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Mountain Climbing in the Salary Cap Era

Discussion in 'PatsFans.com - Patriots Fan Forum' started by mayoclinic, Dec 11, 2012.

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  1. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    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:

    http://www.patsfans.com/new-england...uncertainty-theory-how-pats-do-business.html

    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.
  2. MoLewisrocks

    MoLewisrocks PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    All teams can manage the cap. It's not difficult to create space unless you make an evaluation mistake in the process that will burn you going forward. Same as paying top dollar for elite talent won't get you in trouble so much as overpaying for inferior talent or accumulating so much highly paid perceived talent you have no margin for depth in a team game that features a 53 man roster which entails most teams signing 80+ players over the course of a 17 week season.

    What Bill is really good at is evaluating players within his system and not often overpaying for talent he can't engineer sufficient value from before parting company with it. It helps when you are patient and have confidence in your convictions yet run a true meritocracy. Egos get in the way of that within many organizations. Bill understands sunk cost and he's fairly quick to cut his losses (with a few stubborn exceptions every now and again).

    Despite what Felger thinks...they don't call this place the model franchise for nothing.
  3. ctpatsfan77

    ctpatsfan77 PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    That really has almost no effect on the salary cap: at that point in the season, only the top 51 players' hits count towards the cap anyways.
  4. ausbacker

    ausbacker Brady > Manning. PatsFans.com Supporter

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    #51 Jersey

    Belichick is excellent at finding value for money in the bottom tier of salary spend. Have a look at the combined salaries to output of our RB's as an example.
  5. I.M. Fletcher

    I.M. Fletcher Rookie

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    Mike Lombardi always talks about the importance of self evaluation when it comes to building a franchise. He talks about Bill the most often in regards to this, always knowing exactly what he has, and being able to stick very closely to the value placed on that player.

    On the flip side, the cowboys seem to be Lombardis team of choice for consistently overpaying for their own talent. When you see a player in practice everyday for 6 months, seen all of his medical history and know how they handle the pressure of your town, how can you not know that players value?
  6. fester

    fester Rookie

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    Pretty much every team will have at least one position grouping per year that is dirt cheap (comparatively speaking). During the 2011 season, it was the Patriots secondary (all players on rookie contracts) and the tight ends. This season, it is the running backs, and cornerbacks that are all on rookie contracts/vet min contracts.

    As I mentally bucket things here is how I evaluate positional grouping costS:

    QB -- expensive (worth it!)
    TE -- expensive (worth it!)
    WR -- average with a strange distribution
    RB -- dirt cheap
    OT -- cheap
    Interior OL -- slightly high

    Interior D-line --- average (Wilfork is expensive and worth it, then a bunch of rookie contracts)
    Edge d-line --- CHEAP! (if Jones continues to develop, this will change but still cheap)
    Linebackers --- average (Mayo expensive, Spikes/Hightower cheap)
    Safeties --- average
    Cornerbacks --- cheap (Talib is cheap this year)
  7. ForThoseAboutToRock

    ForThoseAboutToRock Rookie

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    The Panthers were absolutely horrific at this as well.

    The roster moves made by the Panthers GM are incompetent at best - Grantland
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2012
  8. ForThoseAboutToRock

    ForThoseAboutToRock Rookie

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    I'm glad you're around to post the big picture stuff.

    I'm also glad you mentioned this little bit. It was surprising then, and is still funny to me the ruckus caused by the Patriots snagging Ballard. At that time you could really tell Belichick has the long view in mind; he operates this team like a business with assets (chief of which = players). Giants risked an asset, the Patriots knew they could take advantage, and did.

    It's not like the Patriots didn't get burned by the Salas to Philly deal - they just didn't make a stink about it because it was their choice to take the risk of not having Salas on the 53... that's the way the league works.
  9. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    The Pats did the same thing with Josh Barrett. Just because Barrett didn't work out doesn't mean it wasn't worth a shot.

    The Patriots don't cry or whine or make a fuss when they lose out on guys like Salas or Will Yeatman. He moves on and finds other opportunities (like picking up Ballard).

    BB is constantly churning the bottom part of the roster, bringing in guys for a look, signing players to the roster or PS and then cutting them a short time later if they don't work out. A few stick. You end up with some guys like Ninkovich, McDonald and Arrington who hang around and become significant role players, and potentially even starters. And he has a long memory - how many times have we seen him bring back a player that he's taken a look at before?

    I think that BB is very honest with players, and for the most part I think they appreciate that. It's a brutal business, and he's not sentimental - he'll sign Donte Stallworth and then put him on IR with an ankle sprain because he can't afford to use a roster spot when he's already thin at WR for a guy who can't immediately contribute. But it's not personal, and players understand the nature of the business. I think guys like Stallworth and Branch understood that the door was open for them to come back if the opportunity was there, and that they had an opportunity to succeed. If it doesn't work out, he doesn't make a big deal of it, and just says "it didn't work out the way we had hoped" and moves on. That's apparently what happened with Shiancoe, according to Reiss, and what happened earlier in the year with Kellen Winslow. Cut your losses, don't waste any energy over it, and focus on the team. But it makes for lousy media drama.
  10. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    The salary cap forces you to pick where you want to put your money.

