Not only is talent evaluation and scheme knowledge extremely important in having a successful dynasty team for years, but contracts are just as important a cog in the successful dynasty wheelhouse. Owners who can stay ahead of the game and understand when a productive fantasy player can be legitimately cut can benefit greatly in trading a player a year early rather than a year late. The NFL is no different in that players still need to justify their salaries.
Since the NFL has such a short career shelf-life, players typically take the money over a better situation for them to produce. This is especially true when players are going for that “life-changing” second contract when they are typically in their physical primes. A player does not know how long they will play, so they want to cash in.
Here at DFF, we have you covered, and we will break down some of the ins and outs of the contract world of the NFL and tell you where the “Devil” in the details lies.
Here are some quick-hitters for fans of teams to understand when it comes to trades:
- Trading a player does NOT escape a team from the player’s dead money hit. This makes sense because it is the original club who made the deal for the guaranteed money, so they should be on the hook for it.
- If a player is traded to a team, that team can cut that player with NO dead money result. The team that traded the player already assumed the responsibility of the guaranteed money. All that the new club is obligated to do is pay that annual salary. That is it.
Let’s take a look at a very productive player who could be on the chopping block at the end of the season.
RB Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Yes, I understand Miller just signed a four-year deal last year worth $26 million, with $14 million in guarantees. However, we need to look at the details of the deal to see what is really what. This is how smart dynasty owners stay ahead of the game.
In his first four seasons in the NFL, Miller was the lead back with the Miami Dolphins, excluding his rookie season when Reggie Bush was the lead dog. Miller’s carries increased substantially in year 2, as he went from 51 carries his rookie season to 177 carries his sophomore year. The next two seasons in Miami he totaled 216 carries and 194 carries, respectively.
Miller was extremely efficient three of his four seasons in Miami, averaging at least 4.5 yards per carry (ypc). Only in 2013 did Miller fail to hit that average. Miller showed impressive durability by playing in all 16 games three of his first four seasons.
*Table courtesy of profootballreference.com
Not only was Miller effective in the run game, but he also flourished in the passing game. Every year his receiving yards jumped by at least 100 yards. Only in 2013 (which was a down year), did Miller not average at least 7.2 yards per catch. In 2015, his last season in Miami, Miller was one of only eight backs to record more than 45 receptions. Of those eight, he finished fifth in yards per catch at 8.5 yards and posted the second best catch percentage of 82.5%. Only Mark Ingram ended with a higher rate of 83.3%. Another impressive stat is that Lamar Miller finished second amongst backs in total touchdowns with 10 TDs. He only finished behind Devonte Freeman, who was a Pro Bowl player that year.
*Table courtesy of profootballreference.com
Based strictly on these stats, one would think Miller would be safe in Houston. The details of the contract state otherwise. This is where we need to dissect pay vs. production.
Miller’s first season with the Texans was less than stellar. While there is an argument that the Houston offense greatly struggled with its lack of quality QB play from Brock Osweiler, Miller will need to step it up this year to avoid becoming a cap casualty.
Per Spotrac.com, Miller’s cap hit this upcoming year will be $6.5 million, with a dead cap hit of $8.5 million if the Texans decided to cut ties with Miller this year. Miller will be the fourth highest paid running back in the NFL in 2017. Miller is safe this upcoming season but next season is a different story. In the 2016 season, Miller tied for his worst efficient season since 2013 in both yards per carry at 4.0 yards per run and had his worst yards per catch of his career with 6.1 yards. Miller’s touchdowns also regressed, with a total touchdown count of 6 total TDs, 5 rushing TDs to only 1 receiving TD. That is another “worst” since 2013 for Miller.
Here is why Lamar Miller needs to get back to form to his last two seasons in Miami. In 2018, Miller’s cap hit is $6.75 million. However, assuming Houston cut Miller, it would only result in $2 million dollars of dead money and save the club $4.75 million. If Miller makes it through 2018 as a member of the Texans, he’s still not safe. In 2019, Miller could be cut with a cap hit of $7.25 million and cost the team a mere $1 million in dead money. That would save the club $6.25 million. Another determining factor is the proverbial “RB Age Wall.” Miller turns 27 years old this upcoming year and 28 in 2019.
With the Texans jumping up in the draft to nab Rookie QB Deshaun Watson, Miller will need to show his worth. Again, QB play could have played a major factor. But that doesn’t explain why Miller disappeared in playoff games. In the wild card round against the Raiders, Miller put up a putrid 31 carries for only 73 yards for a 2.4-yard average with a total of zero catches. That is not something you want from the fourth highest paid running back in the league. In the divisional round against Patriots, Miller played a little better. He put up a stat line of 19 carries for 74 yards for a 3.4-yard average. Miller saw some work in in the passing game with 4 catches for 15 yards. This involvement in the passing game primarily stemmed from being a check-down option.
Here, we will need to see how Lamar Miller performs once Deshaun Watson takes over this year because Watson will take the reigns over sooner rather than later. GMs do not trade the future to jump up like the Texans did to sit the kid on the bench. Hopefully, with an improved passing game Miller will see fewer defenders in the box. With additional space, Miller could produce at a more productive clip
This is a big year for Miller. However, if you are not confident in his ability to justify his salary and believe he will be a cap casualty next year, move Miller now before it is too late. Look for an owner in your league in need of a running back desperately. This is certainly something that needs close monitoring this offseason.
Thank you for reading and give me a follow @mrjwaltner.