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04 Jun 2009

Under The Cap: 2008 Cap Efficiency

by J.I. Halsell

A few weeks back, we discussed the Eagles' salary cap management technique of extending the contracts of young players. While that particular technique may lead to several unhappy players, as a whole, the Eagles rank right up there in terms of teams who have efficiently managed their cap while fielding a winning team.

The table below illustrates 2008 Salary Cap Efficiency, which essentially compares a club's 2008 cap accounting to their success on the field. As we all know, the team that spends the most money on players isn't always the team with the most wins; to that point, the Seahawks had the fifth highest 2008 Team Salary with $122 million but could only muster four wins. Conversely, the Giants had the fourth lowest Team Salary at a little under $105 million, yet had 12 wins.

Keep in mind that "Team Salary" is not cash paid, but instead represents contract amounts accounted for. For example, if a player signs a contract with a $1 million signing bonus, the full $1 million isn't counted in 2008 Team Salary, but instead the prorated amount counts; that would be $200,000 on a five-year contract.

While the Efficiency Rating does not account for injuries, poor talent evaluation, or blown calls by Ed Hochuli, it still serves as a good barometer for illustrating which clubs are getting the best value out of their salary cap dollars. Without going into the details, the formula consists of 50 percent wins, 25 percent team salary, and 25 percent cap space rolled over. Wins trump everything because regardless of whether you do a great job or a poor job of managing your cap, if you win games and ultimately a Super Bowl, your team is a success. Accordingly, wins hols the most weight in this rating. The cap space rolled over component is important in my opinion because the NFL practices a "use it or lose it" philosophy towards unused cap space. Therefore, teams are wise to roll over their unused cap space into the next capped year; interestingly, not all teams rollover their unused cap space.

2008 League-wide Salary Cap Efficiency
Team 2008 Team Salary 2008
2008 Cap
Space Rolled
Over to 2009
NYG $104,777,372.70 12 $8,731,447.73 $8,537,688 $136,534,688 7.72
TB $104,304,449.23 9 $11,589,383.25 $25,627,193 $153,624,193 7.44
TEN $115,288,879.17 13 $8,868,375.32 $5,202,174 $133,199,174 7.38
MIA $112,764,343.31 11 $10,251,303.94 $7,838,822 $135,835,822 7.22
PHI $110,406,939.24 9 $12,267,437.69 $20,198,074 $148,195,074 7.09
NE $119,289,211.77 11 $10,844,473.80 $1,834,466 $129,831,466 6.86
MIN $123,858,370.54 10 $12,385,837.05 $11,303,207 $139,300,207 6.81
CHI $109,389,360.83 9 $12,154,373.43 $7,904,283 $135,901,283 6.66
CAR $122,705,277.29 12 $10,225,439.77 $1,835,443 $129,832,443 6.64
IND $122,788,986.34 12 $10,232,415.53 $267,361 $128,264,361 6.55
NO $111,762,268.00 8 $13,970,283.50 $12,983,735 $140,980,735 6.51
DAL $112,334,647.54 9 $12,481,627.50 $5,301,793 $133,298,793 6.49
SF $104,393,204.34 7 $14,913,314.91 $14,891,353 $142,888,353 6.45
NYJ $120,493,987.40 9 $13,388,220.82 $1,281,924 $129,278,924 6.18
DEN $113,512,824.52 8 $14,189,103.07 $3,876,177 $131,873,177 6.12
ATL $110,438,425.13 11 $10,039,856.83 $1,200,000 $129,197,000 6.01
Team 2008 Team Salary 2008
2008 Cap
Space Rolled
Over to 2009
WAS $117,122,786.96 8 $14,640,348.37 $1,427,475 $129,424,475 5.94
PIT $113,922,576.04 12 $9,493,548.00 -$801,674 $127,195,326 5.94
HOU $113,385,685.53 8 $14,173,210.69 $1,081,327 $129,078,327 5.94
GB $116,735,320.74 6 $19,455,886.79 $9,424,226 $137,421,226 5.64
BAL $118,990,931.33 11 $10,817,357.39 -$739,833 $127,257,167 5.54
SD $114,289,001.40 8 $14,286,125.18 $1,042,351 $129,039,351 5.44
JAC $119,612,630.04 5 $23,922,526.01 $9,037,267 $137,034,267 5.25
ARI $113,590,422.84 9 $12,621,158.09 $0 $127,997,000 5.01
OAK $118,754,837.85 5 $23,750,967.57 $2,314,884 $130,311,884 5.01
CLE $119,930,176.52 4 $29,982,544.13 $9,430,147 $137,427,147 4.95
SEA $122,420,843.51 4 $30,605,210.88 $1,629,771 $129,626,771 4.56
BUF $124,301,998.05 7 $17,757,428.29 $0 $127,997,000 4.20
STL $115,561,493.53 2 $57,780,746.77 $1,799,813 $129,796,813 4.12
KC $99,950,054.81 2 $49,975,027.41 $6,611,249 $134,608,249 3.67
CIN $105,978,981.31 4 $26,494,745.33 $0 $127,997,000 3.61
DET $109,834,058.39 0 $109,834,058.39 $938,600 $128,935,600 3.39

