Your NFL Team’s Fiscal Sanity (a/k/a the Dolphins are STILL under the cap?)

The NFL salary cap is kind of like hot-button legislative issues — the misinformation drowns out anything useful being published on the subject.  It’s easy to find out how much your favorite team pays each player — in the Chargers’ case, too much for almost all of them.  Armed with that information, and a fan’s knowledge of the make-up of the roster, almost anyone should be able to figure out how much their team is spending and how much flexibility they have to spend more.  But the media so often reports deals before they are finalized, and so rarely employs contract terms consistently, that it would hardly surprise me if most fans have no clue what their team spends on players from year to year.

In a fit of googling designed to prevent me from accomplishing actual work today, I came across a USA Today article dated March 12 that projected, from 1 to 32, how active each team would be in free agency.  That seemed cool.  And since the only way to make things cooler is to add more math, I put it to the test — how active was each team, now that the initial rush of signings is over?

I came up with one measure: their current cap room compared with their cap room on March 12.  The plot is posted below.  Activity in the market, as it were, is shown in this case by the drop from the blue line to the red one.  For example, Jacksonville signed virtually no one, so you see their blue and red plots are almost identical.  The Colts went on a spending spree, so you see their cap space drop from almost $38M to about $12M over the course of a week.

Free agent spending

There are other ways to measure activity in free agency, so I’ll post more in the upcoming days.  One thing to note about this measure: it incorporates both salary added and contracts shed.

A few remarkable things about the results.  First, some free-spending teams like the Dolphins still have a lot of cap room!  There’s a few reasons.  The Dolphins shed salaries (Kevin Burnett, Karlos Dansby) even as they took them on (Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe).  Also, some of the Dolphins contracts were actually quite cap-friendly.  Mike Wallace’s agent may have convinced him that he’s getting “Vincent Jackson money,” but he may see relatively little of it if he doesn’t perform like Vincent Jackson for the next five years.

Another take-away: almost every team pushed away from the table before that last helping of stuffing.  All but the Cowboys, Giants, Steelers, and Panthers left themselves a cushion of about $5M in order to sign draft picks.

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