The news that the Pats have put Donte Stallworth on IR, cut Visanthe Shiancoe and are set to re-sign Deion Branch got me to thinking some of about roster management in the era of the salary cap given some of the constraints that teams generally operate under. Consider:
- The salary cap limits teams, and it does not leave a lot of room to work with
- Large salaries to a few players can chew up huge amounts of cap space, as can "dead space" from players no longer on the roster, squeezing the amount of money available for depth, or to deal with unforeseen circumstances or opportunities during the season
- Training camp requires a large number of bodies just to hold practices and figure out who is going to make the squad; a large percentage of those players won't be on the team
- Injuries to key personnel are commonplace
- The NFL rules do not allow for players to be freely put on "disabled lists" or moved to a "minor league"; teams are limited in their ability to stash injured players without either carrying them as dead weight on the 53 man roster limit or losing their services for the season
- Trades are restricted by the league after a certain deadline, and most cut players have to go through a waiver process, making finding additional bodies to fill holes difficult during the season
The Pats under BB have become masterful at milking every dime of cap space and every ounce of flexibility out of their roster. We've seen things such as:
- Move Alex Silvestro to TE during training camp because they didn't have enough bodies to practice
- Get significant defensive contributions from WR Julian Edelman when the DBs were severely depleted last year
- Sign Shiancoe, have him on IR but designated to return, bring him back, and then cut him once Aaron Hernandez was fully back to speed
- Cut Donte Stallworth and Deion Branch during training camp, bring Branch back during the season, cut Branch when he was banged up, bring Stallworth in briefly when the Pats were short at receiver only to see him score a big TD in a showdown game and then IR him with an ankle injury and bring Branch back
- Pick up players who were cut from other teams due to injury with the plan to put them on IR and keep them on the roster long enough to PUP and then IR them
It seems like every week there is a series of chess moves to plug roster holes and manage the attrition of a 16 game schedule. Some of these moves seem obscure. Sometimes it seems like the Pats sign a player only to cut him a few days later. They kick the tires on a lot of guys, and there is constant turnover at the bottom of the roster looking for new talent and new opportunities, all while plugging holes. Meanwhile the Pats have not lost one starter to IR this season.
BB seems to be able to do this for a couple of reasons:
1. He maintains enough cap space to give himself room to maneuver and to take advantage of opportunities that come along (such as the Talib trade). Teams strapped for cap space have no room to maneuver.
2. He selects a number of players with positional versatility who allow him to plug holes at different positions.
3. He maintains an active "shadow roster" of players who are potentially available.
In some ways this relates to a thread I started 6 months ago about how the Pats run their business based on the anticipation of "uncertainty" or "risk" during the season, and maneuver themselves to navigate more freely than most other teams under the constraints of the modern NFL rules in the salary cap era:
"Uncertainty Theory": How the Pats Do Business?
In other ways this has more to do with personnel and roster management than that thread. Regardless, it's fairly impressive to me that the Pats appear able to "climb the mountain" - that is, field a successful winning team year after year in the face of the salary cap, free agency, roster turnover and the uncertainty, injuries, attrition and adversity of an NFL season, especially given the constraints that the NFL makes teams operate under. The team seems to have evolved a highly efficient way of operating under the rules and circumstances of the modern NFL.