Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

by Brian McIntyre

Football Outsiders is taking a division-by-division look at the salary cap situations of all 32 NFL teams. We're reviewing estimated cap spaces -– since cap situations are fluid and actual adjusted cap figures for 2012 remain unknown -– restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents, which players are candidates for the franchise tag and which players are headed towards the chopping block. Last week, we hit on the teams in the AFC.

This week, our trip around the NFL moves to the NFC and continues with the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals

Estimated Cap Space: $12-$14 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (16): Hamza Abdullah, D'Anthony Batiste, Calais Campbell, Sean Considine, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Clark Haggans, Vonnie Holliday, Brandon Keith, Mike Leach, Deuce Lutui, Richard Marshall, Joey Porter, Chester Taylor, Floyd Womack, Dave Zastudil

Restricted Free Agents (4): Rashad Johnson, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Greg Toler, Reggie Walker

Rashad Johnson started nine games in 2011 and has been a valuable reserve/core special teams player the last three seasons. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a capable No. 2 or No. 3 running back, has been the team's primary kick returner the last three seasons, and led the team in special teams tackles as a rookie in 2009. Greg Toler started 13 games in 2010 and had the inside track on a starting job in 2011 before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during the third preseason game. Reggie Walker's primary contributions have been on special teams, making 16 tackles over the last three seasons. All four can expect qualifying offers, with Stephens-Howling and Toler possibly receiving "upgraded" tenders to the second-round level ($1.927 million).

Franchise Tag Candidate: Cardinals general manager Rod Graves has assured his team's fan base that defensive end Calais Campbell isn't going anywhere. If a long-term deal is not reached by March 5, the club will place the $10.6 million franchise tender on the 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive end. In addition to blocking five kicks on special teams, Campbell has 180 tackles, 21 sacks and 18 passes defensed as a full-time starter over the last three seasons.

Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: The first order of business in the restructure department is left tackle Levi Brown, who is due a $6 million roster bonus, a $8.33 million base salary, and is eating up $16.973 million of the team's cap space. Releasing Brown would clear up $14.58 million of cap room, but would also task the Cardinals with replacing him. Quality left tackles rarely hit free agency and the top tackles in the draft may not be available when the Cardinals go on the clock at No. 13, so extending Brown's contract to clear a few million in cap space may be their only logical option. The Cardinals could find another $3.2 million of cap room by reducing Larry Fitzgerald's $5 million base salary to $1 million and adding $4 million to the $15 million option that comes due on the first day of the 2012 league year. Fitzgerald's 2012 base salary will become fully guaranteed when the option bonus is exercised. $5.6 million in cap space would become available if the Cardinals converted Kevin Kolb's $7 million roster bonus into a signing bonus that was prorated over the five remaining years of his contract.

San Francisco 49ers

Estimated Cap Space: $30-$35 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (14): Ahmad Brooks, Blake Costanzo, Ted Ginn, Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Josh Morgan, Moran Norris, Justin Peelle, Chilo Rachal, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Reggie Smith, Adam Snyder, Madieu Williams

Restricted Free Agents (3): Larry Grant, C.J. Spillman, Brett Swain

C.J. Spillman has been a core special teamer over the last two seasons, leading the team in special teams tackles (15) in 2011. In his first season with the club, Larry Grant contributed on special teams and filled in for an injured Patrick Willis, picking up 34 tackles and a pair of sacks in a three-plus game stretch in December. Both Spillman and Grant will receive qualifying offers, with Grant possibly receiving an "upgraded" tender to the second-round level ($1.927 million) to be the No. 3 inside linebacker.

Franchise Tag Candidate: Last off-season, safety Dashon Goldson reportedly turned down a five-year, $25 million contract offer from the 49ers. That multi-year offer was taken off the table, and while Goldson visited the New England Patriots, he did not receive a contract offer and returned to the 49ers on a one-year contract worth $2 million with no incentives. Goldson snagged a career-high six interceptions, was named to his first career Pro Bowl, and had 16 tackles and an interception in two playoff games. The 49ers could use the projected $6.2 million tender on Goldson if an extension cannot be reached by March 5. Alternately, the team could opt to franchise tag cornerback Carlos Rogers, who is coming off the best season of his career with 16 starts and a career-high six interceptions of his own. The franchise tag is higher for cornerbacks though, so that could swing the decision to Goldson.

Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Patrick Willis has the team's highest cap number ($17.709 million), a result of a restructure from last October that accelerated the prorated amounts of his signing and option bonuses into the 2012 league year and significantly reduced his cap numbers from 2013-16. The 49ers did this knowing they would have ample cap space in 2012, so they are unlikely to seek to reduce Willis' cap number. No other 49ers player has a cap number over $7 million, with Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Vernon Davis the only players with cap numbers of $6 million or greater, The 49ers could clear $3.3 million with the trade or release of disgruntled cornerback Shawntae Spencer, who dressed for just nine games in 2011 and was inactive in the playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks

Estimated Cap Space: $30-$35 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (16): Atari Bigby, Raheem Brock, Red Bryant, John Carlson, Heath Farwell, Justin Forsett, Anthony Hargrove, David Hawthorne, Leroy Hill, Marshawn Lynch, Matt McCoy, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, David Vobora, Charlie Whitehurst, Jimmy Wilkerson

Restricted Free Agents (3): Mike Gibson, Steven Hauschka, Roy Lewis

In his first full season as a kicker in the National Football League, Hauschka was 25-of-30 on field goal attempts, with two of his five misses coming from beyond 50 yards, and had a respectable 26 touchbacks. Roy Lewis opened last season on the PUP list before starting one of ten games and recording half a sack in a nickel cornerback role. Both Hauschka and Lewis can expected a restricted free agent tender worth at least the minimum, $1.26 million "right of first refusal" level. Mike Gibson started eight games for the Seahawks in 2010 and was waived as part of the final cuts in early September. Re-signed later in the season as injuries hit the offensive line hard, Gibson was active for three games and could be back on the minimum tender, as well.

Franchise Tag Candidate: The Seahawks have four key unrestricted free agents –- Red Bryant, Marshawn Lynch, David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill. The player most likely to receive the franchise tag is Lynch. Acquiring Lynch was a half-year process for John Schneider in his first season as the Seahawks' general manager, and Lynch has not disappointed. In 27 games as a Seahawk, Lynch has rushed for 1,777 yards and 18 touchdowns, and his physical style has helped change the perception that the Seahawks are a "finesse" team. Lynch took off in 2011, rushing for a career-high 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns behind a young and constantly reshuffled offensive line, ranking third in DYAR behind LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew. The franchise tag for a running back is projected to be worth around $7.7 million in 2012. Bryant would be No. 2 on the franchise tag list, but the converted defensive tackle does not post the sack totals to warrant a one-year, guaranteed base salary of $10.6 million.

Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Cornerback Marcus Trufant took a pay cut last August and will likely have to do so again to spend a 10th season with his hometown team. The 31-year-old has struggled with back injuries in two of the last three seasons and does not fit the mold of the big, physical cornerback the team prefers. Releasing Trufant would free up $4.467 million in cap space, but more importantly, save $7.3 million in cash that could be spent retaining a few key free agents. One season after being a legitimate Comeback Player of the Year candidate, wide receiver Mike Williams had a disappointing season. Releasing Williams is unnecessary and unlikely right now, but the move would clear $3.425 million off the team's salary cap.

St. Louis Rams

Estimated Cap Space: $3-6 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (21): Billy Bajema, Jacob Bell, James Butler, Chris Chamberlain, Mark Clayton, Kellen Clemens, A.J. Feeley, Gary Gibson, Adam Goldberg, Al Harris, Rod Hood, Donnie Jones, Bryan Kehl, Justin King, Mark LeVoir, Brandon Lloyd, Jerious Norwood, Brady Poppinga, Stephen Spach, Cadillac Williams, Tony Wragge

Restricted Free Agents (2): C.J. Ah You, Danny Amendola

C.J. Ah You has spent the last three seasons as a rotational defensive lineman and could receive an original-round tender worth $1.26 million to compete for a roster spot in a fourth season. Danny Amendola led the Rams in receiving in 2010 before missing all but one game in 2011 with an arm injury. The former undrafted free agent can expect an "upgraded" restricted free agent tender to either second- ($1.927) or first-round level ($2.742 million).

