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.

Follow @Jason_OTC


Utilizing Free Agency to Build a Team


As Ryan continues his excellent State of the Rebuild series, in which he looks at new General Managers and their situations, I thought it might be worthwhile to just give a general overview of the manner in which teams are utilizing free agency to build their starting rosters for the 2013 NFL season. For this I will look at the AFC (I’ll be happy to run the numbers for the NFC if requested) and use the current starting players listed on Ourlads depth charts. Traded players do not count when looking at free agency unless they signed a new contract with the team. For example Chris Ivory of the Jets would count (though he is not listed as a starter) but Alex Smith of the Chiefs would not.

Free agency is often a short sighted approach to building a football team. The NFL is a young man’s game and often the most productive years for a player come during the first six or seven seasons of a career.  For some teams this leads to a philosophy of extending draft picks early in their careers.  The manner in which this works is that a team, after a players third season in the league (it used to be his second season), extends the player for a period of anywhere from three to five seasons on top of his existing contract.

The benefit to this is that the player is locked up for what are considered his “prime” football years with minimal down  the road impact if the player needs to be released for dropoff in performance. The reason the impact is minimized is because bonus money can only be prorated over a 5 year period, leaving the final extension years often clean from a salary cap standpoint. Teams also have a great deal of leverage in these early extension negotiations and can lock up players at below market values. In general you are sacrificing the salary cap benefit of the rookie contract for long term salary cap flexibility. The 49’ers, Packers, and Eagles have all been major proponents of this strategy.

Of course there is risk involved in this strategy. First of all you have a very small sample size of real game action to evaluate the player. For many players you can throw a rookie season out simply due to the immense learning curve of the NFL, leaving a team with just one or two years to evaluate the talent. If the talent busts you are stuck with cap charges you never would have had if you allowed him to play the rookie contract out. This is how the Patriots got into cap problems with Aaron Hernandez. While that is an extreme example it shows the negative side of the early extension.

It can also be a difficult strategy to stick with because GM’s jobs are directly tied to wins and losses and this strategy is a better long term rather than short term strategy. You are sacrificing the opportunity to get better immediately to stay better over a longer period of time, which could lead to some losing seasons early in the philosophical transition. That often leads to a team going in the other direction and looking to build via free agency.

There are various types of building through free agency. There is the more short term enhancement designed to put a “win now” team over the top. The Broncos would be an example of this. They will have nearly $20 million(as measured by annual value) in new talent take the field for them this year, but three of those four players are signed for 2 or fewer seasons. This, in essence, gives the team a great escape if the “win now” team doesn’t win. There is no long term commitment whatsoever.

There is the barren roster situation which would be exemplified by the Raiders. The Raiders are essentially an expansion team and need bodies on the field. They have eight new starters signed as free agents, tied for most in the AFC.  They are not signing them to turn the franchise around; it’s simply better than the alternative of the completely unknown undrafted free agent.  Of those eight, six will be free agents after this season.   It is a stop gap solution with no long term damage.

There are other teams that see free agency as an opportunity to add one or two big pieces to the long term plan of the team. The Browns and Titans would both fit in that category. They added some significant big money players but not to the point where it completely overhauls their roster. These players are not short term solutions either but more admissions of either draft failures or a desire to not spend future draft allocations on these positions.

Finally you have the complete rebuilding approach. I find this to be the most fascinating to watch unfold because the expectations are not so much to build on what is in place but to turn a franchise completely around in a very quick manner.   Failure at the early stages of this process often lead to significant salary cap damage down the line. This strategy is completely opposite to the “extend early to avoid the cap pain late” approach. Teams that build this way often do not have a happy ending when the 28 year old free agent makes the turn past 30 and they have all kinds of guarantees or bonus prorations in their contracts. What makes this even more difficult is that you are not putting one or two parts into an existing system but multiple pieces. With limited practice time in the preseason it can leave units of 11 that need to function as 1 right out of the gate struggling for answers on the field. By the time they figure things out the season could be lost and GM’s jobs will be in jeopardy.

