Guesstimating cap space for the Raiders after extending Derek Carr

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 30: Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) reaches for a first down before being forced out of bounds by Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) in the 4th quarter of the NFL game between the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 30, 2020 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

As it currently stands, the Oakland Raiders have just under $40 million in cap space. That’s a lot of money but when you consider the team wants to extend their franchise quarterback, Derek Carr, this season, that money suddenly doesn’t seem to be all that much. And then, there’s always the chance they also extend Khalil Mack, in which case, there really won’t be much to spend on free agency at all. But let’s just worry about Carr for now.

First off, there’s always the chance that this is a pure extension. Carr has one year left on his contract and theoretically, the Raiders could JUST tack on years and cash after 2017. That, however, seems unlikely. A major motivating factor in this is getting Carr done and partially paid before Mack and others like Amari Cooper and Gabe Jackson are up for their extensions. If he did play on his rookie contract for one more year, he would only cost the Raiders $1.7 million against the cap.

Since that’s so unlikely, let’s focus on he and the team tearing that last year up and signing a new contract. Derek Carr is one of the best young quarterbacks in a league that is desperate for more talent at the position. Just ask the Raiders who were wandering in the desert for what seemed like 40 years as they tried to find their franchise quarterback after Rich Gannon retired.

With the way the quarterback position has been going in recent years, if you’re a very good to great starter about to hit free agency, you will be the highest paid quarterback in the league, even if only for a year. Of course, there are many different ways to evaluate that, from total guaranteed money to total potential to be earned. But for our purposes, we just care about how much of a cap hit we can expect.

So rather than trying to figure out what Carr’s contract will be, I want to try and guesstimate what his cap hit will be in 2017 so we can get an idea of how much money the Raiders have to spend in free agency this offseason.

First, let’s take a look at what the ten highest cap hits for quarterbacks in 2017 are expected to be:

  • Tony Romo: $24.7 million

  • Joe Flacco: $25.5 million

  • Carson Palmer: $24.1 million

  • Matt Ryan: $23.7 million

  • Matt Stafford: $22 million

  • Aaron Rodgers: $20.3 million

  • Ryan Tannehill: $20.3 million

  • Cam Newton: $20.1 million

  • Phillip Rivers: $20 million

  • Eli Manning: $19.7 million

What you will notice is that this list does not mirror the list for most guaranteed money, which is the list most players care about. For example, Aaron Rodgers currently has the most guaranteed money on the life of his contract but the second most is Andrew Luck, who doesn’t even appear on the top ten list for biggest cap hit. Ok, so he’s number 11 but the point remains. Biggest contract value does not necessarily equate to the biggest cap hit.

But in the case of Derek Carr and the Raiders, we might see both for the 2017 year, Reggie McKenzie is notorious for front loading his contracts. That allows for the team to take a big cap hit early and also to cut players without dead money after a year or two. Being able to cut Derek Carr is clearly not a priority in building his contract, but front loading might still be.

If the Raiders front load their contract for Carr, his cap number will get smaller each progressive year. That means more and more money will free up each year as other guys start to come up for new contracts.

So, let’st assume McKenzie is going to front load Carr’s contract and take a big hit up front. We can expect that hit to be in the range of the top ten cap hits next season, if not potentially a little higher.

That means, at a minimum, Carr’s new contract is likely to eat up at least half of this year’s free agent money. When you consider the fact that the Raiders also have 18 players set to hit free agency, many of whom the team will want to bring back and none of whom are currently accounted for in the current salary cap space estimates.

Assuming Carr’s cap number for 2017 is in the top ten in the league, that would leave under $20 million for the Raiders to re-sign their own players and bring in new talent. That’s not a whole lot of money, especially if fans are looking for a big name free agency signing.

Of course, players could be cut or contracts could be restructured freeing up more cap space, but the gains would not be huge. It would certainly create more space but it’s hard to know if it will be enough to suddenly get the Raiders in play for a big name free agent.

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james arcellana

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