The Most (and Least) Efficient Salary Cap Spending in the NFL


After the third week of the season I took a look at how teams were performing based on a matrix using Pro Football Focus statistics and with all teams having completed 8 games now I thought it would be a good time to look again at the teams.

PFF grades teams in a number of offensive, defensive, and special teams categories. They usually give them equal weight sum them up and come up with an aggregate score for a team. I wanted to weight the categories with the passing categories having a weight of 56% and rushing categories 44%. These numbers simply represent the league wide play selection in 2012.  I added 20% of the penalty grade assigned to each team to calculate an offensive and defensive score.  A total grade was calculated by adding offense, defense, and special teams with the weights 42.5, 42.5, and 15.

I wanted to plot those scores against salary cap spending for the season and then add another dimension- unused cap space. So the following chart plots the score against spending with the bubble size representing unused cap room. A smaller bubble indicates minimal unused room while a larger one indicates significant unused dollars.

salary cap nine weeks

I do think what is very interesting is that the three biggest spenders (Denver, Kansas City, and Seattle) each rank right near the top of the league in performance. That sounds kind of normal but I would think that one team that goes overboard on spending would have a poor season.

The three teams that stand out with the most efficient use of cap dollars are the Bengals, Panthers, and Browns. Each is carrying significant cap room and still getting top of the league performance. The Panthers pretty much look to be the best bargain in football which ties in with the same takeaway I had in my Power Rankings. On the downside for the Panthers is that their salary cap will be more difficult next season as they have pushed money into 2014 and have a few deals set to void.

Philadelphia is one of the more disappointing teams. They have a high payroll and are carrying a ton of cap room yet the performance has basically been average. When I see that I wonder if a team would have pushed the payroll more if they might have been able to improve?  Tampa Bay and Minnesota would be the other two higher spenders with poor results.

Jacksonville remains a class to themselves. They are non-competitive and carry a high salary cap payroll due to significant amounts of dead money, but the huge cap space sends a message that the team just didn’t bother to do more. I understand the concept of the bigger picture but to just throw away a season this way has to be disappointing to fans of the Jaguars.




Justin Blackmon Suspended Again…Could be Major Consequences


The NFL has once again suspended Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon due to violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He will now miss the remainder of the 2013 NFL season and be forced to apply for reinstatement to the league next season. Blackmon came into the NFL with a checkered past and it was a major part of the negotiation of his rookie contract that he signed in 2012.

Blackmon’s contract is somewhat unique in that it contained a smaller than slotted signing bonus due to concerns about his off field behavior. Instead they were replaced by roster bonuses that were treated as signing bonus. However for forfeiture purposes those bonuses should be prorated beginning in the year paid. In addition he will not be paid the remainder of his salary for the season. For the 2013 season Blackmon received $1.7 million total in roster bonuses and had a Paragraph 5 salary of $1,231,455.

Blackmon will miss 13 weeks total of the 2013 season. Per my estimates this should cost him the following:

Signing Bonus Forfeiture: $1,359,265 (13/17 of $1,777,500 SB allocation to 2013)

Roster Bonus Forfeiture: $433,333 (13/17 of $566,667 RB allocation to 2013)

Lost Salary: $941,701 (13/17 of $1,231,455 Paragraph 5 Salary)

Total Lost: $2,734,299

But the consequences of Blackmon’s actions should go much further than just his salary forfeitures. Blackmon had $8,080,647 in fully guaranteed compensation coming his way in 2014 and 2015. This was protected with “no offset” provisions. All of those will definitely be gone from his contract. Considering the heavy risks associated with signing him he could be released next season and would undoubtedly have to sign a contract for far less money than the money coming his way in his rookie deal.

Because he will only be in the NFL for two years the Jaguars would not be allowed to renegotiate his contract to include more protection for the team. He would need to be released first. If the NFL denies reinstatement the Jaguars would be entitled to collect more signing and roster bonus money. The thing that works against release is that one released Jacksonville would part ways with their ability to recollect more of his signing bonus in the future should he get suspended again if he is reinstated. It may be more prudent to allow him to play out the 2014 season, if the League allows, to keep their bonus protection intact. League rules should not allow Blackmon’s contract to be terminated until after he is reinstated by the NFL.

