Wednesday whys: Critical time for cap planning

Why is today such an important day of the year for the NFL salary cap?

Today marks the turn of the calendar in which all players on teams count toward the salary cap.

When the 2009 league year started on Feb. 27, that date marked the beginning of the “Top 51” view of the salary cap. In other words, from Feb. 27 until today, only the highest 51 salaries on a team counted toward the cap, with all amounts below those falling out. That allowed teams to do two things: (1) carry full rosters of 80 players with only the highest 51 counting, and (2) net the cost of signing new players against the 51st salary. For instance, if a team signed a new player for a salary of $1 million, it would knock out the 51st salary on the team that was, say, $350,000, meaning the team only need to have $650,000, not $1 million, of available room to sign the player.

As of now, every single team expense counts against the cap: players 52 and 53, all eight practice squad players, all LTBE (likely to be earned) incentives, all workout bonuses, all roster bonuses, all prorated signing bonuses, all salaries on injured reserve, all injury settlements, all grievance charges, all non-roster (dead) money from players no longer on the team, etc. It all counts, and it will all continue to count, as there is no cap-dumping into the subsequent year for the first time (since there is no cap next year).

Cap planning becomes paramount at this time of year, and this year more than any other, as teams must budget accordingly to effectively use their remaining cap room – as, again, none can be carried over into 2010 --while leaving room for any potential earned incentives and/or extensions.

Why is it unlikely that veteran players such as Jeff Garcia, A.J. Feeley, Zach Thomas, Jon Runyan, Sean Mahan and others will be signed this week?

The reason is the rule requiring vested veterans who are on opening-day rosters to receive full salary in the form of termination pay if they are released. Teams are careful to note any vested players on their roster at the start of the season, as they are financially committed to them for the year.

This doesn’t mean that these players won’t be signed soon, but it’s unlikely to be this week. After this week, the requirement to vested players is a four-week requirement, a far cry from a full year.

Teams routinely play the circumvention game during this week, signing a vested veteran early in the week and releasing him before the weekend, thus avoiding the termination pay requirement. In that case, the player gets paid his week’s salary but doesn’t count on the opening-day roster for those purposes. I’ve seen firsthand teams play fast and loose with these rules, and it was frustrating to deal with from a competitive standpoint.

Why hasn’t Richard Seymour reported to the Raiders, and why are his options very limited?

Seymour has been slow to report to the team that just acquired him through a trade, the Oakland Raiders. Why? You know the answer: Follow the money.

Seymour is in the last year of his contract and is approaching the wrong side of age 30. Thus, he would certainly like some assurances – the financial kind -- about his future. Those assurances could come in the form of a formal promise by the Raiders not to tender him as the franchise player next year, or they could come in the form of a new contract. Once he reports to the Raiders, his leverage for a new contract lessens. So he is likely using this time to try to influence some concessions from a team that has been very, shall we say, player-friendly in compensation.

Having said that, the Raiders have the leverage here. Seymour, as part of the NFL Players Association and its collectively bargained agreement with the NFL, is subject to trade and having his contract assigned to another club, as it has been. He can report or be subject to the reserve/did not report list, which would force him to miss the season (as the Patriots did with Terry Glenn a few years ago). Seymour does not have a no-trade clause in his contract, a rarity in the NFL (only the Redskins’ Andre Carter and the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald have them).

The only unknown factor is the wording of the trade papers between the two clubs. In the event there is some requirement about signing Seymour to an extension or the like, things could be different.

My sense is that Seymour will be in uniform on Monday night to collect 1/17th of his $3.7M salary, or $217,650 in pay for the week.

Why are Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez starting for their teams in Week 1 of their careers?

Follow the money. The Lions ($41.7M in guaranteed money) and the Jets ($28M) want to start getting some ROI (return on investment) as soon as possible.

And for my Pet Peeve Why of the Week:

Why, in team preseason scouting reports, do writers discuss released players in the context that teams will miss them?

If the Colts were going to miss Marvin Harrison, if the Saints were going to miss Deuce McAllister, if the Buccaneers were going to miss Derrick Brooks, if the Cowboys were going to miss Terrell Owens, they wouldn’t have let them go. No one should forecast these teams’ seasons as if the players left willingly when the teams tried to keep them. That wasn’t the case.

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