This is the time of year where general managers earn their money. They are paid to make the right decisions for the team, whether it’s the most popular one or not. It is also the time of year when fans like to express their feelings on how the roster should be shaped. While the Raider Nation does know the Raiders very well, the reasoning behind each decision goes way deeper than whether or not the player fits under the salary cap. Here are just a few of the questions that coaches and general managers have to answer before making a decision on any given player.
How does the player fit into the scheme?
The amount of success a player has on the field has a lot to do with how their skill set fits the scheme they are playing in. The Raiders are in the middle of a complete overhaul this off-season. There are changes across the board from new general manager all the way down to the strength and conditioning program of the players. Those changes bring even more uncertainty when your trying to gauge a players worth. The role that each player played last year may or may not be the same role that they will play in 2012 and that has to be taken into account when trying to decide whether to keep them or not. Take a look at Stanford Routt’s situation. Routt has been strictly a man to man bump and run corner his entire career to this point. It’s no secret that while the Raiders will probably run some man coverage, they will run a lot more zone in 2012 making Routt’s skill set not a great fit for the new defense. Factor that into what he was making and it made it pretty easy for Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen to decide to part ways with him regardless of the fact that he is talented.
Is he a three down player or a “specialist”?
Often times when you read scouting reports on defensive college players you here the phrase “is he a three down player?”. Players that are not “three down players” will only play in certain situations that fit their skill set. A pass rushing specialist will often times come in the game on third and long when you don’t have to worry about the run as much and they can focus on getting after the quarterback. On the flip side, a run stopping specialist will often times play on early downs because the likelihood of a run is higher, and then subsequently come off the field on long yardage downs. A player that can play every down for a team is obviously of more worth than a player who is only good in certain situations so that has to factor into the decision of keeping or cutting the player as well. Teams have to be careful about wrapping large amounts of money into a player who can only be on the field at certain times.
What is the longevity of the player’s current contract?
The players current contract and the longevity of that contract will be considered as well. A player that makes 10 million for one year is looked at a lot differently than a player that is making 8 million per year for the next five years. If you commit to keeping a player this year that has 5 years left on his contract, you have to be aware that you will be faced with the same dilemma the next four off seasons. Do you want to invest more money into a player who you don’t think is a long-term solution or cut your losses and start fresh with a player who you feel fits better into your future and that you can sign at more of a market value?
Who will fill the role vacated if you decide to release the player?
Deciding not to keep a player is only half of the battle. Before you release the player you have, you have to think about how you plan to replace them and what that will cost. Most teams go into the off-season with a certain number of holes they have to attempt to fill. Releasing a contributing player only creates another one. Competing with other teams for players on the open market can get expensive, and with limited draft picks you really have to have a good fallback plan in place before deciding to move on from your current player.
How does restructuring a contract position the team for the future?
The first thought that comes to everyone’s mind when a team is over the salary cap is “We need to start restructuring contracts”. While most of the time that does end up being a big part of the solution, if not done the right way it can set a team back even further the following year. One way to decrease a players cap hit for the current league year is to sign that player to a new deal that is “back loaded”. This means that the player will make very little the first year of the deal to decrease his cap hit, but the contract normally includes a lot of guaranteed money and the subsequent years on the contract are usually for well over market value for the given player. This option is essentially just delaying the problem and creating a bigger one the next off-season especially if you do this with multiple players. Teams that do this a lot tend to be over the cap and in the same position year after year.
Another option is to sign the player to a contract that includes a big signing bonus. Signing bonuses are prorated evenly over the length of the contract to spread out the cap number, so the teams can essentially pay a large portion of the salary up front without it having a big impact on their ability to sign other players. To most fans that sounds like a fantastic option. Why don’t we just do that with every player, right? Except for one small problem. Some one has to actually write the checks for these big signing bonuses, and it certainly is not you and me. This is where the business side of things comes into play. Shelling out 10 million dollars at a time while restructuring contracts is easier said than done so financials can cause an issue with this approach. I’m sure a lot of you read the blurbs about Al Davis selling off minority shares of the team in the latter years of his life. Something to keep in mind when thinking about how the financial side of things is taken care of. All the money has to come from somewhere.
There is no doubt that Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen have their work cut out for them, and the decisions they make will have a big impact on how they are perceived by the fans as well as the success of the team. Nothing like hitting the ground running with your new job huh fellas?