Thursday, March 14, 2013

Offseason intrigue

The team I was most worried about making a play for Victor Cruz was the Patriots. They have the cap room, especially after Brady redid his deal. They showed disenchantment with Welker by franchising him last year instead of making a long term deal with him. They also did not play him at the beginning of the year and put him in the lineup only when they absolutely had to because of injuries. Further, they constructed their spread offense that gets great productivity out of that slot receiver, so there was a need. The first round draft choice that they would be giving up would be in the back of the first round because of Patriots finish last year, so there was also less value for them to lose by signing Cruz. So as they say on Law and Order, there was motive and opportunity. Now, however, the threat of Patriots making a run at Cruz seems past. They actualized their dissatisfaction with Welker by letting him walk and sign with the Broncos, but they immediately signed a replacement in Amendola. I guess their logic was: if they think Amendola can be as productive (or nearly as productive) as Cruz in that slot position, why not sign him instead of Cruz and save the 1st round draft choice. It took them about five minutes to announce the deal with Amendola, so you have to believe that they had already come to an agreement and were just waiting to close the books on Welker before signing Amendola. Now that they have their slot receiver, they won't go after Cruz.

The Rams, who lost Amendola could theoretically be in the market for Cruz. They have two first round draft choices, slots 16 and 26. They finished strong last year - improving to 7-8-1 and in a strong division might feel that they need to add talent to keep up with 9ers and Seahawks. The obstacle for them is that they came into the offseason in a slightly worse salary cap situation than the Giants did. Cruz is not the missing piece that can lift them up over their division rivals. They would be smarter to keep their draft choices in a draft that is QB-poor but WR and OT-rich, so they could do very well in the draft with their 2 first rounders. They could get talent at positions of need and would not hamstring their salary cap structure for years to come. Furthermore, if they are in roughly the same salary cap position as the Giants, or slightly worse, there is no offer that they could make that the Giants could not match. Rams could still make a run at him, but I doubt it. With the extra emphasis and value assigned to draft choices because of the rookie salary structure in the new CBA, teams are very reluctant to part with those draft choices, especially in the 1st round.

Another team that may pose a risk is the Vikings. They were a playoff team last year, so they may be looking to add that one weapon to put them over the top. They just traded their most dynamic threat in Percy Harvin and therefore may be looking to replace him. They have cap room, because they too have a young (cheap) QB that is not absorbing cap dollars. But like the Rams, they also got extra draft picks in the trade, including a first rounder, so they may want to sit tight, use their draft picks and set themselves up to be competitive for the next several years without worrying about cap problems in the future. We'll see about the Vikings.

As more time passes, it becomes less likely that Cruz will get an offer. You could imagine a scenario where a team is counting on the draft to fill their WR needs, doesn't come away with the player they wanted and then in desperation makes a run at Cruz. However, there's no need to worry about that scenario, because the RFA signing period is March 12 - April 19 and the draft is after that, on April 25. A really sly team might wait until the last possible moment and make an offer to Cruz on April 19. The Giants would have five days to match the offer and the offering team might hope that the Giants salary cap structure would have become too rigid at that point. Further, that the team does not have the focus to deal with contract negotiations because they are cosnumed with draft preparation. It's unlikely, but it is at least possible.

The interesting thing about the Amendola, Welker and Cruz situations is that they all combined to give an idea of what the market is for slot receivers in the NFL. Welker and Amendola, two of the best at their position, got about $6M per year. Giants probably offered a similar package to Cruz, but he wanted to be paid like the very best WRs in the game, the big outside guys and pull in 10 or 12 M per year. The market has now been set and it shows that the Giants were smart not to overpay for Cruz. If some other team comes in and offers Cruz $6M or so, Giants will probably match - Cruz still has some leverage. But if the April 19 date passes and Cruz still has only the tender offer from the Giants, the team then has the leverage. The best scenario for the Giants might be to make a long term deal with Cruz after the draft. He will get paid $2.8 this year and if he injures his knee in week 15 of the regular season, he's damaged goods and won't get a good offer in 2014. So Giants could offer him a "middle" package that gives Cruz more than the 2.8 he would have earned in 2013, but a little less than full market value that a UFA might get.

If you're interested in where Cruz stands among all WRs in the last 2 years, see below. Ranking is based on receiving yards for 2011-2012 seasons.

