Tony Romo To Retire From Football

According to Adam Schefter and Todd Archer of ESPN, Tony Romo will retire from the NFL to pursue a career in broadcasting.

This will end at least the Cowboys part in months long speculation concerning Romo as they plan to release Romo from his contract according to Schefter. Prior to today’s news Dallas had been hoping to find a trade partner for Romo and just yesterday had given team’s permission to contact Romo about facilitating a trade.  Continue reading Tony Romo To Retire From Football »

Looking at Restructuring Tony Romo’s Contract


Recently there has been a lot of talk about the Cowboys restructuring the contract of Tony Romo for salary cap flexibility. Romo has the highest cap charge in the NFL in 2015 at $27.773 million and bringing that figure down would make it easier for the Cowboys to re-sign Dez Bryant, one of their lineman, and either re-sign DeMarco Murray or acquire Adrian Peterson. I wanted to look at some of the ins and outs of restructuring a contract and what is best for the Cowboys to do with Romo this season.

Comparable Situations

It’s important to note that a restructuring is not a new contract. It is simply a way of changing the way the money is accounted for against the salary cap. Usually it means taking the player’s salary and turning a majority of it into a signing bonus that is spread out over the remaining years of a contract.  Every restructure will make it more damaging to release a player in the future. With that in mind Dallas needs to first determine what they believe are the true remaining seasons for Romo, who will be 35 years old in 2015 and has a bad back.

Romo has been very productive the last two seasons and has averaged 251 yards, 2.17 touchdowns and 0.63 interceptions per game. Among 33 and 34 year old quarterbacks since 1990, those numbers rank, at the worst, in the top 15 of the last 25 seasons and in some categories he is top 5. I want to use this group of players to help decide when I will most likely have to part ways with Romo in the future.

While we can look at statistical projections, the fact is that the contract parameters are already complete so our most important item is to identify the point at which Romo will not be productive enough to be on the team. We’ll look at that a few ways.

Our group of players will include all players who averaged at least 200 or more yards per game average over their age 33 and 34 seasons since 1990 (25 total players) and we will track the performance of those players in the table below. The Active column represents the players still getting reasonable game action and the Inactive column are the players who have been cut, hurt, or demoted and rarely play. The 220+ and 200+ yard columns are the percentage of the remaining active players who threw for at least this many yards. The final column looks at the percentage of players that produced an AY/A of 6.5. The numbers are adjusted to take out active players who were not old enough to qualify.

AgeActiveInactive220+ yards200 + yardsAdj. Yards >6.5

What this chart tells me is that age 35 is the last season where I should expect a productive QB. At 36 and 37 we begin to move more into the territory where our expected return (inactive plus ineffective) is making the turn towards non-productive.  Still I can hold out hope through 37 that we have a reasonable chance of being productive. Essentially you don’t wan’t to run too high of a risk in this age 37 season if you can afford it. By 38, 43% of the original group dropped off and looking at the adjusted yards from the remaining group, over 60% are not going to really qualify as higher level players. Essentially their yards are more meaningless than what we are seeing at age 37 and there is approximately just a 25% chance of having a productive player at that age. Age 39 is essentially a void year.

The Current Contract

Romo has 5 years remaining on his contract. $15 million is (or will soon become) guaranteed and the remainder of the contract is not guaranteed. The prorated charges represents charges from a $25 million signing bonus paid in 2013 and bonuses from restructurings in 2011 and 2014 that added bonus money to be paid in the 2011, 2012, and 2014 seasons. The dead money represents all remaining prorated money in the contract plus any remaining guarantees. These are the costs of releasing Romo prior to June 1. A post June 1 keeps only the current years charges on the books while all remaining prorated money would hit the following season.


This is a contract clearly designed to run no later than age 37, which works in line with our look at comparable players above. Age 37 year provides an out at $10 million in the event that things take a turn for the worst in 2016. Provided that the team would have no more than one other major release that season they could absorb a $10 million cap hit and remain near the league average for dead money in a given year.

So let’s look at what we can do with the contract from this point forward

The Max Restructure:

In a maximum restructure we are reducing Romo’s base salary to the absolute minimum and converting the balance, $16.03 million, to a signing bonus.

AgeYearBaseProratedNew ProratedCapDeadSavings

This maximizes our savings in this year by giving Dallas over $12.8 million in additional cap space, more than enough to franchise Bryant and use their existing space for other needs. The tradeoff here is that we have now eliminated our escape route in 2017 and left ourselves with a much bigger number in 2018. A $24.7 million cap charge in 2017 for a 37 year old is extremely high even if we assume a rising salary cap.  That would possibly leave Dallas in a bind again scrambling for cap room and not a lot of leeway in asking for a pay cut.


Second Restructure Option

In our second restructure scenario rather than going for the maximum conversion we’ll take a middle of the road approach and just convert $12 million of Romo’s salary into a bonus.

AgeYearBaseProratedNew ProratedCapDeadSavings

Again I don’t think this is a great option because we are still setting ourselves up for what could be a bad situation in 2017.  This is better than the first option, however, and would free up $9.6 million.

Third Restructure

In this restructure we are converting just $7 million to a bonus.

AgeYearBaseProratedNew ProratedCapDeadSavings

Of the options so far I think this is the most reasonable. We created $5.6 million in cap space and done a better job normalizing the cap charges moving forward. Though the $14.2M dead money figure is high, I can live with it as long as I assume no other major mistakes on the roster.

A Different Option

So far we have worked in the parameters of a traditional restructure where we convert base salary to a bonus. But why do we need to do that?  Romo’s original deal is unique in that his age 36 cap charge is relatively low with a salary of just $8.5M. We can take a portion of salary that is set to be earned in 2015 and push it to 2016. First we will look at a $6 million carry forward.