Franchise Tag Candidate: This is not meant as a slight to the 21 unrestricted free agents on the Rams' roster, but the Rams do not have a lot of cap space and none of their players are worth of the franchise tag. Even if the club could squeeze it in.

The best fit for the tag would be Brandon Lloyd, who ranked second in DYAR and sixth in DVOA in 2010, but was 67th and 71st in those metrics in 2011. Franchising Lloyd would cost nearly $9.5 million in guaranteed base salary, which is a bit steep for a soon-to-be 31-year-old receiver who has been frustratingly inconsistent in offenses coordinated by someone other than Josh McDaniels.

Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: In writings prior to taking over the "Under the Cap" here at Football Outsiders, I referred to the costs associated with having top-5 picks in the old collective bargaining agreement as the "Loser's Tax." That tax is apparent in 2012 as Chris Long (No. 2 overall in 2008), Jason Smith (No. 2 overall in 2009) and Sam Bradford (No. 1 overall in 2010) account for $47.42 million of the Rams' current cap number. Long is entering the final year of his contract and his $18.558 million number could be reduced with a long-term extension. Entering his third season, Bradford's contract is eligible to be restructured for the first time, and it could be reworked to lower his $15.595 million cap number. Smith has been unable to stay healthy and was moved from left to right tackle with the addition of Rodger Saffold in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Smith is due $10 million in base salary in 2012, $1 million of which is fully guaranteed. Releasing Smith would save less than $2.5 million in cap space, which isn't all that much. A restructure seem a more likely path, as it's hard to envision a scenario where Smith is allowed an eight-figure base salary. The Rams could restructure the contract of running back Steven Jackson, who is due $7 million in base salary with a cap number approaching $9 million. 30-year-old cornerback Ronald Bartell spent most of 2011 on injured reserve and is scheduled to make $6.2 million in the final year of his contract. The Rams would save $6.25 million in cap room by releasing Bartell and $2.8 million of cap room by releasing center Jason Brown.


16 comments, Last at 22 Feb 2012, 2:27pm

1 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

Wow the Rams are in tough shape.

And it seems like Goldson didn't get the best advice in the world. Turning down 5 million per year when the franchise tag is only 6.2? If he gets tagged, he would have made almost 2 million more in the past two years.

2 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

There's some talk in St Louis that Jason Smith may be released simply because the Rams have already given up on him. He was already playing RT before the Rams drafted Saffold. Alex Barron was moved from RT to LT that season.

4 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

I'm really getting worried that Ahmad Brooks might get tempted away from the 49ers by a big offer elsewhere. He's not a game changing pass rusher but he's good against the run and decent in coverage for an endbacker. He played almost every down last year and had to as the niners don't really have an adequate replacement. Most pertinently, there are no replacements likely to be available in free agency and losing him would mean the niners have to spend a high draft pick to replace him, especially as this draft is much thinner in pass rushing linebackers than last year (and reportedly next year).

5 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

The 49ers cap situation looks better than it is, since the team will use the majority of that $30-$35 million to resign two pro-bowl secondary players and their starting QB. Once you factor in contracts for rookies and the 10-15 free agents who will be coming back to the the team, I would be surprised if the niners have anything left.

Basically, my dreams of SF overpaying Dwayne Bowe have officially been crushed.

7 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

All the more reason not to overpay for Carlos Rogers whilst he had a good year he is 31 and his production benefitted from the front seven.

Some back of an envelope calculations:

Cap room - $35m, up to $38m when Shawntae Spencer is released/traded

The two obvious moves are:

Alex Smith - $8m
Dashon Goldson - $6m

But if these deals are long term then the first year cap figures will be lower than that, so lets suggest that the niners bring those two back for a total cap fit of $12m, leaving $26m.

