Examining the Marginal Value Implied in Player Contracts

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 »

Comparing Contracts: How Dolphins can Land Suh over Raiders

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:

Year Base SB OB Cap Dead Savings Run. Cash
2015 $1,000,000 $6,400,000 $0 $7,400,000 $44,000,000 -$36,600,000 $33,000,000
2016 $5,000,000 $6,400,000 $1,200,000 $12,600,000 $36,600,000 -$24,000,000 $44,000,000
2017 $10,500,000 $6,400,000 $1,200,000 $18,100,000 $24,000,000 -$5,900,000 $54,500,000
2018 $11,500,000 $6,400,000 $1,200,000 $19,100,000 $16,400,000 $2,700,000 $66,000,000
2019 $15,000,000 $6,400,000 $1,200,000 $22,600,000 $8,800,000 $13,800,000 $81,000,000
2020 $19,000,000 $0 $1,200,000 $20,200,000 $1,200,000 $19,000,000 $100,000,000

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:

Year Base SB OB Cap Dead Savings Run. Cash
2015 $29,000,000 $0 $0 $29,000,000 $44,000,000 -$15,000,000 $29,000,000
2016 $15,000,000 $0 $0 $15,000,000 $15,000,000 $0 $44,000,000
2017 $10,500,000 $0 $0 $10,500,000 $0 $10,500,000 $54,500,000
2018 $11,500,000 $0 $0 $11,500,000 $0 $11,500,000 $66,000,000
2019 $15,000,000 $0 $0 $15,000,000 $0 $15,000,000 $81,000,000
2020 $19,000,000 $0 $0 $19,000,000 $0 $19,000,000 $100,000,000

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:

Year Raiders Dolphins
2015 $29,000,000 $33,000,000
2016 $15,000,000 $11,000,000
2017 $8,116,500 $9,345,000
2018 $6,681,500 $7,567,000
2019 $4,935,000 $5,370,000
2020 $2,755,000 $2,850,000
TOTAL $66,488,000 $69,132,000

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.

Raiders 2015 Salary Cap Outook

Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $59.4 million ($140M cap limit)

Roster Overview

Players Under Contract: 46
Pro Bowlers: 1
Unrestricted Free Agents: 11(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 4

Salary Cap Breakdown

Raiders 2015 Salary Cap

Raiders 2015 Salary Cap

Raiders 2015 Salary Cap

Free Agents to Re-sign

Stefen Wisniewski is a talented young center that plays with a chip on his shoulder. There is no way the Raiders can let him walk in free agency and it is surprising he was not already re-signed as there will be other teams vying for him if he reaches free agency. They played things too slow with Jared Veldheer last season and can’t make the same mistake with their center. He should fall in that $6 million a year price range…If Charles Woodson wants to continue playing football there is no reason for the Raiders not to keep him at the same $3.5 million price he signed for this season. At this stage of his career he is like having a coach on the field…Pat Sims seems to enjoy playing in Oakland and is a decent low cost option to have in the line rotation…If Tarell Brown is willing to sign for a low cost contract he might help hold the fort down until they get better players in place, but they should not consider anything more than what he earned in 2014.

Free Agents to Let Walk

At this point the Raiders have to have seen enough of Darren McFadden to realize he is not going to be a special player. They need to break their ties to the past as much as possible and that means letting McFadden find a new home…Oakland took a chance on Carlos Rogers after he was released by the 49ers, but Rogers can’t go anymore and they need to improve in the secondary next season. There is no need for him to return.

Contracts to Modify

Oakland is one of the few teams in the NFL that has little to do with existing players. They have no need for cap room and the players who should earn less money don’t really have business being on the roster and just fall into the “should be released” category. Bringing down Sebastian Janikowski’s salary is not a bad idea but one the Raiders have always been hesitant to do.