This is definitely a good option for the team. We save $6 million this year and put it off to the following season, which have just about normalized our cap charges.  I don’t have to touch his dead money in 2017 so my emergency exit button is still intact and in 2018 there is almost nothing left if I’m lucky enough that he made it there.

This is really the ideal way to work within this contract and maintain flexibility. If the number in 2016 looks a little too high there is some wiggle room to include a small bonus as well, such as a $3 million signing conversion:

AgeYearBaseProratedNew ProratedCapDeadSavings

It’s pushing us a little higher in 2017, but it’s not impossible to deal with and it’s better than some of the initial restructures that we looked at.

These are the types of constructs I want to work with. There are plenty of ways we can go but I want to negotiate as much as I can the reallocation of my 2015, 2017, and 2017 base salaries rather than just converting bonus money. I can work a bit with guarantees to make sure the absolute earnings stay the same and in most cases any deferred money would need to be paid the next March as a roster bonus, but I need to minimize any impact to the 2017 and especially 2018-19 seasons.

I do get a good deal of questions about the “Tom Brady” option, but I don’t see that as viable here. There is too much money already in this contract for Romo to just walk away from it. That contract is not a reasonable option for any player to consider. When Romo turns 37, if he is still playing at a decent level, the sides can probably have that type of discussion and the above deals won’t prevent that discussion from taking place, but that is years away from being a relevant discusion.

We’ll see what the Cowboys do but there should be plenty of avenues to realize $6-$7 million in savings this year without really wrecking the salary cap in the future.


Is Alex Smith Worth $18 Million a Season?


Earlier today there was some discussion about Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs negotiations being pretty much at a standstill due to Smith believing he should be paid upwards of $18 million a season. This figure should come as no surprise to those who listen to the podcast or follow my Twitter feed as I’ve mentioned that number many times in the past. Smith was basically considered a bust for the first six or seven years or his career and little more than a game manager at his best, but the marketplace puts a premium on QB play and there is little mid tier market that exists at the position anymore.

It was not that long ago that the QB market was kind of filled with a few tiers of players. At the top tier you had Drew Brees and Peyton Manning making around $20 million. Following that grouping was Matt Schaub and Mike Vick in the $16 million range. A step down from there were players like Carson Palmer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Mark Sanchez in the $13 million range. In between it all you had the outdated contracts or Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger that had set the market a few years back.

Slowly that mid tier of Vick and Schaub through Sanchez evaporated. The new NFL has essentially divided the QB position into high paid veterans and rookies. Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco all make over $20 million a season. The low floor was set when Tony Romo, a statistical gem but with a lack of success, made $18 million a season in a new contract signed in 2013. Matt Stafford, a former number 1 overall pick, signed for about $17.7 million. From there you drop all the way down to Smith at $9.3 million and Palmer at $8 million to get a recent reference point (Tom Brady took unique $11.4 million a year deal that won’t be applicable to anyone else).  After that it becomes rookie ball and hanger ons.

My assumption last season was that Jay Cutler of the Bears would be the player to re-define that mid tier contract in the $15-$16 million range. Cutler was a classic player to fit that mold. He was talented and had that draft pedigree but there were flaws which never saw the talent turn into stats or incredibly productive team performance. He was the type of player a contending team would never give up on, but probably not the type of player you build around.

Somehow he ended up surpassing Romo in annual value at $18.1 million a season. That should have sent shockwaves around front offices in the NFL because it signaled that talented veterans were going to get paid at a very high level moving forward. It opened the door for Smith, who had been a bargain the last two seasons, to really reach for the stars in contract talks.

Here are how Romo, Cutler, and Smith stack up in some key categories. Please note that these stats are three year averages and are for the seasons leading up to the extension, meaning 2010-2012 for Romo and 2011-2013 for the other two.

Win %44.7%61.1%74.4%
Comp %66.4%59.9%62.7%

Outside of age and record it is difficult to see any manner in which Cutler compared favorably to Romo. In fact he was outdistanced by Romo in every other category. Smith and Cutler are certainly comparable players. Cutler is going to throw for more yards but that comes with a far higher risk than Smith, who is not nearly as turnover prone. That probably intensifies the game manager label for Smith, but you are also paying for more games when you get Smith. Though the Bears did not sign a pricey backup for Cutler, most teams would consider signing a higher priced backup due to the injury history. Dallas did that with Kyle Orton in the event Romo had another bad injury. Smith has been durable.

Turning to more advanced metrics which are provided by Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, Advanced Football Analytics, Pro Football Reference and ESPN we get the following:

Total QBR65.657.555.4
PFF Pass13.34.477.33
Air Yards/Comp6.617.45.76
Avg. YAC5.024.665.40

Even moreso than traditional numbers, these categories are dominated by Romo. What Cutler did besides being younger than Romo to warrant a similar contract is hard to imagine. In these categories Smith would be considered a bit superior to Cutler. Cutler’s main strength is that he throws the ball further down the field than Smith. The YAC is not as strong for Cutler, but he would seem more reliable in getting yards without help compared to the others.

Regardless of how you look at the numbers I think it is clear that Smith has a strong argument to match or slightly exceed Cutler’s salary. Smith is one year younger and in the last three seasons been much more successful. While some of Smith’s wins are attributed to being on an excellent team in San Francisco he should benefit greatly from his trade to Kansas City where the team went from worst in the NFL to a double digit win team with Smith at QB. It has marked three straight years that his teams have gone to the playoffs.

