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Salary Cap 101: Average Salary != Cap Hit


Icege

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When discussing players, especially those that have been chosen as scapegoats, fans like to cite the average salary as "proof" that a player is not as valuable as their contract suggests. This is done exclusively in bad faith. A deeper dive into the details of those castigated contracts more often than not refutes most, if not all of the argument(s). Currently, there are three players whose contracts have been bemoaned more than any other players expected to be on the next season's roster: Teddy Bridgewater, Shaq Thompson, and Christian McCaffrey. Let's take that deeper dive into these players' contracts and the complaints against them to see if they hold up.

To start, why not hop right into the hottest position in the sport: the QB. Some of the angrier fans like to seethe over Bridgewater's $21M average salary when his actual cap hit is $14M for 2020.  This is #18 amongst all current salary cap hits for NFL QBs (if he were making that $21M average, he would still only tie for 15th). Where does Bridgewater's $23M cap hit land next season among quarterbacks? 15th. What about in 2022 when Teddy is due to cost $26M? 13th. At no point during the contract is Teddy paid like a top 10 QB; is that not an accurate reflection of his value? "Not gonna lose games for the team, but also not going to put the team on his back..." sounds like a middle of the road QB with a middle of the road contract to me. Not only does the value of the contract properly reflect Bridgewater's value at the position, but it's also incredibly team friendly. With $20M in dead cap for next season and only $5M in dead cap for the following season, Teddy Bridgewater is your Panthers' QB for 2021. If the team can find a QB between now and 2022, then it'll cost the team only $5M to move on. Thus, the question remains: what exactly is the issue? There's a $7M difference between fact and fiction here, and those believing the fiction also believe that the difference prevented the Panthers from signing additional/higher quality free agents (which we can see is not the case). If I had to put my finger on it, I'd say that it comes down to two camps: Cam stans that are still butthurt and armchair GMs that neither understand the salary cap nor how to evaluate talent.

Moving on from Teddy. Another player that has consistently had his deal misrepresented is Shaq Thompson. Shaq was brought back this season with a rather lucrative deal after losing perennial Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly to retirement. During the season, chirps about his lack of appearance on the stat sheet seemed to ignore that he led the team in tackles while also missing the least. This could also explain why they believe he's getting paid an average salary of $16M (the actual average salary for Shaq's contract is $13.6M), because ignoring that he is getting paid $7.2M for 2020 (12th for ILBS, 27th for all LBs) and doesn't hit $16M until 2023 seems to go right in line with that way of thinking. Shaq's deal does jump up in value next season as it nearly doubles to $14.18M for 2021 (9th among LBs, 2nd for ILBs), then grows to $15.2M in 2022 (8th among LBs, 3rd for ILBs), and finally peaks at $16.36M in 2023 (6th among LBs, 3rd for ILBs). While those numbers and rankings can be concerning, let's look at the potential outs built into the contract to see if the team is tied to him. In 2021, Shaq can be cut to free up $10.98M in cap space at the cost of $3.2M in dead cap for the season and $6.4M for the following. In 2022, he can be released to free up $12M at the cost of $3.2M in dead cap for that season and the following. In the final year of his deal, Shaq can be cut to free up $13.16M at the cost of $3.2M in dead cap for just that season. Like Teddy, Shaq's contract is built in a manner that will allow the team to have leverage in order to restructure or simply move on from him when that price tag gets closer to the numbers that are triggering some fans. So, as was asked in regards to Teddy: what exactly is the issue here? Is it that the team did not retain James Bradberry? Between the $7M difference in Teddy's contract vs. believed average salary for 2020 and the $9M difference for Shaq's contract vs. believed average salary, there's $16M available. That more than covers the $10M cap hit that would have been required to retain Bradberry (who, btw, has a potential out in 2021 when the Giants can trade him to get out of the $17M for the following season). Shaq's contract was not why Bradberry wasn't resigned, therefore framing an argument that we took one over the other is bad faith at best, willfully misleading at worst.