Players to Consider Releasing

Tyvon Branch has played a grand total of 5 games in the last two seasons and is one of the last remaining contracts that escaped the great purge of 2013. Branch has large dead money charges in his contract of $6.67 million but his release creates nearly $3 million in space. I can’t see any reason to keep him….The Raiders have swung and missed two years in a row on QB trades and Matt Schaub has pretty much spent the last four months putting his resume together knowing his release is inevitable. Cutting him saves $5.5 million in cash and cap….The Raiders designed LaMarr Woodley’s contract to be a one year tryout and I’d say his 5 game, 5 tackle, and no sack season should not only see him released but also out of the NFL. He is set to earn $5.35 million…Maurice Jones-Drew had nothing left in the tank and will likely retire before getting the call that his contract has been terminated.

Offseason Plan

The one thing I would not expect Oakland to do in 2015 is repeat the active adult community approach of 2014. The Raiders once again have money and need to bring in young and potentially explosive talent in 2015. It looks as if they have determined that they will keep Reggie McKenzie on as General Manager and while it is not in his DNA to sign big money contracts in free agency the Raiders have such a long way to go that they must do it rather than keeping their fingers crossed with the draft and putting together a patchwork team year after year until the draft hits.

Oakland should be a player for Ndamukong Suh as well as a receiver like Jeremy Maclin or Torrey Smith. They should pursue a Mark Ingram type for running back and they have the money to take a chance on Jason Pierre Paul if he hits the market. McKenzie can still sign these players on his terms with limited bonus money as the Buccaneers have proven that contract model to be acceptable on a wide scale but he will need to go higher on price if he does that. The Raiders should be behind on their required CBA spending so this is the perfect year to play catch up.

The Raiders avoided the big name talent last season which could have helped them improve their secondary as there were viable corners and safeties on the market, positions that are not as deep this year. I don’t believe they can find secondary help in free agency outside of a lateral move from someone like Brown to a Tramon Williams, who McKenzie would likely prefer. That’s not a long term solution though.

The Raiders look to have a QB in place and with the number 4 pick should be able to identify what position they will draft as they hit free agency, which is a help for planning where to allocate money in free agency. The key should be to determine the strength of the draft and free agency to build a strategy where they fill the maximum amount of holes possible by using both avenues to improve. They should be able to come away with secondary help and another linebacker by the end of the draft with a number of starters coming from free agency.

Raiders Links

Raiders Salary Cap Pages

Raiders Free Agents

Raiders Contracts

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Other Offseason Salary Cap Reports

Raiders Trade for Matt Schaub

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Yesterday the Oakland Raiders moved a sixth round pick to the Houston Texans to acquire the rights to QB Matt Schaub. Schaub had come under great scrutiny since the Texans signed him to an ill-advised extension worth $15.5 million a year, a number that, at the time, made him one of the two highest paid “non-Super Bowl” winners in the NFL. Schaub was coming off injury and had just one year remaining on his contract in 2012 when the Texans made the move. By the end of 2012, when team expectations were high and Schaub’s physical limitations began to be scrutinized more due to those expectations and his contract, he began to falter.

After an exit in the 2012 playoffs there were questions as to whether or not Schaub should be back in 2013, technically just the first year of his new contract. The large guarantees in his contract made that an impossibility but the talk of it seemed to rattle his confidence. Schaub had a meltdown under the pressure and went through a series of injuries and benchings during the course of the 2013 season. It was clear he needed a new home to try to resurrect his career.

For the Raiders the move is a no-brainer. They had no quarterback of note on the roster and need to turn the fortunes of the team around. Before Schaub began to get rattled in 2012 he was having a very good season and had always been careful with the football. As long as his confidence returns at worst the Raiders get a professional behind center.

The contract itself is one that the Raiders should not touch to give him added “job security” or anything else they feel may help him with his confidence. The Raiders have a high draft pick and should not look at the addition of Schaub as a reason to not use it on a prospect, so keeping outs in his contract would be a smart decision. Schaub will be 33 this season and while that is young enough to get two years out of him I would not call it likely to expect much more than that, at least at a relatively high level of football. The Raiders also need to plan for the fact that Schaub could also be finished.

