Tennessee Titans Salary Cap: Genius Or Potential Disaster?


Mad Genius? Or just plain mad? Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans have come out hard and fast in free agency this year.  So much so, that it’s hard to believe that they are actually able to sign all the players they did, and still have money left over.  General Manager Ruston Webster performed quite the juggling act signing a few of the bigger names out there quick and still shuffling money around in order to keep signing players and to keep their options open.

It has recently been reported that the Titans have signed a total of $104M in new contracts with their free agents this off season.  That’s an astronomical number.  Knowing that the Titans only had $18M in cap space when free agency opened, it’s been a little disconcerting for me to hear that even after all these signings, and a couple cuts/retirings, the Titans still have money to spend.

Anyone that was a fan of the team during “the great purge” of 2005 should still be wary of how the team stands against the cap.  Floyd Reese and Jeff Fisher did everything they could to keep their core of star players together while making multiple runs at the playoffs.  They pushed guaranteed money further and further back but eventually the note came due.  In order to get under the cap, the Titans had to essentially blow up the team and cut the likes of Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Fred Miller and Kevin Carter, among others, all at once.

Here’s a list of the new contracts for the team:

$104 million in new contracts

Player                                       Terms

  • George Wilson       2 yrs./ $4M/ $600K signing bonus
  • Andy Levitre         6 yrs./ $46.8M/ $10.5M signing bonus
  • Delanie Walker      4 yrs./ $17.5M/ $3.95M signing bonus
  • Shonn Greene        3 yrs./ $10M/ $2.5M signing bonus
  • Sammie Hill            3 yrs./ $11.4M/ $2M signing bonus
  • Bernard Pollard    1 yr./ $2M/ $500K signing bonus
  • Rob Turner             1 yr./ $1.5M/ $250K signing bonus
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick   2 yrs./ $6.5M/ $1.5M signing bonus /$500K  roster bonus 2014
  • Moises Fokuo         2 yrs./ $2.8M/ $300K signing bonus
  • Ropati Pitoitua      1 yr./ $1M
  • (resigned Reynaud and Quinn Johnson as well)

I intentionally left the “guaranteed money” detail out as that generally creates confusion.  All of the signing bonus is guaranteed and usually the first year of the contract as well.

So how did the Titans cram all this money into less than $18M against the 2013 cap?

The Trick

Let’s take a closer look at some of these contracts and see if they really are dangerous for the future of the Titans.

Andy Levitre

Andy Levitre’s signing bonus is spread out over the first five of his six year deal counting $2.1M per year.  All of that money is guaranteed.  Somehow Ruston Webster smooth talked the mauling guard into only taking $2.5M in base salary in his first year, letting it jump to $6.5M for the subsequent years. (Final year is $5.8M with no bonus.) This means that Levitre’s huge contract only counts $4.6M towards the cap this year and will count $8.6M for the next 4 years.

Delanie Walker

As you can see by the breakdown above, Walker’s signing bonus is pro rated over the 4 years of his contract.  The base salary increases as time goes on starting with a very cap friendly $2M in the first year and only increasing $1M the next.  This is a perfect “prove it” contract.  The $6M in guaranteed money ($2M base in the first year and $4M signing bonus) was enough to get Delanie to sign quickly.  The escalation of the base salary also works for both parties.  If Walker turns out to be an integral part of the offense and lives up to potential, he’ll be worth the $4.2M base in years 3 and 4.  If not, the Titans will only be on the hook for the relatively small signing bonus.

George Wilson’s contract was done in much the same way, as is Sammie Hill’s.  Their signing bonus is prorated over the length of the contract, and their base salaries slowly increase from year to year.

The Titans could cut Wilson after year next year and only owe the $300K left on the signing bonus.  Hill on the other hand would still ding the Titans for the remaining $1.33M siging bonus if cut after one year.

The most interesting contract is Ryan Fitzpatrick’s.  If nothing more than to see how much less he actually is guaranteed than what Hasselbeck ended up getting.

You can see that everything in the table adds up to the 2 year $6.5M contract.  He only has $1.75M in signing bonus and a base salary in 2013 of $1.5M.  The only hit the Titans take in year two, if the team wants to go a different direction, is the second half of the signing bonus.  The high base salary and roster bonus may never even be seen.  Webster got the Titans a capable young backup for Locker for only $2.375M this year and a swallowable bit next year.

The Future

At first I was worried that relatively new GM Ruston Webster was pulling a Floyd Reese on the Titans.  The majority of these signings came fast, but what was worrisome was the continued reports of how much more the Titans still had to spend.  Was Webster and Munchak mortgaging the future of the team to load up for one year?  How could they not be and still have so much money left to spend?

After carefully looking at the contracts it doesn’t look like this is truly the case.  The signing bonuses are manageable and the low first year salaries have allowed them to keep spending.

The only way this catches up with the team is if all the players are really good, and the team wants to be able to keep them all three years from now.  Honestly, that’s a good problem to have.  Odds are the ones that don’t pan out will help make room for the ones that do.

There’s one more caveat to all of this that Webster may be banking on.  The salary cap is going to be flat for the next two years.  But with the new TV contracts go into effect in 2014, the cap space is expected to jump substantially in 2015.  This makes pushing money into future years not the worst case scenario for once.

Maybe the Titans aren’t so stupid after all.  Maybe this is the one time not to be scared to push money into the future.  If the majority of teams continue to be nervous about the 2 year flat cap, as they seem to be, then a lot of teams are going to have a lot of money when that cap adjusts.  Talk about a recipe for overspending.

Instead the Titans have back-loaded the base salaries for their new group of free agents.  With the increased cap in 2015, the Titans can afford to keep who they want, and who has proven “worth” the contract.  Outside of Levitre, the low signing bonuses and pro-ration of them also allow the team the flexibility to cut ties with whoever they need to.

The Titans have done well to spend their money in the manner that they chose.  While I was nervous at first, it seems they may have a master plan that lasts beyond this year.  That’s a comforting thought when so many think the Titans moves have been made out of desperation.  I don’t see desperation.  Just an intense focus coupled with urgency, and a potential mastermind at managing the salary cap.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to find me on Twitter  @gunnelsj