Rk Player From To Tm Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Calvin Johnson 2011 2012 DET 218 3645 16.72 21 113.9
2 Wes Welker 2011 2012 NWE 240 2923 12.18 15 91.3
3 Brandon Marshall 2011 2012 TOT 199 2722 13.68 17 85.1
4 Roddy White 2011 2012 ATL 192 2647 13.79 15 82.7
5 Victor Cruz 2011 2012 NYG 168 2628 15.64 19 82.1
6 Steve Smith 2011 2012 CAR 152 2568 16.89 11 80.3
7 Vincent Jackson 2011 2012 TOT 132 2490 18.86 17 77.8
8 A.J. Green 2011 2012 CIN 162 2407 14.86 18 77.6
9 Reggie Wayne 2011 2012 CLT 181 2315 12.79 9 72.3
10 Dez Bryant 2011 2012 DAL 155 2310 14.90 21 74.5
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/14/2013.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How did Giants get into this "mess"?

Following post is compilation of email discussion with my friend Ray:

The concerns:

After cutting Webster's salary and restructuring Baas, it sounds like Giants were about $10 mil below the cap. After adding the money to sign Cullen Jenkins, it may be yet a bit less. Though in reality, the 2013 hit for Jenkins is probably small: he got a $2M signing bonus which is spread over 3 years and probably modest 2013 salary. Sounds reasonable, but:

1- Giants tendered Cruz, A. Brown and S. Brown for a total of about $7M. If they get an offer from another team, it could drive it up even more. Now that Vikings have traded Harvin and they have a lot of cap space, they could make a play for Cruz.
2-Later this year Giants will need $4-5 mil in cap space to sign draft class.

3-Giants are letting Bennett and Phillips go on the market. To retain them would require more money. You have to assume that Phillips will go, especially since they tendered S Brown, but it's not clear that they have the talent on the roster to replace Bennett (wouldn't it have been nice if Adrien Robinson got on the field last year?)

4-There is no room for any but the cheapest free agents, without much more cap work.

How did we get into this mess?

The approach:

I think every team that has a big cap commitment to a franchise qb is in the same mess that the Giants are in. In the last CBA, the salary cap kept climbing every year, so teams signed players with a signing bonus, but little up front salary and the larger salary on the back end. They assumed that they would either be able to afford the player later because of rising cap numbers or would cut him if his performance was not up to par with the salary. The new CBA seems to me like it is greatly in favor of owners, taking a lot of sources of income out of the defined revenue pool that comprises the salary cap. The cap now is actually less than it was in 2009, the last capped year of the previous CBA (remember 2010 was uncapped year). So teams that are suffering are those that had long term cap commitments to key players, expecting the cap to rise, as well as stupid teams like the Jets who pay big money to old/ bad players. The major commitment (if you know what you are doing) a GM will make is to a franchise qb. Eli has the highest cap hit of any qb, so that is part of Giants problem. Note that Ravens signed Flacco and dumped Bouldin the next week because of being short on cap space (also because Bouldin was aging).
As far as Cruz, I think it may not end well for Giants; and the Vikings are indeed a logical choice to do the damage and pick up Cruz. They have cap space, they just got rid of their star Harvin and have a hole to fill. They also have a young QB that does not take a lot of cap space so they won't get into trouble for another 3-4 years. However, if Vikings don't make a play for him, I'm not sure there will be too many other suitors. You need to be a team that: (1) is a player/weapon away from contending for SB (2) have cap space (3) are willing to make a commitment to a slot receiver that is comparable to what an outside WR would get (4) are willing to overpay Cruz because if they offer him just a "reasonable" contract, Giants will match it.
Don't get me wrong: I love Cruz; and Bennet showed the Giants something last year also. But let's remember: Eli is the key. The last two SBs that the Giants won, they had Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard as TEs, not exactly a pair that is going to make anyone forget Mark Bavaro anytime soon. In  2007, Giants had Steve Smith in the slot, who was a very nice player, but in retrospect, he was made to look much better than he really was by the QB. Smith broke the Giants franchise record for catches by a WR, since broken by Cruz. My point being: Giants need a good player in that slot, and Cruz is one of the top 3 players at that position, but it is Nicks and Eli that make this offense tick. I would like to keep Cruz, but it won't kill the Giants if they don't. Maybe Jernigan can actually get on the field this year and we can see if he can play.