Under The Cap
FO's Salary Cap Analyst looks at the economics of the NFL

Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by J.I. Halsell

With the Super Bowl now behind us, everyone in the NFL is 0-0 and it’s time for front office employees to earn their keep. As a former front office guy, this may be my favorite time of the year because this is when you truly build your roster. It’s during this time of the year that you get to implement all the research you did during the course of the year and put into action the plans you made as you go into the next season.

In the month of February, you have decisions to make on members of your current team. As we saw with the recent terminations of Antonio Pierce, Torry Holt, and Tra Thomas, it’s during this time of year that you decide to cut bait with veterans who you feel aren’t worth their upcoming salaries. In the case of Antonio Pierce, the Giants did not feel comfortable paying Pierce’s $4.75 million 2010 salary. By keeping him on the roster any longer, they run the risk of Pierce incurring a season-ending injury in offseason workouts, at which point you’re stuck paying a $4.75 million salary on a player who may or may not have figured significantly into your plans. Also, by releasing him at this point, you’re allowing him to find work at a time when teams are turning over their rosters, thereby helping him find his next opportunity. In the next few weeks, you’ll see LaDainian Tomlinson more than likely meet the same fate.

In addition to veterans with high salaries, front offices have to decide whether or not to pay players with significant roster bonuses that are set to be earned at the beginning of the 2010 league year (March 5). Some veterans with interesting roster bonuses due in the early part of the league year are:

Upcoming 2010 Roster Bonuses (in millions, on day of League Year)
Player Position Team Bonus Date Earned
Lofa Tatupu LB SEA $4.0 Day 7
Kerry Rhodes S NYJ $2.0 Day 7
Antrel Rolle S ARI $4.0 Day 1
Jeff Backus OL DET $1.0 Day 2
Brian Waters OL KC $1.5 Day 10
Kareem McKenzie OL NYG $1.0 Day 10
Thomas Jones RB NYJ $3.0 Day 5
Lito Sheppard CB NYJ $10.0 Day 5
Stacy Andrews OL PHI $5.0 Day 30
Darren Howard DE PHI $1.0 Day 15
Michael Vick QB PHI $1.5 Day 5
Jamal Williams DT SD $1.0 Day 1

Of the above list, the name I find most intriguing is Jets running back Thomas Jones. A lot has been made of the impending departure of safety Kerry Rhodes, but given the playoff productivity of Shonn Greene, I would find it very hard to believe that the Jets will be willing to pay a $3 million roster bonus to Thomas Jones. Jones has been clamoring for a new deal, so I don't think that Jones would be willing to renegotiate his looming roster bonus and instead would rather be released so that he can try his luck in free agency. Another interesting name on the above list is Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle. Rolle will be 27 years old at the beginning of the 2010 season, and because his free agency would result from the Cardinals terminating his contract instead of it expiring, Rolle would be one of the few unrestricted free agents younger than age 30. Rolle could find himself in a position to earn a lucrative contract that could make him one of the top ten highest paid safeties.

In the month of February, front offices also have to decide at what level to tender their restricted free agents, and as we’ve discussed in previous columns, the tendering of restricted free agents in 2010 takes on even more significance because of the quality of players that are restricted free agents as a result of the uncapped year. For those restricted free agents who are former first- or second-round picks, clubs, the team must keep in mind the rules of the “Upgraded Tender.”

The Upgraded Tender is when a player is tendered at a level higher than the round they were originally drafted. For example, Redskins defensive tackle Kedric Golston is a former sixth-round pick and is a restricted free agent. If the Redskins were to tender Golston at the second-round level, then Golston has received an Upgraded Tender. This Upgraded Tender then affects the tendering of Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh, a former second-round pick who is also a restricted free agent. Without the Upgraded Tender, the Redskins could tender McIntosh at the Original Round level and receive a second round pick if he were to depart via restricted free agency. However, because of the Upgraded Tender to Golston, the Redskins must tender McIntosh at a minimum of the Second Round level if they want to get a second round pick in return, otherwise, if the Redskins tender McIntosh at the Original Round level, then they would only receive a third-round pick in return. The same mechanics apply to former first-round picks. Under the same scenario, if they are not tendered at the first-round level or higher, then the team will receive a second round pick in return. That said, expect the vast majority of former first- and second-round draft picks to be tendered at a minimum level of their respective selection round.

In addition to restricted free agent tenders, clubs have until February 25 to decide on placing the franchise tag and/or transition tag on any looming unrestricted free agents. Remember that in the uncapped year clubs may designate a franchise player and a transition player.

So it’s officially front office season, in addition to the items discussed above you’ve got negotiations on extensions with players you’d like to keep long-term and on top of that you’ve got the Scouting Combine at the end of the month. It’s definitely a busy time for front offices, but if you’re fan of roster building, then there’s no better time of year than right now.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101


25 comments, Last at 24 Feb 2010, 11:55am

7 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

I think the idea is not cap hit, but "Would the Browns have to pay Derek Andersen a significant part of his salary even if they cut him?" Dead money still comes out of the organization's pocket, even if it's not counted against the cap. Teams like Washington may not care about this, but it's possible Cleveland would.

9 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

DA cut, Corey Williams cut, Donte Sallworth cut (already done), Robert Royal cut, St Clair cut?

Browns save 10's of millions. DA is due a roster bonus and it won't have to be paid if he is cut. Last year, his bonus would have to be paid by Browns cut or not.

DA signs w/ Oakland. DA plays the same. DA is hero to Oakland cuz he can throw long and has no accuracy....their kinda QB

13 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

I don't think you understand dead money. It's already paid but not accounted for in the cap. There's no extra money you pay when you cut someone, you just have to account for the stuff you already paid and originally planned to prorate over a few more years all at once.

I think the cap is still in place until 3/5/10, so if the bonus is due before then and cutting him would put them over the cap, then they have to pay him or cut someone else and hope they re sign that person or whatever.

2 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

Great stuff as usual, Jimmy. I didn't know that, about RFAs and concept of Upgraded Tenders. One question... the bonus due to Lito Sheppard is actually a roster bonus? I would have thought it to be an option bonus, the way the numbers work out with the 30% Rule.

6 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

I just had a vision of Lito Sheppard sitting at home with his fingers crossed, thinking "don't notice, don't notice, don't notice..."

14 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

Tatupu is one that interests me. I think the hawks may very well put him up for trade after how well Hawthorne played last season. Thats an awful lot of money to pay a guy when his backup is everybit as good, perhaps even better.

25 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

Heater Hawthorne is raw, Lofa is polished.

I don't know how you can say Hawthorne is better than him. He's a promising young guy on a LB heavy roster that can probably play WILL as well. At this point he's an ideal backup LB, but he's not good enough to force you to drop a pro bowl guy that your head coach recruited in college.

18 Re: Under the Cap: Front Office Decisions

I wouldn't be so sure Jones and the Jets part ways. Sure, Greene was great late in the year and in the playoffs, but he was fumble and injury-prone; Leon Washington is coming off a serious leg injury. From TJ's perspective, does he really want to risk playing for a non-competitive team behind a lousy offensive line, just for the extra money?

Whomever the Jets would replace Jones with will most likely also command a hefty signing bonus. Jones is one of the true leaders of the team, and I think Rex will push Mike Tannenbaum to keep him.