As you look at the Efficiency Ratings, the team that stands out to me is the Bucs, who rank second despite just nine wins in 2008. The Bucs fired their General Manager, Bruce Allen, who was responsible for salary cap management and contract negotiations; the tremendous work that Allen did in Tampa Bay wasn't enough to save his job. (At least someone got recognized for the good work: Allen's salary cap assistant, Kevin Demoff, left the Bucs to become Executive VP of Football Operations for the Rams soon after Allen was let go.) If you're a club looking for a front office executive, given the job he did in Tampa Bay, Bruce Allen is a name you'd have to seriously consider. The metric that stands out about the Bucs is the fact that they rolled over a whopping $25 million of 2008 cap space; this rollover credit put their 2009 cap in excess of $153 million.

Salary Cap Rollover
Team Cap Space
Over from
Cap Room @
End of 2008
2008 Cap
Space Rolled
Over to 2009
% of 2008
Cap Rolled
Over to 2009
Net Adjustments
from 2008
to 2009
TB $13,306,634 $130,035,634 $103,991.77 $25,627,193.00 19.7% $12,320,559.00 $153,624,193
PHI $14,087,449 $130,816,449 $211,435.76 $20,198,074.00 15.4% $6,110,625.00 $148,195,074
SF $2,624,383 $119,353,383 $68,825.66 $14,891,353.00 12.5% $12,266,970.00 $142,888,353
NO $8,017,003 $124,746,003 $0.00 $12,983,735.00 10.4% $4,966,732.00 $140,980,735
MIN $18,432,577 $135,161,577 $0.00 $11,303,207.00 8.4% -$7,129,370.00 $139,300,207
CLE $12,633,503 $129,362,503 $2,179.48 $9,430,147.00 7.3% -$3,203,356.00 $137,427,147
GB $9,430,581 $126,159,581 $34.26 $9,424,226.00 7.5% -$6,355.00 $137,421,226
JAC $11,920,898 $128,649,898 $0.96 $9,037,267.00 7.0% -$2,883,631.00 $137,034,267
NYG -$3,096,512 $113,632,488 $317,427.30 $8,537,688.00 7.5% $11,634,200.00 $136,534,688
CHI $726,231 $117,455,231 $161,587.17 $7,904,283.00 6.7% $7,178,052.00 $135,901,283
MIA $3,944,997 $120,673,997 $70,831.69 $7,838,822.00 6.5% $3,893,825.00 $135,835,822
KC $11,658,373 $128,387,373 $21,826,069.19 $6,611,249.00 5.1% -$5,047,124.00 $134,608,249
DAL $998,443 $117,727,443 $91,002.46 $5,301,793.00 4.5% $4,303,350.00 $133,298,793
TEN $5,491,147 $122,220,147 $1,729,093.83 $5,202,174.00 4.3% -$288,973.00 $133,199,174
DEN $660,000 $117,389,000 $0.00 $3,876,177.00 3.3% $3,216,177.00 $131,873,177
OAK $4,340,722 $121,069,722 $0.15 $2,314,884.00 1.9% -$2,025,838.00 $130,311,884
Team Cap Space
Over from
Cap Room @
End of 2008
2008 Cap
Space Rolled
Over to 2009
% of 2008
Cap Rolled
Over to 2009
Net Adjustments
from 2008
to 2009
CAR $8,926,802 $125,655,802 $1,115,081.71 $1,835,443.00 1.5% -$7,091,359.00 $129,832,443
NE $4,396,078 $121,125,078 $1,400.23 $1,834,466.00 1.5% -$2,561,612.00 $129,831,466
SL $632,320 $117,361,320 $13.47 $1,799,813.00 1.5% $1,167,493.00 $129,796,813
SEA $7,386,108 $124,115,108 $64,493.49 $1,629,771.00 1.3% -$5,756,337.00 $129,626,771
WAS $1,821,260 $118,550,260 $0.00 $1,427,475.00 1.2% -$393,785.00 $129,424,475
NYJ $5,052,789 $121,781,789 $5,877.60 $1,281,924.00 1.1% -$3,770,865.00 $129,278,924
ATL -$350,574 $116,378,426 $4,740,000.87 $1,200,000.00 1.0% $1,550,574.00 $129,197,000
HOU -$2,207,869 $114,521,131 $54,118.47 $1,081,327.00 0.9% $3,289,196.00 $129,078,327
SD -$597,647 $116,131,353 $800,000.60 $1,042,351.00 0.9% $1,639,998.00 $129,039,351
DET -$5,348,065 $111,380,935 $608,276.61 $938,600.00 0.8% $6,286,665.00 $128,935,600
IND $6,501,115 $123,230,115 $173,767.66 $267,361.00 0.2% -$6,233,754.00 $128,264,361
ARI $0 $116,729,000 $3,138,577.16 $0.00 0.0% $0.00 $127,997,000
CIN $0 $116,729,000 $10,750,018.69 $0.00 0.0% $0.00 $127,997,000
BUF $12,713,009 $129,442,009 $5,140,010.95 $0.00 0.0% -$12,713,009.00 $127,997,000
BAL $2,532,265 $119,261,265 $1,010,166.67 -$739,833.00 0.0% -$3,272,098.00 $127,257,167
PIT -$1,910,774 $114,818,226 $1,697,323.96 -$801,674.00 0.0% $1,109,100.00 $127,195,326

