Andrew Cohen

Offseason Low Down

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Salary Cap Notes: Team Updates

Monday, March 24, 2014


Hopefully you had a fast Smartphone over the past couple of weeks. If not, you inevitably missed some type of “breaking news” at one point or another. Because as Adam Levitan noted in last Monday’s recap, major headlines become forgotten in a matter of hours in the frenzy that is the opening days of NFL free agency.

 

If you live and breathe football, the beginning of free agency has developed into some of the most exciting days on the football calendar year. But do these offseason headlines correlate to on-field success?

 

Only four teams make a conference championship game each season, so let’s define those who make the NFL’s final four as successes. That means over the past five years, there’ve been twenty different “successful” teams (and yes, the 2011 49ers are classified as a different team than the 2012 and 2013 49ers). Looking at the 22 starters (offense and defense only) on each of the twenty “final four” teams from 2009-2013 leaves us with a sample size of 440 players.

 

How were these successful teams constructed? How often was a free agent acquisition a true difference-maker on one of these squads?

 

318 of the 440 players (72.3%) were either initially drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent by their respective team.

 

60 of the 440 players (14.3%) were either initially acquired through a trade or via free agent contract’s worth less than $2 million annually. Note the usage of the term “initially acquired.” Excluded are players who ultimately sign big deals after being acquired via trade or originally signing a short-term deal. The reason is that teams gain much greater intellect intelligence on guys after they’ve played for already played for the franchise.


32 of the 440 players (7.3%) were initially acquired via “substantial” free agent contracts—deals that were a minimum of 3 years in length and worth at least $15 million in total money. I used 3 years and $15 million as an arbitrary baseline, as that that usually signals a legitimate investment (in terms of both time and dollar value) made in a player.


Just 8 of the 32 players who signed “substantial contracts” played out the entirety of the contract: Visanthe Shiancoe and Ben Leber of the 2009 Vikings; Drew Brees of the 2009 Saints; Kareem McKenzie and Antrel Rolle - who will play out the final year of his deal in this coming season - of the 2011 Giants; Justin Smith of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 49ers; Wes Welker of the 2011 Patriots; and John Abraham of the 2012 Falcons. Danny Amendola of the 2013 Patriots and Peyton Manning & Louis Vasquez of the 2013 Broncos are still playing under their current “substantial contracts.”

 

That last stat is not paramount—in a league where deals are announced in terms of both total money and guaranteed money, failing to play out the entirety of a contract does not necessarily stipulate that the deal was unsuccessful. But the fact that just 7.3% of the sample size even had the opportunity to play out a contract of at least three years and $15 million is telling.

 

So l hope you had fun these past couple of weeks—I certainly did. But if you think your favorite team’s big free agent signing is the move that pushed them over the hump, you might be mistaken.

 

Below are salary caps notes on all 32 teams, with an emphasis on the “substantial acquisitions” that each team made.

 

1. Denver Broncos

 

Substantial FA Acquisitions

Aqib Talib (Signed six-year, $57M deal)

DeMarcus Ware (Signed three-year, $30M deal)

T.J. Ward (Signed four-year, $23M deal)

Emmanuel Sanders (Signed three-year, $15M deal)

Total Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $124.5 million

Fully Guaranteed Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $41 million

2014 Cap Hit of Substantial FA’s = $24.8 million

 

The offseason’s actual biggest spenders when you don’t let the total money that John Elway dished out fool you. It’s possible that Aqib Talib plays out only one year of his six-year pact, and with his $10 million 2016 cap hit I’d be surprised if he were a Bronco for more than two seasons. The structure of DeMarcus Ware’s deal projects he’ll be around for at least two seasons. But his $11.67 million 2016 cap hit and the $10 million that Denver would save against the cap by releasing Ware before the fifth day of the 2016 league year means it’s highly doubtful that the soon-to-be 32-year-old earns the entirety of this deal. Only Sanders and Ward have a realistic shot of staying in the Rocky Mountains for the duration of their contracts.

 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Substantial FA Acquisitions

Zane Beadles (Signed five-year, $30M deal)

Red Bryant (Signed four-year, $19M deal)

Chris Clemons (Signed four-year, $17.5M deal)

Ziggy Hood (Signed four-year, $16M deal)

Total Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $82.5 million

Fully Guaranteed Money Given Substantial FA’s = $23.2 million

2014 Cap Hit of Substantial FA’s = $17.9 million

 

Jacksonville dished out significantly less money than Denver on the same amount of substantial acquisitions. Yet they’re spending just $6.9 million less on these respective players in regards to the 2014 salary cap. Jacksonville’s abundance of cap space has enabled them to favorably structure these deals—Bryant, Clemons and Hood have no dead money attached to them after this coming season, while Beadles has no dead money attached to his deal after 2015. If any of these players fail to perform, the Jaguars won’t hesitate to cut them loose.

