@NealCoolong, formerly of Behind the Steel Curtain, now runs a Steelers website under the USA Today banner named SteelersWire.USAToday.com, which is now the #1 spot for Steelers information on the Internet. He recently contacted me about answering some cap related questions about the Steelers for a piece. It’s a very interesting move by USA Today to have a site like this for each team and I think it’s a great idea for them to help build a credible voice in each marketplace, so I hope they continue to expand on this. Continue reading @ZackMooreNFL on Cameron Heyward via USA Today’s new Steelers Site! »
Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu has decided to retire from the NFL after 12 seasons, 8 of which saw him play in the Pro Bowl. The retirement has been rumored for some time due to Polamalu’s declining play and large salary. Often such players are presented with scenarios where they can accept massive pay reductions or be asked to move on. It clearly would have been hard to imagine Polamalu in another uniform and Steelers fans likely would much rather see this than Polamalu struggle while ending his career in another uniform similar to Ed Reed’s brief stints with the Texans and Jets a few years ago.
Last year many people, myself included, thought Polamalu would have been a salary cap casualty. Instead the Steelers gave him a two year contract extension that was really just a salary cap manuever designed to give Polamalu one more opportunity to return to the playoffs and finish out his career on a high note. His cash payout last season of $8.25 million, of which $6.75 million came in the form of a signing bonus, was identical to the original payment due to Polamalu under the terms of his original contract. He was set to count for $8.25 million against the salary cap this year and it seemed doubtful the team would have him play at that figure, realizing that last season was the final year they could cave in on a contract for their star.
What happens next will determine when the Steelers and Polamalu decice to process the paperwork for retirement. If it occurs before June 1, the Steelers will gain $3.75 million in cap space and have Polamalu count for $4.5 million in dead money. If they wait until after June 1 then they will gain $6 million in 2015 and take a $2.25 million dead money charge in each of the next two seasons.
With contract restructuring and termination season just about a week away I wanted to look at the teams’ that have significant salary cap investments in a limited number of players. For each team I calculated the top three, four, and five salary cap hits on the team to compare and see just which teams are incredibly top heavy and which are not.
No team spends more on their top three players than the Detroit Lions who spend nearly $51.3 million on Ndamukong Suh, Matt Stafford, and Calvin Johnson. They are the only team that is over $50 million and it’s representative of what a poor job the Detroit Lions have done managing their salary cap, in particular the constant restructuring of Suh, a top level player but at a position that is not premier salary position. Suh’s $22.4 million cap figure is nearly $7 million higher than the next closest Defensive Tackle, Gerald McCoy of the Buccaneers. Suh has incredible contract leverage that is likely going to force the Lions into an extension that will dwarf that of Geno Atkins $10.665 million per year deal to bring this top three number down to a reasonable figure. It is doubtful that Suh or Johnson can ever do enough to live up to the contracts both will have.
Dallas’ top 3 of Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, and Brandon Carr come in just under $50 million. Romo’s contract is designed to be restructured and Ware should be forced to take a paycut. The Bears are nearly tied with the Cowboys due to the high cap figures of Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers. Peppers will be released and Cutler may be restructured for cap flexibility. The Steelers and Buccaneers round out the top 5, both coming in at just over $44 million. The Steelers have limited ways to change their number without a number of restructures, but the Buccaneers could restructure the deal of Darrelle Revis and/or extend Gerald McCoy.
The average spend on the top 3 is $35.19 million. The teams with the least invested are the Raiders, Jaguars, Colts, 49ers, and Bengals. Most of those names are no surprise except the 49ers. The 49ers have one of the more unique rosters in the NFL in that they have a large number of mid cap players but no large cap players. That will change when Colin Kaepernick is extended, but that will still be just one of 53. The 49ers dedication to extending early and using their poor years to pre-pay charges for their star Patrick Willis has allowed them to build the deepest roster in the NFL.
When we move to the top 5 contracts the Steelers and Cowboys both leapfrog the Lions for the top two slots. The Steelers have $67.1 million tied up in just 5 players and they have players right outside the top 5 that also have pretty large cap charges. The team will need to make decisions on Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Heath Miller(who ranks 6th), all older veterans in the final year of their contract. This may also be the season Ben Roethlisberger gets an extension. Dallas is at $66.6 million and we touched on them above. Their number five salary, Miles Austin, will be cut, but his replacement, Sean Lee makes close to the same salary. Lee’s contract will likely be restructured. The Lions, Bears, and Ravens make up the top five while the Buccaneers and Rams are both over $60 million.
What is interesting to note is that none of the seven top heavy spenders was a playoff team in 2013 and none had a winning record. The Saints are the only team in the top 10 to have made the playoffs last season or had a winning record. These are teams that need changes not large investments in the same group of players and they all need to keep that in mind when giving up more future flexibility to keep a mediocre team together.