The Jaguars also now should have other options with Blackmon in the future. As a top 10 first round draft pick Blackmon was going to be eligible for a 5th year option in his contract that would have been equal to the transition tender that existed in the prior year. Having only suited up for 4 games in 2013 Blackmon will not earn an accrued season for 2013, which requires 6 games. That should make Blackmon a Restricted Free Agent at the end of his 4 year contract, adding what could be another interesting layer to this situation.



Per LaCanfora: Jaguars and Cardinals Prepaid Money Before Trades

According to Jason LaCanfora the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals both pre-paid significant portions of Eugene Monroe’s and Levi Brown’s salaries to facilitate a trade to the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively.

This makes the trades much more reasonable for the capped out Steelers and Ravens, whose trades at full prices for these players made little sense. Based on LaCanfora’s tweets my assumption is that the teams have reduced the base salaries to the mandated CBA minimums which should actually result in larger bonuses being paid by the original teams.

In the case of Brown he will have earned 4 weeks of salary at a rate of $4.75 million and the remaining weeks at a base of $715,000. His effective salary will be $1.76 million, meaning the Cardinals should have paid a bonus of $3.086 million to make the contract whole. Teams can not use any bonus mechanisms during the season to avoid proration treatment of these prepayments, unless they were to void the remaining years of the contract. What that means is that the Cardinals should now carry a dead money charge in 2014 of $6,514,191 for Brown. His final cap charge in 2013 for the Cardinals should be $3,539,044. The Steelers should only be responsible for $546,765 in salary cap charges for 2013, making the cap effect of trading for him almost negligible. The signing of Brown looks to have been a disaster for the Cardinals based on the financials now.

In Monroe’s case he will earn $715,000 for the remaining 13 weeks of the season and will have earned $894,118 prior to the trade. It is likely that the Jaguars paid him $2,359,117 in a bonus, half of which should count in 2013 and half in 2014, unless the 2014 season was void allowing it to all accelerate into 2013. Considering Monroe’s contract was set to void it is possible that the Jaguars could have done this rather than carrying dead money in 2014. At worst they will now carry $2.577 million in dead charges for Monroe in 2014. The Ravens should only be responsible for $546,765 in cap charges.

When the trades are made official and the true cap numbers come in we’ll get the correct figures in for both players rather than the guesswork contained in the post.

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Jaguars Trade Eugene Monroe to the Ravens


The Jaguars, according to multiple sources, have traded starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens for draft picks.  Monroe is scheduled to be a free agent after this season and thus could simply be a one year rental for the Ravens who seemed to be desperate to find help along their offensive line. Monroe was earning a base salary of $3.8 million this season so the Ravens will be responsible for $2,905,882 in both cash and cap commitments. Monroe’s bonus money will remain with the Jaguars and they will carry a dead money charge of $1, 397,500 for Monroe in 2014.

The remaining cap figure likely means that the Ravens will need to make roster moves in order to fit Monroe under their salary cap. As of Monday the Ravens only had $1.2 million in cap space. They freed up  $367,059 with the release of Christian Thompson this afternoon and will free up slightly more when a roster move is made to add Monroe to the roster. I would imagine that maybe S Jeromy Miles could be in danger because his contract is not guaranteed and he would save the team $933,882 in cap room. Any player released will be paid his salary for the week. Still that will not be enough to fit Monroe.

The Ravens have walked a tight rope with their salary cap recently and have little areas for restructures as many players already have significant prorated bonuses and low base salaries comprising their cap numbers. The options would likely be restructuring the contracts of either Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, or Marshal Yanda to create the cap room. Another option would be to restructure the contract of Monroe upon executing the trade. Monroe has a voidable 2014 year which would allow the team to move prorated money from 2013 into 2014 for cap purposes. Signing Monroe long term will likely require some creative thinking on the part of the Ravens to fit him in their salary cap structure.

