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Thursday, March 1, 2012
Mailbag: On carrying over salary cap room

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Tigre from "South of the Border" asks about new provisions allowing NFL teams to carry over unused salary-cap space to future years. He wonders why a team would ever decide against carrying over some of the unused allotment.

Mike Sando: NFL teams have, for years, tried to push unused cap space into future seasons. They previously did this by writing into players' contracts "likely to be earned" incentives that were, despite the label, very unlikely to be achieved. John Clayton explained the practice in detail back in 2004.

The new labor agreement legitimizes how teams carry over unused cap space. Teams simply tell the league how much unused cap space they would like to carry over.

Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt recently explained some of the particulars. Clayton provided numbers as they pertain to the 2012 season in this update.

Any team failing to carry over unused space might appear cheap, but carrying over the maximum would not necessarily make a team less cheap. It would not affect spending, only the amount a team could spend.

Salary-cap machinations are not always straightforward. A team could conceivably decide against carrying over unused room to accommodate late-hitting incentives, a contract option or the acceleration of guaranteed money.


Charlie from St. Louis asks whether the Rams might be wise to "secretly" make Sam Bradford available to teams intending to draft Griffin. "Don't get me wrong," Charlie writes, "I think Bradford will be a good player. But given how expensive he is, the new regime in St. Louis could make a shrewd move by starting over with Robert Griffin III."

Mike Sando: The Rams are on the record saying they will not trade Bradford. The rest of us are free to debate the merits of that stance, so here goes.

First, would such a move even be doable? I think it would be.

The Browns might logically prefer Bradford to RG3. Browns coach Pat Shurmur already has a strong background with Bradford from Shurmur's time as the Rams' offensive coordinator. As impressive as RG3 has been to this point in the process, the Browns would know with greater confidence what they were getting with Bradford, a player they know well. Bradford also has a verifiable track record in the West Coast offense Cleveland is running, a selling point for Shurmur and also for Browns president Mike Holmgren.

There would be risks. The Rams have already said Bradford is off-limits. Dangling him as trade bait would damage the new regime's relationship with Bradford if such a trade fell through. Also, Bradford's traded contract would count nearly as much against the Rams' salary cap as it counts right now.

What could the Rams get for Bradford? Could they get the fourth overall pick from Cleveland, or would they have to settle for a package worth less? That is tough to know, and pivotal to any imaginary deal.


Craig from Knoxville has a theory as to why the Cardinals did not offer more power to Todd Haley, letting Haley go to Pittsburgh. He thinks adding Haley would have made it tougher for the team to bring on another strong personality in Peyton Manning. "I know Haley and Kurt Warner were a good mix," Craig writes, "but that was because they grew together. If we signed Haley, I think that would have been negative toward Manning."

Mike Sando: Interesting point. Ultimately, I think coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't comfortable rearranging his offensive staff and essentially demoting the current coordinator, Mike Miller. It would have been a bit awkward. The team did make a Manning-friendly move by adding Manning's former position coach, Frank Reich, as receivers coach.


Ryan from Atlanta wants to know what Ahmad Brooks' new contract with the San Francisco 49ers means for teammate and fellow outside linebacker Parys Haralson.

Mike Sando: Haralson and Brooks played on opposite sides. The plan was for Aldon Smith to take Haralson's starting job no matter what happened with Brooks. Haralson is scheduled to earn $2.45 million in base salary and $300,000 in offseason bonuses. The combined number is not prohibitive for a part-time player or backup. We can safely say Haralson's playing time will decline and his future with the team is in some question.


Fox from San Jose says New Orleans' Marques Colston and Carl Nicks could hit the market if the Saints use their franchise tag for quarterback Drew Brees. Under that scenario, he wonders whether Nicks could fit for the 49ers in free agency.

Mike Sando: Doubtful, in my view. Nicks would cost a lot of money. The 49ers drafted Daniel Kilgore with the thought Kilgore could grow into the starting role at right guard if needed. San Francisco has not been a team that overspends in free agency, at least of late. Signing Nicks would go against their recent approach.


Joey from Hawaii asks whether Brock Osweiler would be a good second-round choice for the Seahawks. Would he be better than current third-stringer Josh Portis? Or should the Seahawks keep building their roster, then do what it takes to land Matt Barkley in 2013?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks have been 7-9 twice while rebuilding. They probably aren't going to finish with a poor enough record in 2012 to position themselves for Barkley or another top quarterback. They cannot put off the decision simply because Barkley could be an option next year. Osweiler does have the mobility Seattle's Pete Carroll values in quarterbacks. Todd McShay says Osweiler is highly competitive, another must for Carroll. Based on those things, then, Osweiler might be an intriguing prospect.


Jason from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho thinks Seattle should try to acquire the second overall pick from the Rams, then shop it around. They could always take RG3 in that spot. Jason thinks Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning will go to Miami, leaving Washington and Cleveland desperate. He does not think the Seahawks can "out-Alex Smith" the 49ers with Tarvaris Jackson behind center.

Mike Sando: The Rams most likely will not trade the second overall pick to a division rival. The Seahawks most likely will not give up what it would take to get into that No. 2 spot. Those are my opinions. Why would the Rams arm a division rival with a potential franchise quarterback?


Nick from Salt Lake City asks whether teams with interest in Robert Griffin III might "call the Rams' bluff" in the 2012 draft. Instead of acquiring the No. 2 overall choice from St. Louis, these teams might trade into the third spot, figuring the Rams weren't going to take a quarterback, anyway. Nick asks whether the Rams might get more value by drafting Robert Griffin III, then trading his rights.

Mike Sando: The question shows why the Rams will want to trade the pick before the draft and possibly before free agency. There's no use taking undue chances when getting value for the choice is the most important thing. The Rams do not need to get a huge bounty in return. They need a fair trade.

Any team trading into the third spot to select Griffin would have to worry about the Rams trading the second pick to another team with the same intentions. But if the Rams wait around, some teams will have addressed their quarterback situations, perhaps in ways that diminished their appetite for Griffin. That could lower the price for the second pick.


Fabian from Germany asks whether the Rams should trade the second overall choice, plus the first pick of the second round.

Mike Sando: Depends what they could get in return. They would not want to give away too much quality just to acquire additional picks.