How the Titans can create more than $50 million in cap space without gutting their roster

Now that the offseason is here, many Titans fans are going to websites like Over The Cap, clicking on “cap space”, scrolling to “Titans”, and beginning to freak out when they see the number $6,486,442 next to their team’s name. That’s not enough to re-sign key contributors like Corey Davis or Jonnu Smith and it’s certainly not enough to go get the high-end pass rusher that this team desperately needs.

However, a deeper dive into their financial situation paints a much rosier picture. Over The Cap — a great resource whose numbers we will use for this exercise — did a study of the “cap health” of all 32 NFL teams last offseason and Tennessee checked in as the 9th most healthy cap situation in the league (and that was after the Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry extensions).

What factors go into cap health? Cap space is one element, obviously, but the percentage of guaranteed money remaining on contracts and the ratio of bonus money to salary is another. Those factors point to cap flexibility and the Titans are among the best in the NFL in those metrics.

That flexibility is going to be critical this offseason with a salary cap that is expected to drop for the first time since 2011. The revenue shortfalls caused by COVID-19 epidemic are driving this dip and the NFL and NFLPA agreed on a $175 million floor — which would represent a big drop from the $198.2 million current cap — for the 2021 salary cap prior to the season.

However, the decision by the league to go ahead and move to 17 regular season games in 2021 has generated optimism that the cap will actually come in above the $175 million floor. Numbers in the $195 million range have even been floated.

A higher cap would obviously give the Titans more flexibility, but that’s not their only path to creating the space they need to make sure that the 2021 roster is ready for another run at the playoffs.

Contract Restructures

Most people will instantly gravitate towards cuts as the way to create cap space, but the biggest chunk available to the Titans comes through the magical world of restructuring. This is the wizardry that teams like the Saints and Eagles have used for years to sign veteran players when it seemed like they were capped out heading into the offseason.

The Titans have massive flexibility with the deals they have on the books thanks to the way they structure contracts and years of responsible cap management. They have missed on some players during the Jon Robinson era, but they haven’t missed on many long term deals that left behind substantial amounts of dead cap space. Guys like Dion Lewis, Sylvester Williams, and Josh Kline were all released with minimal guaranteed money left on their deals.

So how do restructures work?

Restructures are a little bit like buying furniture on an interest-free credit card. You’re still going to pay the same amount, but you’re using the NFL’s salary cap rules to spread the cap charges out over multiple years.

Let’s take Derrick Henry as an example contract to show how this can work. The Titans signed Henry to a four-year, $50 million contract last offseason with a signing bonus of $12 million and $25.5 million fully guaranteed.

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Comments

  1. Really loved the breakdown here Mike. When you lay it out like that it should have people more at ease. The tag for Jonnu would be interesting, I love him but not 100% he would be needed more than keeping Corey Davis or getting another legit WR opposite AJ. Jon Robinson had a tough go in 2020, but I trust his track record to keep the roster going in the right direction.

    1. Dead cap is remaining signing bonus that hasn’t already been applied to previous years plus any guaranteed salary that they have left on their contract.

      1. Titans almost never have guaranteed money past year two of a contract so they are generally going to be just on the hook for the remainder of the bonus when they cut guys who have been here more than two years.

  2. I know this will likely be a future article Mike, but what do you think about targeting a player like Solomon Thomas in FA.

    I know he’s coming off a torn ACL and hasn’t lived up to expectations, but SF also had him on the edge a lot versus closer to the ball. I feel like he’s a guy, who could breakout if he were playing his proper position.

    1. I really liked Solomon Thomas coming out and would like him as a high upside free agent gamble. I don’t think he can be your top option at edge, but if wanted to give me a Ryan Kerrigan/Solomon Thomas combo and then draft a guy pretty early on, I could get behind that idea.

      1. I’d be on board with that combo. Just to be clear, I would look at kicking him inside with Big Jeff. I think SF had him out of position on the EDGE.

        I don’t think his siz should scare a team away from having him match up against guards and centers. He’s got elite quckness, good strength and a high motor.

        His play style would give the interior a different element that it desperately needs.

        1. Agree. He’d be good in the role that Jack Crawford played this year. 5-tech in 3-down fronts, can kick out to be an elephant end in 4-down looks, and can be an interior rusher on pass rush downs. Versatile guy.

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