Think of rolled-over cap space as a savings account; using that analogy, as the table above illustrates, the Bucs and Eagles have done a great job of building their savings accounts ($25 million and $20 million respectively), while the Bills sufficiently squandered their entire savings by going from a 2008 rollover amount of $12 million to a 2009 rollover of zero dollars. In Kansas City, the Chiefs chose to let a whopping $21 million go to waste, instead electing to only rollover $6 million of $25 million of unused 2008 cap space. Arizona and Cincinnati have historically never rolled over unused cap space.

Interestingly, the Vikings, despite spending $7 million of their "savings," still have the fifth highest salary cap in the league at $139 million. Like the Bucs and the Giants, the Niners have positioned themselves well by rolling over in excess of $10 million; the Niners are now just hoping the product on the field becomes a winner under Head Coach Mike Singletary. However, if that isn't the case, the Niners will not (assuming there is a cap in 2010) be handicapped by the cap and will have enough of a war chest to acquire some pieces to potentially make them a winner.

The key to that last sentence is "potential," because as mentioned earlier, efficient and prudent salary cap management does not ensure a winning product, if your talent evaluation and selection is poor. However, salary cap conservation does go a long way towards sustainable winning. A team can buy a one-year run to the Super Bowl, but the examples of the Eagles and Patriots show you that sustained excellence in the salary cap era comes from outstanding salary cap planning and execution, coupled with solid talent evaluation and little bit of luck.

Posted by: J.I. Halsell on 04 Jun 2009

57 comments, Last at 14 Jun 2009, 6:31pm by tuluse


by andrew :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 11:06am

Shouldn't Detroit have "Infinity" as their team salary / wins? Or an error?

by J.I. Halsell :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 11:20am

You're right. To make the numbers work, I gave them credit for 1. But clearly, last year, they got absolutely nothing in return for their salary cap dollars spent.

J.I. Halsell

by White Rose Duelist :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 12:11pm

Can you instead give them a ridiculously small fraction of a win (say 0.00001) and still have it work? If so, how does it look then?

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 1:57pm

It will look like "ridiculously" close to nothing in return for thei dollars. The numbers gets a little silly when you get (very) close to zero - it's just a product of how the formula is (= must be) set up :)

by Tom Grynn (not verified) :: Sun, 06/07/2009 - 7:43am

They were 4-0 in the preseason. That's about ~1 win, right? 8)

by MoreAnonymous (not verified) :: Mon, 06/08/2009 - 9:22pm

Could you please ask a more retarded question to open the user discussion?

by BucNasty :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 11:20am

Bruce Allen was fired because he refused to fire Jon Gruden, not because ownership was unhappy with him. The two used to work together in Oakland, and Gruden pushed for a reunion when the Glazers took his side in the dispute between him and Rich McKay. I have no idea about Bruce Allen's skills as a talent evaluator, but he was great with the cap. I hope Mark Dominik was taking notes.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 3:10pm

Capology isn't my game, but it seems to me that we're giving credit to a GM for not coming within $25 million of the cap? Who cares about the cap room available if you're not using it? This seems counter-intuitive to me, because I would thinkthe best cap managers are the ones who spend (judiciously, of course) right up to the cap (whether league or owner-determined), and not those who carry the most cap room into the next year by virtue of not using it.

