IRONMAN a.k.a. Tony Stark
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With games over, it's down to business
By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(Feb. 10, 2007) -- The end of the Super Bowl was quickly followed by the business season in the NFL. No sooner did Peyton Manning hoist the Lombardi trophy than the NFL fan interest turned immediately to salary-cap space, renegotiations, the draft and terminations. The days of the football fan turning to basketball, spring training or hockey are over. After a few short comments from Colts fans on my daily radio show at Sirius NFL Radio, the entire theme of the offseason and all the decision-making took center stage.
Here are three of the hot topics being discussed around the league.
Renegotiations and contract extensions
Many teams have significant salary-cap space heading into 2007, but not all clubs. So there are different motivations to offer deals to certain players. For example, Saints linebacker Scott Shanle had a very good year and was due to become a free agent. The Saints are heading into 2007 in very good salary-cap shape with close to $25 million in space, so they got a deal done before Shanle could hit the open market. Many front-office executives around the league are doing the same thing and that should forecast a very lean year for top-flight talent in the free-agency pool. As one general manager said to me this week, "The average NFL team is going to have close to $15 million of cap space and probably overpay for the few good players who come free."
There is another motivation for renegotiations and that is to create salary-cap space. About six teams need to modify a few contracts or release a player or two just to get under the 2007 salary cap of $109 million. The Redskins have some work to do and they got started with tackle Jon Jansen, signing him to an extension. Washington needs to trim a few million dollars from the books and Jansen was a good place to start. The profile for creating salary-cap space usually is a fairly young talented starter that projects to be a starter for at least the next four years. Jansen fits the mold, so it becomes a case of putting signing-bonus money instead of a large salary in the hands of the player. Signing-bonus money is spread out over the length of the contract, salary all counts in the year it is to be earned. Look for the Ravens, Panthers, Broncos and Steelers to use this technique in the coming weeks.
It is too early to connect what trade talks will become real as we head into the spring, but team salary-cap advisors are studying player contracts to see if there are realistic trade possibilities. Trades have been on the upswing in the past two years because of the increase in the salary cap, which permits teams to absorb bigger contracts and gives the wiggle room to the clubs trading players to absorb the salary-cap hits from uncharged bonus money.
For the sake of this discussion only, and with no intent to suggest the following players are even on the trading block, let's take a look at Raiders wide receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. Oakland should have about $6 million of cap space if they stand pat with the roster. Moss is scheduled to count for $11.7 million on the 2007 cap. His salary is going to be $9.75 million and if he were traded, the Raiders would get back the $9.75 million of space minus any outstanding potential accelerations. Moss' accelerations are only $2 million, so the net of trading Moss for the Raiders would be a salary-cap gain of $7.7 million.
The Raiders may want to move Randy Moss, but they could have trouble finding suitors.
The question in this transaction will be more about the club who might have interest because they are not going to want to pay a $9.75 million salary and they may not want to spread his money out for an extended period of time. A team like the Packers, with $24 million of projected space, could absorb the contract. Compensation back to the Raiders is a whole other story, and at this point a first-round pick seems a little high to most GMs I talk with.
Porter, the other Raiders receiver, presents a different set of problems. He's scheduled to make $1 million in salary in 2007, which is appealing to a number of teams. But his potential accelerations add up to $4.3 million and that means if the Raiders trade him, they will actually take a salary-cap hit of $3.3 million. With $6 million of space they could handle the trade, but from a business sense they might be better off trading both receivers if the compensation was fair. Moss creates $7.7 millions of cap space and Porter costs $3.3 millions, so in the end Oakland could realize $4.4 million of space and a couple of decent draft picks or players.
SOME CAP RELIEF
As always, there will be a number of players retiring this season and the official announcement can have a profound affect on the salary cap. Tiki Barber is done as a New York Giant and that means a credit for his $4.4 million salary and $600,000 in incentives go back into the Giants' cap pool, minus $1 million acceleration of old bonus money. So the Giants will add close to $4 million of space to their cap with Barber's retirement.
Also in New York, the Jets will see Curtis Martin retire in the near future. Right now, Martin is on the books for $3.25 million in salary and has $1.9 million in old bonuses to clear up, so the Jets will get a bump up in cap space of $1.35 million.
Both New York teams get back some salary-cap space, but they lose two of the greatest players to ever take the field over at the Meadowlands.
Finally, the business season is upon us in the NFL and rest assured that many of these hot topics were being discussed over in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl where front-office executives and agents gather for a week of unofficial business.