Finally, we land on Christian McCaffrey. A lot of the frustration here stems from the analytical reasoning that RBs decline in value like a new car, but then why are the users pointing this out ignoring when they themselves were calling CMC a WR when he was drafted? With as often as the team uses CMC as a pass catcher, does that not increase his overall value in a fashion similar to Jimmy Graham wanting to be paid as a WR while playing TE? Is McCaffrey not a top 5 RB in the NFL? Where's the disconnect when it comes to his value? Is it because his contract has an average cap hit of $16M? I know, there have been a lot of numbers and some of y'all have already started falling asleep but I promise we're on the final stretch here! McCaffrey's cap hit for this season is ~$8M (5th behind David Johnson, Zeke, Saquon, and Kenyan Drake) before jumping to $12.5M in 2021 (3rd amongst RBs) and $12.9M in 2022 (4th). CMC will be the highest paid RB in the league at that $16M mark in 2023 + 2024, and then drop back down to 5th currently amongst deals running through 2025 when his salary drops to $12M again. I think that most of us can agree that paying CMC $12M, while a lot, does reflect his current value to the team as both an RB and a WR. What about when it jumps to that $16M mark that some posters clutch their pearls over? Does it matter that that same season the team can pay $4.3M in dead cap for two seasons to save $12M in 2023? What about 2024 when it will cost $4.2M in dead cap for that season alone while freeing $12M in cap space? Does the fact that that final year at $12.2M comes with no dead cap, meaning he can be cut free of charge? A top 5 RB that gets paid as a top 5 RB (even tho he also doubles as a WR) who when he does become the highest paid RB is at risk of being a cap casualty is a good thing. So, for the third and final time... what exactly is the issue? It wasn't like CMC replaced beloved players that some fans believed were better for the team than the alternatives like Teddy & Shaq did. It's ultimately because folks like to parrot the analytics regarding RBs without watching the play on the field. Understanding CMC's role and impact that he has on the offense + opposing defenses is clear as day to everyone but the ones that can't look passed the spreadsheet to understand why he's getting paid the way that he is (and realize that it isn't guaranteed by any means).

For those of y'all still reading, we can see just how far off some of these wild claims are when it comes to a players' contract value. All three of these large deals (as well as the deals for Weatherly + Paradis) are structured in a manner that allows the Panthers to cut bait should these players not be playing at the level expected. None of them are remotely close to the average salaries that are currently used to disparage them and the team. None of their contracts have hamstrung the team nor are they going to. Are all three of them world beaters? Absolutely not. Out of all three, CMC is the only one that can be labeled as elite while Shaq has done an admirable job leading a new defense filled with rookies. Any season(s) where they hit those average cap hits that folks are quaking with fear over all have outs that are very favourable to the team. So the next time somebody wants to mention a player's average cap hit as if that's what they're currently being paid, check out websites like Spotrac or OverTheCap. Does the deal have low cost outs for the team? When do they actually hit that average cap hit? You'll find that a lot of the time, the answers put those anxieties over contracts to rest.

Football differences aside, I hope that everyone has a safe and happy holiday season! I'll hopefully be in position to hang with y'all again in the final game thread of the season. <3

#KeepPounding

P.S. tEddY cAn't thrOw dEEp ~.^

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Excellent post, OP. Folks get so caught up in hot takes that they can't look at the situation.

A further point in the CMC deal is that as a RB who also outperforms most team's WR2s (and some WR1s), he allows us more flexibility capwise when retaining the services of WR2 or WR3. We don't have to move out into the FA marketplace to pick up someone at a premium and can instead develop younger players for cheaper wages. We did pick up Anderson this year, and at a price $2 million more this season than CMC, so that gives you an idea of what that market impact would be if we had to dive into another one.

In fact, you can point at team friendly contracts like CMC, Shaq and Teddy (along with rookie deals for Samuel and DJ) that allowed us to grab Anderson (who has certainly earned his money).

 

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8 minutes ago, KSpan said:

Awful lot of money for a backup-tier QB.

Yea, Jacoby Brisset getting $21.375M this season is kinda wild. As is Carson Wentz making $18.65M and Marcus Mariota making $9M. Don't forget Jimmy G getting $26.1M and Alex Smith getting $21.4M.

Thank goodness the team was able to land a starting QB for $14M in Teddy while also making the deal incredibly team friendly when it jumps into the 20s.

jimmy fallon argument GIF

 

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10 minutes ago, KSpan said:

Awful lot of money for a backup-tier QB.

Reasonable money for a placeholder starting QB who gives you an honest chance to evaluate talent for receivers, running backs and offensive line. You know how they rate players' performances against a projected average starting quality player? Teddy's that guy.

Going into last off season we knew that neither Kyle or Will were going to be good enough to give a fair evaluation to the rest of the offense. And we'd had plenty of tape to evaluate their performances. We needed a decent, dependable QB who knew Brady and his system. Teddy was literally the only guy out there who could do that, would work for average starting QB wages and perform decently enough to be competitive in year one and year two if needed. Short contract terms meant that third season could either be scratched if we had a better alternative, optioned if Teddy played lights out or negotiated into a back up QB contract if we had a good starter but needed a veteran QB on the bench.