There is a good chance I'm missing something.

by David :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 7:22am

Yes, I think you are, a little. Your premise is reasonable, but would the Buccaneers have been better off, or worse off, if they had spent those 25 million dollars, and still only attained 9 wins?

The impressive thing is that Allen underspent, saved the money for the following year, and still put a reasonable (9-win) team on the field.

So, by the formula, they're getting credit for putting a decent team on the field, while saving cap dollars for a push in the subsequent year

(edited to change McKay to Allen - living in the past...)

by Billingham (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 11:29am

Wait - am I reading this wrong, or did the Buffalo Bills have the highest team salary in 2008?

by J.I. Halsell :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 11:50am

You're indeed reading that correctly. Evans, Schobel, Dockery, Langston Walker, Stroud, & Kelsay alone counted for $42M against their cap last year (that's nearly half of KC's total team salary in 2008). Each of those players had a 2008 cap charge in excess of $5M.

J.I. Halsell

by Soulless Merchant of Fear (not verified) :: Sun, 06/07/2009 - 9:21am

Stupid Bills. Again with the sucking and the bad planning.


by Phill (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 11:54am

I've been wondering for a few years if the Vikings are showing a good way of playing the cap game. Having gone through the usual cap hell back in '98 or '99, where there was a lot of dead money taking up cap space, they seemed to hit a point about 5 years back where they suddenly had a lot of cap space. And they started giving 'signing bonuses' in the form of roster bonuses dated a few weeks in the future. The full cap hit of the roster bonus occurs when the bonus is paid, unlike pro-rated signing bonuses. And thus the dead space problem never crops up. Combine that with the Vikings being one of the biggest (ab)users of the 'likely to be earned' bonus trick (a LTBE bonus that isn't earned is credited to the next years cap, and thus serves as a nice way of carrying unused cap space forwards to the next year), and the Vikings are likely to have a lot of unused cap space come the start of free agency every year - at least until someone gets careless and uses too much of it up on signing bonuses rather than roster bonuses. Fortunately, we don't have Daniel Snyder as an owner, so it shouldn't be a problem.

by Jim C. (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 12:10pm

To me, the most interesting team on these charts is Pittsburgh. Middling in efficiency and dead-last in rollover, they still seem to manage to maintain a stable roster that competes at the highest levels every year.

Maybe the key isn't conserving cap space, but spending your cap resources on good players.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 12:23pm

I had a similar thought about the Colts. They've been successful for about 10 years, but it has a lot less to do with cap strategy than it does with talent evaluation and player development. I think the Steelers and Colts have very similar philosophies in terms of managing a roster, although the style of the teams they put on the field are very different.

Cap space is only as useful as what you do with it.

by J.I. Halsell :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 12:37pm

I agree with you both that talent evaluation is critical. However, if you look at both PIT and IND and how they manage their roster and cap; you'll notice for every Peyton Manning or Dallas Clark with a huge cap number, there is an Ed Johnson (undrafted rookie free agent contract) or Freddy Keiaho (rookie contract). Similarly, in PIT for every Roethlisberger & Polamalu there are draft picks and younger players whose cheap contracts off-set these big contracts. Another part of both clubs' cap philosophy is, short of their cornerstone players, they'll let you walk once your rookie/club-friendly contract is over (ie, Cato June, Marcus Washington, any LB in PIT) and then replace you with a young player, who as you've said, has been developed in their program. So, you're absolutely right, there's a certain efficiency in both of these clubs' roster/cap management strategies.

J.I. Halsell

by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 12:35pm

What question are these numbers answering? If it's "how good are teams at fielding a good team without sacrificing the future", a good start would be losses per rolled-over dollar (possibly normalized to consider rolled over dollars as a percentage, since they're a small part of the cap). Even that's pretty rough, however -- if a team is up against the cap with only 45 players signed, but 35 of those players are HoFers in their primes, they're doing alright.

As to the stats provided: I'm trying to construct a question that these stats answer, and completely failing. Especially the "efficiency rating" -- pull some %s out of the air, take some weighted averages and -- voila! Another number! It has digits, and everything! But..."a number" is the closest I can come to quantifying it.

by Phyrre56 (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 12:54pm

I struggled similarly. In fact, I wondered about this yesterday when I read the teaser for this article...

