Well, I did some homework and created a projected cap number spreadsheet. I think I accounted for just about everything I could possibly find, but some of it is still wishy washy. Unfortunately the lower tier contracts are simply not important enough to be reported in detail, and that adds to the mystery of NFL cap projections. I'll discuss that more below, but without further ado, here are my cap projections!
Drum roll please....
So the first thing that might jump out at you is the 2012 cap number being 121,905,328. You might be thinking, "Dutch, you blithering son of a biatch! How can the Texans have a higher cap number than the actual cap of 120.6 million?"
Well, in my analysis, I could not find any hard numbers on the cost of some of our IR'd vets: Kenyaron Fox, Rashon Harris, Tim Jamison, Rashad Butler and even Randy Bullock. I suspect that at least a couple of these are split contracts, but I couldn't find anything conclusive, so I'm counting them at the value that they would have otherwise been. If we were to assume a 50% split contract on each of them, their cap hits would collectively be reduced by 1,967,500, which would put the Texans just a hair under 120 million. It's also worth mentioning the fact that our current active roster is only costing the team 97.8 million. That's pretty cheap given the results, but it means we are drafting well and keeping costs down.
The next thing that might jump out at you is the 2013 cap projection of $109,206,020
, or in other words, 11.394 million in cap space (assuming 120.6m cap). You might be thinking to yourself, "Dutch this is great news, I take back all the awful things I said about you and your mother!" However, there is a catch. This projection only includes the 41 contracts that will count against the cap in 2013, so there are still 12 open spaces to fill on the 53 man roster, which will use at least 405k each. Here is the current minimum salary matrix:
As you can see, everything is escalating 15k across the board (cap hit is 555k for vet minimum players). I think 500k per player is a reasonable estimate for these 12 spots, so that would be up to 6 million more taken away from the cap. That gives us a projected real cap value of 115.2 million, or about 5.4 million in extra free space, depending on how you want to look at it. You might be thinking to yourself, "Dammit Dutch, can't you let me bathe in the warmth of imagining the Texan's signing Mike Wallace and Dwight Freeney for just one minute before you come in and defenestrate my dreams!"
No, sorry, I cannot do that =P
But fear not! As mentioned in the OP, there is 13.5 million in cap cuts available to the team if needed, so it's not nearly as dire of a situation as it appears. Yes, we will be squeezed a bit next year, but we will not be in as bad of a situation as many other teams who do not have this flexibility.
One of the toughest things to figure out in cap projections is dead money, the money left over from cutting players, trading them or if they retire. This is my current list of dead money projections:
I pulled a good deal of this from Sporttrac, and I searched for what I could on the big names. You might be thinking, "Dutch, you inglorious halfwit nincompoop! How on earth does Demeco cost 9 million after we traded him??" Well, I'll let Alan Burge explain it:
Ryans' dead money estimates were all over the place Tuesday evening. Adam Caplan and I were going back and forth on the subject on Twitter for a good half-hour and I finally tapped out when we got to the point that the Texans would lose cap space on the deal. Hopefully that's not true but Ryan's $7.5 million signing bonus in 2010 prorates at $1.25 million per year - and with 4 years remaining on his deal, that accelerates $5 million. Plus, Ryans had another restructure in 2011 that reduced his base pay by about $5 million. When you prorate that (on top of the original proration) you get $2.25 per year over the remaining four years or $9 million in dead money. Ryans' cap hit was somewhere around $8 million this year. You do the math.
It appears that this is the case, but the good news is that it's a one-time cost. After this year, we will have cleared over 16 million in dead weight from the books and will use it to pay guys like Duane Brown and Matt Schaub into the future.
Other guys that may not cost as much as listed are Eric Winston and Jacoby Jones. We know that both had a few years left on their deals when they were cut, but I'm not certain that we know how the money will be spread out. Winston had 2 million left on his deal, but he could have been designated a June 1st cut (he was cut in May), and that would split his 2m between 2012 and 2013.
Personally, I'm not sold on the idea that Jacoby only had 1m guaranteed left on his deal. Another site mentions he will cost the Texans 2.5 million after his cut:
The Texans parted ways with WR/PR Jacoby Jones, releasing him on Tuesday. The move will cost the team $2.5 million.
So it could be that he cost 1.25 million this year and next, or it could be wrong. I just don't have confirmation either way, so I'll roll with 1 million for now.
So, this often gets overlooked, but the Practice Squad guys can actually cost a bit. This year, it costs $5,700 per player, per week (17 regular season), plus each playoff week, and you can have up to 8 of these guys active at any time. Our current roster with cap hit projections:
You may look at this and say yourself, "Dutch, you are as sharp as a bowling ball! There are 9 people on your list and the costs are going down from year to year!" Well, given the salary structure above, I'm projecting 2 weeks of playoff pay, and that will hopefully go up. That's why the 2012 figure is higher than 13/14. Also, Phillip Supernaw was placed on the Psquad Injured list in October, so I'm projecting 11 weeks of pay for him this year. That gives us a total of 929,100 on the season, which is subject to change. These are just baseline minimum projections though, teams are allowed to pay more than the minimum to players on the practice squad, but most don't. I have no sources showing that the Texans paid more than minimum for any of these players, but if anyone else sees something please post it!
Edit: I now realize I still have Brice McCain on the active roster and not in the IR section. I'm not going to redo all those pics just for that, so whatever, but feel free to consider 1.333 million in the IR list instead of the active roster. This doesn't change the bottom line, unless he has something in his contract about going on IR.