Kansas City’s salary cap situation may make things difficult if Smith signs a Cutler size contract. Their salary cap is incredibly tight and it may require a contract with heavy prorated bonus money. The Bears signed Cutler on terms they wanted. The Chiefs probably can not do that with Smith. If they are not sold on Smith at these numbers then its best to hold off before doing a contract even if, in the long run, it makes the cap numbers more difficult to manage. If they still believe that Smith is a game manager that has been lucky by circumstance the last few years then they are better off waiting on a new contract. If things go poorly for him this year they will reap the benefits down the line. This was one of the mistakes Houston made when they extended Schaub a season too early only to regret the decision before the ink even dried on the contract.

Realistically it is hard to believe that Smith could increase his value that much more by winning a championship.  The current low value player who received the salary boost from a Super Bowl win is Joe Flacco at $20.1 million. Flacco was 28 when he signed his contract, three years younger than Smith will be if his contract expires. So you are not looking at a difference of $4-5 million per year if he wins as was the case with Flacco.

The bigger risk for the Chiefs in waiting is what happens with the turnover from the 2004 QB draft class, all of whom are in situations that likely will require extensions by the 2015 season. Manning, Roethlisberger, and Rivers are all playing on contracts that really have no valid place in the market.  They only have one more year of NFL experience than Smith and could be comparison points for him. If they all end up over $20 million it could push the value for Smith, even if he has a similar season as he had in 2013. That could also benefit the Chiefs if those contracts do not surpass the $20 million barrier and barely surpass the Cutler contract. Manning and Roethlisberger have more championships and ties to their cities while Rivers is going to be a much stronger statistical performer than Smith.  Having a strong understanding of where those contracts could be headed might be important in the Chiefs decision making process.

But the $18 million asking price is not outlandish based on what Smith has done the last few seasons. It’s a valid asking price given the Cutler contract and will likely be around what Smith earns from the Chiefs or another team in the NFL. We’ll see how it plays out over the summer.




Dallas Cowboys: Navigating The Salary Cap


I had planned, time permitting, to do these cap breakdowns towards the end of the season or in the offseason, but with the Dallas Cowboys making the news today with Adam Schefter’s report that they are $31 million over next years’ projected salary cap I figured this was a reasonable time to look at the Cowboys.

I’m going to base everything off my estimates which have Dallas with a payroll of about $145 million for 46 players next season. That number seems to mesh with most reports so it should be a reasonable starting point. It should be noted that the 46th player under contract here is Jeff Olson an injured player who will be released as soon as he is healthy enough. With the cap currently at $123 million that obviously leaves some distance between my estimates of $22 million over the cap and Schefter’s reported $31 million. So how do we account for the discrepancy?

Well first of all his information is likely from someone projecting at least 51 players, and most likely a full 53. To get from 46 to 53 we need to add 7 futures contracts which will add $2.94 million in salary. We also need to account for the 2011 draft classes “Proven Performance Escalator” which is a bump in salary to the RFA tender for those who played in either 35% of the total snaps from 11-13 or 35% in two of three seasons from 11-13. That would include RB DeMarco Murray, G David Arkin, and WR Dwayne Harris and add another $2 million if all 3 qualify, putting our number at $27 million, leaving us just $4 million short. CB Orlando Scandrick, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, and DE Justin Durant I know have escalators/incentives in their contracts. While I don’t know how much those incentives are worth I’ll give you a guess that we are looking at close to $4 million to give us the $31 million figure Schefter was given. So we are probably working with a roster that is around $29-30 million over the salary cap when the top 51 accounting takes place.

Getting around the 2014 salary cap

Sites like mine and various media reports can sometimes blow a teams’ cap situation out of proportion.  From my time working exclusively covering the Jets salary cap I saw this occur twice, once in 2009 and again in 2013. While the 2013 situation was not great it was never as overblown as portrayed by a salary cap sheet. In 2009 the salary cap situation was actually fine. What occurs is that teams often have contracts that are designed to be restructured or terminated to aid a teams’ salary cap. That does not show up in a static chart.

The one contract Dallas has that is designed that way is Tony Romo’s. Romo has a salary cap figure of nearly $21.8 million in 2014, but the contract contains two “empty” proration years in 2018 and 2019 that were there to absorb restructured dollars. This is no different than Joe Flacco’s contract with the Ravens containing two option bonuses for cap purposes, except for the Ravens their salary cap will look fine on paper because they chose to use options in the initial deal. Dallas never does that and instead makes their situation look worse than it is.

It is basically a given that Dallas will reduce Romo’s base salary in 2014 from $13.5 million to $955,000 and convert the remainder to a bonus. That will free up $10,036,000 in salary cap commitments and reduce his cap figure to $11,737,000. That’s the intended value for Romo’s contract and will shave $10 million off Dallas’ $30 million overage. The team will also carry over around $2 million in cap space so we are looking at a team that is $18 million over prior to free agency.

The Cowboys have one major problem moving forward and that is the lack of cap relief the team can find by releasing players. While Romo fits the intended restructure category, the team has nobody in the intended release category. My estimates only have 8 players that would save Dallas more than $995,000 in cap room via release. These include starters Dez Bryant, Barry Church, and DeMarcus Ware. The following would be the releases:



Net Savings

Phil Costa



Jeremy Parnell



Mackenzy Bernadeau



Justin Durant



Kyle Orton






The net savings, after factoring in costs of replacements, are just $4.6 million. We mentioned that Bernadeau likely has an escalator worked into the Schefter estimate so we’ll call this $5.5 million in savings. That brings Dallas to approximately $12.5 million over the cap. I think it’s also safe to say that if the Schefter figure includes Arkin’s and Harris’ PPE that neither will happen due to playing time so we are around $11.1 million.

I know some will discuss the additional savings that could be realized with the June 1 designation, but a June 1 cut stays on the books until June 1 at the full cap charge. That designation will only be used to create functional cap room during the season and is only going to be used on players whose dead money and salary cap charge are essentially equal. The only real candidate for this is Doug Free whose $3.5 million dollar salary guarantees early in the League Year, but with Brian Waters contract expiring Free should have a role in 2014 either at Guard or Tackle especially since he has played so much better this season.  Miles Austin is another candidate but they don’t actually have a need to cut him until after June 1.