The two AFC teams utilizing this strategy this year are the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, though there are differences to both internally in the way that they approached this. Miami is one of the most unique attempts at a quick rebuild that I can recall. They have more or less been waiting for the last two years for contracts to run out so that they had significant money to spend. Miami doled out over $42 million in annual salary to other teams’ free agents. That is nearly $8.5 million more than the next closest team.  They will have 7 new starters this year, nearly 1/3 of their starting roster.

What makes their situation even more unique is that for all this money spent, $13.5 million of it is just for one year rentals. That $13.5 million represents the contracts given to TE Dustin Keller, CB Brent Grimes, and RT Tyson Clabo. Normally you would expect this more on a “win now” team where you go all in on a few short term pieces, but the Dolphins have shown no signs of being that type of team. They have been a steady as a rock 6 to 7 win team since their trip to the playoffs in 2008.

They also have five other starters in their walk year (Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Chris Clemons, Koa Misi, and Richie Incognito) which could keep the Dolphins in line for another major overhaul in 2014. With a good deal of cap room to carry over into 2014 and some wiggle room  to restructure existing contracts, Miami could conceivably go on a large spending spree again in 2014, potentially under a new GM if the team fails in 2013. So it’s not really a big window of opportunity for the team as presently constructed but more of a one year vision with an open window to improve internally and externally in the future.

The Colts are different. They have taken an approach that you can take a relatively young overachieving team, and I’m not sure any team has ever overachieved more than the Colts last season, and quickly take it from the learning stages right into the advanced playoff stages. Indianapolis will have 8 new starters in 2013, 5 of whom are signed for 4 or more seasons. They committed 26 seasons to these 8 players so this was a long term plan, not a short term fix.

But the Colts are also making a leap of faith on the talent they acquired. These players are not so much proven talents as they are key backups now expected to start. The 8 players only combined for 72 starts in 2012. S LaRon Landry and RT Gosder Cherilus are really your only true proven starters. Almost everyone else the team signed long term comes with a huge “buyer beware” sign and the decisions left a number of people around the league wondering why they paid so much for some of the players.

That said I would consider this a more traditional approach to building via free agency with long term deals as the centerpiece. Normally teams might wait one more season rather than right after the rookie year of a number of key pieces but the Colts are young and cheap enough to where this may just be the prelude to the main event which could take place in free agency in 2014. They will be tough to outbid next year if they want to add more pieces.

I do think that many teams will watch the success or failure of the Colts and Dolphins very closely. There are a number of teams that are going to have significant cap room next season and what could be impatient owners and/or fanbases that want to see results fast. These teams include the Raiders, Jaguars, Jets, Browns, and Bears. If the Dolphins can go from a 7 win to an 11 win team it is going to be hard to state that you want to avoid free agency and build via the draft on a 3 year plan. But if Miami goes 7-9 again and the Colts fail to make the playoffs it will likely be another reason to not go wild in free agency.

A lot may hinge on these types of teams besides free agency philosophies. Spending in general was down last season on most positions other than QB and WR. The flat salary cap has made some teams a bit more cautious than they were in the past with their spending  and as a result free agency in 2013 was almost a non-event outside of a handful of contracts. Players need some of these big money contracts to actually result in improved won-loss records and playoff success to convince teams that spending is just as important as drafting.

I’d actually say it is far more important to the players to see players like Mike Wallace and Paul Kruger help turn the fortunes around of their franchise than it would be for a bargain chip like Wes Welker to push the Broncos to the Super Bowl. While a player like Welker would show that you can enhance your results by participating in free agency, his next to nothing contract would still signal that teams should put low caps on their offseason evaluations. If the big money items make a meaningful splash more bidding wars could ensue.

The following chart illustrates the annual amount spent per team on 2013 starters that came via free agency. The two lines show how many players were signed and how many total years were potentially invested in those players. If you would like to see an overview of the NFC feel free to send me an email.

2013 NFL Free agency


Looking at Darren McFadden’s Decision to Play the Season Out


Darren McFadden

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com has posted yesterday that RB Darren McFadden of the Raiders was ready to play the season out in hopes of getting a lucrative contract in free agency next season. So with that in mind I figured we could take a look at the running back and see if he really has any hope of earning big dollars.

