With NFL Free Agency on the horizon, fans all over themselves trying to tie some of the best talent available to their favorite team. What seems to be forgotten is that there is a hard salary cap, meaning teams cannot go over it. MLB has no salary cap but a luxury tax threshold. The NBA has a soft cap that teams can go over with a luxury tax tiering system, but there is a much higher hard cap. Here we are going to breakdown how Le’Veon Bell to the Texans is not as far fetched as it seems.
Why would Bell choose the Texans?
They can offer him everything he wants. They can sign him to $50m guaranteed in the first two seasons. Texas also has no state income tax, which isn’t peanuts considering his tax bracket. Not only on any signing bonuses, but also all eight home game checks will have zero state income tax taken out. While the overall dollar value could be less than say what the Jets are offering, Bell would keep more money in his pocket.
The Texans are ready to win now
With an offense that can put up points with the best of them led by Deshaun Watson, Bell must be very intrigued to play with a QB of his skill set and persona. Bell also knows the importance of having a WR on the outside that teams need to account for, as in what he had with Antonio Brown. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the top wideouts in the game and demands a safety over the top. The one thing this offense needs is one or two upgrades on the offensive line.
Houston boasts a defense that was 4th in points allowed per game in 2018, with only 19.8 points per game. They have two top flight pass rushers in Jadeveon Clowney and JJ Watt. The cornerbacks were in the top 20 ranked, per Pro Football Focus. The safety play could stand to be upgraded but is not in terrible shape.
Now, here is the most important piece. Houston has the money.
The Texans currently have $74.4m in cap space available for free agency. They do have a couple of their free agents, but the only one that needs to be re-signed is Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans are in a small window where they have their QB still on his rookie deal. However, the Texans also have two wrinkles; some teams do not have. The ability to frontload a contract signed now to minimize the cap hit in future years, and a big cap hit likely to come off the books about the same time Watson’s big deal is going to be signed.
Let’s go through it.
We will not just focus on how the Texans sign Bell but keep Watson quite easily.
First, Houston tags Clowney at $15.77m. This puts the cap to $58.63m. Now, this tag number is as an OLB. For DE, it would be $18.6m. In any event, either tag would have any real consequence, but it is likely he will receive the OLB tag.
As stated above, the Texans can use some offensive line help. The free agent market isn’t exactly pouring with great tackle talent, but mainly for illustration of cap allocation purposes, we will show how it can work. An intriguing free agent could be 24 years old and 3rd year pro Daryl Williams. The current Panther was hurt Week 1 this year with a torn MCL and missed the entire season. In 2017, he was named to the 2nd All-Pro team. With his most recent accolades, an injury so early in the season, and only being 24 years old, he will likely have an annual salary of $13m, which is about average for the top 10 OL salaries. He is hitting the market at a nice time. This would leave the Texans with $45.63m.
Next, let’s address the safety position. Again, this is not to say a player will sign here but to illustrate how this all can be done to have Bell and fill holes. If the Texans wanted to, they could sign the best safety free agent out there in Earl Thomas. The last big safety deal that his agent will likely point to is the Eric Berry deal of 6 years, $78m, with $40m guaranteed. Berry signed that deal at 28 years old. Thomas is 29. So, for demonstration purposes, put Thomas at $13m per year, just like Berry. That leaves $32.63m in cap space.
If the Texans were to sign Bell, they would likely cut Lamar Miller, which would add $6.2m to the cap, putting the open space at $38.83 to sign him. Texans can sign Bell to a contract of $14m annually and still have $22.83m left! They can sign another OL if they choose. What they should do is frontload Bell’s deal in a way that in years one and two of his deal are very heavy cap hits, even the 1st year possibly being as high as $20m.
This frontloading will serve two purposes. This would make his cap hit shrink in years 3 and 4. This would allow the team to easily move on from him if so desired, with little to no dead cap money associated. It would allow for more cap space to extend Deshaun Watson, perhaps as early as next year but he is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
The contract that was referred to earlier as the big contract to come off the books is J.J. Watt. Cutting him this year would save $13m (not saying they would) but the last two years of his deal have zero dead money and $15.5m in 2020 and $17.5m in 2021. Watt will be 30 this year and has battled some back injuries, so retirement before the last year of his deal isn’t out of the realm of possibility. This would allow the Texans to reallocate those funds to Watson without impacting any future cap.
Also, it seems to be outrageous that Bell is asking for $50m in the first two years of any deal. But this is not something that is that difficult to achieve. Using the $14m annual salary from above, the Texans can give him $22m in signing bonus and guarantee the salaries of 2019 and 2020, which totals $28m. This way they pay Bell during the two years, he will most likely be very productive, and if his production isn’t justified by his cap hit, the team can quite easily move on.
Well, there it is. Bell to the Texans, with $22.83m left in cap space, with no frontloading and signing two free agents at a top annual salary in areas of need.
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