this situation. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Tannenbaum doesn’t understand the percentage of the salary cap analysis of the cap and that Suh’s Contract Cripples Dolphins (don’t you just hate when people do bad things to dolphins?), but this Tannehill contract is very good. Continue reading Opinion on Ryan Tannehill’s New Contract »
Thursday night during my weekly salary cap Q&A on Twitter I started getting a great deal of questions about the rumors about Ndamukong Suh signing with the Dolphins. The basic questions centered around how could a team like the Dolphins, who are cap strapped, compete with a team like the Raiders who will have $70 million in cap room by the time free agency begins. So let’s expand on this and show the ways Miami can create a stronger contract for Suh to consider.
Now for this exercise I will base everything on a 6 year $100M deal for Suh. The cash flows would closely mimic those of JJ Watt with slightly more going to Suh over the first three years than Watt received.
The major difference between the two organizations at the moment is their approach to contract structuring, something the Dolphins will try to exploit. The Dolphins are now run by Mike Tannenbaum who will be willing to use both the signing bonus and option bonus mechanisms to work a player into the salary cap as evidenced by his time on the Jets.
The Raider’s Reggie McKenzie has been essentially opposed to using any prorated contract mechanisms. The only value player last year where the team prorated significant money was for tackle/guard Austin Howard and that was most likely caused by a clerical error than being intentional. This is something the Dolphins will try to exploit.
In my proposed contract with the Dolphins Suh will receive a $32 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary for a first year salary of $33 million. In year two Suh would receive a $6 million option bonus and $5 million salary. The first two years would be fully guaranteed and figure year 3 is injury guaranteed. Here is how the contract would look:
Our contract gives the Dolphins two years of virtual cap relief on the contract with just $20 million to be accounted for in 2015 and 2016. This gives the Dolphins time to get their roster in order, dead weight off the books, and be helped by a rising salary cap before Suh’s contract becomes a burden.
The Raiders would be unable to match the first years cash flow using their traditional model, due a small rule known as the 50% rule that will cause large differentials in first and second year salary to be treated as a signing bonus. Without moving off their preferred structure, Oakland would need to offer more money to Suh in the first two years of his contract than Miami (nearly $50 million total) which would seem excessive for any player. Here is how the Raiders would be able to most closely match the cash flow of the contract:
Oakland would essentially eat up half their cap in one year on Suh, which isn’t unreasonable. The Raiders simply have to convince Suh that the one year less in upfront cash is fair. The team can combat this a bit by turning a majority of his 2016 base into a roster bonus paid in March to try to improve on the timing of payments compared to Miami’s.
But in looking at the two contract’s the important thing to consider is what happens for Suh after the guarantees in the contract run out? We can turn to the Expected Contract Value metric to try to put the two offers more in context:
In this valuation the Dolphins offer would be expected to earn the player about $2.5M more than the Raiders one. This is mainly due to the likelihood of Suh seeing the 3rd and 4th contract years being greater with Miami (89% and 65.8%) than Oakland (77.3% and 58.1%).
That outcome should also change even more in the Dolphins favor if they either give him a larger option bonus but smaller base in year 2 or restructure his contract in 2017 for further cap relief. Neither of those, specifically the restructure, is remotely likely in Oakland.
What this means is that if Oakland doesn’t come off their standard contract they will likely need to beat the Dolphins four year cash offer by somewhere between $3 and 4 million to actually have the earning power of the player remain the same. If we begin to factor in things like state taxes it may be even more.
None of this means the Raiders don’t have a shot unless they change their contract approach and we are certainly making many assumptions on contract structure, but this illustrates the why and how a team with such limited cap space can compete on equal footing in a competitive market with a team with huge cap room. We’ll see how things play out next week but Miami will need to employ a very player favorable structure to make this work in their favor.
