NFL Roster Assembly

Yesterday’s rant had not been up on the website for more than an hour when my phone rang.  A former colleague who has retired to a more southerly climate where football is king greeted me and immediately told me that I should not worry about the spending habits of MLB GMs.  After all, he reasoned, MLB management has been too stupid to bargain themselves a salary cap into their CBAs meaning that spending stupid amounts of money is commonplace in the sport.  To his mind, baseball payrolls are often used as ways for old and rich male owners of MLB teams to signal to other rich male owners of MLB teams how large their male genitalia are.

Then he told me to go and check out the highest paid QBs in the NFL this year to see how they are doing.  I asked him to give me a hint and he gave me the following names; I have filled in some details surrounding those names:

  • Derrick Carr:  He is in the second year of a 6-year deal that could be worth as much as $125M; his cap number for 2018 is $25M.  The Raiders stink; it is only minimally Carr’s fault that they stink but he has done little to “elevate” the mediocre players around him even to the level of mediocrity.
  • Kirk Cousins:  He is in the first year of a 3-year deal that is guaranteed to be worth $84M; his cap number for 2018 is $24M.  The Vikes have not been dominant this year, but they are currently in as the NFC second wildcard team.  If they win out, they are guaranteed to be in the playoffs.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo:  He is in the first year of a 6-year deal that could be worth as much as $137.5M; his cap number for 2018 is $37M.  The Niners’ miserable season cannot be blamed on Garoppolo who has been on IR since early in the season.
  • Aaron Rodgers:  He is in the first year of a 4-year extension that might run for 6 years by mutual option; for the 4-year deal the contract value is $75M fully guaranteed; his 2018 cap number is $21M.  The Packers are not making the playoffs and have been less than fearsome this year at 5-8-1.
  • Matt Ryan:  He is in the first year of a 5-year deal that could be worth as much as $150M with $94.5M of that guaranteed.  The Falcons have been a huge disappointment this year despite Ryan’s efforts; the Falcons have been injured and have not had their “first string guys” available at the same time very often this year.
  • Matthew Stafford:  He is in the second year of a 5-year deal that could be worth as much as $135M; his cap number for 2018 is $26.5M.  The Lions have been no factor this year just as they were not a factor last year.

My former colleague says that the NFL GMs are too stupid to realize that a salary cap prevents them from spending stupid amounts of money but that it does not absolve them of the stupidity of assigning so much value to the QB that it is not possible to afford to build a solid roster around that QB.  Other than the Vikes and Cousins on that list above, no other team is at .500 for the year – – and the Vikes are merely a half-game over .500.

The NFL salary cap for 2018 is $177.2M; just for fun, I will round that off to $180M to make the math here simpler.

  • If your QB has a 2018 cap number of $30M, you are committing 16% of your allowable salary to the QB.  That means the other 52 guys – plus replacements you have to bring in as the season unfolds – can only consume 84%.  Look at that disparity on a per player basis.

Roster building is more of an art than it is a science.  But there is a math component to all of this and the math seems to say that roster building is much more of a salary balancing act than a “throw the money at a single QB” act.  With advanced analytics folks moving into positions of authority in NFL teams, how long might it be before one of them comes up with an algorithm to optimize salary distribution for teams?

Moving on …  What’s in a name? Well, there is an NFL coach who might give us an insight into that question.

  • Matt Kafka is the QB coach for the KC Chiefs and he has accrued a lot of credit for the development of Patrick Mahomes there.  My former colleague told me – after chastising me about my off-the-mark views of MLB spending and NFL mismanagement of the salary cap – that he thinks the Jets need to clean out their coaching staff and to get Matt Kafka away from the Chiefs to work with Sam Darnold.  [Aside:  I am not nearly as sour on Todd Bowles as others seem to be; my former colleague thinks he should have been fired at the end of last year.  Whatever …]
  • Franz Kafka – sort of a namesake for Matt Kafka – was a writer whose characters always seemed to be dealing with alienation, isolation and fantastical surroundings.  If Matt Kafka went to the Jets and the Jets’ organization were to continue on the path it has been on for about the last 40 years, you would have someone named Kafka in a Kafkaesque circumstance.  Observing Matt Kafka in those circumstances might be like looking at a sociological/psychological Petri dish.

My former college did not find that even mildly amusing.  After all, he is a Jets’ fan…

Finally, Brad Dickson – formerly with the Omaha World-Herald – had this Grinch-like message for children in this Holiday Season:

“Kids, think about it. The Postal Service can’t get a letter delivered across town – how the hell is it gonna get your letter to Santa to the North Pole?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………