Since I posted Part 1 of this 2-part series, I’ve done a bunch more updates to our contracts. Hearty thanks to Jason Fitzgerald of OvertheCap.com, who was very responsive when I reached out with a bunch of questions and suggested edits. Jason’s site is a great resource for us, and belongs in all of our browser bookmarks.
Going through the process of updating the contracts in our system is always an interesting exercise, and there is much to be learned from the moves that teams make and how contracts are structured. Here are some things that stood out this time around, in no particular order…
We can officially count Jets 2012 R1 draft choice Quinton Coples among the long list of draft busts, if we could have not done so already. Lofty draft status can give players nine lives, but after three-plus years in New York and a brief stopover in Miami, the Rams cut Coples in the first wave of roster cuts, potentially ending his NFL career.
It doesn’t happen often, but I’ll sometimes find a guy who I just don’t know much about and learn that he’s a pretty prominent player. A perfect example is Rams DE Williams Hayes, whose contract made me do a double-take:
Here’s a guy making $7M against the cap this year, and I can’t say that I know anything at all about him. He’s 30 years old, and has been in the League since ’08, when he was a R4 draft choice out of Tennessee. He’s started only 32 games in eight seasons, but has been productive, ranking as the #14 edge defender in 2015 according to Pro Football Focus. That puts him in the company of guys like Brandon Graham and Whitney Mercilus.
You learn something new every day, I suppose.
In examining transactions in blocks, as I do – team by team for a month at a time – you notice the different styles that teams have in managing their rosters and contracts, both generally and specifically in a particular time frame.
August can be a pretty quiet time in terms of signings for some teams. Seattle is a major exception. The Seahawks are very active in churning the back end of their roster. In particular, they were turning over tight ends like crazy this summer, with Cooper Helfet, Joe Sommers, Ronnie Shields, Clayton Echard, and Marcus Lucas all coming and going since July 1st.
In the end, none of these players made the final roster, despite the fact that they kept four tight ends (Jimmy Graham, Luke Wilson, Brandon Williams, and rookie Nick Vannett,) although both Sommers and Shields landed on IR.
The Cowboys, who had one of the more interesting off-seasons in the League, used injured reserve liberally to get to the roster limit. In addition to three suspended players (Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Rolando McClain,) they have nine players on either injured reserve, PUP, or reserve – non-football injury.
Dallas has made big headlines with Dak Prescott, whose pre-season success has many thinking that they may have found their quarterback of the future. If indeed he’s the heir to Tony Romo, they were extremely lucky… Freakishly lucky. It’s absurdly hard to find a starting QB, let alone a good one, in the 4th round, and for him to have success as a rookie would be unprecedented.
After the Draft – but well before Prescott started raising eyebrows – Jerry Jones acknowledged that the team may have erred by not trumping Denver’s move up to get Paxton Lynch. Others opined that they had what is likely a rare opportunity to move up from #4 overall to draft Goff or Wentz as Romo’s eventual heir.
Instead, they drafted Ezekiel Elliott. That’s a win-now move, which makes sense, because an aging Romo puts them in win-now mode.
They also have the best offensive line in the game, and it hasn’t yet blown up their salary cap. Tyron Smith has a huge deal, but his cap number is only $6.8M this year (it soars to $15.8M next year.) Veteran Doug Free costs $5.5M this year. Zack Martin ($2.45M) and Travis Frederick ($2.19M) were high draft choices and are well-paid, but they are still on their rookie deals. La’el Collins isn’t making much more than the minimum.
All of which makes sense until you consider the pick of Jaylon Smith in R2. While Smith might have been a top-five pick had he not been severely injured in his bowl game, he is unlikely to play in 2016, and is the antithesis of a win-now pick. Taken together, it was a strange approach.
With all due respect to Vikings GM Rick Spielman (and I do respect Spielman; he’s one of the longest-tenured GMs in the business,) i s fullback Zach Line really worth $1.67M?
Speaking of the Vikings, German wide receiver Moritz Boehringer was one of the big stories of the draft’s later rounds. Most people feel his remarkable physical gifts will take significant time to hone, and the Vikings clearly do as well.
Exhibit A was his rookie contract, which (unusually) included guaranteed money throughout. Exhibit B is the fact that the Vikings waived him, nobody picked him up, and he now sits on Minnesota’s practice squad.
Ryan Fitzpatrick definitely came out on the short end of his contract holdout with the Jets. His deal is for two years for just $12M, not chump change, to be sure. When no other suitors materialized, Fitzpatrick really had no choice if he wanted to play in 2016, and, really, the Jets represent a perfect mutual fit for the journeyman quarterback who enjoyed a late-career burst in 2015 in New York. I had thought Denver would get in the mix for him, but apparently John Elway and the Broncos’ staff are 100% serious about Trevor Siemian.
Speaking of QBs, the deal Nick Foles signed with KC is an interesting one. With other suitors out there, notably the Cowboys, Foles jumped at the chance to reunite with Andy Reid, despite Alex Smith’s entrenchment as their starter.
His contract is really just a one-year deal for $1.75M – not even good backup money. Things can change quickly in the NFL, but if Smith is still the man in KC heading into the 2017 season, there’s no way Foles will see year two of this deal without renegotiation. This was about finding a home and hitting reset on his career.
From the How the Mighty Have Fallen Department: LB Donald Butler, barely two years removed from signing a massive seven-year, $51.8M contract extension with San Diego, signed a veteran minimum deal with the Cardinals in the spring. He failed to survive final roster cuts, and is now on the street.
Butler is hardly alone, as veterans who were once highly-paid routinely sign minimum contracts just to get on a roster. Another “name” player like Butler is Henry Melton, who made $3.75M in Tampa last year. Not quite 30 years old, he had started all sixteen games in both ’14 and ’15. Denver brought him in on a veteran minimum deal, and, also like Butler, he couldn’t avoid the axe on cut-down day.
Players like Butler and Melton are well-served to stay in shape, as the inevitable injuries will have GMs scouring the street for experienced players to bring in to plug unexpected holes. Moreover, teams frequently cut such veterans so that their salaries do not become guaranteed for the entire season (veterans on opening day rosters have their current year’s salary fully guaranteed per the CBA.) Look for a handful of these guys to be brought back for week two and beyond to provide depth.
As I manage my own virtual NFL team in our iGM NFL General Manager simulation, one of the most painful things that happens is when a team drafts a player high at a position at which I have – and am counting on – their starter. I feel a lot like the player himself probably feels.
The past spring, Green Bay used a second-round pick on tackle Marcus Spriggs. I’ve got David Bakhtiari on my roster, and while he’s not exactly been a stud so far, hope springs eternal that he’ll develop and improve, which of course could still happen. It does serve as a sobering reminder that if you don’t have a rock solid player at a given position, teams will always be looking to upgrade.
What are some lessons that you’ve learned or trends that you’ve noticed as you manage your virtual team and watch trends in signings and salary cap management in the NFL? Let us know in the comments!