This isn't baseball where spending is constrained for some team. For the most part, all NFL teams try to spend to some target amount near the cap. The spread from high to low is $25M, and teams on the low end are KC and Atlanta, two teams that started many young players last year. It's not like the KC owners told the coaches "Sorry, we can't sign that guy you want, we're capping you at $99M this year." They just wanted to develop young players who currently demand less salary.

This might be interested if all teams could openly bid on all available football players every year. Then you would see who is most efficient at that process. But this is basically just numbers for the sake of numbers.

Would a team that spends $1M in salary and goes 1-15 be considered "efficient"? By this analysis, yes. Would you praise that front office?!

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 1:59pm

"This isn't baseball where spending is constrained for some team. For the most part, all NFL teams try to spend to some target amount near the cap. The spread from high to low is $25M, and teams on the low end are KC and Atlanta, two teams that started many young players last year. It's not like the KC owners told the coaches "Sorry, we can't sign that guy you want, we're capping you at $99M this year." They just wanted to develop young players who currently demand less salary."

I'm not sure I agree. I think the impression is that teams spend up to the cap, but the reality is that a lot of them don't. The cap last year was ~116 million, and a lot of teams in that table that didn't even come within 5 million of that. My understanding was that the cap got a bigger-than-expected boost this offseason because teams were spending too far under it, and it triggered some provision in the CBA.

That leads me to believe that as many teams are constrained by the salary floor as by the cap, and many of them would happily spend less than what they are forced to. It happens all the time when you see some team carry millions in cap space into the season, and then do nothing with it. Cap money is the constraint you always hear about, but I'd bet that the guy that cuts the checks is looking at the actual dollars, not the cap dollars.

by Rob (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 1:00pm

The one problem I have with this piece is that, based on the first table, I'm assuming that for "wins" you used regular season victories. However, in the opening paragraph, it's stated that wins has the most weight because "if you win games and ultimately a Super Bowl, your team is a success." Yet from the table is appears that postseason victories are discounted. I don't see the logic in that. It's safe to say that the Steelers had a much more successful season than the Giants in 2008, and I think it makes more sense for this to be reflected in using the total wins for Pittsburgh as 15 instead of 12. Heck one could argue that a Super Bowl victory should count as more than one "win," but at the very least it should be counted.

by MoreAnonymous (not verified) :: Mon, 06/08/2009 - 9:33pm

I agree with this contention.

by crack (not verified) :: Thu, 06/11/2009 - 3:50pm

I third this.

by Gil_Thorpe (not verified) :: Sun, 06/14/2009 - 5:50pm

I agree too. So what you do is give the teams an extra win for each post-season victory. No need to penalize anyone for losing in the first round of playoffs, which is better than not going at all.

by discostu :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 1:20pm

I'm not really sure cap room is such a great measure of anything good. Everybody always holds out the Eagles as great with the cap because they always have tons of room and generally contend. That always ignores the fact that the Eagles depth chart at receiver (and frequently RB) is generally a puddle, and that said lack of depth often leads to their eventual playoff loss and complete lack of rings in this era when they've been so "good" with the cap. I might compare cap room to DVOA or even DPAR at skill positions instead of regular season wins, I think that might show better which teams are over paying for talent or pointlessly siting on money.

by saintsmartyr (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 2:01pm

Sorry guys. I disagree. If you discount the teams that had injuries ruin their season and put efficency and rollover together, you get a pretty good idea why some teams suck year after year.
I do agree that including post season wins would give you a lot better picture.

by ammek :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 2:21pm

Or using DVOA?

by Tom Selleck (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 2:37pm

Bruce Allen may deserve credit for rolling over cap room while other teams let it waste away, but in general the reason the Bucs had so much cap room was not really Allen's dealing at all, merely the perfect storm of having virtually all of the higher priced Super Bowl players off the roster by 2006 and missing two 1st round picks and two 2nd round picks between 2002-2004. The majority of the highly paid players in the NFL right now were drafted in that window and the Bucs didn't have a shot at hardly any of them. Additionally once the Bucs got their picks back, they didn't do the best job picking players who would require high value contracts in order to keep them. By all indications Allen is a great numbers guy, but not suited to the title of General Manager with talent evaluation responsibilities.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 2:39pm

First note: the abbreviation for the Rams has been "STL" on FO, not "SL". Took me a second to figure out what team that was.

"The cap space rolled over component is important in my opinion because the NFL practices a "use it or lose it" philosophy towards unused cap space. Therefore, teams are wise to roll over their unused cap space into the next capped year; interestingly, not all teams rollover their unused cap space."

