One idea that keeps getting thrown around in the media is that this team or that team “manages” their cap better than others… but what does that really mean? Can’t we assume that all 32 teams have generally intelligent people who know the rules of the collective bargaining agreement? Are there truly tricks of the trade that some teams understand better than others?
First and foremost, the key to managing the salary cap is effective evaluation of football talent. By scouting well and drafting well, teams have players on the roster who live up to their salaries. Evaluating talent has very little to do with crunching numbers. It has to do with guesswork and experience and having a long-term vision for the types of players you need for your football team. Unfortunately, no football scout can see into a crystal ball and the fastest way to cap hell is to spend money that isn’t performing on the field.
So far in 2005, the Seahawks have nearly $12 MILLION dollars allocated to players who will not play for them, with that number expected to grow after June 1. That’s 14% of the Seahawks’ total cap allocation. That figure can be attributed to poor cap management… but it could also just be the result of bad luck. Injuries and attitudes can’t always be managed, as this team has been constantly reminded.
Another tool for cap management lies in the extent to which a team is willing to spend future dollars on current-year players. The most common tool obviously comes with signing bonuses that are paid (or guaranteed) at the inception of a deal but are spread over the life of the deal for cap purposes. Grant Wistrom was a great example of that, considering that over 40% of his $33 million contract came in the form of a bonus.
Bonuses can also be inserted into later years of the deal. The new contract signed by cornerback Andre Dyson is for 5 years and $17.5 million. The team’s current cap situation prevented a huge bonus up front, but a $3 million roster bonus was inserted into the second year of the deal. Such a bonus can be a big pill to swallow all at once, but it does give the team some flexibility.
If Dyson bombs in his first year, or suffers a serious injury, the team can release him at the start of free agency for the 2006 season and actually save cap money that year. He would have $2.4 left to prorate from his original deal, but that would be a $1.86M savings over what otherwise would be a $4.26M cap figure.
On the more optimistic front, if Dyson continues to play well, the team could pay the $3 million bonus and count it towards the 2006 cap. Or, they could convert the money into a second signing bonus and spread it over the remaining 4 years of the deal. This move would make sense if the team felt Dyson would be around for the life of the deal and money was needed to add other free agents.
As it stands, Dyson’s $17.5 million deal breaks down this way:
$3 million to sign.
$3 million roster bonus in 2006.
Salaries of $540K, $660K, $3.3M, $3.5M and $3.5M respectively from 2005 through 2009.
This deal is a great example of good cap management by the team and fair dollars for the player. If Dyson plays well, he should see most or all of this money. However, if injuries or attitudes interfere with his play, the team can get out without too much embarrassment.
"The Hawkstorian" writes about Seahawks history, the salary cap, and many other things for Seahawks.NET on an alarmingly regular basis. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.