The first restructure will probably be that of CB Brandon Carr. Carr has a $12.2 million dollar cap charge in 2014 with a $7.5 million base that makes up a majority of the charge. With a conventional restructure they can save $4,908,750 in cap space. By adding a voidable season, which is likely what they would do, they will save $5,236,000.

Fitting the Romo restructure category will be that of newly extended LB Sean Lee. Lee has a $5.5 million base salary in 2014 with empty proration years in 2018 and 2019. These seasons are just waiting to have money pushed into them. By reducing his salary to $730,000 and prorating the remainder they will create $3.816 million in cap room while adding $954,000 to the next four years. This puts Dallas in a position where they are approximately $2 million over the cap with three restructures (two of which were planned on signing) and five cuts.

Going forward Dallas is going to have a very difficult decision to make regarding DE/OLB DeMarcus Ware. Ware will be 32 years old in 2014. He is the lone Cowboys whose release or trade saves significant money- $7.4 million. Ware’s cap figure in 2014 is $16 million and then $17.5 million in 2015. These are very difficult cap numbers for 32 and 33 year old pass rushers. Julius Peppers has that kind of figure this season and won’t be back in Chicago next year. The going rate for older rushers is around $5 million a year. Ware will earn $27 million in cash in 2014 and 2015.

The reality is Ware really needs to have his contract ripped up and to take a paycut that makes him the highest paid older player rather than one of the highest paid player, but Dallas’ negotiations throughout history would give them almost no leverage to even push it. It would require a complete philosophical change. Most likely they will look to restructure his contract, which in my mind would be a disaster, but I don’t see them going another route.

If the Cowboys go all in with Ware and reduce his salary to the minimum they can save $8,471,250 against the salary cap even if they do not add void seasons to the contract.  The problem with that move is it pushes Ware’s salary cap figure to $20.3 million in 2015 with a whopping $13,789,000 in dead money if they need to release him. Is that worth doing?  Probably not and the team needs to avoid touching that deal if at all possible.

The team is probably best suited to first restructure the contract of Jason Witten and reducing his base salary from $5 million to the $955,000 minimum. This creates $3,031,500 in cap space which should be enough to at least get Dallas to be cap compliant. Witten will be 32 next season but his cap charges, even if he begins to decline, are more reasonable at 33 than Ware’s would be.

The other move would be to work with Austin on his contract. Personally I don’t believe Austin is worth the headache. He’s missed a few games this season and has slid down the depth charts. Austin really should be by ace in the hole. I cut him in June and free up $5.5 million to move the Cowboys to around $6 million in cap space which I can use for the rookie class when they sign in June and July.

If something disastrous happens I can then work with Ware but Ware is a deal Dallas should only touch as a last resort. The door needs to be open to take him off the roster in 2015. There are also a few other small deals that Dallas could terminate to gain a few hundred thousand here and there.


Where Will Dallas Stand

What works to Dallas’ favor in all of this is that the only starters who are free agents next season are G Brian Waters and DT Jason Hatcher. The team won’t have the money to go into free agency and replace them with starters, but you can find rotational players that may fit in the limited budget. These are also draftable positions, specifically on the offensive line where many teams find first year starters.

Dallas starting lineup would have an average age  of about 27 years with the offense being the problem unit, featuring four players over the age of 30. If Romo and Witten can continue to perform age should not be a primary factor of weakness in 2014. Basically what this amounts to is that the team in 2014 will look almost identical to the team in 2013 and 2012.

2015 Salary Cap Outlook

By reworking the contracts of Romo, Carr,  Witten, and Lee we added $5,785,000 to the 2015 salary cap. That’s not too bad, but the roster at this point is in shambles and our top 5 players now account for nearly $76 million in cap commitments. The team will already have $9,086,200 in dead money on the books via the June 1 release of Miles Austin and Doug Free’s contract voiding.

Not including the 2014 draft class, Dallas would have around $109 million in salary cap commitments in 2015 with just 22 players under contract. One would assume that the team would invoke the option on starting Tackle Tyron Smith, which would be equal to the 2014 Transition tag. In 2013 that was $8,709,000 so we’ll assume $8.7 million for 2014 as well.  I think it’s safe to assume two players from the 2012 draft class will earn the PPE adding around $1.3 million in cap to our total giving the team $119 in cap committed to 23 players.

Not among those 23 players is superstar WR Dez Bryant who will end up being the recipient of the Franchise tag, which should be valued around $10.6 million. Seven draft choices from 2014 should cost around $6 million in 2015 cap dollars. This brings Dallas to a fair estimate of 31 contracts of $135.6 million. If the remainder of the offseason roster is filled with players earning the minimum the salary cap will stand for Dallas at $144,300,000.

2015 Problems

We just navigated 2014 which seemed to be even worse so why is this different?  Assuming the Bryant and Smith moves and one 2014 rookie starting the team would be looking at returning just 12 or 13 starters from the 2014 team.  Of these starters Romo will be 35 while Ware and Witten will be 33. Neither Carr nor Lee would be youngsters anymore at 29 years old.  These 5 players account for $74.3 million in cap charges and there has to be real questions about how much further can you push on with the same group.

Romo would carry a $27.782 million dollar cap charge in this scenario.   The team could save $12.824 million in a restructure which virtually guarantees Romo will be QB through 2017 as his 2017 dead money would rise to $14.636 million if cut. Even at 38 years old he would still cost $8.921 million to part ways with.

