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Money, Cap Space, and Our Chiefs

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What do Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, and Tamba Hali all have in common?

They're all a big part of our team, you say?  Yes, that's right.  But there's more.  What else?  

Ding ding ding!  That is correct... they are all coming up on the end of their contracts!  In the case of Tamba and Carr, they've received a Franchise tag and a 1st round tender, respectively.  In the case of Bowe and Flowers, both will be playing their last year out in 2011 (assuming they're playing at all... but we'll ignore such talk here).

The future of these four players has been the source of considerable debate around AP.  Not so much a "do we like these guys enough to keep them" debate, but a "Who do we keep when we inevitably have to choose between them" debate.

They generally go something like this...

Person A: I definitely want to keep Flowers.  Carr is great, but Flowers was the best in the league when healthy last year.

Person B: I don't know.  Carr ended up with amazing numbers, and he's got much better size for a corner.  Also, he'll be a little cheaper.

Person A: Maybe.  One thing's for sure, though; we've GOT to keep Hali.  He's the key to everything we do on defense and an absolute beast.  

Person B: Hmmm... but if we keep him, we'll DEFINITELY have to give up Carr or Flowers.  And what about Bowe?  If we're dropping 12 million a year on Hali, how will we ever be able to keep him around if he wants top 5 WR money?

And on and on the circle goes.  The bottom line is, we all have our favorites and an idea as to what will best serve our future.  There's only one common theme in all of these conversations... We all seem to assume that we'll have to give up SOMEONE.  After all, there's no possible way we can afford to keep four guys like this.

Or IS there?

Time to check the numbers.  But first, here's a disclaimer: numbers dealing with contracts are tricky and not totally clear.  With different types of bonuses taking up different amounts of cap space in different years, the numbers get foggy very quickly.  I spent a couple of hours finding the most detailed information possible (h/t to the poster formerly known as Bajah and Joel for helping me out) and I feel like someone drugged my morning bowl of cereal at this point.  Which, given how irritated my wife is with me for how much time I'm spending on this is not entirely out of the question.  But I digress.

So what do the numbers say?  Well, I'm going to name off a few and we'll start from there.

81.83 million- This was our total payroll last year according to USA Today.

58.84 million- The VERY LEAST amount our payroll next year would be if you don't include the contracts of Cox, Horne, Slate, Gales, Langford, and Harris.  All of these guys are reported to have been tendered and/or signed to unreported amounts.  This is the amount we're already on board for.  No rookies or non-tendered FA's, no UFA's.  Just the guys already under contract.  Hali is also not included for reasons to be explained later.

Now this is where things are going to start getting inexact.  Deal with it, or send any complaints to

Now that I've warned you all about the rough nature of this and made a lifelong enemy out of ups, let's do some (kind of) math.

Let's start with that number of 58.84 and go from there.  As I said, this number does not include 6 low level players whose numbers haven't been reported.  It also doesn't include our list of "unknown" FA's, which goes...

-Castille, Leggett, O'Callaghan, Battle, Cottam, Croyle, Pope, Mays, Niswanger (restricted guys who haven't reportedly been tendered).  And...

-Edwards, "Deep Freeze" Smith, Copper, McGraw, Wiegmann, Charlie Anderson, Curtis, Daniels, and Vrabel (UFA's).

Add to that list every rookie we drafted and it's clear our payroll is going to rise.  But by how much?  And where in God's name am I going with this?  Since I'm almost positive I'm about to lose your attention, I'll tell you my point now before I prove it.  We can keep Bowe, Flowers, Carr, and Hali and still have enough money left over to not be crippled as an organization.

Again, We can keep Bowe, Flowers, Carr, and Hali and STILL have enough money left over to not be crippled as an organization.

"MN, you're crazy!!!  There's no way!!!!  You need to stop spending so much time with you're kids!!!"

You're not wrong about that last part.  I could sing you the entire opening songs of The Backyardigans, Dora The Explorer, Go Diego Go, and Wonder Pets without even having to stop and think at this point.  But I haven't lost my mind, I swear.  Follow me down "pretend you're a GM" Boulevard, where all our dreams can come true.

We're back to that 58.84 million.  Keep that number in mind.  We add in the 6 players who have been signed for unreported amounts for 2011.  Given the fact that not one of them is a bank breaker, it'd be a stretch to say those guys combined will cost us even 3 million (little life tip: when crunching financial numbers, estimate costs high so you're pleasantly surprised).  So we're now at 61.84 million.