Estimated 2015 Cap Space: -$300k ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 58
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 12(6 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 14
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Jared Odrick has developed into a solid, all around talent and should be able to give Miami a solid presence for the next few seasons. They should do what they can to bring him back, though he may prefer looking elsewhere as he and the team seem to be at odds. I would imagine he will be looked at as a $5.5 to $6.5 million a year player…Backup QB Matt Moore may arguably be the second best QB available this offseason, which says little for the position. He should receive top backup money around $4-$5 million a season if Miami wants to retain him. I could see that being difficult with their salary cap position but I think its too impotant to have a decent backup in the event of injury….Charles Clay is one of those players with potential that the Dolphins should hold on to, but my guess is he might be considering a one year deal in the hopes of improving his value.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Knowshon Moreno was worth the one year risk, but he couldn’t remain healthy and with the emergence of Lamar Miller probably is not needed anyway…Daniel Thomas never developed for the team and would not seem to have a place going forward…Pro Football Focus graded Daryn Colledge as one of the worst lineman in the entire NFL so bringing him back should not be in the plans for the team next year. Samson Satele was a late signing to fill for injury, but the Dolphins will be better moving Mike Pouncey back to center and finding another guard rather than retaining Satele.
Contracts to Modify
The decision made to pay Mike Wallace well above his performance level led to high expectations by the fans, media, team and player himself. Not surprisingly, things haven’t worked out and now they are stuck with a $12.1 million cap charge and $3 million salary guarantee. The best situation for all is to bring his salary down to a fair level in 2015. At this point he is a $6-$7 million player, which means a $3-4 million pay reduction. Because the guarantees have offsets the Dolphins don’t really need to consider that number as a sunk cost and can renegotiate just as if it is a new contract… Signing Cortland Finnegan to a $5.5 million contract was definitely on the high side and seemed to indicate desperation to find another cornerback. They still need corners so they probably should keep him but his contract needs to be brought down to $2.5 to $3 million in 2015…Randy Starks could be in danger of being cut, but the team should consider it a better option to bring his salary down from $5 million and keeping him for one last season.
Players to Consider Releasing
Signing linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to a big contract in 2013 was a head scratcher and they can finally get out from the contract in 2014. His cap charge is $9.85M and they will save $5.65M by cutting him. He earns more cash salary than any other inside linebacker in 2015, so there is no logical reason to keep him…It’s hard to understand what has happened to Brian Hartline, but he has become the third target on the team and his role looks ready to decrease further in the future. A $7.35 million cap charge for a 3rd target is far too expensive. They will save $3.15 million by cutting him…Nate Garner was barely used in 2014 and landed on the NFI list late in the season. With $1.65M in savings with his release, it seems a guarantee that he will not be back in 2015.
Miami needs to question if they have gotten as far as they can with this group and if they need to begin revamping the team, especially on defense where they completely fell apart late last season. Miami has 4 starters on defense over the age of 30 and 10 players in total that were at least 28 last season. That’s essentially half of the team they need to turn over within the next two years and it includes some of their best players in Cameron Wake, Brandon Albert, Brent Grimes, and Randy Starks. Do they make moves to try to extend the window with this group one more time and perhaps sacrifice the future or do they begin a transition strategy?
If the Dolphins opt for the former it could move their upcoming cap situation into one of the worst in the NFL when you consider than Ryan Tannehill will likely end up with a $14-$15 million per year contract in 2016. The only way they can actively upgrade the roster is with big free agent acquisitions and they are only going to be able to do that by pushing more money into 2016 and 2017 with this current group. Given that the team has shown to be little better than a 0.500 team and doesn’t show a dominant trait this would be a highly risky strategy.
Instead they should consider the process of piecing things together for this season while building up cap space for a splash in the future when Tannehill may be more of a finished product. That will likely mean focusing on the draft to fill major needs at corner, linebacker, and the interior line as well as hoping to find a young pass rusher. The organization is now being run by Mike Tannenbaum, who is not afraid of making a splash, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those big veterans is moved to build for the future, Wake being the most logical.