Releasing Ware saves the team $12,186,000, which is why I would not want to touch his contract in 2014. He needs to go in 2014 to allow the team to move forward.  There really are no other options. Through all the restructures we had to use for 2013 and 2014, Carr is already going to cost $11.36 million to release in 2016. I can’t go further in on a cornerback about to turn 30.   Same goes with Witten.

2015 and Beyond

Most likely, barring a salary cap explosion in 2015, those two moves will give Dallas a few million to work with to fill all their open roster spots with players other than rookies. The two franchise type players will need to be signed to long term contracts with low cap charges in the first two years to help deal with some of the issues in 2015 and 2016.

Dallas is not going to trot out 10 rookies to start for the team if at all possible especially with Romo still at the helm.  That is going to require significant creativity to do. They have to avoid doing anything with Ware, unless it’s a major paycut, and the desire to rework Carr’s deal another time. I would imagine the end game is something similar to what we saw in New York in 2013 with a slew of minimum salary benefit contracts filling out the roster.

By 2016 the team should move into full turnover mode with Romo being the last man standing from the old guard. Witten and Carr will combine for over $14 million in dead money in 2016, which should mark their fourth year in a row with well above the average dead money on their salary cap, but it should help them avoid the one mega season of dead money that has hit some other squads.

Can They Survive the Cap

In terms of success this is really a two year window for Dallas. They will cruise to a division title in 2013 because the NFC East is so bad. At this point it’s about gearing up for the playoffs. It is why if they are really considering a trade to upgrade a position it makes sense to do as long as they realize it is a one year commitment and they will move on next year. This is the best chance Dallas will have and you have to do everything you can to make it happen. If Dallas believes Maurice Jones-Drew can help them win its worth the $2.2 million carryover loss they would have.

2015 is really the year for the massive shakeup which Dallas will probably piece together over a few years rather than just one massive dump in a single season.  By then many of the playmakers they have will probably be too old to make the same type of contributions that they are making now. But Dallas should be able to navigate 2014 without too much issue contractually. The problem is if everyone gets older a year earlier than expected. That is what is happening in New York in 2013 as they hung on one year too long with an overpriced veteran group. If 2014 ends up being a poor season on the field it will be a bleak outlook for the future because the team is still going to be stuck in neutral when it comes to making big additions over the next two seasons due to cap constraints. For better or worse they have to win with this group.


Stock Up: Week 5


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.

Stock Up

Terrell Suggs– Suggs has one year remaining on his contract, but at a $12 million dollar cap hit on a cap strapped team he is either getting a new contract in Baltimore or elsewhere. Suggs’ 2012 season was a total washout and at 31 years of age there were questions about what his future would be. He’s been spectacular this season and took it to another level against Miami. Suggs brutalized the Dolphins offensive line, racking up 3 sacks two of which came on Miami’s second to last drive of the game and helped set up the game winning field goal. He was in the backfield all day and showed no signs of his age slowing him down. Players over 30 at this position often struggle to get new lucrative contracts- he looks like the guy who may not struggle to do so.

Dez Bryant– Bryant has been spectacular this season and he was unstoppable against the Broncos. This was Bryant’s second 100 yard game of the year and his most dominant. I know he had the one fumble but he was a man among boys on the field. His toe tap touchdown is the type of catch very few players in the NFL can make and he seems to make with ease. Bryant is a true difference maker when healthy. He is the type of player that makes things easier for his teammates because you have to be aware of him on every play and every type or route. Dallas is going to want to extend him following the season. Whether they have the cap space to do so is a question, but he is positioning himself to be the highest paid at the position not named Fitzgerald of Johnson.

Brandon Spikes– Though it was a losing effort for New England, Spikes stood out defensively with a monster game. Spikes racked up 12 tackles and intercepted Andy Dalton on a play where Dalton pump faked and scrambled, never biting on anything and leaving his coverage responsibilities. The tackles Spikes had were mainly impact tackles all coming within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage.  Spikes in on pace to be involved in 85 tackles this season and is a key contributor to a defense that is the unit carrying the Patriots in 2013. He will be a free agent following the season and is going to be viewed as superior to and more versatile than the the Dolphins Dannell Ellerbe, who received a $7 million dollar a year contract in free agency last season. Spikes is well on his way to establishing himself in the mid-tier of the ILB market.

New Contract Player Of The Week

Tony Romo– I know Romo did not win and it has become fashionable to criticize Romo every time he makes a mistake, especially in crunch time, but that was the finest game of Romo’s career and when you score 48 points you should win the game even with an interception. Romo’s contract is not a great one for the Cowboys and probably extends too long, but for this week he outplayed the contract. With one defensive stop Romo would have been the talk of the NFL as he outdueled Peyton Manning. The final pick of the game wasn’t the type of throw that makes you scratch your head. He wasn’t falling down or lobbing a ball into triple coverage. It wasn’t a great throw and the defender made a very good play to pick it off. Those things happen to the best of QB’s. I think you can make a strong argument that he has been the 4th best QB in the NFL in 2013 and that’s worth something even when his defense allows 48 points.

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Is Jay Cutler Worth Even Close to $20 Million a Season?


Mike Sando had an interesting piece on ESPN yesterday looking at the big free agent QB’s and prices they may command (subscription required).  Unfortunately its an insider piece but since posted some comments from it we’ll do the same here. Sando was able to get a cap manager of one of the teams to discuss some potential contracts for players. This was the one that floored me and everyone else:

Jay Cutler is going to eventually get $20 million no matter how much he deserves it. I think there will be a team desperate for a quarterback who doesn’t like the quarterbacks in the draft. Maybe they think they’re close and the GM says Jay Cutler is no different from Joe Flacco, that you can win a championship with him. It just takes one of 32 teams to make that judgment, and I think there’s a good chance someone will. Cutler can still be pretty darn good.