I'm kinda curious as to how some teams manage to be exactly $0 under the cap, to be honest. The reason why I'm curious is that the only rollover mechanism I know of are unearned LTBEs, and you can't insert an LTBE *after* all your games are over, obviously, and you won't know exactly how much cap space you have left until the end of the year, because an injury that forces a guy on IR requires you to sign another guy. Now, for a team that doesn't make the playoffs, they can always use up all their cap space before the final game, because any injuries that happen in that game won't eat up more cap space (because there are no more games).

That logic doesn't exactly work with the Vikings, obviously, so I don't really get it. Would the Vikings have been screwed if they had won the game and had an injury, or is there some secret way of pushing forward cash *after* the season's over?

by Jimmy :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 6:20pm

Good point. Especially as the cut off for moving cap room forward is week 12 or so.

by J.I. Halsell :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 8:16pm

First off, sorry for the STL vs SL confusion; that's a by-product of my league background. As far as the NFL is concerned STL is the St. Louis Cardinals; while SL is the St. Louis Rams (similarly HOU are the Oilers & HST are the Texans). But since i'm at FO now, I'll reference STL instead, so as to limit confusion.

Regarding cap rollover as it relates to playoff teams. First off, the mechanism of using LTBE incentives as a means to rollover money begins after around week 12 or so (i think another comment may have said that the rollover had to occur before week 12). But playoff teams such as MIN rollover their money prior to the end of regular season. So you then ask, what about if they have to sign a player during the playoffs? Well, because P5 is money earned over the course of the 17 week regular season which has since passed by the time playoffs start, a player signed during the playoffs doesn't have a P5 count against the cap (from a cash standpoint, they're simply paid their playoff portion that all players receive in the playoffs). The only time a team would incure an additional cap charge in the playoff is if they sign a player off the street and give him a signing bonus; which is why some teams may leave a little on the cap when going into the playoffs, but more often than not this scenario does not occur (the signing of a player with a SB in the playoffs).

Regarding, clubs knowing how much to roll over; trust me, clubs keep track of who's going to earn what incentive, and this is typically very clear by week 17, so that's how teams figure out the amount to rollover.

J.I. Halsell

by mrh :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 11:16am

For a minute I thought you meant STL = the current St. Louis Cardinals, i.e. the baseball team, but I figured out that the NFL means the St. Louis Football Cardinals. So besides HOU and HTX there must be different abbreviations for the Baltimore Colts and Ravens and all the other historical franchise moves. Trivia, but interesting.

As is the whole series, thanks.

As a Chiefs fan, I'm really sorry they didn't roll more cap over so they can afford Cassell, if they choose, w/o compromising other player salaries. And it would have helped absorb the hit I asssume they took when they traded Gonzalez. Are the Falcons only responsible for his P5 salary for cap purposes? Or did they take on other cap money htru incentives and roster bonuses?

by JG (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 4:56pm

Is there any reason to not roll over as much as possible from a cap/spending perspective? Is the salary floor the same for all teams?

I can see where fans might not want to hear that KC is $49.9M under the cap instead of $31.1M, but from a competitive standpoint, that money/space could come in handy in future years.

Philly was able to sign Asante Samuel to a big deal and still have a lot of cap room left over. In the long run, they'll be able to pay more players (either their own or other free agents) market value contracts.

Compared to a team like the Patriots (this isn't a fair comparison since they have spent to the cap the last few years) who potentially have Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Stephen Gostkowski heading for free agency in 2010. They lack the cap room to sign them all without some Washington Redskins-style accounting. Or the refuses-to-die-rumor that they want Peppers. Sitting on extra-accumulated cap room like that would give a team flexibility to make a move like that without blowing up their cap.

by discostu :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 6:35pm

Injuries is the big one, also performance bonuses. The cap is your entire salary for players in games with certain partial exceptions. If you roll your entire gap over in week 12 then somebody earns a bonus or players get hurt and you have to grab some free agents or practice squad guys you're probably going to wind up in trouble. Gotta give yourself breathing room for 5 weeks plus the playoffs of unforeseen circumstances. The cap is a painfully complicated thing.

by JG (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 7:30pm

I didn't mean every single penny, but you shouldn't have so much unspent. Signing players that far into the season is likely to mean pro-rated, near minimum salaries. It's more likely to be a PS player than a street free agent if needed. Worst case, they have to cut a player to get the cap space.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 9:03am

When it comes to the question of how much to roll over into the next year, I think it's worth asking the question of what the GM would propose to do with that money. I also think I'm not the least bit surprised that Arizona and Cincinnati -- two teams with reputedly cheap owners -- are two of the three teams that didn't roll over any cap space. If I'm the GM of the one of those teams, the reason I have that much cap space in the first place is probably because I'm not really working to the league-mandated salary cap; I'm working to a lower number imposed upon me (or in the case of the Bengals, that I imposed on myself). So if the owner isn't going to let me spend TO the cap, why would he ever let me spend OVER it? Working to roll over that cap space is just a waste of time.