Now you have to work out what sort of offer Brooks and Rogers/other cornerback will accept and there hasn't been much opportunity to assess the market. Is $7m each per year unrealistic? I have no idea but it seems that wouldn't be that unrealistic as a first year cap his. That would leave $12 million to fill the rest of the roster and sign draft picks, which should be enough.

The only way that the niners make a move for a free agent receiver is if they allow Rogers to leave, replacing him with either a rookie or a cheaper veteran, which could allow them to go after a mid level receiver. I've thought for a while that the most likely type of receiver the niners go for would be a guy like Robert Meachem, with Steve Johnson being the ceiling.

14 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

That's about right. I question whether bringing Brooks back at $7-8 million/year (which is what he is reportedly looking for) is a good idea. Arguably the Niners could pass on Brooks and Spencer, sign Smith, Rogers and Goldson to long-term deals that delay the cap hit somewhat, and free up enough money to go after a mid-tier receiver like Meachem or Manningham.

It sucks that the niners can't be big spenders in free agency, but hey, at least they aren't the rams.

8 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

I swear I remember several pundits saying that the Rams had a lot of cap room back when there was still some doubt as to where Jeff Fisher would go. Whoops.

10 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

Brian thinks the Rams are going to have a total cap hit for Bradford, Long and Smith of 47.42 million. Spotrac thinks it will be 20 million. That's a pretty huge difference.

Looking at the year-by-year numbers on sportrac, it looks like Bradford had an enormous roster bonus last year. So his cap hit falls to less than a quarter of what it was. So I'm guessing some difference could come here, if that was actually a signing bonus that gets pro-rated over the length of the contract.

With Chris Long, Sporttrac shows no signing bonus, which seems unusual. They also report that his average salary is 11.3 million, but somehow his cap hit is never more than 8.3 million.

12 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

Long restructured his contract last year. Howard Balzer was on the local ESPN radio the other day discussing their cap and indicated that Long's cap hit this year would be around $18 million.

Bradford, from what I understand, didn't take a huge signing bonus, but instead took a huge roster bonus in year 2. That way he had a giant cap hit last year and managable cap hits for the rest of the contract.

He seemed to think that after they signed their rookies, the'd still have a few million in room and could make more by releasing/restructuring Jason Smith, Jason Brown, Fred Robbins and/or Ron Bartell.

15 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

Spotrac is not really as reliable as they seem to think they are. They miss a lot.

And what it shows committed for 2012 most likely doesn't also include all the minimum salary tallies for filling out the roster, plus everything a team has to budget for injuries, grievances, incentives, etc.

Anyway, if the Rams do have the Loser Tax going on, it kind of makes the easy 2 first trade with Cleveland tricky, given that then they'd have to pay two first rounders instead of one.

11 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

"Quality left tackles rarely hit free agency and the top tackles in the draft may not be available when the Cardinals go on the clock at No. 13, so extending Brown's contract to clear a few million in cap space may be their only logical option."

Brown's an absolutely horrible player, though. You can't keep paying him that kind of money. The same logic applies to Jason Smith. If a player is expensive and sucks, cut them and take the pain now.

13 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

But we don't know yet that Jason Smith sucks. He had 1/2 a season in 2010 where he was healthy and played fairly well (no, he didn't live up to his draft status in that stretch, but he wasn't chopped dog meat either). The other year and a half, he's been injured. Admittedly, you can't make the club in the tub. The Rams only "gain" $2.5 million in cap room by releasing him (and would have to fill a roster spot with that money), so for what it costs to cut him they're better off trying to restructure the deal and get some production out of him - assuming, of course, that he can recover from the concussion issues and play at all.

16 Re: Under the Cap: NFC West Cap Overview

I probably am being a bit harsh on Smith. Still, you want to be careful about pushing problems into the future - especially when you're more likely to be competitive then than now. Far more teams regret cutting top picks too late than too early. Put it this way: if Smith was a free agent, would anyone give him a contract worth as much as the remaining non-guaranteed elements of his current deal?