    I'd say right now that the DB position is fairly cheap. McCourty, Talib, Chung and Wilson are all still on rookie deals. Dennard is a started making late round rookie money. Arrington is making RFA money. Gregory got a decent deal, but peanuts compared to the big money some teams have shelled out to starting DBs. The rest are getting chump change.

    RB is obviously the best price/performer on the team right now, as TE was last year. That will change, but there will be positional cycles.
  11. ForThoseAboutToRock

    ForThoseAboutToRock Rookie

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    Agree again. Being un-sentimental is one of BB's best strengths - I'd even argue it was this trait that let him have the confidence to sit Bledsoe to start a skinny 2nd year dude.

    Back to what I've snipped and quoted from you above - the example I think of is Adalius Thomas. The guy was benched and later cut despite being one of the biggest FA acquisitions the Patriots will ever make. I get the impression that, for Adalius, it was personal. He couldn't hack it long term in the Patriots no-nonsense, no coddling environment. He took offense to the environment at times - to the detriment of his performance and the success of the team. Belichick didn't bend the rules for Adalius - now one of them is out of football and the other is atop the AFC East for the millionth time.
  12. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    BB has some flexibility, but it has a limit, and no one is above the team. Moss and Seymour were traded, Branch traded when things couldn't be worked out, Samuel allowed to leave in FA. Mankins sat out half a season when he got miffed, and Waters ended up sitting home this season. No one makes a big deal of it, they just say "we have to make do with the guys who are here" and go on. Guys like Brady and Wilfork have shown that they are willing to work within the system, and they are very cognizant that they are part of a team, no matter how great they are on an individual level. That's part of the value of having guys like Rob Gronkowski play on special teams. It carries some risk, but it sends a message about teamwork. And so far the other players have stepped up in his absence, which should only help the team when he returns.

    AD not only wasn't willing to step up, he dragged the team down in 2009. That was an unforgivable sin.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2012
  13. fester

    fester Rookie

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    Agreed --- and this cyclical nature should be a decent indicator of where the Patriots will be looking to draft in the next two cycles, or at least a consideration in the Best Available Player at a Position of Need and Value schema. Right now Interior O-line is a bit expensive (albeit working at good productive value) as the two guards are off their rookie contracts, with one, Mankins, whose contract is included in Transition tag calculations for his position. So as running backs get comparatively more expensive, proportional savings may be found on the O-line, especially if we think that there are soft budget constraints for the offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators.

  14. IllegalContact

    IllegalContact On the Roster

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    the pats won 3 superbowls with a cheap offense and an expensive defense

    they haven't won any with an expensive offense and a cheap(relatively speaking) defense.
  15. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Tackle will probably get more expensive, assuming the team extends Vollmer. This year it has been dirt cheap with the retirement of Matt Light. Solder, Vollmer and Cannon are all on rookie deals. But even if Vollmer is extended it won't be terrible compared to many teams.

    Interior OL cost has been mainly driven by Mankins. Connolly's salary is reasonable, and the rest are fairly inexpensive: Wendell, McDonald, Thomas. Mankins has base salaries of $5.75M, $6.25M, $6.75M and $6.75M over the next 4 years. He'll turn 31 in March, and he's been banged up. So it's not inconceivable that he could not play out the remainder of his contract.
  16. ForThoseAboutToRock

    ForThoseAboutToRock Rookie

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    My impression is that BB has attempted to mitigate what should've been an enormous surge in the cost of the TE's by the early extensions that Gronk and Hernandez got this year. Even though it's more money than paying two rookies, it feels to me to be very economical - especially given how they can both back each other up and complement each other on the field at the same time.

    The bump in the pay for those two guys isn't as high as it could've been, had they not planned well in advance for it.
  17. ctpatsfan77

    ctpatsfan77 PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    And then he acted like a **** when he knew there was nothing the Patriots could do about his contract in 2009. Of course, they cut him in 2010 and he hasn't played a down since.

    I also find it quite amusing that the day they deactivated him was the day they went 59-0 on the Titans.
  18. ctpatsfan77

    ctpatsfan77 PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Correlation != causation.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2012
  19. AzPatsFan

    AzPatsFan On the Roster

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    While technically the Patriot have not lost a "starter" to IR, the situation at CB would be much better with a big, talented CB like Ras-I Dowling available.

    Similarly, the LB position and the forced play of Donta Hightower before he was ready, would have been much better with the availability of Dane Fletcher.

    The Defensive line would have been much better without having to overplay Vince Wilfork if Fanene and Pryor were available.
  20. Fencer

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    #12 Jersey

    Guaranteed money affects the salary cap all season long.
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