For the Jaguars this was basically a salary dump. Monroe no longer fit into the teams long term plans and they were most likely not going to re-sign him after the season. From their point of view they will receive immediate draft picks in 2014 plus a cap and cash savings of $2.9 million in 2013, which can be carried over to future years. At the end of the day this is probably similar to a baseball trade where you simply get whatever assets back for a player that you can.

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View Eugene Monroe’s Contract and Salary Cap Page


Examining the Potential Landing Spots for Josh Freeman


With Josh Freeman’s benching official we now turn some attention  to possible landing spots for the QB. Right off the bat I do feel that the Buccaneers really mishandled the situation.  If they were this down on Freeman to bench him this quickly they should have explored the trade market months ago when he still had value. Giving up on him kills his trade value to the point where you are now just hoping to dump a player that was drafted in the first round in 2009.

I do think a possible scenario could be one in which the Bucs sit and wait until the trade deadline hoping that a starter gets injured and makes picking up Freeman a necessity. That would be the maximized return in terms of trade value. But this is not going to be Carson Palmer to the Raiders. Palmer had retired from football and not had an opportunity to QB a team expected to do well and then been the primary person blamed for failure. They will give up something, but it’s going to be more like a 5th or 6th round pick, not a 2nd rounder.

From a draft pick for player trade perspective I think all sides will look at the possibility of compensatory draft picks. Right now Freeman is damaged goods but players like Vince Young and Jason Campbell were able to fetch close to $4 million a year while Kyle Boller even made $1.5 million, so it’s possible that compensatory picks could be awarded if he hits free agency. If the Buccaneers think they will receive a compensatory 5th in the 2015 draft they  should be willing to take a 5th in 2014 for him. A 6th could even get it done. Those same teams might look at this as a one season delay on the draft pick since they would then hold Freeman’s free agent rights and receive that compensatory pick in the 2015 draft.

Thus far I don’t think there are any rumors of serious interest anywhere, but why not look ahead anyway and focus on the five teamsthat most  fans are talking about.

Minnesota Vikings

I don’t really see this as being an ideal trade partner. While Christian Ponder is not lighting the world on fire in Minnesota he is not the biggest issue on a team that gives up 30 points to the Browns and cant place a body on a receiver on a fake FG attempt. The Vikings are 0-3 and what reason would there be to believe that Freeman, who flopped on a playoff potential team, would come in here and rescue the season?

The other issue here is the cap space issue. Josh Freeman will cost $6.94 million in cap space to a team that acquires him. The Vikings have just $2.3 million. I would imagine if you are trading for Freeman the need for either Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder disappears. The Vikings could include Cassel in a trade and cut about $1.4 million from the payroll, but that still would not be enough to make the trade happen. Ponder would free even less room but the Vikings would also pass along $1.7 million in fully guaranteed 2014 salary to the Bucs, making him perhaps a more reasonable candidate.

I would think to make it work they would move Ponder for Freeman and have to make the salaries match. Trading Ponder transfers $2,829,645 in guaranteed salary to the Buccaneers. In turn the Buccaneers would need to pay $4,112,708 of Freeman’s salary before executing a trade. That would bring the cash and cap commitment for the Vikings to $2.829 million, giving them just enough room to execute a Ponder for Freeman trade. I actually think the Vikings would want something beyond Freeman to do that trade, but Ponder has also become a scapegoat so maybe not.

The Vikings do have a number of high cost players who could also have their contracts reworked to open up the cap space necessary to make the trade if they did not want to part with any players on the team. The Vikings have a low payroll in 2014 so franchising Freeman is a realistic option.

Oakland Raiders

If this was April I think the Raiders would have been interested. Greg Olson, the Raiders Offensive Coordinator, has a relationship with Freeman when the two were together in Tampa and he got the best out of Freeman. But Oakland already whiffed once in the trade market and now have seen Terrelle Pryor at least be capable enough to warrant more opportunity. Pryor did suffer a concussion this past Monday and those injuries can be very tricky. If the Raiders think it could be a long term setback for Pryor this could be a reasonable option.

