Where Did All The Secret Money Come From?

Posted: August 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: | 20 Comments »

Old friend Derek of IgglesBlog fame politely asked me last night, “WHEN ARE YOU WRITING THE POST EXPLAINING WHERE ALL THE SECRET $ CAME FROM?” It is not true that it came from my big winnings from Las Vegas, where I spent last weekend. Didn’t come out ahead on that trip, not even close. No, the “Secret Money” came from … well, exactly where I told you it would come from a couple of weeks ago.

See, as I said before the lockout ended, the Eagles were looking at about $26 million of space. They then went out and signed four large deals:

  • Nnamdi Asomugha ($10 million 2011 cap hit)
  • Jason Babin ($5.3 million 2011 cap hit)
  • Cullen Jenkins ($4 million 2011 cap hit)
  • Vince Young ($4 million 2011 cap hit)

That’s $23.3 million against the cap, which put them at about $3 million of cap space left. They also signed a slew of other guys. But all of those guys, with the exception of Ronnie Brown, were signed to minimum contracts and barely impacted the cap, as I will explain. Some more went to rookies, though only the top three picks are actually counting against the cap right now. They actually saved some cap space by trading Kolb to Arizona for DRC. They saved a little bit more by trading away Brodrick Bunkley. My original estimate may have been off by a little … but not by much because, as of yesterday, they had $4.6 million left under the cap.

This is for two reasons. First, look at the table that BJ has up at his invaluable EaglesCap site. See those notations for “veteran discount”? That means that veterans signed to minimum contracts count for LESS for cap purposes than they are actually getting paid. While I can’t recall whether this provision was part of the original 1993 CBA, it has certainly been part of the CBA since the late 1990s.

Second, there is always something called the “Rule of 51” in effect during the preseason. That rule means that the players with the 51 highest salaries count against the cap right now (along with any additional prorations from bonus money paid to players not in the top 51). Once rosters are cut to 53, then everybody counts. But until then, just the top 51 guys.

Thus, for each veteran signed to a minimum contract, they only count $525K against the cap and are displacing guys who had previously been in the Top 51 and had counted only a little less — likely in the neighborhood of $450K. Thus, the impact of signing all of these minimum salary guys is only about $75K apiece. Because, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Eagles had a lot of guys under contract already, the impact of signing guys is only the marginal impact over the guys they are displacing from the top 51 calculation.

As to Ronnie Brown, he signed a deal worth $1 million, plus incentives. Again, that only increases the cap by the difference between $1 million and the guy he displaced from the top 51, or about $550K.

Brown is also good example of what the Eagles have been up to. The NFL is weird this year: the draft happened before free agency. Guys like Brown who might have taken an open running back job for a team that would then draft a young back to compete with him now entered a marketplace where that drafted running back is already in place. Now, understand that teams really do always love their draft picks, especially if you give them a summer to do nothing but re-watch their college tape and without the chance to see them even in a mini-camp setting to get an additional read on them. Teams with a young drafted running back will not feel the need to hedge their bet with a veteran RB the way they would if they were staring at a hole at the position in March, not knowing who they will wind up with in the draft, and “never dreaming” that Joe Blow would fall to them.

Anyway, the point is that the market for solid but not superstar veterans is far thinner than it would have been five months ago. And guys like Brown are forced to take deals far below what they would have taken. Consider this: in 2010, the Eagles signed Mike Bell to a fully guaranteed $1.5 million deal. In March, before the lockout, they tendered Jerome Harrison at the second round level, which I believe was worth $1.91 million. Getting a guy like Ronnie Brown at only $1 million is pretty good relative to those deals, in my humble opinion. And I don’t think it would have been possible given a typical off-season schedule.

In this sense, the Eagles have been value investors, signing good young players like Ryan Harris and Evan Mathis for bargain prices. The value is usually in the draft, but there is absolutely value in minimum salaried veterans in this market, and the Eagles are taking advantage of it. Yes, it feels different than their typical approach, but this isn’t a typical year. And as such, the Eagles are doing what they always try to do: buy under-priced assets. They did it with Mike Vick, which paid off — and that is a good parallel here, because Vick didn’t get reinstated until training camp 2009, and lots of jobs were “filled”. The Eagles saw a guy who was cheap and bought, figuring no job is ever really filled. That is happening again in 2011.