The running back market in general has come crashing down since the heyday of the Shaun Alexander and Ricky Williams. Between teams having their salary caps damaged by unproductive runners being paid millions of dollars and the explosion of the passing offense and influx of younger talented QB’s the running back became devalued tremendously.

The only two runners to “break the market” were Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, and those are both unrealistic data points for any player in the NFL. The true top of the market is between $7 and $9 million a year so I have to guess that is what McFadden is aiming for. The question is can he actually get there?

McFadden has a lot to overcome to even be considered in that grouping. The first issue is the injury history. No season, no matter how great, is going to convince a team that he can stay healthy and productive for 16 games. No team is going to spend big dollars on a player that is only healthy for 12 games and productive for 8 or 9. It ruins the flow of the offense.

Secondly he has to convince teams that the poor seasons were a fluke.  McFadden has had more mediocre seasons than good seasons. He only ran for 500 yards as a rookie and 360 yards in his second season. He played very well in 2010 and started out well in 2011 before falling off a cliff in 2012, which he blamed on the blocking scheme. The fact that he is saying he can’t run behind a certain scheme could be troubling to a team.

The Upper Market Statistics

I first wanted to look at the top end of the market and use the two year averages leading up to an extension to come up with some basic goals for McFadden. (Please note that I am not including Jonathan Stewart of the Panthers simply because no team is going to use him as any point of comparison).



Run Yds


Rec Yds




Big Play























































Making a Case For the High End

Because McFadden has basically no useful stats the last two seasons we have to assume teams will use that 2010 season as a point of reference along with 2013. In 2010 he rushed for 1157 yards on 223 carries and added 507 receiving yards on 47 receptions. While I don’t see teams agreeing to just blindly use that year as likely that is the best case he can make for himself.  To get to the group averages McFadden is going to need the following stat line in 2013:

Games: 16
Carries: 300
Yards: 1207
Receptions: 60
Yards Rec: 448
TD: 13
Big Plays: 9

These numbers would all represent major career highs in touches as well as games played. Are those attainable?  Probably not and he may need to exceed the numbers simply because we are using 2010 as a data point, which is an eternity ago in football years. While some people might point to the fact that 300 carries for 1200 yards is not as productive as he has been at his peak and that he can get 1200 yards with just 250 carries it’s not really the yards that are important. It’s the touches. It is the ability to carry the ball multiple times that brings financial value to a team.

The problem with an ultra productive player that only carries the ball 200 times is that the team then needs to sign someone to handle the missing 100 carries. That costs money and cap space. It’s like being injured and needing a decent replacement. A team doesn’t want to design an offense where Player A can do X, Y, and Z for 5.5 YPC and then supplant him for significant carries with Player B that can only do it for 2.5.

Essentially if McFadden can only carry for 220 times a year and you sign him for $8 million a year it means you need to sign or draft another productive player that can carry the ball 170 to 200 times.  That brings your cost allocation from $7 or $8 million a year into the $10-$11 million a year range, a very high amount to spend on a running back.

The best case McFadden can make is to use Marshawn Lynch as a comparison point. When you look at the chart above Lynch is the one player who does not belong. His overall productivity was weak compared to others. He didn’t have the touches, didn’t factor into the passing game, and produced less than 4 yards a carry. Lynch had a few bad seasons leading into his extension. He was suspended for three games in 2009 and fell out of favor in Buffalo, only gaining 450 yards on the ground. He was traded the next year and produced an underwhelming 3.5 YPA for the Seahawks in 12 games. He also battled an ankle problem that year which he played through.

Those two seasons are not terribly different than what McFadden has done the prior two years. Lynch bounced back in 2011 to have a Pro Bowl season for the Seahawks and gaining 1200 rushing yards. Seattle took into account the distant past play when Lynch was a workhorse back with the Bills rather than considering 2011 the outlier and using his prior two years as reference points. Lynch would go on to have a monster season in 2012 justifying the overspending on the player.