Because no prorated money enters the equation in a trade the contract itself works out perfect for the Raiders current contract format of no signing bonus money and instead the use of base salaries and incentivized roster bonuses. Schaub will only cost the Raiders a maximum of $11 million this season in cash and salary cap, which is the second lowest paid veteran “starter” QB in the NFL behind Alex Smith of the Chiefs.  If you look at this as a two year contract with an annual value of $12.25 million it ranks as 4th lowest among veteran starters. So the contract is not as bad from the Raiders perspective as some are making it out to be.

The decision will bring more scrutiny to GM Reggie McKenzie’s handling of the Carson Palmer situation in 2013. McKenzie wanted Palmer to take a paycut of $3 million in 2013 which Palmer refused to do because of how he felt he was being treated in Oakland. McKenzie traded Palmer and a 7th rounder to the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th rounder and a conditional draft pick in 2014.  The Raiders would then send a 5th in 2014 to the Seahawks for Matt Flynn, who was an epic disaster and released in October. McKenzie restructured Flynn’s contract for both cap relief and the ability to give him that “job security” adding more dollars to the picture that the Raiders had to account for when Flynn was released.

Palmer ended up reducing his salary in 2013 and 2014 with the Cardinals from $27 million to $16 million with a chance to earn $4 million in incentives and escalators.  The guarantees were just $10 million. Schaub is essentially a lateral move from Palmer putting the Raiders right back to where they were in 2012. All told the Raiders will spend, assuming Schaub does not take a paycut, $26.84 million in salary cap charges in 2013 and 2014 for Palmer, Flynn, and now Schaub. The Cardinals spent $16 on Palmer over the same time period.

The Raiders are probably the best example in the NFL of the desperate levels that teams will go to try to fix the QB position. In the last three years the Raiders have sent draft picks to other teams for the services of Jason Campbell(4th in 2012), Carson Palmer(1st in 2012 and 2nd in 2013), Matt Flynn (5th in 2014) and now Matt Schaub(6th in 2014). The first three QB’s started a total of  43 games in four seasons going 19-24. Over that same time frame the Raiders have also drafted Terrelle Pryor (supplemental that cost a 3rd in 2012) and Tyler Wilson (4th in 2013). Pryor started 10 games in 3 years while Wilson was released in 2013. When you combine all the picks(1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 5th, 6th) the Raiders have essentially given up an entire draft for the position. That’s quite the waste of resources.

For McKenzie he needs Schaub to work out our this will likely be the end of his run in Oakland, where he oversaw the salary cap teardown of the team and had little success on the field while struggled with the mistakes of the organization before him. The Raiders have spent approximately $47 million in cap space this season, mainly on veterans likely leaving their primes than entering it, which means the improvement needs to come quickly. They still maintain cap flexibility as almost every contract has a one year escape window, but he wont be in Oakland if they have to pull that switch in 2015.

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The Legend and Contracts of Nnamdi Asomugha

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CB Nnamdi Asomugha was released this week by the San Francisco 49ers likely leading to the end of his career. Asomugha is one of the more fascinating figures from a contract perspective that I can ever recall. He leveraged an incredible reputation, draft status, and team needs to create a brilliant marketing plan that saw him out-earn his peers regardless of who was or was not better at the time.

Asomugha was drafted in 2003 with the 31st pick in the NFL draft by the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders. Asomugha had a pretty non descript rookie season, starting just one game and logging no passes defended or interceptions on the season. By 2005 he had become a good starter and in 2006 he became a star with 8 interceptions and 19 passes broken up.