Really, what is the problem people are having with Teddy right now? Were you expecting us to win games and rebuild an old, shop-worn team?

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18 minutes ago, Icege said:

So, as was asked in regards to Teddy: what exactly is the issue here? Is it that the team did not retain James Bradberry? Between the $7M difference in Teddy's contract vs. believed average salary for 2020 and the $7M difference for Shaq's contract vs. believed average salary, there's $14M available. That more than covers the $10M cap hit that would have been required to retain Bradberry (who, btw, has a potential out in 2021 when the Giants can trade him to get out of the $17M for the following season). Shaq's contract was not why Bradberry wasn't resigned, therefore framing an argument that we took one over the other is bad faith at best, willfully misleading at worst.

Overall, good analysis.  But the part I quoted is a bit of a headscratcher to me.  Why was Bradberry let go then?  If we had the money to resign him even with these other deals, why didn't we hear reports about trying to do so.  He's a top 15 CB (at the very least), and our secondary is awful.  Seems like a match made in heaven.

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3 minutes ago, Khyber53 said:

Excellent post, OP. Folks get so caught up in hot takes that they can't look at the situation.

I appreciate that mang!

And yea, unfortunately some folks get so caught up in the bad faith arguments that all they have left is trying to gaslight as we can see so far. :P

Just now, woahfraze said:

Overall, good analysis.  But the part I quoted is a bit of a headscratcher to me.  Why was Bradberry let go then?  If we had the money to resign him even with these other deals, why didn't we hear reports about trying to do so.  He's a top 15 CB (at the very least), and our secondary is awful.  Seems like a match made in heaven.

When looking at his contract, I can't quite understand it myself. He signed a 3yr deal with the Giants with those two salary hits previously mentioned and the $16.5M on the final year only carries a $3M dead cap. Part of me wonders if he wanted out or if the team lowballed him.

 

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3 minutes ago, woahfraze said:

Overall, good analysis.  But the part I quoted is a bit of a headscratcher to me.  Why was Bradberry let go then?  If we had the money to resign him even with these other deals, why didn't we hear reports about trying to do so.  He's a top 15 CB (at the very least), and our secondary is awful.  Seems like a match made in heaven.

I always thought there were some personality issues involved. It may have been some personal loyalty to Rivera or even Gettleman.

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5 minutes ago, Icege said:

Yea, Jacoby Brisset getting $21.375M this season is kinda wild. As is Carson Wentz making $18.65M and Marcus Mariota making $9M. Don't forget Jimmy G getting $26.1M and Alex Smith getting $21.4M.

Thank goodness the team was able to land a starting QB for $14M in Teddy while also making the deal incredibly team friendly when it jumps into the 20s.

jimmy fallon argument GIF

 

Brissett signed when they thought he'd be the post-Luck starter, Wentz has bombed for whatever reason but was an actual quality starter at one point, Mariota is still $5MM cheaper, and Jimmy G and Alex Smith are both overpaid backups as well though Smith is a more advanced form of Teddy and was signed for starter money. That there are other bad QB contracts out there has no impact on Teddy's similar status as an overpaid backup-tier QB.

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7 minutes ago, Khyber53 said:

Reasonable money for a placeholder starting QB who gives you an honest chance to evaluate talent for receivers, running backs and offensive line. You know how they rate players' performances against a projected average starting quality player? Teddy's that guy.

Going into last off season we knew that neither Kyle or Will were going to be good enough to give a fair evaluation to the rest of the offense. And we'd had plenty of tape to evaluate their performances. We needed a decent, dependable QB who knew Brady and his system. Teddy was literally the only guy out there who could do that, would work for average starting QB wages and perform decently enough to be competitive in year one and year two if needed. Short contract terms meant that third season could either be scratched if we had a better alternative, optioned if Teddy played lights out or negotiated into a back up QB contract if we had a good starter but needed a veteran QB on the bench.

Really, what is the problem people are having with Teddy right now? Were you expecting us to win games and rebuild an old, shop-worn team?

I get the thought process, I really do - it doesn't change what the truth of what I said. And no, I wasn't expecting to win and I sure wasn't expecting more wins after they hitched to Teddy. Great guy, lame QB.

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8 minutes ago, KSpan said:

Brissett signed when they thought he'd be the post-Luck starter, Wentz has bombed for whatever reason but was an actual quality starter at one point, Mariota is still $5MM cheaper, and Jimmy G and Alex Smith are both overpaid backups as well though Smith is a more advanced form of Teddy and was signed for starter money. That there are other bad QB contracts out there has no impact on Teddy's similar status as an overpaid backup-tier QB.

Who would you have signed and what would have been the details of the contract?

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