The Secondary Market Statistics

While McFadden envisions himself in that group that earns $7 to $9 million a year, the more likely place for him is in the non-workhorse section of the market which varies from $3 million to $6.4 million a year. These are the players who teams do not have faith in being able to carry a full load or being able to remain healthy for 16 games. They understand the risks associated with the talent and are only going to spend a limited amount of cap dollars. Using the same two year averages here is that group of players:



Run Yds


Rec Yds




Big Play

R. Bush






















































Making a Case For the Secondary Tier

Using this subset McFadden doesn’t need to push for a team to use 2010 as a baseline. All he needs to do is come close to recreating 2010 and he will easily surpass the averages of this group with the exception of games played. If he put up his 2010 numbers over a 16 game stretch he’d be more proficient than everyone except Charles. Being that McFadden has top draft talent, is far superior as a big play threat, and could convince teams to throw out that 2012 season he can easily push to the top of this list.

There are a number of easy comparisons here. The most logical would be Bush. Bush was a former number 2 overall pick who did very little in New Orleans over the first five seasons of his career. He received more opportunity with the Dolphins and turned himself into a viable mid tier back capable of carrying 200 times a year. Bush is 28 in his season of signing with Detroit. McFadden will be 27 if he plays the season out. Bush received $4 million a season from Detroit with $5 million in full guarantees.

Another point of reference would be Frank Gore. Gore had a more productive career than McFadden but looked as if all the wear and tear of his early years had worn him down. He was 28 when he signed a 3 year extension that did not begin until he was 29 years old. Gore received a close to high end value with significant money tied up in per game roster bonuses because of fear of injury.

Setting a Price

The following chart illustrates the contract values and full guarantees of the various players we discussed above plotted simply against average combined yards over the two years before the new contract.

NFL Running back marketplace

I would consider Lynch’s contract, worth $7.5 million a year, to be the highest possibility for McFadden and that is probably a stretch price. Seattle has not been the most cautious team in the league in regards to contract decisions leaning much more towards payment based on upper level potential rather than proven results. Given the Raiders cap history and knowing that their General Manager, Reggie McKenzie, comes from a system that takes the pessimistic approach to payment on potential it would be highly unlikely that the Raiders would ever consider matching a 4 year $30 million dollar contract with $17 million fully guaranteed for a player with McFadden’s history. That doesn’t mean somebody won’t do it but I can’t imagine that team being the Raiders barring a historic season by McFadden.

A more realistic number is between that $4 million and $6.4 million range of the second tier of players with minimal guarantees and for shorter terms in length. Though Charles was much younger when he signed his contract I could see the $5.4 million being a fair figure for McFadden if he has a good season. If he is willing to hedge his bets on his skill guarantees I think they could push the value closer to Gore’s.

Gore received more money potential for giving up true guarantees. This is not completely uncommon in the NFL. Darrelle Revis, CB for the Buccaneers, did the same in order to receive a contract far exceeding his “on paper” value, especially in light of an ACL injury that sidelined him for almost all of 2012. Gore’s lack of skill guarantees combined with heavy incentives based on staying healthy would seem like an ideal model for McFadden.

This style of contract fits in with McKenzie’s background with the Green Bay Packers and what he has started to use in Green Bay. McKenzie has also shown a willingness to use incentives in his contracts to push the value beyond the stated values in the contract which could also be used to max McFadden out if he was to produce the way Lynch ended up producing this past season. Again the incentives are not terribly uncommon as Rice’s contract contains performance incentives that would push his value closer to his “on paper” production level if he continued to hit certain statistical thresholds.  Gore’s contract also contains added performance incentives.

The Risks of Playing the Season Out

Contrary to popular opinion I don’t think McFadden has any leverage right now despite his team high $9.68 million dollar cap number. None of McFadden’s salary is guaranteed and the Raiders are no longer hurting for cap dollars. Next season the Raiders will be flush with cap space as they try to build their roster essentially from scratch and a few extra carryover dollars from McFadden reworking his contract means nothing.

I am not sure what the Raiders would consider fair value for him now, but I wouldn’t imagine it would be much more than what the Dolphins paid Bush in 2010. Bush received a contract worth $4.875 million per year over two years with just $2.5 million in guarantees. The contract was completely based on potential and the belief that he would be a better fit in the Dolphins offense than the Saints offense.  That money would be in addition to his $5.85 million dollar salary he is earning now.

