Monday, March 9, 2015

Building The 53 - Potential Salary Cap Casualties

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson started the revamp of the middle linebacker position this off-season when he cut former starting middle linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. Both Hawk (five-year, $33.75 million with $8 million guaranteed) and Jones (three-year, $11.25 million with $3 million) were entering the final years of their respective contract, which is usually the most expensive year in terms of salary but carries the lowest amount of guaranteed money and thus the least cap consequences via dead money for cutting a player.

Hawk had a $5.1 million cap hit for 2015 ($2.45 million in salary, $1.6 million in pro-rated signing bonus, $0.8 million in potential roster bonuses, and $0.25 million in potential workout bonuses) but the Packers only have to carry $1.6 million in dead money when they cut Hawk so the Packers gained $3.5 million in cap space when they cut Hawk.  Jones had a $4.75 million cap hit for 2015 ($3.25 million in salary, $1 million in pro-rated signing bonus, $0.3 million in potential roster bonuses, and $0.2 million in potential workout bonuses) but the Packers only have to carry $1 million in dead money when they cut Jones so the Packers gained $3.75 million in cap space when they cut Jones.  All told that means the Packers gained $7.25 million in cap space for 2015 when they cut two of the most disappointing players on The 53 in 2014 so these moves were borderline no brainers.

Quick side note on the escalating contract values in general.  Usually a player's performance declines as they get older with their late 20's being the peak performance years for non-quarterback NFL players.  As a result, I would like to see the Packers signing more contract extensions that peak in the middle and then start to decline towards the end.  I get the time-value of money and that players might want to renegotiate before the end of the deal since their salary will decrease but most back-loaded contracts get renegotiated anyhow since they contain expensive salaries right as the player's performance starts to decline.  I am not sure that Thompson would have kept Hawk or Jones on The 53 for 2015 even at half their cap number in 2015 but it would at least given each of them a chance to make The 53 in 2015.

Thompson does NOT like to cut players from the 53, hence the reason that Hawk was on the roster a couple years longer that he should have been.  In fact Thompson's decision to keep Hawk as long as he did lead to a ton of jokes between my buddies and I about what compromising pictures/information that Hawk had on Packer management.  Although I expect the big-name bloodletting to end with Hawk and Jones, there are a couple other guys that Thompson should at least consider cutting in order to give the Packers the most possible cap space to retain as many of their top-end free agents as possible.

2015 Off-Season Advice for TT
Projections for Practice Squad
How to Handle 2015 ERFA's
How to Handle 2015 RFA's
How to Handle 2015 UFA's
Free Agent Shopping Guide
Potential Salary Cap Casualties
Locks for The 53 in 2015
Given the huge jump in his salary cap hit from 2014 to 2015, the most obvious candidate to get cut would be outside linebacker Julius Peppers since his salary cap hit jumps from $3.5 million in 2014 to 12 million in 2015 as a part of the three-year, $26 million million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed that Peppers signed before the 2014 season.  Given the spark that Peppers gave the Packers in 2014, I would NOT cut him or even approach him about renegotiating for a few reasons.  One, Peppers gives the Packers a versatile pass rusher to line-up opposite Clay Matthews that will draw at least some attention away from Matthews.  Two, the Packers rarely sign unrestricted free agents from other NFL teams so it sends a bad message if you cut one of those guys just on year later.  Three, although Peppers carries a $12 million cap hit in 2015, the Packers would eat $5 million in dead money if they cut Peppers so it is a $7 million savings NOT a $12 million savings.

Given that Peppers carries a lower cap hit of $10.5 million in 2016 and would result in only $2.5 million in dead money if he was cut between the 2015 and 2016 season, I would hold onto Peppers for 2015 and possibly even 2016 if he performs as well in 2015 as he did in 2014.  The one thing that gives me pause is the fact that Matthews holds a $12.7 million cap hit for 2015 so that means Matthews and Peppers have a combined $24.7 million cap hit for 2015 but that just shows you the premium that the market puts on high-end pass rushers.

Besides Matthews and Peppers, the Packers have a fair amount of money tied up in their backups pass rushers too given that Mike Neal has a $4.25 million cap hit ($2.25 million in dead money if cut) and Nick Perry has a $2.4 cap hit (~$1 million in dead money if cut) in 2015 so may be I should revise my statement above about the market for high-end pass rushers to just say pass rushers in general.  There is virtually no chance that Thompson picks up Perry's 5th year option as a part of his rookie contract so that means Neal and Perry will enter 2015 in the last year of each of their contracts.  Perry has been a huge disappointment relative to how disruptive I thought he would be given that Perry was one of my draft crushes heading into the 2012 NFL Draft even before Thompson drafted Perry in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.  Unless Matthews suffers a career ending injury in 2015, there is no question that he will be on The 53 in 2016.  The real question is whether Neal, Peppers, or Perry will be too.  Thankfully the Packers have a ton of raw, cheap pass rushers currently on the roster that can step in opposite Matthews down the road.

The last guy that Thompson could consider cutting is placekicker Mason Crosby given that he has a cap hit of $3.55 million in 2015, which is the 7th highest place kicker salary cap hit in 2015.  Here is another example of back-end loaded contracts rearing their ugly head given that Crosby is in the last year of his five-year, $14.75 million contract with $3 million guaranteed.  Crosby had arguably his best season in Green Bay in 2014 but there is no correlation from season-to-season for placekickers, which means Crosby is just as likely to regress in 2015 as he is to kick as well as he did in 2014.  If the Packers cut Crosby they would have to carry only $0.6 million in dead money so they would gain $2.95 million in cap space.  If Thompson identifies a strong-legged, cold weather kicker in the 2015 NFL Draft then I would use a late round pick on him.  A guy like that would have very little guaranteed money in his rookie contract and an annual salary around $0.6 million so that means the Packers could gain upwards of $2 million in cap space by making that move.  Instead of just cutting Crosby right after the draft, I would hold an open kicking competition between Crosby and the rookie.  If the rookie outperforms Crosby then I would cut Crosby in favor of the rookie, otherwise if Crosby kicks his way onto The 53 then I would eat the ~$0.1 million in dead cap space for cutting the rookie and keep Crosby.

My guess is that Thompson cuts no other big-names but as I just explained, there are a couple guys that should keep one eye over their should because their large cap hits mean they could join Hawk and Jones sooner rather than later.

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