OK, I hate to say it but the reality is the off-season has begun for the Tennessee Titans and one of the first things I do every year is address the salary cap.
In a nutshell, it is a problem. However, it is not an unsolvable one.
A lot of names and numbers are going to come your way, please understand and let me shout this from the mountain top, I am NOT SAYING TO CUT ANYONE. These are the numbers, the names attached to them and the avenues Jon Robinson can take to get the Titans in a workable situation.
All financial data for this story comes from spotrac.com if you want to take a peak at it for yourself.
Let’s start with the basics.
The NFL Salary Cap for the 2022 season is being set at $208.2-millioin. The Titans have $2.88-million in space from 2021 that they can rollover into 2022 giving them a cap number of $211.082-million.
NFL 2022 Salary Cap – $208.2-Million
Titans 2021 Rollover – $2.882-Million
Titans Adjusted 2022 Salary Cap – $211.082-Million
The Titans currently have over 50 players under contract for next season and those top (most expensive) 51 contracts equal $211.313-million. The Titans also have $760,000 in dead money for 2022. That means the Titans cap number is $212.069-million. Yes, that means they are a million bucks over the cap.
Titans Contracts & Dead Money – $212.069-Million
2022 NFL Salary Cap – $211.082-Million
Titans Cap Situation +$987,000 (Over)
That is a mighty big problem when you consider free agency is less than 50 days away, Harold Landry has an expiring contract, Ben Jones has an expiring contract, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine has an expiring contract, oh and yeah, they have a whole draft class to sign as well. So they do not need a little bit of space, they need a lot of space.
I did not mention Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown who both have expiring deals because I do not expect either of them to return.
So, where does J-Rob come up with the space to field a competitive football team once again? He has a couple of avenues. First he can simply waive players. Second, he can restructure deals.
Let’s talk roster cuts and savings. Again, this DOES NOT mean I am advocating he make any of these moves. These are simply the number he is looking at and trying to figure out a way to make the pieces to the puzzle come together.
Here is a list of players, their cap number for 2022, their dead money for 2022 and their total potential cap savings for 2022 if they are cut before June 1st. If they waive players after June 1st they can spread the dead money out over two seasons.
Kevin Byard – $15.8-Million Cap Hit – $8.2-Million In Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $7.6-Million
Derrick Henry – $15.1-Million Cap Hit – $6.0-Million in Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $9.0-Million
Taylor Lewan – $14.69-Million Cap Hit – $1.79-Million Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $12.9-Million
Rodger Saffold – $12.875-Million Cap Hit-$2.375 – Mill Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $10.5-Million
Zach Cunningham – 10.5-Million Cap Hit – $0-Million Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $10.5-Million
Jackrabbit Jenkins – $10.2-Million Cap Hit-$3.2-Million Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $7.0-Million
Kendall Lamm – $4.5-Million Cap Hit – $850,000 in Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $3.3-Million
Brett Kern – $3.75-Million Cap Hit – $550,000 in Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $3.2-Million
Darrynton Evans – $1.22-Million Cap Hit – $438,000 in Dead Money Potential Cap Savings – $782,000
Add all of that up and Jon Robinson has the possibility of creating $64,782,000 in cap space. Yeah, that is a lot and no, there is no way in heck he is waiving all of those guys.
I am not advocating, but I do expect Jenkins to be waived, either Saffold or Lewan and Kendall Lamm. That would get them over $20-million in space right there. I also believe it is easier to replace a guard than a tackle so if I had to guess I would say they part ways with Saffold before Lewan.
Obviously I do not think Derrick Henry is going anywhere and I think they are much more likely to restructure Zach Cunningham’s $10.5-million than to simply waive him.
Let us talk about how that would work.
Cunningham is due $10-million in base salary for 2022. That money IS NOT guaranteed until he plays the first game of the season. He is under contract with the Titans thru 2024. Since the Titans claimed him off of waivers from the Texans they assumed the brutal contract Bill O’Brien signed him to. They could convert $9-million of his base salary to a cash bonus (payable immediately) and that would allow them to spread it out over the remainder of his deal cutting his 2022 cap hit by $6-million. Yeah, that would help significantly. It costs Cunningham no money and it lowers their 2022 number.
There are a few players that could restructure here. Taylor Lewan could have some of his money converted in a similar way or even have an extension to dilute it even more.
Derrick Henry has $12-million due in base salary with two years left on his deal and could also convert some of it to bonus or even get an extension.
Now let us talk about expiring deals. There a couple of big names that could cost some money that we need to talk about.Number one is outside linebacker Harold Landry. Spotrac.com estimates his market value at $17-million and that would be a significant hit. I estimate he will get between $15-18-million per season. So for giggles let us just make his Titans deal 4-years, $60-million. That does not automatically make his cap number $15-million a year. They could give him say a $20-million signing bonus that would get spread out over 4-years and pay him only $4-million in base salary in 2022 lowering his cap number to $9-million. Now, his cap number will be inflated later but the cap will go up as well.
Ben Jones is another guy who could cost some money to bring back and with his age it becomes more problematic to sign him to a longer team deal. Teams have begun using something called “voidable years” that I am not a fan of that allows them to push money into seasons that automatically void when the next year is over. Jayon Brown got this kind of deal. His 2021 deal is up, but he will count against the cap the next two years.
Ok, I know everyone wants to know about Ryan Tannehill. If you are in the camp that does not want Tannehill back you are not going to like what you are about to read. Tannehill’s cap hit for 2022 is a catastrophic $38.6-million because he restructured last year to make room for Julio Jones. His dead cap number is even worse at $57.4-million. Yeah, he would count almost $19-million more against the cap if they waived him. Now if they did it after June 1 that number would $28.7-million in 2022 and 2023, but that sounds absolutely terrible as well. I am not saying they can not do anything, but it would take a gold medal effort from Jon Robinson to get the Titans there.
They could draft a QB though. The Titans pick 26th overall and that player should only count about $2.58-million against the cap. That player will be on the team regardless if it is a QB or an outside linebacker so if the Titans want to push the quarterback issue I believe the draft is financially their best path.
There are lot of big decisions to be made in the next 50 days so we will have much much more to talk about.