I have to admit I was stunned that a person in charge of managing the cap for his team would believe that Cutler would fetch $20 million dollars per year. Currently there are only four players in the $20 million dollar per year club- Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers.  Each is there for a number of reasons. Brees is a prolific passer who was a Super Bowl MVP. Flacco is considered to have tremendous upside and put together a tremendous stretch of games that culminated in his Super Bowl MVP trophy.  Its also worth noting that Flacco was only going to receive around $16 million a year before the Super Bowl win and the Ravens were not going to hand him $20 milion a year because “you can win with a guy like Flacco”. Matt Ryan is considered the best young passer in the NFL and looks to be on his way to becoming a 5,000 yard passer. Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL, putting up tremendous statistics and winning a large amount of games.  Cutler is not even in the discussion right now with these four players.

I think sometimes we forget that Cutler is not a young player anymore. There is an argument to be made that Matt Ryan was paid on the dreaded P word- “Potential”.  Now in Ryan’s case it was the potential to win a Super Bowl not be a great passer as he had already established himself as a passer. It is the same reason Philip Rivers became the second highest paid QB in the NFL in 2009. He had enough numbers and success to convince teams that he was going to win it all just like Eli Manning. Ryan and Rivers, in the season of signing, were both 28, right about to enter the prime of their careers. Jay Cutler will be 31 when he takes the field for a new team in 2014.

Potential doesn’t come into play over 30 and it should never cloud the judgment of a team. Cutler’s “potential” year came off his last season in Denver when he threw for 4,500 yards and looked like he had that Rivers/Ryan potential. The Bears traded for Cutler the following season and did extend him at just under $14.7 million a year in new money, which was near the top of the market at the time, but he opted for the short term extension assuming he would cash in after winning some big games for Chicago where Cutler was to be the missing piece to the puzzle. That money was based on potential.

Four years later and no potential was realized. His numbers have plummeted while the average QB numbers, in general, have risen. He has thrown for less yards in his last two healthy seasons than Mark Sanchez of the Jets.  You don’t go back to what a player did at 25 when he is 31 to come up with a pricing point.

It doesn’t mean Cutler has had an easy time of it in Chicago. They have had a revolving door of bad offensive coaches, bad decision makers selecting poor wide receivers and horrific offensive lineman. Cutler did himself no favors either as he carries himself with a bit of an attitude that rubbed many players, specifically veteran defenders, the wrong way. Players didn’t come to his defense and I don’t think he ever assumed a leadership role with the team.

The highest end comparisons you could make for Cutler are Matt Schaub of the Texans and Tony Romo of the Cowboys. Schaub was 31 when he signed his extension and Romo will be 33 this season. Schaub earns $15.5 million a season while Romo earns an inflated $18 million. Neither comes close to $20 million. One of the difficult items in comparing Cutler to other players is the pressure he deals with in Chicago. Last year Cutler saw pressure on 37.5% of his dropbacks according to Pro Football Focus. Romo and Schaub are closer to 30%. That said Cutler deals with it well and is one of the rare QB’s who has very limited decline statistically under duress, perhaps because he is so used to dealing with it. Last season Cutler completed 60.5% of his non-pressured passes and 54.1% of his pressure attempts.

Looking at the last two more or less healthy seasons of work for each QB and breaking things down into yards per pass attempt by throw distance you get the following look at the players:

Jay Cutler YPA

Cutler is considerably less effective than both Romo and Schaub passing down the field and for most QB’s this is where they get paid, not by throwing little dink and dunk passes. For what it’s worth the presence of Brandon Marshall did little to the results and his yardage totals actually decreased, significantly in the 10 to 19 yard category, in 2012 compared to 2010.  I often look at something I call incremental yards which more or less measures actual yardage produced by distance compared to the average NFL QB.

jay cutler incremental yards

Romo pretty much makes his living throwing the ball down the field while Schaub is an intermediate passer. Cutlers failures down the field have made him an average QB overall. Part of that is the Bears offensive design faults and some may be Cutler’s decision making. Romo completes over 40% of his passes over 20 yards. Cutler completes only 28.5%, yet Cutler’s pass selection sees 15.6% of his passes travel over 20 yards while Romo is under 12%.

Those decisions hurt Cutler even more than just yardage, but also in turnovers.  Schaub only throws 9.2% of his passes deep because there is no upside to him doing so.  Even though he completes over 36% of his down the field passes his interceptions per attempt are 8.7%. That works out to a 23.8% interception to completion ratio which is a ridiculous number, so the Texans just avoid it. Cutler is at 8.3% I/A and a whopping 28.9% I/C. Someone needs to just have him stop those passes. Despite the arm strength that is not his game in Chicago and may not be anywhere else.

The bottom line is that he is nowhere near as productive as your next tier of salaried QB’s. I think you can argue about Romo vs Schaub and make a strong case that Romo’s salary should be closer to Schaub’s, but I’m not sure the rationale behind arguing that Cutler should make as much as either of the 30+ year old players, let alone $20 million a season.

The most realistic data point for Cutler should be that of Carson Palmer. Palmer is one of the “potential” graded QB’s simply because of where he was drafted and how he played very early in his career. By the time his days were coming to an end in Cincinnati he was unproductive, even moreso than Cutler, but the distance passing results were nearly identical:

Jay Cutler vs Carson Palmer

The major difference is just the short yardage passing which helped him produce more productive yards than Palmer. Because of his limitations Palmer rarely threw the football deep(8.2% of his attempts)  as a Bengal, a model maybe the Bears should consider with Cutler. The Raiders ended up trading for Palmer in 2011 and then extending his contract for cap relief.

Palmer, a former number 1 pick that the Raiders had bet the farm on, only received a deal worth $10.75 million per year. The Raiders were, at the time, the worst managed team in football and that figure represented a 40% decline from Peyton Manning’s top of the market $18 million per year contract from the Colts. Palmer was 32 years old and 7 years removed from his draft when he signed with Oakland, very similar to Cutler’s situation next year. The Raiders traded Palmer in 2013.

