Watching the Oakland Raiders' salary-cap purge has been fascinating.
Last week's Carson Palmer trade, along with Friday's release of linebacker Rolando McClain, all but ended the deconstruction. Moving Palmer, McClain, Tommy Kelly, Richard Seymour, Dave Tollefson and Darrius Heyward-Bey cleared close to $21.2 million of salary-cap room. Twenty players from last year's roster are gone.
The Raiders have $8.69 million of cap room left and will gain another $8 million in June when safety Michael Huff comes off the books. He was designated as a June 1 cut, meaning Oakland must wait until May ends to get the cap relief.
The good news for Raiders fans is that years of being in cap purgatory end after this season. The Raiders currently have $79 million of cap room next year; that's $40 million more than the next closest team. The bad news is that only 21 players are under contract, including only seven making more than $1 million.
The Raiders' "recommitment to excellence" is the key to the future.
At the moment, the Raiders look like the NFL's version of the Houston Astros as far as their payroll. Taking Huff off the books will leave them with a cash payroll of $69 million for 2013. If they keep their current group of seven draft choices, that will cost around $17 million in cash. They've already signed seven players off the street to start on defense, and they still have holes to fill at cornerback and defensive tackle.
You'd figure that puts the Raiders in the low $90 million range for cash.
It will be interesting to see how they handle the low payroll, given the new collective bargaining agreement's requirements. Teams are mandated to pay 89 percent of their salary cap in cash over a four-year average that starts this year. Figuring 89 percent of this year's $123 million cap is around $109 million, the Raiders have around $19 million to play with after they pay their draft choices and add a few more free agents.
What will they do?
Being so far under the 89 percent in the first year might force the Raiders to spend more than they can afford from 2014 to 2016. Ticket sales aren't great for the Silver and Black. To make up the difference, the Raiders might have to bid heavily in free agency, and that could be a problem. The network television money doesn't flow into the team accounts until the season starts. That would leave the Raiders with the early returns of season-ticket renewals to fund the big signing bonuses needed to lure high-priced free agents, which could be a burden.
They could make up some of the difference this year by giving contract extensions to defensive end Lamarr Houston and left tackle Jared Veldheer, starters from the 2010 draft. Both are free agents after this season. They could extend halfback Darren McFadden, who is a free agent after 2013, but it wouldn't be a surprise if they let him go after the season. They could try to extend center Stefen Wisniewski, who is signed through 2014. Other than that group, there aren't a lot of players to extend on the current roster.
Having a lot of cap room can be a good thing. Having too much cap room without a lot of players to re-sign can be a problem. Figuring out the right equation will be a challenge.
From the inbox
Q: I was wondering how the NFL can be so adamant about player safety when it comes to concussions, yet fail to do anything about equipment violations? Players rarely strap up their helmets and many wear theirs way too loose. High school refs throw a flag for these things, so why doesn't the NFL? Just saw a highlight of Aldon Smith sacking Aaron Rodgers, popping up, and seeming to pop his helmet off by touching his facemask with his thumb. Frank Gore got fined over 10 grand for not wearing his socks correctly, but no one is in trouble for this? Seems obvious, but maybe I'm dense.
Jeff in Nebraska
A: The NFL does fine players for equipment violations. If they take their helmet off while on the field, there is supposed to be a penalty. There are plenty of fines in the NFL that aren't reported, and many can be steep. I think the NFL has this under control but the league needs to stay consistent in making sure it executes the fines. Don't think this is being ignored.
Q: A lot of mock drafts have the Raiders taking Sharrif Floyd with the third overall pick (assuming they don't trade down). The scouting reports project him to be a 3-technique defensive tackle. However, do you think there is any consideration to moving Lamarr Houston to his more natural position of defensive tackle? He's 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, but has played out of position at defensive end his whole career because high-priced veterans were manning the middle in Oakland. Now that Seymour and Kelly are gone, moving him back inside makes a lot of sense, and his size and speed seem ideal for a 3-technique. Then they could focus on addressing another hole on the roster.
Eduardo in Huntington Beach, Calif.
A: Don't forget that Houston is in the final year of his contract. Houston is a good run-stopper and still fits in the 4-3 as an end. I think Floyd will be their pick unless Eric Fisher is there at No. 3. It will be hard for the Raiders to not take a left tackle, particularly one as talented as Fisher. The linebackers signed by the Raiders this offseason fit more into the 4-3, so I don't see an adjustment in scheme. The Raiders are clearly going to go big in the draft with their first-round pick -- either with an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman. Floyd would be a good fit. There are more needs on the Raiders' defensive line than there are on offense.
Q: Now that my Cardinals got Carson Palmer, do we still draft Geno Smith for the future or go after Eric Fisher, who I think is the best tackle in the draft?