If McFadden is unsuccessful this year in improving on 2012 he probably will not even receive that much money in free agency. I think because of the failures of McCoy, Foster, Forte, Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, etc… teams are more hesitant than ever to invest. In terms of annual value Bush, despite being more productive, is earning less than he did off his nothing seasons with New Orleans. Our own valuation of McFadden based on last season said he was worth only $1.9 million a season.

If McFadden were to hit free agency he could find his options limited. His statements about the offensive scheme could eliminate teams from considering him and he will likely only be picked up by a team needing a complementary piece. Most likely he would need to take an Ahmad Bradshaw style 1 year $2 million dollar contract with next to nothing guaranteed as a way to prove himself and Bradshaw was far more productive than McFadden.

So if the Raiders were offering him such a deal he could lock himself into a good chance to earn close to $10 million in 2014 and 2014 with the Raiders. With so many holes to fill as long as McFadden has a pulse they may be willing to stick with him especially since he will not damage their salary cap at those figures.  So you could be looking at an $8 million dollar loss by hoping for a higher value contract. McFadden also has to consider the franchise tag as a realistic option even he plays well because the Raiders will be cap rich in 2014 and can easily take on a one year $8.5 million cap hit for a question mark player.

As a point of reference Bush’ s new contract will only pay him $8.5 million over the next two years  and Gore’s paid $11.1 million in his first two extension years. If the Raiders were willing to go to $9 million or so in a two year extension (and we have no idea if they would be willing to do so) he would really be giving up very little value over his likely market price even if he had a pretty productive year as his base values of his contract may very likely end up right at the same figure. Really what he would be giving up would be some added backend contract value that is always non guaranteed and the incentives that could be part of an extension.

For this to truly be worth the risk, McFadden is going to have to put up absolutely incredible numbers, not have the franchise tag applied, and find a team willing to spend for an outside player based on a one year data point. None of the big contracts were free agent acquisitions as all players re-signed with their own teams, so free agency for runners is generally soft. That is a lot of things that need to occur for a player who typically plays 12 or 13 games a season to get the kind of money he hopes to get by playing the season out.



What Teams Will Gain in Cap Space with the June 1 Cut


With June 1 rapidly approaching I thought this would be a good time to update on the salary cap changes that will occur for a number of teams as well as some other thoughts on the subject. On June 1 the league changes their accounting rules for acceleration of prorated bonus money. If a player is cut prior to June 1 all of a players unaccounted for bonus money accelerates onto the salary cap. If a player is cut after June 1 the players unaccounted for money accelerates to the following season (in this case 2014) with only his current proration remaining on the 2013 cap books.

The NFL allows teams to cut up to two players prior to June 1 and designate them “June 1 cuts”. If this mechanism is used the team carries the players’ full cap charge in their top 51 until June 1. On June 2 the player is officially removed from the roster with only his current years proration remaining on the books and in many cases a dramatic increase in cap space for cap starved teams that need to sign rookies or have money on hand for in season roster management. 10 teams utilized the June 1 designation, with the Dolphins being the only team to use it on two players.

For many of the teams the money is desperately needed. The Oakland Raiders have yet to sign a draft pick as they remain right around the NFL’s cap limit, but on June 2 their cap will grow to about $7.86 million after Michael Huff drops off the books. The Steelers with almost no breathing room and less than $600,000 in cap room with 4 picks to sign will now have $5.59 million to spend, due to the June 1 treatment of Willie Colon. The Chargers, the other cap strapped team with less than $1 million in room, will remove Jared Gaither to jump to $4.65 million in cap space.  The other teams with limited cap funds that will benefit from the June 1 rule are the Falcons and Ravens, both of whom currently have around $2 million in cap space.

Other teams such as the Bills and Dolphins will see large increases that will jump them very close to the top of the NFL in cap space. The Dolphins will jump from 15th to 7th in the NFL in cap space while the Bills will go from 7th to 5th. This is primarily because of the large cap investments that the teams’ made in mediocre players. Ryan Fitzpatrick current sits as the 2nd largest cap charge on the Bills active roster while Karlos Dansby has the highest cap figure of any Dolphin. Huff of the Raiders also ranks as the highest cap charge on his team.