Next come our rookies.  Now without a new CBA we've got no way of knowing how much they'll cost us.  But we can estimate high (which, again, is the way to do things with finances if you can't get exact numbers) by looking at past drafts and adding a little something.  Long story short, if you take all the same "draft positions" from 2010, it adds up to under an 8 million dollar hit next year.  Side note: isn't that a nice little benefit of picking low in the draft as opposed to top 5?  Anyways, we'll use the 8 million on the "estimate high" basis and find ourselves at 69.84 million.

Now we come to the FA's that we'd like to have back (leaving out our "Big Four").  Let's say we want Edwards, Smith, Wiegmann, Pope, and O'Callaghan back out of that group.  This would be my wish list for guys I'd like to see stay for at least one more year in some role, and since this is my post and I've done an insane amount of work finding numbers, we're gonna go with what I want.  How much would you say these guys would demand?  I'm going to (one more time) assume high and go crazy by giving Smith, Wiegmann, Edwards, and Pope 2.5 million a year on average.  OC I'm going a little lower at 2 million.  Where does that put us hmills?  That's right, 81.84 million.

In case you're interested, that 81.84 million would account for 56 guys.  Which is, of course is not the "right number" for what Pioli wants (I seem to remember something about the "light 53" or something, but I've never been sure why we'd want light football players.  Oh well).  And we're STILL only sitting at 81.84 million dollars!

Now let's get to a new number... 128 million.  This was the salary cap two years ago, the last time it existed.  While no one can say for sure what the new cap will be in 2011, a number that's been thrown around a few times is 141 million dollars.  Since we're trying to be pessimistic with this game, let's say it only rises to 135 million instead.  Now let's compare...

81.84 million vs 135 million

That, my friends, is a significant difference.  Enough of a difference to re-sign 4 big time free agents and still have plenty of room to move under the cap.  

But what about the future, you ask?  I'm glad you did!  Because in 2011 the price tag for Matt Cassel drops by 7 million dollars (his base salary in 2011? 4.75 million).  Demorrio Williams will likely not be wasting 1.5 million dollars of cap space.  Chris Chambers won't be wasting another 2 million (and may not be doing so in 2011 either, for that matter).  TJ will (IMHO) be gone, with his 2 million dollars a year price tag.  Brian Waters and his 3.5 million will possibly be gone as well.  

That's what ends up happening.  Bad contracts expire or are cut (along with the bad players that go with them).  Older, more expensive players retire.  And this clears the way to pay for young, up-and-coming players.  

When you look at the major contracts Pioli has doled out to vets (Cassel, Charles, and DJ), you see a plan for the future.  Cassel's contract was big, sure, but the biggest yearly salary was paid in 2010, when there was no cap and we had a low payroll regardless.  Now all of a sudden we're going to have extra cap space fall into our lap.  JC's contract was a bargain for his ability.  Same with DJ.  

Even the least mathematically inclined of us should be able to figure out from these numbers that keeping Bowe, Flowers, Carr, and Hali wouldn't present a major problem (I know this because I'm GOD-awful at math and was able to figure it out).  And given the savvy way Pioli has handled our contracts so far, there's no reason to assume he'll suddenly develop a problem in that area.

But WILL we re-sign all four?  Well, that's another question for another post.  Because in my opinion, just because we CAN does not mean we SHOULD.  It all depends on one thing: does Scott Pioli feel we have the nucleus in place for a championship contender?  If he does, you'd better believe he'll do whatever it takes to keep that nucleus intact.

If we don't pony up for all four, it won't be because we can't afford it.  It'll be for one of 3 reasons

1)  If a player asks for a contract that is absolutely ridiculous and/or is offered this type of contract from another team, and we aren't able (or willing) to franchise him.  This could potentially happen if someone decides to offer Flowers 15 million a year and we've already franchised Bowe (or Carr).  While I think Pioli will be willing to pay market value, he's not going to overbid to a Redskinsian level (that's right, it's now an adjective.  As in, "That contract is totally Redskinsian).

2)  If Pioli doesn't believe we have a championship core in place and thinks one (or more) of those four guys isn't part of the solution.  In that case, I don't believe he'll even offer market value to the guy.  Maybe a half-hearted, "Hey, wanna give us a hometown discount?" offer, but nothing beyond that.

3)  If H2E has been right all along and Clark Hunt is a tightwad that's unwilling to pony up the money it takes to keep our best players.  Good God I hope this isn't the case.

Fun stuff, right?  And it gives me some hope for our young team's future.  So next time someone asks you, "Hey man, Flowers or Carr?", know that your answer can simply be, "Yes".

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