The one thing that is striking about this off season is the fact that three of the four big deals are multi-year contracts for players in their 30s. That is odd. But understand that they are generally structured in a way that favors the Eagles. For example, Babin got a low signing bonus and large salaries. If he ever declines, he can be cut without impacting the team going forward.

That’s nice, of course, but the problem with signing players in their 30s is that they will decline at some point, and it usually happens before you are smart enough to cut them, not after. Which hurts the team. In that sense, this is a high risk strategy, and one that has not been especially kind to the team when they have tried it in the past no matter how well the deal was structured.

Finally, a word about cash. It is not the case that every team needs to spend 99% of the cap this year. The league as a whole needs to spend 99% of the cap. So it isn’t like the Eagles are just lighting cash on fire because they have to.

That said, by BJ’s calculations at EaglesCap, the team has spent “just” $115.5 million in cash this year against a cap of $123.4 million. That will go up with extensions for Vick and DeSean Jackson, but again, it isn’t like the team has hit some secret trove of cash that they had kept hidden. They have still spent less than 100% of the cap in cash terms. And, if memory serves, they have actually spent less cash so far than they did last year.

All of which means that there is nothing magical going on here. It just means that this year is a strange one for the league as a whole, and the Eagles have been clever in taking advantage.

20 Comments on “Where Did All The Secret Money Come From?”

  1. 1 Davesbeard said at 11:52 AM on August 5th, 2011:

    Will read this in a sec as I love your take Sam! Just spotted this..

    Agent JR Rickert says Mike Patterson is out if the hospital and hopes to be cleared to resume normal team activities in a few days.


  2. 2 justin_pdx said at 11:58 AM on August 5th, 2011:

    Nice piece, Sam.

    I agree that the Darren Howard signing didn’t work out nearly as well as it should have, but Howard wasn’t a bust, either. (And I know you didn’t call him that nor imply it.) Howard turned out to be a perfectly serviceable, albeit overpaid, defensive tackle for quite a few seasons.

    If we get similar returns out of Jason Babin, or Cullen Jenkins, their contracts won’t hurt nearly as much as those of some similarly priced early first-round picks who’ve failed to perform across the league.

  3. 3 Ben said at 12:17 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    I thought Oline was a problem this whole offseason and I don’t like the idea of trusting a rookie at RG when we knew there was going to be a lockout. I didn’t think we addressed the most important position, and I’m still not sure what to think. When Vick has time to pass his mobility is much more lethal. I don’t want to see him get hit and revert back to the “old” Vick like the end of last season. Keep him up right (he’s a little fragile).

    Also, I want to keep Asante, DRC and Nnamdi. That would be one helluva secondary and then Nnamdi could even play some safety if Nate Allen isn’t 100%.

    But with the DT and OL situations, would you even trade Asante for a quality DT/OL? Or try to?

    This is the first year I don’t think the Eagles are using an “it all starts up front” attitude. Well, at least we have a ridiculous amount of play makers!

  4. 4 Eric said at 12:55 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    Sam, BJ tweeted back to me that he thought there might be about 2 mil in an LTBE from 2009 for Vick. But he wasn’t sure on that just yet.

    Any comments on that?

  5. 5 Eric said at 12:58 PM on August 5th, 2011:


    They are not starting with an “it all starts up front” attitude?

    They signed Jenkins, Babin and Harris and drafted Danny Watkins. Not to mention they also drafted several utility offensive linemen that are Mudd type guys.

    Definitely seems like they focused quite a bit on the lines.

  6. 6 Tommy Lawlor said at 12:59 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    Great stuff, Sam.

    Eagles really are taking advantage of an odd situation.

  7. 7 TD said at 1:00 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    Sam. I love you.

  8. 8 Sam said at 1:06 PM on August 5th, 2011:


    Yeah, there is talk of some credits that get moved forward. BJ is right that old LTBEs may count. It is also possible that the Eagles get credit for Donovan McNabb’s 2010 salary. It was guaranteed, which meant that the Eagles had to count it against the cap in 2009 under the rules in place for that year. But they didn’t pay that salary, the Redskins did. So the Eagles should get a credit for that, I would think.