If we bring those dollar figures into today’s salary market, Cutler should be looking at a deal worth $13.1 million a season, a far cry from the $20 million mentioned by the cap manager. Cutler is a bit better than Palmer so maybe we push that to $14 million, but that range is likely going to max out somewhere below $15 million. Those figures are assuming the Raiders contract with Palmer was considered legitimate in the eyes of the rest of the NFL. Given their history it may have been viewed as an inflated price tag.

Of course we can throw this all out the window if Cutler goes out and wins a Super Bowl and is named Super Bowl MVP. If that occurs he has something that Romo, Schaub and Palmer do not, and as we have seen with Eli Manning and Flacco, albeit at a much younger age, the Super Bowl trophy means big dollars to teams. I still don’t think this would bring him to $20 million a year but it may at least be a discussion since teams are certainly showing a willingness to spend big on the plus 30 QB. But without it there is no way a team can pay him based on what they have seen for 8 seasons.

Cutler will have another coach this year that is supposed to be an offensive expert. He has his old buddy Marshall again at Wide Receiver and they brought in Martellus Bennett to play Tight End. The team signed a new Left Tackle and Left Guard. They still have a capable runner and pass catcher out of the backfield in Matt Forte. Cutler is going to need to see his stats go way up this season and see the team go into the playoffs to bring himself into the Schaub/Romo conversation. If he continues to be the same QB we have seen I just can not picture a team going long term into Cutler at the upper tier price level.  Moderate price, sure, but the upper level is going to be very difficult for him to achieve without going on a tremendous run in 2013.


Today and Tomorrow: The Cowboys Salary Cap Woes


I had a question/request from Scott last week in regards to the Dallas Cowboys. I planned to do a podcast on the topic but just didn’t have time to do it so instead we’ll write this out and examine some of the harsh criticism I have and others have for the Cowboys handling of their salary cap. I’ll break it up into two parts, one of which deals with a cap violation and the other of which deals with future cap issues.

The Cap Penalties

First of all I should state that I don’t think either team really deserved the penalties that they received. There were plenty of teams that took advantage of the uncapped year in ways that may not have been exactly “within the spirit” of the rules, but the Cowboys and Redskins I believe got singled out because of who their owners are. It should be noted that two other teams received semi-penalties- the Saints and the Raiders. While their cap was not adjusted downward they did not receive any of the prize of the Cowboy/Redskins troubles. The Saints many of us always felt was because of the use of something called a completion bonus and the Raiders due to their handling of JaMarcus Russell, plus the fact that the league I think was done with Al Davis at that point. In hindsight I now question whether or not this was the first slap on the wrist for the bounty scandal in New Orleans, but that’s another topic.

The question here was why I often discuss the Redskins penalty, but rarely discuss the Cowboys one as a reason for the cap issues.  The basic reason I discuss the penalty for the Redskins is because the number itself was so high that it has a material impact on any cap planning that a team can do. The Redskins never tried to “band aid” the team together to deal with the penalties, at least not to the extent the Cowboys have, but really it just comes down to overall cost. An $18 million downward adjustment kills your team. A $5 million one doesn’t come close to that. That said the actual penalties themselves were overblown for both organizations. Had the NFL done the right thing and not allowed the deals to be accepted, the actual cap charges would be very close to the penalty amounts.  The penalties kind of brought the salary caps back to where they should have been had no violation occurred.

The damage that happened to both teams was not the penalty itself but the fact that they never could have planned on receiving them. The league allowed the contracts in question to be approved and then waited a full season before hurting both teams. That is not right. If the league informed the teams in 2011 that they would be taking action against them they could have planned accordingly, but instead they were blindsided by the decision.

Playing the “what if” game we can see how the penalties are not so severe in reality had they been able to plan for the penalties. The Redskins most likely never would have traded Albert Hayesworth if the league had not allowed them to make the change in his contract. IMO, the Redskins would have voided his guarantees in 2011 and designated him a June 1 cut.

No Contract Change

Actual Charges






















All in all the Redskins only lost about $1.2 million in cap room due to the penalties, assuming that his guarantees would have voided due to his personal conduct. Had they been aware of this in 2011 it would not have been nearly as tough a blow.

DeAngelo Hall likely would have been a June 1 cut this year or at the very least would see his prorations charged that way since he ended up back with Washington on a minimum salary deal. Here are the differences with his deal:

No Contract Change

Actual Charges






















Again the actual loss is not as great as people believe, but these charges greatly impacted the way the Redskins could plan for the cap taking far more losses in 2012 and 2013 than they would have had the void provisions not be accepted by the NFL. In this respect the penalty for Hall was much more severe than the one for Haynesworth despite Haynesworth’s deal being larger.

The Cowboys were assessed a $10 million dollar penalty, which I would assume was the determination of what past history said they should have paid Miles Austin in a signing bonus.  Going back to his original untouched contract you would get the following cap changes.

No Contract ChangeActual ChargesGain/(Loss)





















Its actually more of a penalty than the Haynesworth deal and pretty close to the Hall one. It is not as bad on the front end as the Hall penalty, specifically in 2013, but the overall impact is close.

All told the effect of the penalties is actually small on both teams, with the disclaimer being that they had some idea of them coming in 2011. The Redskins have made noticeable changes in their contracts and negotiations due to the penalties in order to be cap compliant. The Cowboys have not, which is another reason why I often avoid the Dallas penalty effect.

