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Updated Saints Rookie Cap Pool: Explaining the Rookie Pool

Okay, I have some updated numbers that the Saints will need to sign their rookies by draft time. I've also included some explanations for how the rookie cap pool works. You can get the full break down at OTC. Explaining the NFL’s Rookie Salary Cap

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on whose numbers you use the Saints have $1,771,304 in remaining cap dollars, (per Spotrac, doesn't factor in the Bryce Harris signing), or $1,212, 372 in remaining cap dollar, (per OTC).

Lets start off with OTC's explanation of the NFL rookie salary cap pool.

What is the "Rookie Pool"?

In the old CBA the NFL had a cap on how many cap dollars could be spent on rookies. This was called the "Entering Player Pool" and was generally considered the "Rookie Pool" or "Rookie Salary Cap".  The league allowed a player's cap hit to rise by 25% of his first years cap charge which in theory would keep rookie salaries in check. However, in practice it was not the case as teams and agents used all types of neat little cap mechanisms to render the 25% rule invalid, especially for highly drafted players.  This was a major renegotiating point in the 2011 CBA.

Per the current CBA, each NFL team is allotted a maximum amount of dollars to spend on their draft picks not only in year 1 cap charges, but also in total value.  Those loopholes that existed in the prior CBA were all eliminated and thus rookies are limited to increases that equal 25% of their first years cap charge. The new CBA refers to these allocations as the "Total Rookie Allocation" and "Year One Rookie Allocation". The values for each team are determined by the round and position in which the player is drafted. I just call them "Rookie Pools" because I'm used to using that term.

While the formula itself is a secret for calculating the charges those of us who track the numbers are able to get a good idea of how the process works. In general it's an exponential decay where there are rapid drops at the top of the draft in terms of value and minimal drops as you get into the 3rd and 4thround of the draft. This gives us a good idea at forecasting the charges, though the NFL and NFLPA made it a bit easier due to the way that they grow the rookie pool.

The various rookie pools are supposed to grow (or fall) by about the same percentage as the salary cap. However the sides quickly realized that the formula failed to account for the normal growth of minimum salaries by $15,000 a year in the event the cap rose at a slow rate (approximately less than 3.7%), which it did in 2012 and 2013. Since it would not make sense to lessen bonus money in a year where the cap is growing the NFL and NFLPA agreed to freeze bonus money to allow for the natural growth of the year 1 salary.

Despite the fact that the 2014 salary cap rose significantly the freeze still remained in place and because of that we are assuming it will remain frozen in 2015, though we do have estimates for an unfrozen pool if someone has information pointing in that direction.  So keeping all of this in mind we should get a pretty decent idea, barring some big changes by the League, as to what each team will spend on their rookies.

How does the "Rookie Pool" Impact the Salary Cap

This is probably the most confusing aspect for most people. Some people think that this is additional money added on top of the salary cap which is not the case at all. The "Rookie Pool" is a cap within the salary cap. It is essentially money that your team needs to place aside for your rookies. It is not added to your salary cap at all and it has to fit in the $143.28 million cap limit that is set for each team. If signing a rookie puts a team over the cap they will not be permitted to sign the player until they have the cap room to do so.

The second thing that confuses people is the amount of cap space required to fit in a rookie class. This is probably the biggest mistake made regarding rookie salaries and their role in cap management. Usually someone will see that rookie salaries are expected to total $6 million and then make the assumption that the team needs $6 million in cap space to sign their rookies. That's not really correct.

During the offseason NFL roster expand to 90 players and only the top 51 players count against the salary cap.  Every rookie that is signed will either replace a player currently in the top 51 or not count enough against the cap to be in the top 51, in which case only their prorated bonus money will count against the cap. This is why it is important to understand the concept of effective cap space.

Based on the above I would say three teams will likely need to think about tweaking their rosters over the next few months. Based on our current cap estimates the Cowboys and the Chiefs would both have under $250,000 in remaining cap room after signing rookies, which is a pretty tight number to work with. New Orleans would be about $2.8 million over the salary cap once rookies are signed so clearly there is work that needs to be done before July when they will begin to sign their top draft choices.

OTC did the jets in their example, but I'll used the Saints picks to show what the team needs.

Both of my sources say it would take a little north of $7mil to sign all of the draft picks. We don't need all of that based on the top 51 rule.

I'll break it down pick by pick and do the math so you don't have to. You can use the Over The Cap Link to see each pick's dollars throughout their contract. Just click on the Saints and hover over each pick which will be highlighted.

#13: est. salary, $1,858,000. This would knock one player in the current top 51 off the cap limit. The bottom number is $510,000, so for this pick we need $1,348,000.

#31: via the Seahawks, $1,279,096. Knocks off the next player at $511,666, who happens to be Brian Dixion, who was recently in the news. For this pick we need $767,436.

#44: est. salary, $889,331. Knocks off Kasim Edebali at $512,000. For this pick we need $377,331.

#75: est. salary, $594,375. Knocks off Marcus Ball at $512,000. For this pick we need $82,375.

#47: est. salary, $588,450. Knocks off Ronald Powell at $552,215. For this pick we need $36,235.

The rest fall below the top 51, so we don't have to worry about them as regards the cap. By my math we need about $2,611,377 to sign the first 5 picks. Using the $1,212,372 OTC has remaining in cap space, my figures say the Saints need an extra $1,399,005 to sign our top picks.

OTC's $2.8 mil figure is based on their formula for maximum possible rookie signing cap cost which includes the pro rated bonus money of those who don't fall within the top 51. That is my understanding of their explanation.

Here is their chart for all 32 teams:

Team No. Picks Rookie Pool Effective Cap Cost
Buccaneers 8 $8,112,982 $4,632,982
Browns 10 $7,895,357 $3,545,357
Titans 7 $7,490,535 $4,445,535
Jaguars 7 $7,331,746 $4,286,746
Raiders 7 $7,216,784 $4,171,784
Saints 9 $7,087,249 $3,172,249
Redskins 7 $6,942,849 $3,897,849
Chiefs 10 $6,365,237 $2,015,237
Texans 10 $6,309,174 $1,959,174
Giants 8 $6,267,517 $2,787,517
Falcons 8 $6,257,380 $2,777,380
Ravens 10 $6,150,913 $1,800,913
49ers 9 $6,067,953 $2,152,953
Jets 6 $6,046,013 $3,436,013
Broncos 10 $5,915,045 $1,565,045
Bengals 9 $5,840,929 $1,925,929
Bears 6 $5,733,850 $3,123,850
Panthers 9 $5,572,767 $1,657,767
Seahawks 11 $5,570,814 $785,814
Vikings 7 $5,502,921 $2,457,921
Patriots 9 $5,482,042 $1,567,042
Colts 9 $5,386,895 $1,471,895
Packers 9 $5,348,200 $1,433,200
Eagles 8 $5,286,611 $1,806,611
Rams 6 $5,218,925 $2,608,925
Steelers 8 $5,160,845 $1,680,845
Cardinals 8 $5,112,281 $1,632,281
Dolphins 6 $4,579,499 $1,969,499
Cowboys 7 $4,559,006 $1,514,006
Chargers 6 $4,492,053 $1,882,053
Lions 6 $4,141,082 $1,531,082
Bills 6 $3,216,255 $606,255

Of course, come draft day, any number of trades can happen that will change these numbers, but with the picks we currently have, this is how it shapes up.