So how does one turn a $2-$5 million deficit into a $35-$40 million windfall? Well, if you're an NFL team or an observer of NFL salary cap machinations, watch the Miami Dolphins.
They're about to do that -- or something pretty close to it -- this coming offseason when they look at their cap situation, their 2015 record, the production of players that helped author that record and say, "Nope, that's not going to do. We need to change course."
The Dolphins are indeed going to change course, folks.
You obviously know they're finding a new coach, new offensive and defensive system, new approach. And they're going to find new players. And they're going to get rid of some current players. (And maybe some current players are going to get rid of them).
Right now the Dolphins have slightly over $155 million in cap obligations scheduled for 2016. The small issue is the NFL cap next year is projected to be between $150-$153 million. That is a conservative projection but it nonetheless shows the Dolphins in the red.
So there will be cuts. And restructures.
Let's start with the restructures because it is a big deal:
Ndamukong Suh is scheduled to cost $28.6 million against the cap in 2016. Hahahahaha. Yeah, that's crazy. Even if you think Suh is an impact player of the highest order, which he is not, that is a bonkers cap number. So the Dolphins will restructure by moving money around and giving him more guaranteed money and massaging the thing and when all is said and done, the team will whittle that cap number down in the $10 million range.
And a $10 million number for a very good defensive tackle is about right in today's NFL.
So there's an $18 million savings right there, from one move.
Other players in line for restructures? This is where it gets interesting.
The fact is the Dolphins have multiple players that are or have been good in the past but are now in the crosshairs for salary adjustments due to mitigating circumstances.
Take Cameron Wake. He was injured two months ago, rupturing his Achilles tendon, but he still leads the team in sacks with 7. Wake is scheduled to make $8.2 million next season and cost $9.8 million against the cap in the final year of his contract. The Dolphins can cut this 34-year-old defensive end coming off a major injury and save $8.4 million and be done with it.
Or they can massage the thing. They can extend Wake a year or two, thus giving the player guaranteed money on the front end that meets or exceeds the amount he was scheduled to make, lower his cap number now and in years to come, and keep what has been a productive player.
If Wake is willing, I think this is the road the Dolphins take, particularly if Olivier Vernon walks in free agency. And, by the way, the Dolphins and Vernon are nowhere near a contract agreement on that front.
I believe Brent Grimes also falls into this category of players with high cap numbers for next year (Grimes's number is $9.5 million) who have not played up to that future number this year. Here's the deal with Grimes: He's going to be 33 next year. And the Dolphins can save $6.5 million in cap space by cutting him pre-June 1 and $8 million by designating him or cutting him post June 1.
Very, very tempting.
But I remind you cutting a player means he's gone. And in a year the Dolphins will be looking to add cornerback talent rather than subtract, this becomes an intriguing issue. Will the Dolphins cut their diminished but still best corner? Or will they pay him what his contract demands? Or will they try to restructure?
The Dolphins then have other players on the books who seem almost certainly headed toward being cut because their cap number is high, while the dead money from such a move and the 2015 production is low.
Tight end Jordan Cameron is scheduled to cost $9.5 million against the cap. The Dolphins cut him, they save $7.5 million. He's got 29 catches for 341 yards with two touchdown passes. And I get it, he's going to be only 28 next year. And the Dolphins offense this year could make Rob Gronkowski look unimpressive. But Cameron at $9.5 million is not happening.
Greg Jennings is not happening, either. He's scheduled to cost $5.5 million against the cap. No. The Dolphins can save $4 million of that with a pre-June 1 cut.
Defensive end Quinton Coples is scheduled to cost $7.75 million against the cap. Nope. The Dolphins can save every penny by cutting him. He'll be cut. Only way this doesn't happen is if Coples collects 10 sacks the next three games. The Dolphins will not pay this.
There is speculation out there in the media somewhere players such as Earl Mitchell and Brice McCain are headed out the door.
I look at it as Mitchell will cost $3.5 million against the cap and that is not a high number even if he's a backup to Jordan Phillips. The Dolphins can save $2.5 million by cutting him. McCain is scheduled to cost $3.5 million against the cap and the Dolphins can similarly save $2.5 million by cutting him. I don't think this is a done deal, either. He's a slot corner and he's been asked to play out of position this year. If Bobby McCain can prove he's a solid outside corner, Brice McCain can go back to his spot in the slot in 2016. If Bobby McCain needs to go to slot, Brice McCain becomes expendable.
But I say this: The team needs cornerbacks. One can never have too many and the Dolphins have too few that can play well.
The Dolphins will have to make a decision on Dion Jordan. He is scheduled to cost $6.2 million against the cap. And with his history of street and performance enhancing drug abuse and unmet expectations and the photos that have come out of him on the internet this year of looking overweight while he's suspended, I would say it is a good bet Jordan is not going to return to the team fully healed and looking like a chiseled statue of David when he returns.
So the Dolphins cut him.
Miami can save $3.2 million in cap space by doing so but will have to carry $2.992 million in dead money for the privilege. What a waste of talent this guy.
Jason Fox has started in place of Ja'Wuan James this year and will do so again Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. But it says here the Dolphins are going to cut him before the 2016 season arrives. He is scheduled to cost $1.542 million against the cap. The team can save $1.38 million by cutting him.
Jamar Taylor has fallen out of favor with the current coaching staff because he has been a pass completion turnstile and a touchdown-yielding machine. But he's only scheduled to cost $1.15 million against the cap. I believe the team will keep him, take him to camp and let him compete under the guidance of a new staff.
If he makes it, fine. If he plays like he has been, he'll be cut and the Dolphins will save $899,475.
Finally, long snapper John Denney is scheduled to cost $1.215 million against the cap in 2016. The team can save $1.115 million by cutting him in his final contract year. Will they do this? It is not an urgent or certain move. Denney hasn't seemed to decline even at 37 years old.
But this is the same team that cut Dan Carpenter. And Brandon Fields. One predictor of this move would be the club drafting a player who has snapped the football in college. Not saying that will happen. But $1.115 million is the savings.