Overblown Cap Problems

Scott also pointed me to a link over at Blogging the Boys, going over the Cowboys salary cap. It’s a good article and worth a read so please read it if you get an opportunity. That said one of the difficulties in working with the salary cap is thinking short term. Decisions made in 2013 and 2014 impact you years down the line. The Cowboys 2014 salary cap is a problem but not as much of a problem as the 2015 one. Really when I talk about “paying the piper” or “bills coming due” that is the period of time we should be looking at, not the immediate future.

So since I’m not as familiar with the Cowboys roster as I am the teams of say the AFC East, I decided to use the BTB articles roster decisions to look ahead at Dallas’ salary cap for the upcoming years. Based on the projections made the Cowboys should enter the 2013 season with around $10.5 million in cap room. You would need to adjust for the Practice Squad ($1 million) and some misc costs ($1 million) to come up with the final cap total which we can guess to be $8.5 million if they avoid the injury bug.

While the original article mentioned signing Sean Lee we’ll just leave that be for the time being. In 2014 the suggestion was to cut Mackenzy Bernadeau and Justin Durant so I did that.  We would then restructure Tony Romo’s and DeMarcus Ware’s contracts. I just assumed a reduction to a minimal type salary of $1 million with $12.5 million being prorated over 5 years for Romo and $11.25 million over 4 years for Ware. That creates $18.4 million in cap room. All of those savings now become potential dead money in future seasons. Assuming the cap rises to $124 million and they carry over the $8.5 million, the Cowboys will have around $18 million in cap room going into the 2014 League Year.

That assumes Dallas signs no futures contract players as the $18 million is for a 41 man roster. The team needs to get to 53. If we earmark a rookie class of 7 that counts for around $4.5 million (right about the Cowboys total this season) and take into account the workout bonus money the Cowboys are looking at spending $13 million for 3 players to reach the 51 man limit. I’m not sure what Lee would cost (7 mil or so a year with a low year 1 cap?) but he will eat into that total a bit. Still I would call that a workable number after going further in on Romo (which is planned) and Ware (which likely is not).

The problem is as we turn into 2015. In 2015 Doug Free and Kyle Orton will have their contracts void, immediately jumping into the dead money pool. I also made the assumption that the team will cut Jay Ratliff. If we throw the 7 rookies in the mix from the year before and assume they all stick at $5.5 million we have a roster with a $122.4 million dollar payroll with only 29 players under contract.  The Cowboys would likely be about $10 million below the cap limit after the 2014 carryover and need to sign 24 players with that money. The minimum salary in 2015 is $435,000, meaning they would not even have enough to sign 24 undrafted free agents to complete the roster.

Those totals don’t include Lee or WR Dez Bryant, who would be a free agent in 2015. It also doesn’t include the Cowboys 2011 first round pick who will either be on an option season or need to be re-signed. You can go to a 35 year old Romo for more cap relief (again his deal is designed that way) but where else are you going?  A 33 year old Ware?  Doubtful, though through all the restructures you are now at a $20.3 million dollar hit so maybe it’s a must. You can cut Austin and Orlando Scandrick to save $8 million. That’s still not enough to do anything but at least you can begin to field a team. Most likely the team is stuck reworking Romo’s deal again to free up $12.8 million or so. That gives you $30 million, give or take a little, to sign 26 players to the team. With at least three big free agents not counted in that figure that is a tall order to overcome.

The one constant in all of this is that there is never a point where I can look at Dallas thru 2015 and simply say “they can leave things alone”. Every season it’s reworking contracts for stars or deciding players that can save some money by being released. Even all the way out into 2016 the base roster would still have $72 million in cap charges for just 14 players. Throw in a Bryant and Lee and you may be looking $87 million for just 16. The 2014 and 2015 rookie classes can bring that up 28 players for $102 million. It is just not that much to work with.

There are few, if any teams, that have these issues year after year. Usually every team has a breakdown year. One year where you see a number of players come off the books with little or no dead money. The average dead money per club this year is $9 million. Just in our base assumptions that number is a starting point in three of the next four seasons just to “get by”.  That is going to put the Cowboys at a competitive disadvantage relative to the NFL each year. The lack of money to spend doesn’t allow them to get much better via any mechanism besides the draft. They will only be getting older on the top.

Maybe that’s not as bad as it sounds since successful drafting teams will be better than the teams built thru free agency, but it is often nice to be able to add some parts to complete the puzzle. I cant see ways for Dallas to do that.

That’s not to say Dallas is the only team in a bad cap position- the Panthers, Saints, and Lions are all a mess for various reasons as well- but Dallas is consistently in the worst position. They have also been a team that had various ways to avoid some of these charges. Franchising Anthony Spencer will cost Dallas over $10 million in cap that they could have put to better use. Signing Orton to a contract nobody in the NFL would have signed him to adds to the problems.  Adding void years onto players contracts with no regard for the future have led to unnecessary excessive cap charges. Overpaying Austin as a one year wonder and extending an old defensive tackle to a league high contract when he had two years remaining on an existing deal are typical of the Cowboys woes.Did the cap penalties hurt the team?  Sure but almost any other team would have made choices to take that into account. Dallas just kept on going as if nothing happened.

It might be one thing if this strategy ever worked, but the last time Dallas truly had a successful season Wade Phillips was the head coach. The last time people regarded Dallas as a legit threat for a title Terrell Owens was catching passes from a 27 year old QB with great potential. That 27 year old QB is now looked at as an overpriced failure more in part because of the Cowboys poor cap management and failure to surround him with a cohesive team than anything he has done to deserve that label.

If Dallas wins this year, and barring a game changing home run in the draft this to me is the year they have the best chance, it’s going to be in spite of the way they run their franchise. It’s not a sustainable business model and I’m not sure you could find one NFL executive outside of Dallas that would recommend running the franchise this way. Right now they are either on the path to having a Raiders like implosion in a few years or fielding the oldest team in the NFL.