Most of the players are all good enough to find another job in the NFL, only Gaither has not found a team willing to take him, but only 5 received multi-year contracts and the highest cap charge to be found is Tyson Clabo, now of the Dolphins, at $3.5 million. The June 1 rule really illustrates the mistakes that teams make when valuing players and structuring contracts. While Dansby, Huff, and Fitzpatrick were outrageous figures, 6 of the June 1 cuts still take up a top 5 cap spot on the active roster and 9 are in the top 10. The following table shows the amount of estimated cap space that was to be spent on these players, dead money the teams will carry, and how much cap new teams are going to pay these players this season:



Original Cap Charge


2013 Dead Money


2014 Dead Money


New Team 2013 Cap


So the cutting teams will carry more dead money this year than the players will collectively make from their new teams to play in the NFL. The league valued these players at 74.3% less than the teams original projections. Assuming that the average salary for the group in 2014 is $1 million each then those players will play football over a 2 year period for 50% less than the dead money totals that the original teams will now carry in 2013 and 2014. That’s one of the reasons why when we do some of the valuations on the site from a team perspective we try to take into account future productivity as this was, for the most part, money thrown away on players. These are the type of contracts that get General Managers fired over the long run.

As for the June 1 cuts themselves here is the list of players that will be removed on June 2 and what the projected cap totals for the teams will be based on the official salary cap numbers as of May 28, 2013.


Current Charge

New Charge


New Team Cap Space

James AndersonPanthers





Michael HuffRaiders





Bernard PollardRavens





Ryan FitzpatrickBills





Karlos DansbyDolphins





Kevin BurnettDolphins





Willie ColonSteelers





Jared GaitherChargers





Tyson ClaboFalcons





Marcus SpearsCowboys





Adam SnyderCardinals






Thoughts on Raiders’ Restructuring of Matt Flynn’s Contract


Matt Flynn reportedly restructured his contract for a 2nd time since being traded to the Raiders according to Ian Rapoport. Assuming he took a minimum salary of $715,000 the Raiders will create $1,267,500 in cap space and Flynn will carry a cap charge of $3.607,500. His 2014 number would then rise to $7,892,500.

The Raiders needed to do this move in order to sign CB/S Charles Woodson. My numbers are bit off on the Raiders and Im still missing details on Josh Cribbs, both of which I will try to correct in the near future, but according to the NFLPA the Raiders had only $179,987 in cap room, which would not be enough to sign Woodson, who should carry a cap charge of $1.8 million. In order to sign a player to a contract the league mandates that you have enough cap room before they allow the contract to be accepted.

Now if you quickly do the math you will see that the money created still is not enough to sign Woodson, but it is worth noting that the Raiders have a June 1 cut on their roster in Michael Huff. The NFL and NFLPA calculate June 1 cut data differently and in this case the NFL calculates it properly and in accordance with the CBA. The NFLPA immediately moves the player into “dead money” and out of the top 51, which forces another player to count in the top 51. Per the CBA the June 1 designated release has his contract count as if he is on the team, meaning he maintains his place in the top 51. That means as of today the Raiders cap is under-reported by $480,000 using NFLPA accounting methods. If you take that into account the Flynn restructure would leave Oakland with $1,927,487 in cap room, just enough to sign Woodson, a move that was officially accepted by the NFL yesterday.

With Woodson signed the Raiders will only have about $130,000 in spending money but once Huff comes off the books on June 2nd the team will pick up $7.52 million of net cap space as he saves the team $8 million and will be replaced by a player likely earning $480,000. So don’t expect the Raiders to sign many, if any, rookies until June 2nd. They could fit some later round picks who will only have their prorated money count towards the cap, but most likely they would just hold off.

My first reaction when I heard the news was “same old Raiders”, but after giving it more thought I dont see any issue with the deal. Oakland has so much cap room in 2014 due to finally gutting the roster in 2013 that the added cap charges for 1 player has no material impact on the team whatsoever. Flynn’s 2014 cap charge is still low for a starting QB and even if he is relegated to backup status he will likely be backing up a high draft pick QB, whose cap charge will be just over $4 million. So the Raider positional cap allocation would still be extremely low at the position.

