I read a number of tweets today discussing the potential Branden Albert to Miami trade with points being made that the Dolphins would need to re-work his contract before any deal could be made due to cap purposes. I wanted to touch on a few angles to this and why I disagree.
First of all lets just look at the non-cap approach. Why does a deal need to be made to extend Albert? The answer is it does not. Albert has signed his franchise tender and is officially under contract to the Kansas City Chiefs. He is obligated to appear at mandatory team activities, report to training camp, and play in the 2013 league year. Those same obligations transfer to Miami if traded. Albert could be looking for a contract that is outlandish in today’s market making the cost of re-signing him prohibitive.
The largest deal signed this year by a lineman was by former Dolphin Jake Long whose 4 year contract averages $8.5 million per year with only $12 million in firm guarantees. Albert already had $9.828 million guaranteed. The second largest contract was signed by RT Gosder Cherilus averaging $7 million a year with $15.5 million guaranteed. So signing Albert to a long term deal in the next week could be more trouble than its worth.
One should also keep in mind that this is Miami and they have been willing to play guys on deals like this in the past. In 2011 they allowed DT Paul Soliai to play out the season on a franchise tag worth over $12 million dollars. He ended up re-signing with the team on a two year deal worth a total $11.5 million. Good cap management and planning? Absolutely not, but if it was good for Soliai why wouldn’t it be good for Albert?
Going into the salary cap aspect there is the thought that Alberts $9.828 million dollar cap hit is far too much for Miami to absorb, specifically with a large rookie bill due in July. I want to look at this from two perspectives. The prevailing line of thinking has the Dolphins with about $8.3 million in cap room. This is based on NFLPA records and NFLPA accounting. I’ll mainly work with that figure, but my interpretation of the CBA indicates that there is a potential error in their accounting system.
When a player is designated a June cut here is how the CBA states the contract should be handled:
as if terminated on June 2, i.e., the Salary Cap charge for each such contract will remain in the Club’s Team Salary until June 2, at which time its Paragraph 5 Salary and any unearned LTBE incentives will no longer be counted and any unamortized signing bonus will be treated as set forth in Subsection (2) below
To me that indicates that the contract runs as if terminated on June 2 meaning the player should count in the top 51 during this time. Such a method of accounting makes intuitive sense because you are penalizing a teams cap by removing the cap from the top 51 and into the “dead money category” and replacing him with a player making at least $405,000. The NFLPA accounts for them as if they are dead money. Miami has two such players which would mean that Miami could be charged an extra $960,000 than they should be compared to the leagues official records. If that is the case Miami’s cap is closer to $9.3 million.
But assuming $8.3 million is the number let’s play the trade out. If Albert comes to Miami he immediately replaces the 51st player on the team, which would be Jonathan Freeny at $480,000. That brings Albert’s net effect on the cap down to $9.348 million, leaving Miami with just $1 million or so to come up with. As you look through Miami’s cap sheet there are a number of players who immediately come to mind as reasonable cuts to gain that cap space.
K Dan Carpenter, very inconsistent in 2012, saves the team $2.7 million if released. WR Davone Bess who would look to be odd man at wideout anyway saves Miami $2.68 million in cap room. Of course cutting them means Freeny’s $480K jumps back on the cap but its still more than enough to bring Albert in at his current cap figure. Those two players both have base salaries above $2 million which could make both prime candidates for paycuts if you wanted to keep them on the roster and not impact the top 51 makeup. Combining a paycut with the release of LS John Denney might also do the trick. Dimitri Patterson and his $4.5 million dollar P5 could also be looked at though the Dolphins are a bit thin in the secondary.
Going back to the June 1 cut rules, remember that Miami has large figures coming off the cap on June 2. On June 2nd both Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett will come off the books for the Dolphins. Dansby saves $6.25 million while Burnett saves $4.45 million. Since the NFLPA already has their replacements accounted for that opens the Dolphins up to $10.7 million in salary cap space.
Assuming the Dolphins trade their highest 2nd round pick for Albert their rookie pool would be estimated to be around $6.3 million for 10 players. Since the top 51 rule still applies those players will either displace a lower cost player or only have their prorated money count towards the salary cap. Per my calculations the draft class will likely replace 5 players, each making $480,000 in P5 salary, with the bottom 5 only having bonus prorations count. So for as big as that $6.3 million figure looks the Dolphins only need around $1.9 million in cap room to really sign all these players.
While I have been critical in the past about the way the Dolphins have managed the salary cap, if this was the plan back when they cut Dansby and Burnett it was tremendous cap planning by Jeff Ireland. Nobody could really understand why Miami designated those players June 1 cuts but it clearly has left Miami with the room to absorb a franchise player like Albert and still have the cap space to function throughout the entire 2013 season. That $10.7 million is more than enough to sign rookies, bring 53 to the roster, add a Practice Squad, and have money reserved for in season injuries and subsequent moves.
So really there is nothing standing in the way of a trade for Albert besides the cut or a paycut of one player. That’s really all it will take. Like I stated when discussing the Darrelle Revis trade, if you really want the guy go get him. The contract can always sort itself out later if need be. The player has little power to block a trade or not suit up and play. Miami has tried to build a team via free agency this year to compete now. They definitely do not need Albert to sign long term to add him to the mix.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.