A Unique Way to Judge a Player's Salary Cap Value

With the beginning of the 2014 cap season right around the corner, the Steelers are roughly $12M over the cap and need to make a few moves to at least be cap compliant. There has been much talk and speculation about what those moves will be and how much "savings to the cap" they will entail. Along with this comes chatter about potential free agents that could or should be signed (both internally and external FA's from other teams). We often discuss dollar amounts when referring to contracts and cap numbers. However, I think a unique way to look at each player is to determine what percentage of the total team cap he occupies.

It's fairly common knowledge that typically a handfull of players account for the vast majority of the cap. The Steelers have 10 players that make up almost 80% of the cap, and one of them is no longer with the team (I think you can guess who that is). To take it a step further, though, I like to look at each player and try to estimate what % of the cap he should occupy based on his position and the role he plays on the team.

Ready for some math? Ok, here's how it goes. The top 51 contracts in terms of cap cost count toward the enforced cap. That means the average player would cost 2% of the total cap (100%/51 = 1.96% to be exact). Using 2% as a beginning point, I immediately elevate each of the starting 11 positions on O and D to a value of 3%. However, we all know some positions are worth more than others. QB is one of them, and an elite franchise QB like Ben is worth a hefty premium. I put a value of 12% on him. The top weapon on Offence is also worth a premium. In this case it's Antonio Brown who I valued at 6%. On Defense, the top playmaker in the secondary I valued at 4.5% (which is Troy), and the everydown ILB also was valued at 4.5% (Timmons of course). I could've valued them even higher, but I think you'll see why I didn't a bit later. Some positions I devalued a bit. Like the 11th starting position on O could be a second TE, a third WR, or a FB. So, I took all of those out of my 22. Instead I added a 12th position for the D, the nickel DB (or 3rd CB). That position along with the NT each counted for less than 3% (NT was 2.5% and Nickel 2%)

My rule of thumb is basically the 80/20 rule, but I will call it the 82/22 rule. The top 22 should account for 82% of the cap! This allocates 18% of the cap for backups and the P, K, and LS. That's not much, but it's still more than many teams allocate, and any "dead money" would reduce that %. So, if a team is carrying 5% in dead money, only 13% would be allocated to the non-starters.

Using this methodology, let's looks at some of the current Steelers 2014 cap numbers to see who's good value and maybe who isn't:

1. Ben Roethlisberger - elite starting QB = 12% cap value -> current cap 14.8%

2. Lamarr Woodley - (possible) starting 34OLB = 3.5% cap value -> current cap 10.6%

3. Ike Taylor - (possible) starting CB = 3.5% cap value -> current cap 9.4%

4. Lawrence Timmons - starting ILB = 4.5% cap value -> current cap 9.3%

5. Troy Polamalu - starting SS = 4.5% cap value -> current cap 8.5%

6. Heath Miller - starting TE = 3.5% cap value -> current cap 7.4%

7. Antonio Brown - starting #1 WR = 6% cap value -> current cap 6.6%

8. Levi Brown - backup LT on IR = 0.5% cap value -> current cap 4.9%

9. Maurkice Pouncey - starting C = 3.5% cap value -> current cap 4.3%

10. Willie Colon - cut "dead money" = 0% cap value -> current cap 3.4%

Those top 10 account for almost 80% of the cap. As you can see, only AB is in line with his expected value, and maybe Pouncey and Ben are close. AB is actually a guy they will probably restructure, though. The others are pretty far off even if you were to elevate their value. Thus, it becomes clear that Levi has to be cut, Heath needs to restructure, and Ike probably has to be cut or reduce his base down to vet minimum. It also becomes clear that Woodley is a cap eater. He accounts for 7% more than his value..that's 2 more starting positions they can fill with his excess money! Thus, he is likely to be a June 1 cap cut.

The tricky ones are Ben, Timmons, and Troy. Ben's cap number is a tad high, even for a franchise QB, which is why many suggest they extend him now to get it down. Timmons is also high even if you were to bump his value up. He is another strong restructure candidate. Troy is the trickiest because he's nearing the end but he still plays at a higher level than anyone else in the secondary (or maybe the entire D). It would be nice to simply ask him to take a $2-3M paycut, but it's unlikely that he would do that. I think they will just go with the current number for him.

Now let's look at a few guys who provide good value:

1. Cam Heyward - starting 34DE = cap value 3.0% -> current cap 1.7%

2. David DeCastro - starting RG = cap value 3.0% -> current cap 1.7%

3. Ramon Foster - starting LG = cap value 3.0% -> current cap 1.5%

4. Leveon Bell - starting RB = cap value 3.0% -> current cap 0.7%

5. Marcus Gilbert - starting RT = cap value 3.0% -> current cap 0.8%

6. Jarvis Jones - stating 34OLB = cap value 3.0% -> current cap 1.5%

7. Cortez Allen - starting CB = cap value 3.0% -> current cap 1.2%

8. Kelvin Beachum - starting LT = cap value 3.5% -> current cap 0.5%

You can see there is great value here. Those 8 positions should account for 24.5% of the cap space but they are only paying 9.6% for them. Beachum would be the best value on the team by playing LT for only 0.5%. Jones and Allen's 3.0% could go up a tad if they were to become the #1 OLB and #1 CB. Also, as you can see from this list, having draft picks who can successfully fill starting roles during their rookie contracts provides superior value. Guys like Wheaton, Shark Thomas, and Vince Williams could very well be on this list in '14 as well. It gives further evidence to why the Steelers prefer to build through the draft and not through FA.

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