 

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Substantial FA Acquisitions

Anthony Collins (Signed five-year, $30M deal)

Michael Johnson (Signed five-year, $43.75M deal)

Alterraun Verner (Signed four-year, $25.5M deal)

Total Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $99.25 million

Fully Guaranteed Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $33 million

2014 Cap Hit of Substantial FA’s = $23.25 million

 

Similar to the case of Jacksonville above, these deals are front-loaded. The structure of Johnson and Collins’ deals ensure they’ll be in Tampa for at least two seasons, while Verner has no money guaranteed post-2014. The Bucs’ new regime replenished their roster while also minimizing the franchise’s long-term financial risk.

 

4. Washington Redskins

 

Substantial FA Acquisitions

Andre Roberts (Signed four-year, $16M deal)

Shawn Lauvao (Signed four-year, $17M deal)

Jason Hatcher (Signed four-year, $27.5M deal)

Total Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $60.5 million

Fully Guaranteed Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $20.75 million

2014 Cap Hit of Substantial FA’s = $9 million

 

Andre Roberts’ four-year deal reads like a true two-year, $8 million deal. Roberts will remain in Washington for at least two seasons, and the ‘Skins will be able to cheaply cut ties after 2015 if he fails to produce. Elsewhere, Washington made some questionable decisions. Jason Hatcher’s $9 million pro-rated bonus means there’s a significant amount of dead money tied to the deal for a guy who turns 32 in July. And Washington would have been better-suited looking for offensive line help in the draft as opposed to shelling out sizeable coin for Lauvao, Pro Football Focus’ 51st (out of 60 qualifiers) ranked guard this past season.

 

5. Atlanta Falcons

 

Substantial FA Acquisitions

Jon Asamoah (Signed five-year, $22.5M deal)

Paul Soliai  (Signed five-year, $33M deal)

Tyson Jackson (Signed five-year, $25M deal)

Total Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $79.5 million

Fully Guaranteed Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $26.5 million

2014 Cap Hit of Substantial FA’s = $11.3 million

 

Just 14 months removed from a conference championship appearance, this spending spree is alarming on the heels of a 4-12 season. The structure of the three listed deals means it’s likely Asamoah, Soliai and Jackson will all remain in Atlanta for a minimum of three years. May’s draft will be especially key for Thomas Dimitroff, whose recent draft portfolio contains more misses than makes.

 

6. New York Jets

 

Substantial FA Acquisitions

Eric Decker (Signed five-year, $36.25M deal)

Breno Giacomini (Signed four-year, $18M deal)

Total Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $54.25 million

Fully Guaranteed Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $22 million

2014 Cap Hit of Substantial FA’s = $6.625 million

 

The New York media has condemned John Idzik for his free agency inactivity. Yet Idzik, who’s in no rush to spend the Jets’ now carryover-able cap space, surely has a long-term plan. Instead of overpaying unrestricted free agents, his focus is on continuing to draft well and keeping his homegrown players around. He’ll look to lock up Muhammad Wilkerson (a free agent after 2014 who the Jets can exercise a fifth year rookie option on) in the near future. Operating mostly with the use of intelligent, low-risk signings (such as bringing in Michael Vick), Idzik’s one big splash (signing Decker) filled the Jets most pressing need.

 

7. Indianapolis Colts

 

Substantial FA Acquisitions

D'Qwell Jackson (Signed four-year, $22M deal)

Arthur Jones (Signed five-year, $33M deal)

Total Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $55 million

Fully Guaranteed Money Given to Substantial FA’s = $20.1 million

2014 Cap Hit of Substantial FA’s = $10.35 million

 

With a big-spender’s reputation and loads of pre-free agency cap space, many projected Jim Irsay’s Colts to spend wildly during free agency. And while they’ve made plenty of moves, credit GM Ryan Grigson for not doing anything to compromise the future of the franchise. D’Qwell Jackson’s contract is really just a two-year, $11 million commitment while Arthur Jones’ deal reads as a true two-year contract worth $16 million. With Andrew Luck in line for a massive payday when extension-eligible after this coming season, Indianapolis is in a good financial situation in both the short-term and long-term.

 


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Overthecap.com is the leading source for all NFL salary cap and contract information analysis. Follow me or OTC founder Jason on Twitter.
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