My guess is Miami is working hard on identifying possible player cuts and coming up with ways to entice those players on a low cost one or two year contract. Trades for disappointing first and second round picks would also be something that they could be open to. Actual free agency should just pick and choose some younger players with upside that maybe just need a change of scenery.
I would also expect the Dolphins to get a more defined contract strategy in the future. Recently their contracts have been somewhat haphazard, playing hardball with many of their own players and receiving good terms for players like Hartline and Grimes, but signing outlandish deals for players like Wallace, Ellerbe, and Wheeler. That may be an example of Miami picking their battles or simply going all in when they feel that there can be an open competition. Because Miami had no long term contracts in place when they began their spending spree they were also at a possible negotiating disadvantage since it was obvious they had money to spend. By staying tight on the cap they will have a different perception around the NFL and force players to choose the Dolphins sales pitch rather than just the dollar signs.
While this strategy is probably not what people expect from Tannenbaum he did go through something similar to this with the Jets in 2006. Those Jets were in a worse place than the Dolphins but it was a two year plan with a focus on remaining competitive, finding bargains, and preparing for a big free agent frenzy down the line. I see this as a similar job with a transition being needed to bridge the gap from a veteran group to a younger one.
A few days ago Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald wondered if the Miami Dolphins might try to trade DE/OLB Dion Jordan. Former GM Jeff Ireland traded moved up nine spots to make the selection by trading the 12th and 42nd overall choices for Jordan. Now that Ireland is gone there could be a chance that his pick goes with him. So let’s look at the salary cap consequences and financial considerations for both sides.
As a rookie Jordan only saw action on about 29% of all snaps and primarily was used in passing situations, as 75% of his snaps were on passing plays. His performance as a rusher was not bad for a rookie. He pressured the QB on 11.7% of his pass rush opportunities which was second among Dolphins’ defensive lineman to only Cameron Wake (17.1%). However he produced few sacks and considering his role never grew during the season it did not seem as if he was growing as a player or earned the trust of his coaching staff, which still remains in place.
Jordan signed a four year contract worth a fully guaranteed $20,572,298. While the deal does contain offsets all of the remaining salary and cap charges would be due to Jordan if released, so for anyone discussing that option it will not happen. Trades however are a possibility. If traded the situation would be somewhat similar to the situation with RB Trent Richardson, who was traded last year from the Browns to the Colts. When traded all of the future guaranteed salaries transfer to the new team, leaving the drafting team’s responsibility to simply be the prorated bonus charges remaining in the contract. That is still a hefty figure, but much more reasonable than an outright release.
The Dolphins, if seriously considering this option, would need to make the trade sometime before the 5th day of training camp. If Jordan is on the roster as of that day the team would have to pay him $845,104. Most likely he would be traded prior to this years draft, but here are the three trade scenarios and cap charges, and savings involved:
|Before June 1|
|After June 1/Before Camp|
|After 5th day Camp|
It should also be worth noting that if they opt to trade him for the 22nd pick in the draft they will also be spending more money on a draft pick. The cap charges for that player should be $1,499,745 and $1,874,681 in 2014 and 2015 so the savings are less than listed in the above charts due to the replacement player cost.
From the side of the Eagles that presents an interesting situation. They would take on cap charges of $1,340,104 in 2014 and $2,275,209 in 2015 which means over the next two years they would pay just an additional $240,887 in salary cap for a player with, on paper, top 5 talent if they execute the trade. The Eagles overall would be responsible for $6,825,626 in total salary paid for Jordan over the next three seasons compared to $6,703,248 for the number 22 pick. The guarantee for the number 22 pick should be just over $7 million with a first year cash payout of $4,738,980. So the Eagles would save over $3 million in cash expenses in 2014 and have less guaranteed salary left for Jordan than on the blind draft pick.
So clearly there would be a financial advantage for the Eagles to strongly consider the trade if they feel that Jordan is truly a top 10 player. Miami would just be accepting a sunk cost as gone and moving on from a player they don’t believe in.