    I think one thing you are missing is that Howard Mudd isn’t a blue chip OL kind of guy. So you aren’t going to see big moves for OL under him. Whether that works out or not is to be seen, but his style is to take lesser pedigreed players and coach them up.

  9. 9 The Reddgie said at 2:32 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    Sam – Great post, thanks for explaining the dollars and cents of the FA signings.

    Question – If we extend Vick, I was under the impression that his cap hit would decrease and increase the amount of salary cap space available this year. Can you comment on the effect on the salary cap that Vick and DeSean extensions will have?

    Thanks, and have a great day! Reddgie

  10. 10 Sam said at 2:42 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    @The Reddgie

    It depends on how the deal is structured. Sure, it is likely to reduce the cap hit, but it doesn’t have to. Really, it is up to the team. But you can safely assume that they have as much as $5 million of cap space they can create that way.

    DeSean’s extension will surely use up cap space. Again, depends on how big the extension is and how they structure it.

  11. 11 eagles nut said at 3:19 PM on August 5th, 2011:


    Do you have any idea if the 2011 cap contains any carry over credits from the 2009 cap? IIRC the Eagles guaranteed McNabb’s 2010 salary when they adjusted his contract in 2009 and because 2009 was the last capped year that salary(or 1/2 of it prorated over 2009 and 2010 – I don’t remember) was charged against the 2009 cap. If 2010 was a capped year the Eagles would have been credited back that money charged against the 2009 cap once they traded McNabb. Is there any chance the Eagles were credited that room to this year’s cap? I guess it’s hard to know anything definitively until a PDF file of the new CBA gets published somewhere.

  12. 12 eagles nut said at 3:19 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    Oops, I guess I should have read all the other comments first.

  13. 13 iskar36 said at 3:21 PM on August 5th, 2011:


    Obviously we don’t know exactly what DeSean is looking for/what the Eagles are willing to give him, or how the Eagles/DeSean plan on structuring the contract, but do you have any guess on how much cap space we would need in order to structure a deal that DeSean may be willing to accept? In other words, the way things stand right now, do we have the cap space to resign him, or do we need to first open up space with Vick (or other restructured contracts/cuts)?

  14. 14 Sam said at 3:42 PM on August 5th, 2011:


    We have enough to resign him. We usually give out extensions rather than renegotiated deals … meaning his base salary for 2011 won’t be touched. Throw in a signing bonus this year and an option bonus next year, and you can get it done with a minimal cap hit this year. I think Banner would prefer a 2011 roster bonus to keep dead money in the future down, but we aren’t precluded from an extension by the current amount of cap space.

  15. 15 Arno said at 5:55 PM on August 5th, 2011:


    Great piece Sam. Question: Could all teams now over the cap, get under the cap with restructuring deals?

    Or do you expect cap-casualties with Oakland (15 million sounds a lot, but they seem not to be worried when you see the signing today of Kevin Boss), Dallas, Pittsburgh, Detroit or Houston?

  16. 16 D3Keith said at 7:08 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    Just want to add that I appreciate this post and its level of depth as this conversation isn’t being had this intelligently anywhere else that I know of.

  17. 17 Matt D said at 7:41 PM on August 5th, 2011:

    What’s even sweeter is comparing the Eagles’ situation to that of our 2 main NFCE rivals, The Giants & Cowboys, who have both taken steps backward by starting the offseason by being about as far over the cap as the Eagles were under. Both have been forced to dump talent, while the Eagles have added. Any insight into how far in trouble those two teams are? The Eagles could be looking at a weak division like in the early 2000’s.

  18. 18 Nick said at 9:13 AM on August 6th, 2011:

    Good stuff Sam, thanks.

  19. 19 Eric said at 1:45 PM on August 6th, 2011:


    Reuben has a nice article up.


  20. 20 The Linc – Fists Start Flying At Lehigh : My Blog said at 6:33 AM on August 7th, 2011:

    […] Iggles Blitz ” Blog Archive ” Where Did All The Secret Money Come From?Sam does a great job explaining how the Eagles added all the players they did. […]