Dale in Phoenix
A: I don't even see the Cardinals taking a quarterback in the seven rounds of the draft. Palmer is the quarterback. Drew Stanton is the backup. That's the lineup. Bruce Arians doesn't want any quarterback competition. He wants to name a starter, and he has one in Palmer. If you listened to Arians this week, he spelled out the team's needs during the draft and didn't mention anything about quarterback. There is an outside shot Matt Barkley could be an option in the second round, but I don't think he will fall that far.
Q: I do not understand why the players have issues with the franchise tag when it was negotiated by the NFLPA and eventually signed off on by the players. It appears to be a part of a contract that you accept as a union. I understand it restricts the player, but it also ensures him of a top-level salary.
Pete in North Platte, Neb.
A: This is a CBA, and both sides aren't going to like certain things even if they were agreed upon. The reason the players don't like the franchise tag is because it is a one-year tender in the prime of a player's career. A player in this category hopes to get a $20 million guarantee instead of a one-year tender at $9 million or $10 million. No deal is perfect. I'm sure owners would like a harder cap that would keep the total payroll below the salary cap, but players were able to get their concessions. Owners are always looking to shave payroll. You can understand that players aren't going to like everything.
Q: The talk of a possible Ryan Mallett trade seems to have calmed down. What have you heard about whether the Patriots will still look to move him?
Dave in Wabash, Ind.
A: I never bought into the notion that a Mallett trade was ever hot. I think the Mallett talk is the same as it was at the beginning of the offseason -- nowhere. Sure, the Patriots would have traded Mallett had Cleveland or another team come in with a first-round pick, but that was never going to happen. The Patriots know they have a talented asset in Mallett, but they aren't going to give him away. So far, he has been a good employee and hasn't raised a fuss about not playing. Unfortunately for him, he's not going to get much of a chance to play during his four-year contract. Tom Brady remains remarkably durable.
Q: Do the Jets have anything real to lose by going after Vince Young or even JaMarcus Russell? They didn't bother with Kevin Kolb, they did not try to trade for Matt Flynn and I have not heard of an attempt for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Any of those would have been an improvement over Mark Sanchez, but I could understand the money being an issue with any of those three with so much cash tied to Sanchez. VY and The Bust are not making big contracts and they will only be one-year deals. I would rather see them than another multiyear commitment to a mediocre college QB in Geno Smith.
Sebastian in Passaic, N.J.
A: They do have a lot to lose. Rex Ryan doesn't have the time to take a gamble on a quarterback trying to revive his career. He has enough problems with finding enough starters to fill out the starting 22. Ryan knows he needs to win now. Can Russell help the Jets win now after being out since the 2009 season? It's doubtful. Vince Young is still young enough to turn around his career, but the Jets don't have the time to invest in him, no matter how low the price is. It doesn't sound as though the Jets will take a quarterback in the first round, so it looks like they will have to do the best they can with Sanchez and David Garrard.
Q: At what point do the new QB contracts become toxic to an organization? How can a team justify spending a fifth of its salary cap on one player, regardless of that player's skill? The team, and that player, can't be naive enough to not realize that this will surely gimp the rest of the team. What are the chances in the future that rules are put in place to limit the amount a single player can earn from a team. League maximum?
Dustin in California
A: Sure, it's tough for a quarterback to make a fifth of a team's salary cap, but what are the alternatives? You can't win without a quarterback. If you have a quarterback, eventually you have to pay him. Teams just have to be smart about putting their roster together. That's why you don't see teams such as Pittsburgh, Green Bay and others dabbling in free agency. They have quarterbacks. The key is using the draft to build the rest of the roster. The NFLPA, on the other hand, would be foolish to accept any adjustment that would put a maximum salary on players. Teams would like it, but it's the job of the union to allow salaries to grow as high as they can. Why should a quarterback have a max-out salary that is less than a pitcher's in baseball?
Q: My question is regarding the recent signing of Nnamdi Asomugha by the 49ers. He was a Pro Bowl CB in Oakland, lands a big contract in Philadelphia and stinks it up for two years. Was this due to their defensive system being more zone coverage? Will the 49ers' system and coaching from Jim Harbaugh allow him to resemble those Pro Bowl years in Oakland?
Jamin in Winnipeg, Manitoba
A: I think Asomugha will do well in San Francisco. He's good enough to start but, being paid less than $2 million, can be the third cornerback if necessary. The 49ers have great coaches on defense. As long as he hasn't completely lost his speed, Asomugha can be used in matchups against top receivers. I think the big problem in Philadelphia was how he was used in zone defenses. He's a man-to-man corner. He may not bounce back to his Pro Bowl days, but this was a perfect fit for Asomugha and the 49ers.