Like with the Vikings, the trade is complicated because of salary cap constraints as the Raiders only have $3.1 million in room. It is probably further complicated because the Raiders are not going to spend more draft picks on the position as they have wasted picks in trades for Palmer and Flynn in recent years. I would think this would need to be a pure player for player trade with Flynn going to Tampa and Freeman to Oakland. Flynn only makes $1.25 million so again we have a scenario where the Buccaneers are going to need to eat significant salary, somewhere between $2.8 and $3.8 million to make the numbers work.

Oakland does not have the financial flexibility to rework contracts to make the deal work without Tampa kicking in significant money. I guess an outside the box thought would be trading Darren McFadden and his salary to the Buccaneers, but that seems counterproductive for both sides.  If Tampa does not foot the bill Oakland would, most likely, have to sign Freeman to an extension. Since Freeman’s value right now is so low Oakland could be willing to do that if Freeman was willing to sign off on it. Oakland’s payroll is next to nothing in 2014 so adding money to that year, even via a void provision, would not impact them one bit.

Jacksonville Jaguars

In my mind this makes sense simply because the Jaguars are so bad and have the worst QB situation in the NFL. But the Jaguars have not really made any changes to their team and seem to be simply playing for the draft at this point, making this a move they will not want to make. Unlike the first two teams Freeman would be a clear upgrade to both Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, but that could potentially compromise their ability to cruise to the first pick in the draft. There is no reason for the Jaguars to think that Freeman is a franchise QB and they are simply treading water until they get the opportunities to build the team in a manner they feel champions are built.

The Jaguars have more than enough cap room to take Freeman on but unless they just want to throw a bone to their fanbase there is no reason for them to make this trade. It would be a surprise if they made this move.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland already moved on from Brandon Weeden in favor of Brian Hoyer, so I guess the question here is how high are the Browns on Hoyer, who played well last Sunday, and how low are they on Weeden. The Browns owe Weeden $2.44 million in fully guaranteed salary in 2014 and 2015 and a trade involving Weeden lets them pass those obligations on to another team, which is what they did with Trent Richardson. Would they consider that a fair swap?  I’m not sure as  they may prefer getting a late draft pick for Weeden than a player like Freeman. The Browns have plenty of cap space this year and next so applying the tag or extending Freeman would work without problem.

I would keep an eye on the Browns closer to the trade deadline if Freeman is still riding the bench in Tampa Bay. The Browns division does not look  to be strong this year and the Browns do have a solid defense that will keep them in games. If Hoyer proves to be a one game wonder but the Browns tread water and sit at 3-4 with a solid defense Freeman could be worth a gamble. At the worst it is throwing away a player you have already given up on for someone who could be more than just a stopgap for the season.

Tennessee Titans

I have seen the Titans name mentioned before, and they have just enough cap room to pull this trade off, but I’m not really sure there is a fit. I feel as if the Titans would like to continue to give Jake Locker a look and if he was to fail would be prepared to turn the reigns over to Ryan Fitzpatrick in hopes of being able to make the playoffs.  Going forward the Titans have enough salary cap commitments to where having cap rollover dollars are more important than bringing Freeman onto the roster. Those same cap commitments likely eliminate the Franchise tag and any extensions before free agency. I only see this as a destination if both Locker and Fitzpatrick were to get injured.

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Week 3: Which Teams Get the Most out of Their Salary Cap


With three weeks of the NFL season behind us I thought it might be fun to compare salary cap spending versus performance. I keep my own team efficiency rankings, but they are based on scoring and strength of schedule and quite frankly not very reasonable at this stage of the season (for instance the Bills rank 2nd because they have faced 3 teams that have given up next to no points while the Bills are averaging 21+ a game and those numbers will even out once their schedule normalizes somewhat), so for this exercise I wanted to use Pro Football Focus’ data. Perhaps another time we will use some numbers from Football Outsiders.