While some may say what purpose is there to an older player whose best days are long behind him to a team like this, I think there is a solid answer to that question. The Raiders are going to be a young team and have just invested a top draft pick on a cornerback, DJ Hayden,. who the Raiders felt was actually worth the 3rd pick in the draft if they had been unable to trade down. Sometimes you want your young players to learn from the right people and Woodson has seen and done it all at the position. He can serve as a mentor to Hayden and to the team. The Raiders have been devoid of anything resembling leadership and Woodson brings that. Woodson knows the situation he is getting into and the role he is to play so I would expect him to embrace the role as a leader of young men trying to turn an organization around.


Thoughts on Joel Corry’s Great Take on the Oakland Raiders


I know we have a great deal of Raiders fans that come to the site and I wanted to post this link to Joel Corry’s piece on the Raiders cap history and overview of the mess that they have been in. It is a fascinating read detailing the start of the Raiders issues with the loss of Jon Gruden and eventual replacement of all the football folks that had been in charge and finishing up with the final roster purge of this season.

I’ve long maintained that the Raiders are a team that every single person who really wants to learn about the salary cap should study in detail because they are a poster child of  how not to manage an organization, not just in the NFL but any business or even personal life. This piece really presents an overview that everyone should read.

I tend to think Oakland’s problems are more prominent than those of the Cowboys and Panthers, two other teams that should be studied, in part because they went from being extremely successful under Gruden to completely irrelevant in almost the blink of an eye. The Raiders were arguably the best team in the NFL in 2001 and did make the Super Bowl under Bill Callahan in 2002. Since that time they have not been to the playoffs nor have they had a winning season. Its incredible to see a team stumble so badly.

The only team with a longer non-playoff streak is the Buffalo Bills (last appearance was 1999, incredible by today’s standards to go so long). The Cleveland Browns (an expansion team returning to the NFL in 2000) has the same drought as the Raiders. The Browns did post a 10 win season and not make the playoffs in 2007. The Bills have always been considered a cheap team, but the Raiders spent like there was no tomorrow.

The Raiders have also played in one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, the only division in the NFL to produce no Super Bowl representatives since the Raiders appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII. The next closest divisions in terms of representation were the  NFC North, NFC South, and AFC South, each of which have twice sent teams to the Super Bowl. The last Super Bowl win by the AFC West came in 1998 when the Broncos defeated the Falcons.

So it is hard to imagine a team going so long, with that kind of payroll, in that division and in a league now designed to give everyone a chance, without  the playoffs especially coming off such a good three year period of football. I’m not sure if it is a feat that can be duplicated again though there are a few teams dangerously following a cap model that could lead to similar results down the line.

On the bright side this will be an opportunity to study a complete rebuild of a franchise in the cap era. The Raiders dont have high draft picks. There is no great QB on the horizon this year like an Andrew Luck. There are no left over really good pieces like Reggie Wayne to help someone. Its not even an expansion team being given the opportunity to take decent players off cap strapped teams. This is a pure ground floor building process. As Joel points out Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders GM, does not come from a system that spends wildly on players hoping for a quick fix so it is doubtful they go the full blown free agency route to build a squad which makes this a team that is going to be built by smart drafting and the wise selection of reasonably priced, but solid, free agents. It could be something unique to watch unfold.

View Joel Corry’s Piece on the Raiders


The Benefits of Starting the Young QB


Yesterday Brian Costello of the NY Post had a piece discussing starting rookie Geno Smith over battered starter Mark Sanchez and focusing instead on Smith and the future. It’s a great piece with an interesting comparison between Sanchez and the Mets Oliver Perez, but it also got me to think about reasons why teams in a situation like the Jets should start a rookie quarterback.

We all know that the NFL is a QB driven league. For the most part teams with above average QB play are the teams going to the playoffs. In my opinion 8 teams that made the playoffs last season had high level QB play and at least 3 more had passable play.  Teams with sustained success typically have very good QB play. Maybe Sanchez can be a passable QB, but most likely he has no chance of having that happen in NY, especially on a team under a major roster overhaul. The Jets need to assess what they have moving forward at the position.

While in the NFL you never say never, most people do not give the Jets a chance at making a real run at the playoffs. Most would rate the Jets as one of the worst 5 teams in the NFL, with some saying it was the least talented roster in the NFL. I’d disagree with that latter statement but on paper this does not look like a good football team. The odds are higher that the Jets end up with the number 1 pick in the draft than raising a Super Bowl trophy above their heads this year.