With the Raiders only having won 15 games in the four years Asomugha had been a Raider and the organization looking as if it was headed nowhere,opponents made a decision in 2007 to simply avoid Asomugha rather than chance a turnover, which may have been the Raiders only chance to score in certain weeks. The legend of Asomugha grew from there as the Raiders placed the Franchise tag on Asomugha to prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Asomugha actually did not receive his first true post season honors until 2008, when he was named first team All Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl. At that point Asomugha was able to use everything to his advantage to receive an outlandish three year contract that would pay him over $45 million dollars if he fulfilled the three year contract. The kicker in the contract was that the third year salary would be a minimum of $16.874 million, essentially paying him as if he was a Quarterback, provided he reached some very basic incentives.  As things turned out he failed to reach these incentives, but it didn’t really hurt him as it simply led to his 2011 contract year voiding, making him a free agent.

Asomugha became arguably the hottest free agent in 2011, despite the fact that his play had dropped off – Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 14th best cornerback in 2009 and 24th best in 2010.  A bidding way ensued between the high spending New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys which Asomugha seemed to just use to drive up the price for the team they really wanted to play on- the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles had just come off a 10-6 season where they had surged behind a resurgent Mike Vick, who had an 8-3 record as a starter. They were assembling the “Dream Team” and money was no object to what had been a cautious organization. They signed Asomugha to a $12 million dollar a year contract with $25 million guaranteed. He was going to lead the defense to greatness as the legend of Asomugha said he could not be tested.

Except somewhere along the way teams decided maybe it was time to begin throwing on Asomugha. This was not the Raiders with no offensive threat anymore. After being thrown on just 57 times combined in the prior two seasons Asomugha was tested 47 times as an Eagle. That’s still a good number but teams saw that the legend may have been far bigger than the actual player at that point.

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Teams had success throwing his way. There seemed to be genuine shock about this among fans and media alike. Much was written about defensive systems, coaching, lack of cohesion with his teammates, and even difficulty in adjusting to life on the East coast in a lockout shortened season. By 2012 it was pretty much all out war against Asomugha and he was terrible, leading to his eventual release. Luckily for him his legend was so great that the Eagles had already agreed to pay him $4 million dollars even if he played with another team.

It is pretty amazing how much money Asomugha was able to command during all of this time. The first contract was truly a masterpiece. At the time Nnamdi had spent 6 years in the NFL. Now it’s difficult to measure “shutdown” as a metric, but just in terms of overall career numbers Asomugha was not significantly better than his peers. His two and 3 year payouts were about 18% and 40% higher than the next closest player.

Player

Year Signed

Seasons

GS

PB

AP

Int

2 Year

3 Year

Asomugha

2009

6

69

1

1

10

$28,592,000

$45,466,000

Bailey

2004

5

80

4

0

18

$20,199,000

$26,226,450

Samuel

2008

5

53

1

1

22

$23,145,000

$32,140,000

Tillman

2007

4

49

0

0

14

$18,600,000

$22,000,000

Clements

2008

6

91

0

0

23

$24,083,334

$27,650,000

It is a bit harder to compare Asomugha when he signed his next contract in 2011 since these other players were all under long term contracts, but an interesting point of reference there is Samuel. Samuel was on the same Eagles team as Asomugha, but they decided to move on from Samuel in 2012 and trade him to the Falcons. At the time Samuel was one year removed from 4 straight Pro Bowls and was showing signs of breaking down. While Asomugha got the $12 million per year deal Samuel received a contract worth about $6 million a season. Here were their career stats upon signing their last major contracts:

Player

Year Signed

Seasons

GS

PB

AP

Int

2 Year

3 Year

Asomugha

2011

8

99

3

2

11

$21,000,000

$36,000,000

Samuel

2012

9

108

4

1

45

$12,450,000

$17,700,000

All told this led to an extremely impressive salary from 2009 through 2012. Between the Raiders and Eagles, Asomugha earned just under $53.6 million dollars (this includes his $4 million dollar go away payoff) to produce 5 interceptions on teams whose combined record was 25-39 and produced no winning seasons nor any playoff appearances. How did the others do in those initial 4 year periods:

Player

GS

PB

AP

Int

4 Year Pay

Asomugha

61

2

1

5

$53,592,000

Samuel

55

3

0

23

$38,140,000

Bailey

54

3

2

22

$34,229,500

Clements

53

0

0

10

$33,700,000

Tillman

62

1

0

13

$25,450,000

At the end of the day Asomugha earned 40% more than Samuel, a player drafted the same season and arguably as productive at his peak.  He earned significantly more than Bailey and Tillman proved to be an excellent bargain for Chicago.

