The offseason is fully here. American football is being temporarily supplanted by, uh..."world" football. After the excruciating build-up to the NFL Draft, these past few weeks have been a breeze. We're only little more than a month away until the preseason starts! Until then, we'll be breaking down the squad that will take the field in August.
Salary Cap Room
Spring-boarding off of Tim's post earlier today, we'll get to the number that matters the most. According to both the daily NFLPA League Cap Report and OvertheCap.com, the Houston Texans have about $7.7 million in salary cap this year. It's decent moving room, but well behind the rest of the AFC South.
- Jacksonville Jaguars - $27,252,394
- Tennessee Titans - $18,978,595
- Indianapolis Colts - $13,591,624
- Houston Texans - $7,687,923
Yes, Matt Schaub is in Oakland, but his salary cap burden lingers on our hearts like a delinquent credit card bill. Schaub will account for $10.5 million in dead money this year, but the team will be free and clear of him in 2015. Since the team traded him before June 1, this year's cap burden is applied to this year alone rather than spreading it over the next two seasons.
Bigger than Schaub's hit is another player currently not with the team: Andre Johnson. He hasn't seen one second of practice time in 2014, yet he's responsible for more than $15 million in cap dollars. Jason Fitzgerald wrote more about Andre's contract and how it relates to his potential holdout:
At 32 years of age Johnson knows that his career is no longer rising and he is going to spend the declining years on what is a rebuilding team. He can look around at older veterans like Reggie Wayne and Steve Smith and see the way their franchises played hardball with them and the lack of interest that may be on the market for aging players. This was his last opportunity to try to get a new deal to at least make it a financially strong reason to play his career out in Houston but the Texans looked to have turned down that idea leaving him unhappy on a team that looks to be looking towards the future rather than the present.
Johnson carries a salary cap charge in 2014 of $15,644,583 and a cash contract value of $11 million. If traded before June 1, Johnson’s cap charge for the Texans would be $11,964,166 representing a savings of $3,680,417 against the cap. If traded after June 1 the Texans would take a $4.644 million cap charge in 2014 and a $7.319 million charge in 2015. In either scenario the trade would help rather than hurt the Texans salary cap.
Of course, finding a willing trade partner is the hardest part, as Fitzgerald notes. Only the most cynical of Texans fans would consider that an ideal resolution to the Andre dilemma. Unlike the Schaub trade, any trade involving Andre this year would make his cap hit get spread out between this year and next because it's after the June 1st deadline.
In 2010, when Andre expressed his displeasure with his contract, the Texans relented somewhat, giving him a small raise but, in return, added hold-out protections for the team tied to offseason attendance bonuses.
Going forward, it appears that Andre's only leverage lies in his past accomplishments and fan loyalty. With a new coaching staff and a fan base growing increasingly unsympathetic, that leverage is eroding quickly. Andre still has more than $30 million in base salary coming over three years, making retirement highly unlikely; chances are we'll be seeing him come training camp.
Comparing Contract Structures
NFL teams have so much flexibility compared to other sports leagues that It's misleading to only look at a contract's years and guaranteed dollars. Just as important is the structuring and language used to dole out the cash. Joel Corry, who recently carried out a mock negotiation on behalf of J.J. Watt, compared the different methods used by NFL teams to pay out the money. Here's what he noted about the Texans:
Houston Texans: Signing bonuses and fully guaranteed base salaries in the first two years are how most of Houston's lucrative contracts (Duane Brown, Arian Foster, Johnathan Joseph, Matt Schaub) are structured. The Texans from their usual contract structure with Brian Cushing's deal. It contains signing and option bonuses. Hefty per-game roster bonuses were required with Cushing ($1.25 million each in 2014-2019) and Schaub ($1 million in each of the past three years) because of injury concerns. Foster also has per-game roster bonuses.
Read all the comparisons here.
J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson are the next two players up for contract renewals. Watt's rookie contract has a fifth-year option that has already been exercised by the team, securing his services until after 2015. Jackson, on the other hand, will be free and clear if not re-signed after this season.
The Texans will have some tough decisions to make with Jackson and at the cornerback position itself. He's shown potential to be a number one corner, but his ceiling seems to be a few feet lower than Johnathan Joseph's. How much effort will they put in re-signing him before the season stars? Rick Smith has often noted that the team does not negotiate during the season, so if Jackson were to hit Free Agency, you can expect some of the more cap-free teams to go after him, especially with the premium put on cornerbacks in today's passing league.
If he isn't re-signed, I expect Jackson to get offers worth somewhere between Aqib Talib's (six-years, $52 million) and Jason McCourty's (six-years, $43 million). It could be steep, but Schaub's dead money clearing away should give the Texans ample room to compete.