The 2013 draft was a poor group of QB’s with only 1 player going in the first round. One would assume 2014 has to be better. A team like the Jets needs to evaluate what they have as much as possible to prepare for the 2014 draft. While some will say that its crazy to think that 1 year of evaluation means anything in a league where most players are given 3 or 4 years before a decision is made, the point is not so much to make a final determination but to at least get an educated opinion on the player.

If Geno Smith fails as a starter it doesn’t mean his career is over by any stretch of the imagination. John Elway was awful as a rookie. So was Eli Manning. But sometimes a player as a rookie can be so good that an organization knows that they have a star on their hands such as Dan Marino or, to a lesser extent,  Ben Roethlisberger.  Playing the rookie gives you insights into how much they learn week to week. How they handle failures. How they handle their teammates and pointing blame in failure. Are they processing information better in week 16 than they were in week 4?

The new CBA has changed the whole evaluation process in my mind. Thru 2010 when you made an investment in the QB position you were stuck. Matt Stafford has cap charges in excess of $20 million. The Rams have made incredible investments in Sam Bradford. From a financial perspective a team could not draft a QB at the top of the draft and then afford to draft another QB in the 1st or even second round. You were already allocating so much to the position, but in terms of cap and time, that putting another high priced player on the team that could ride the bench was not feasible.

Times have changed. The highest cap charge Andrew Luck will ever have on his rookie contract is just over $7 million. At the same point in their career Bradford would have cost around $13 million with more to go. Now while I would never expect any team to potentially abandon ship on the number 1 overall pick after just a year, financially a team can now do it.

An average starting QB in the NFL will likely earn around 12 million a year and a backup maybe 3. So teams are willing to allocate around $15 million to the position if you don’t have a superstar. Under the old system that simply means you get Bradford and a backup. Now?  Its up to the GM. You could grab Luck with the number 1 overall pick and then go out and grab next years top QB prospect as well if you wanted to. The allocation per year would be around $11.5 million for both players.  That’s still less than an average NFL starter with no upside plus his backup allocation.

When you are working with a lower level draft pick like Smith the money is even easier. Smith will average  around $1.25 million a year with the Jets. That’s nothing money in the NFL. But if the team falters with Sanchez and then decides to pass on a QB because they think they might have something in Smith the results can be catastrophic. You can not afford to pass on a QB prospect because you see some things in practice that look nice about a player. You need evidence. You need proof.

Teams such as the Jets and the Raiders are clearing out millions and millions in cap room for 2014. That money is going to be there to spend provided they feel they have the building blocks in place for the team. Smith could be a building block and your best chance to determine that comes from playing him. If he shows you enough despite a losing record you at least have a reasonable argument to now pass on the QB prospect in 2014 and sell that pick to the highest bidder. The rookie wage scales have made those picks valuable and it is a kings ransom for a highly regarded prospect.

If Smith doesn’t show the promise it changes your whole philosophy. You are going to draft the QB high. It doesn’t mean Geno is sunk, he simply competes the next year. If he makes the leap, you have a very tradable commodity sitting on the bench. If he fails to make the leap you have your guy ready  to go and your allocated dollars at the position are still well within reasonable limits.

Getting a feel for Smith will only strengthen your offseason planning. If Smith looks reasonable the Jets may decide that overspending is worth doing to quickly rebuild the team. Many free agents only have a shelf life of 2-3 years so you only want to go that route if you know you have a team ready to make the jump. If you are going with a rookie again you are going to temper your spending, looking maybe at a few young pieces coming off a team in bad cap shape or simply carrying the money over to the following year when you feel more comfortable with the QB situation. The Buffalo Bills should be following this same plan as they have major decisions to be made next year with high priced veterans.

Teams with a dim outlook for 2013 have no reason to look to the past to try to win an extra game or two in the present and dilute the decision making process in the future. This is the time to gain as much real information as possible about a potential QB of the future. Financially teams can keep swinging now at the most important position on the team.  Starting a player like Smith is only going to help you maximize your financial investments in the future.