There are only a handful of players in the NFL that should be in the discussion for greatest contracts of all time, but Asomugha is right at the top of that list. I’m not sure if there is anyone that will ever show this level of disparity from a financial standpoint from his peers again for producing so little on the field. It was brilliant contract management and creating a frenzy about something that may not have even existed if he had played for another team besides the one in Oakland. This is a series of contracts that every player and agent should dream of and every team he played for has had nightmares about.

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Flynn-ished: Raiders release beleaguered QB

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On Monday, the Raiders took the expected final step of releasing much maligned quarterback Matt Flynn. Heavily assumed to be in the works since Flynn’s disaster of a start against the Redskins, the move took just over a week to be made.

The financial implications of Flynn’s release are pretty cut and dry. The Raiders will gain no cap space from Flynn’s release, barring the event of Flynn signing on with another team. He will still account for $3,875,000 against the Raiders’ cap this season. Considering Flynn’s performance and drastic fall from grace, if Flynn did latch on with another team, the amount would likely be close to the veteran minimum, a paltry recouping of cap space. The remaining pro-ration of Flynn’s signing bonus from his two restructures will result in a dead money hit of $2,625,000 for next season since Flynn obviously was released after June 1st. The Raiders will get back Flynn’s $5,000,000 salary for the 2014 season and that same amount in cap space.

Some have taken umbrage with McKenzie for guaranteeing Flynn’s salary for the season, but I don’t think guaranteeing Flynn’s salary for the 2013 season was a poor move. Though Flynn underwhelmed, he still didn’t underwhelm to the point to where he would have been released before his salary would have vested as a veteran anyway. While initially Flynn wouldn’t have cost any cap space to release after 2013, and the restructures changed that, the amount is comparatively small when juxtaposed with the Raiders’ massive cap space for 2014. In short, it shouldn’t have much, if any of an impact on next year’s situation. Some others would point out that this wouldn’t have been an issue in the first place if McKenzie had simply not traded for Flynn and used that money elsewhere. While viable, the Raiders also needed a quarterback, and there was history there to suggest the move made sense. The more interesting aspect to this move is how Reggie McKenzie completely misread his former player’s fit for the Raiders roster.

Though the financial aspects of this mistake are not dire, there are some troubling factors to this move. The fact McKenzie acquired a former player who he, in theory, knew very well, flamed out so quickly is worrying. A 5th rounder on the whole isn’t a huge sum, but for a GM who has stated he can find starters through the 5th round and relies on the draft, a 5th rounder given up for a player who lasted 5 games that he had worked with before is a blow to his evaluation skills. Those who viewed the move positively at the time assumed that Flynn had the skills to become a decent backup at least. Flynn failed to even demonstrate that by showing no pocket presence or elusiveness. Combined with less than stellar arm talent, and the widespread knowledge that the Raiders’ Offensive Line is atrocious, it is obvious how badly this experiment would end. Everyone knew Flynn was propped up by Green Bay’s talent, but McKenzie should have known just exactly how much Flynn was helped by his surrounding talent.

While it is nice that McKenzie quickly admitted the mistake instead of compounding it, something that Raiders’ fans are not accustomed to, it still doesn’t change the error. McKenzie allegedly wanted Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib over 4th round quarterback Tyler Wilson, but seemingly was so intent on drafting a quarterback, it seems he went against his board, something he says he would not do. Generally reaching at a position, and not following your board, is a quick way to wind up with a talent poor roster. Although the only lingering cost of the Flynn error after the year will be less than 3 million, the implications of the decision making acumen of the person in charge of the Raiders are potentially far more dire.

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Examining the Potential Landing Spots for Josh Freeman

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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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