Average spending on the top 5 players is about $50 million. That just lends more proof to the fact that the NFL is an extremely top heavy league when it comes to spending. This was predicted when the new CBA was signed and QB salaries began to skyrocket. $50 million represents 39.6% of the projected unadjusted salary cap. With average dead money in a league year usually around $10 million that means the average team will spend 47% of the cap on 5 players and a number of individuals no longer employed by the organization.
3 of the bottom 5 allocations made the playoffs not just in 2013 but also in 2012. These are the Colts, 49ers and Bengals. The Colts are as much a byproduct of a bad division than anything else, but the other two teams have been put together quite carefully. The teams that are in the middle of the league were the most successful last season. From number 11 through 20 we have eight playoff teams and nine teams with a winning record. The Seahawks, Broncos, Packers, and Patriots have been successful for at least two years.
Perhaps not surprisingly since the balance of power has shifted to the NFC so has the spending. 7 of the top 10 in top 5 player cap spending come from the NFC. The four NFC divisions all spend in total more on their top players than any division in the AFC except the AFC North. The North leads the way with over $221 million among the four teams committed to their top 5 cap charges. The South is second at $215 million followed by the East at $211 and West at $208 million. The AFC North tops $215 million in spending and the next closest division is the AFC East with just under $198 million. That number will plummet in the AFC East when the Jets begin cutting players from their team. The AFC South only allocated $154 million in cap to the top 5 for each team, which indicated both the youth of the division as well as the lack of talent in it.
2014 Top Player Cap Charges Per Team
Per our buddy Ian Whetstone (who probably keeps the most detailed cap notes anywhere) the Steelers restructured the contract of Ike Taylor yesterday by rolling $2.976 million of his salary into a prorated bonus:
Steelers restructured Ike Taylor, pushing $1,488,236 in cap dollars off into 2014.
— Ian Whetstone (@IanWhetstone) October 23, 2013
This was a move that the Steelers needed to make due to lack of cap space. Prior to the contract restructuring the Steelers were just $247,000 under the salary cap and one more injury was liking going to compromise their ability to maintain a 53 man roster. The Steelers decision to release RB isaac Redman was essentially the same result as losing someone for the season as his $1.323 million dollar salary was fully guaranteed and would count in full on the cap even though no longer on the roster. He was replaced by LB Kion Wilson, who cost the team just under $330,000, pushing them the brink of the cap.
Taylor’s 2014 cap charge will rise by $1,488,236. The Steelers will have some major decisions on the hands in 2014 when it comes to the salary cap due to the multiple restructures they have used on a number of high priced players.
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.
Jags are picking up the bulk of Eugene Monroe’s contract with Ravens; BAL gets Monroe at $715,000, Jags pay $2.2M of his remaining salary…
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 3, 2013
And PIT gets Levi Brown at $840K (vet min), while the Cards pay $2.8M of the remainder of his $$ due in ’13. full story ahead @CBSSports
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 3, 2013
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.
One day after the Baltimore Ravens made a trade to attempt to fix their offensive line, the 0-4 Steelers got into the mix trading for Arizona Cardinals starting LT Levi Brown.
This is a trade that is hard to make sense of from either side. Arizona, who is 2-2 and could easily be 3-1, will be moving their starter in what is essentially a salary dump and I have to imagine an admission that the offense is not getting any worse without him there. The Cardinals must have planned on releasing him next season and this at least saves them the balance of his salary for the year. Arizona will save $3,623,353 in cap and cash space by trading Brown, who they has signed just last year to a contract that contained a $7 million dollar signing bonus. He will count for $4.2 million in dead money against the Cardinals 2014 salary cap.
Pittsburgh will now further compromise their salary cap with the addition of Brown. Brown’s cap number will add $3.6 million to Pittsburgh’s current payroll. As of Tuesday they only had $1.86 million in cap space meaning they will need to create nearly significant cap space to execute the trade. The Steelers have already gone to the restructure route multiple times in the last two years which has left them with a difficult cap situation again in 2014, where they are estimated to already be a few million over the cap with just 40 players under contract. The addition of Brown will add another $6.25 million to the teams payroll in 2014 plus whatever money is pushed from 2013 to 2014 via a restructure.Possible restructure candidates could be Ike Taylor or Troy Polamalu while they could also consider extending Ryan Clark for some cap relief.
If Brown fails the Steelers can cut him next year with no penalties, but at 0-4 its hard to see why the team would choose to waste $3.6 million in cap room on a player that has played poorly in Arizona. Brown had to be aware of the fact that the Cardinals could have cut him next season and made him a free agent so he was not a player who felt added protection based on his contract and wasn’t giving 100% as is sometimes the case. Maybe this proves to be a better system for Brown or acts as a wakeup call but it just seems like too much to invest considering the issues with the teams’ salary cap moving forward and their status in 2013.
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