I don’t like reprinting data from other sites and I usually like to use the data to come up with different numbers anyway so that was what I did here, so if you want to see the actual PFF grades you will need to subscribe to PFF.  PFF scores teams in a number of offensive, defensive, and special teams categories. They usually give them equal weight sum them up and come up with an aggregate score for a team. I wanted to weight the categories with the passing categories having a weight of 56% and rushing categories 44%. These numbers simply represent the league wide play selection in 2012.  I added 20% of the penalty grade assigned to each team to calculate an offensive and defensive score.  A total grade was calculated by adding offense, defense, and special teams with the weights 42.5, 42.5, and 15.

I wanted to plot those scores against salary cap spending for the season and then add another dimension- unused cap space. So the following chart plots the score against spending with the bubble size representing unused cap room. A smaller bubble indicates minimal unused room while a larger one indicates significant unused dollars.

week 3 cap performance chart

I admit I was a bit surprised at the results in that no low spending teams really broke through in the early stages of the season. The Chiefs, Broncos and Seahawks all have significant salary cap charges on the season. The Cowboys, Saints, and Panthers are all high payroll teams that have deferred significant costs to 2014 and beyond.

One of the more interesting teams could be Green Bay. The Packers offense is terrific. Under this grading criteria its just a few decimal points behind that of the Broncos, but their defense is 4th worst in the NFL.  While they are not a team to spend heavily in free agency you have to wonder if they could have perhaps upgraded somewhere in that defense to improve their rankings.

The flipside of that is that the Packers have a pretty good team and will be able to carry over money next season to help them improve or maintain their roster in the future. The Patriots and Bengals would also fit in that same category. It’s probably the exact opposite for a team like the 49ers who is basically capped out and had to let some depth go this past year due to salary cap constraints.

Teams like the Raiders and Jets are actually impressive. The cap space is about average but both carry large amounts of dead money on the books and used almost all their cap resources to field what have at least been competitive teams.

Jaguars and to a lesser extent Bills fans probably have the most to gripe about in the early part of the year. Jacksonville is awful, maintains a high cap charge because of so much dead money but they still had tons of cap room to improve this team. To sit on that amount of cap space and be that bad has to rub a fan the wrong way. There had to be players out there that were at least upgrades, even in the short term than what they are currently presenting on the field. Carrying over huge amounts of cap space is all good, but eventually it gets to the point where it is so much it becomes useless.

The reason the Bills are a little different is because they decided to take a large cap hit in 2014 for former QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, so they will likely be using a good chunk of this cap room to cover for that charge. It’s still a nice amount of cap room they could have spent, but they at least have a purpose with their unused cap space.

As the season goes on I’ll so some more snapshots like this using various published criteria so if you have any sources you want me to consider using feel free to pass them along.

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Luke Joeckel Contract Details


Luke Joeckel became the highest draft pick to sign a contract in 2013 yesterday when the league approved his deal. Joeckel’s contract is worth $21,201,598 and he received a signing bonus worth $13,799,344. The contract is fully guaranteed with no offsets making the Miami Dolphins job that much harder when they negotiate a contract with the number 3 pick Dion Jordan. Last year the Jaguars won a contract battle with troubled WR Justin Blackmon, but saw no need to engage in the same fight with a player that did not have a bad track record coming out of college.  

Joeckel becomes the third top 10 pick to sign this year, joining Ziggy Ansah of the Lions and Tavon Austin of the Rams. Most top picks should sign in the next few weeks though the Kansas City Chiefs may need to make an additional roster move or wait for final accrual of workout bonus money before signing number 1 pick Eric Fisher. The Chiefs only have $3.56 million in cap space and Fisher will count for slightly over $4 million against the cap when signed. Due to the Top 51 rule the Chiefs would have enough room to fit him but it would leave them dangerously close to the salary cap limit, around $7,500 in cap space.

View Luke Joeckel’s Salary Cap Page