I'm sure other teams have situations that are similar, but their internal cap number is a little higher, so it's not so obvious. Philadelphia, for example. Does anyone really think they're going to use $148 million in cap space this year? They accumulate more cap space every year. And this is an era for the Eagles where they've been contenders. If they're not spending it now, it's because they're never going to spend it.

So yes, from a cap perspective, there's no reason not to carry over as much as possible. But from a practical perspective, the team doesn't have infinite reserves of ready cash, so any cap space over that amount is just going to get wasted.

by mattman :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 5:34pm

Are postseason wins and championships factored into the formula?

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 5:51pm

I would really like to see DVOA used instead of wins to measure efficiency.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 6:53pm

Or estimated wins v cap

How about a table of the best value players measured by DYAR versus their cap/salary. You'd have to leave out players on rookie contracts.

by Jim (not verified) :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 7:42pm

With the cap basically increasing over the last four seasons roughly 49.7% from the $85.5 million it was in 2005 to the now close too $128 million in 2009. That, that is not the main reason teams have such a surplus in cap space. Add to it the LTBE Loophole and viola every team has cap space to keep players.

Even mismanaged cap strapped teams of yesteryear have money to play with, effectively the NFL has let teams who make bad investments off the hook, which shut the door on June 1st cuts and season ending player purgers as teams have had the luxury of an extra $42.5 million to play with to cover up there personnel plunders.

by GYAAARRRR!!!! (not verified) :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 9:14am

AAARRRRRR, plunder!!!!

by Insancipitory :: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 8:03pm

Man, i love this new feature. Tremendous insight into what my team is doing relative to the league. I love to read something so new, so fresh, so smart that I feel like I don't deserve to be reading it. And great comments.

I would like to see this normalized on a per player per play basis. Game checks of everyone playing Team A v game checks of Team B week by week over a season $YAR, $VOA or something. That might have a particularly strong correlation with teams that could rebound. Not to mention on teams that trend to be poor in evaluating veteran talent and or injury risk.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 06/08/2009 - 3:26pm

I like it.



by orang3b :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 9:41am

If I'm understanding Detroit's Rollover number correctly - does that say Millen was terrible as a talent evaluator and EQUALLY as bad at managing the cap??

by Jimmy :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 11:54am

It is probably an indication of the fact that they have habitually given undeserved contracts to veterans who they end up cutting their losses with. They have had up to $20m or so of dead money on their cap for the last five years. It is what happens when you have to spend big money to get mediocre free agents to sign for you who then turn out to be well, mediocre but with a huge salary.

by Bobman :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 1:48pm

Here is my problem with rewarding rollover dollars: they are like a savings acocunt indeed, but the team is expected to SPEND that money at some point and GET SOMETHING for it (wins, pro bowlers, a SB ring). So if some nutty miser keeps socking it away until he has $200M in the account, great for him. But that doesn't deserve an "A" unless he has something tangible to show for it in the end.

Therefore, I propose much more work for J.I. Halsell: A longitudinal study for, say, five years.

The reason I think rollover is great is if you see four superstars' contracts expiring next year and you want to sign them all, it makes sense to stockpile money, no? But if your team has low roster and salary volatility, doesn't it make more sense to spend to the max every year and try to squeeze out the best roster and most wins you can every year?

I guess I am saying that saving for saving's sake is a means and not an end, and should not be rewarded without evaluating the pragmatic results that follow. If those teams with big rollovers this year win 13 games next year, THEN they get kudos. If they win 8-9, then they don't get rewarded for the savings that they did not use wisely.

If we're talking about my 8 year-old, then yes, I want him to save save save. if we are talking about my football team, I want them to spend spend spend. I'm gonna call Alan Greenspan on this and see what he thinks.

by 49erfan (not verified) :: Sun, 06/07/2009 - 12:50am

but are their players you want on the roster to put it to the limit? saving just to save is dumb, and spending just to spend is dumb.

also i don't know other teams cap details. but the niners have used this extra cap space several times. when they signed nate clements they front loaded his contract to have cap friendly numbers between years 2 and 5 with year 6 not being too bad. and they just used 10 million on joe staley's extension, and he now has a cap friendly number for the next 6 years or so. and they still have 15mil left to rollover or extend other players. and i imagine this is what many teams that rollover do.

by 'Jefferson Street Joe' Gilliam (not verified) :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 6:54pm

Bruce Allen may be a good hire to manage a salary cap, but nothing I saw during his Bucs tenure would indicate he's able to manage a roster.

by Joshua Perry (not verified) :: Fri, 06/05/2009 - 7:52pm

I dunno, I don't think real fans give a f*ck about cap efficiency when their team chokes in big game after big game.

by Marver (not verified) :: Sat, 06/06/2009 - 7:55pm

This seems like a silly exercise. In order to really examine salary efficiency, you'd have to examine the composition of playing time between high/low salary players on each team. Also, why are 'wins' the statistic given most weight...seeing as that's largely a function of coaching and luck, it seems like there's too much volatility in that statistic. Why not use some of the DVOA statistics floating around this website, instead?

by Anonymous3737 (not verified) :: Sat, 06/06/2009 - 10:39pm

I don't know what Halsell's cap number is for 2009, but he sure was a good FA pickup for FO. Nice summary, interesting insight, thoughtful replies. A great addition to this site.

by CoachDave :: Mon, 06/08/2009 - 11:28am


Another great column. Thanks a lot.

My take on salary cap management and overall team strategy is pretty simple


If you look at the great teams who are typically very successful year after year, there are two similar organization traits about them.

1. They have a well-defined team strategy for acquiring talent, salary cap management, etc., and

2. They (organizational leadership) are allowed to stay in place for an extended period of time to fully develop that strategy.

The actual "team strategy" can be very different, i.e., compare the Colts to the Pats to the Steelers...but for each team it works because they pick a team overall strategy and tailor their coaching staff, their salary cap and their FA/talent acquisition methods around it.

The teams that seem to "yo-yo" or consistently suck year after year seem to have so many changes, that the "wasted years" where they are reinventing themselves consistently never allow the multiple years of tactical decisions to catch up the the overall team strategy.

by shlynch :: Mon, 06/08/2009 - 11:32am

JI, what was the leaguewide minimum salary last year? I notice that the lowest 2008 aggregate cap numbers for any team is the $107MM in KC and Cin. Wondering how constrained those teams were by the minimum.

by J (not verified) :: Tue, 06/09/2009 - 3:56pm

Great article, loved it, but the point of a General Manager is to construct a winning team within salary cap rules, NOT win an efficiency contest. Bruce Allen's teams won less than 50% of their regular seasons games during his tenure in Tampa. The market term to describe him is "cheap for a reason." We need to construct a "GM-VOA" to compare his performance vs. a replacement level GM throwing darts against a board. If you're looking for a GM, nothing in Bruce's track record would make you consider him.

by Dej (not verified) :: Wed, 06/10/2009 - 5:59pm

"GM-VOA" should clearly be referred to as "MILLEN" It's six letters and the description of "throwing darts against a board" couldn't be more appropriate. A board of recievers that is.

by JTM (not verified) :: Wed, 06/10/2009 - 3:47am

I'd agree with a number of the posts on Bruce Allen. The cap space has mainly been as a consequence of circumstances: the disintergration of a Superbowl team, lack of 1st round draft picks and the absence of a franchise quarterback. Allen may have had a reasonable head for numbers but his evaluation of talent was shocking and ultimately this was his downfall. Bring back Rich McKay!

by dg (not verified) :: Sun, 06/14/2009 - 10:44am

Explain why the Steelers had the third-best salary-to-wins ratio but are ranked in the bottom half on efficiency. Their '08 salary of nearly $114M appears to be average within the league. And while they "borrowed" $0.8M from '09, even an adusted '08 salary is not excessive. As long as the salary level is sustainable, isn't the salary-to-win ratio, looked at over time, the best measure of efficiency? I mean the borrowing or rolling over can only be done for so long. What matters in the long run is how much you are consistently spending to win games. By that measure, NYG, TB (both ranked high) and PIT (ranked middling) helped their long-term track records on winning efficiency the most. Or am I missing something?

by tuluse :: Sun, 06/14/2009 - 6:31pm

I think the borrowing from next year is exactly the reason. They did a good job fielding a good team, and at a low cost, but they didn't transfer any of those savings to a a future year where they could use it.