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RSL afforded offseason of roster and salary cap restructuring opportunities

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Big changes in RSL’s roster to this point gives the GM an opportunity to transform the squad.

RSL general manager Craig Waibel speaks to fans about the signing of Yura Movsisyan in early 2016.
Matt Montgomery

No Javier Morales, no Juan Manuel Martinez, and a whole lot of space under the salary cap.

Real Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel’s previous offseason on the job will pale in comparison to the time between 2016 and 2017, and not just because there are more decisions to be made.

In previous years, Waibel — and, to a certain extent, former GM Garth Lagerwey — didn’t have much cap space to operate: a change here or there, and maybe enough to bring in a designated player, but only if one had already left.

This time around? Well, let’s do a little estimation. First, know that all of the usual caveats apply. We don’t know exactly how much cap space anybody takes up, save designated players. They take up the maximum cap hit, which is 12.5 percent of the salary cap — so right around $480,000 of cap hit.


MLS: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a quick break here to emphasize something: That $480,000? That’s not real money. Not even close. That’s “salary cap budget charge,” and it doesn’t matter if Dell Loy Hansen wants to spend more or less, he’s not the one spending the money. This is league money.

Now, the amount above that $480,000? That’s where ownership steps in. Any amount above that is paid by Dell Loy Hansen, and that money’s not going to hit the cap. Again, though, that’s only for designated players. For somebody like Kyle Beckerman, whose salary cap budget charge exceeds the maximum before targeted allocation money is brought into play, that’s not so much the case.

Yeah, it’s a funny league. We get it. But remember, that is what targeted allocation money is for — buying down the budget charges for players whose salary exceeds the maximum. We just got a pretty big chunk of that again, and we’ll certainly use it.

Let’s get back to figuring what we do next, though.


Alright — so: What’s next? Well, it would be informative to take a look at our designated player spots open and maybe start approximating some salary cap room.

Designated players

Yura Movsisyan: He’ll take up the full budget charge, and his salary will likely be high enough that it would take him over the line on its own. But the transfer fee we paid for him will go against the cap, too, so he’s set there for a few years.

Joao Plata was a designated player but will be no longer — that’s either because the fee we paid for his rights dropped off of the cap hit, or because he’s now old enough to not be a Young Designated Player.

And that’s about it. We’ve got just the one. We might go with a two-DP system, we might go with three. There are advantages to either approach, and it’s certainly not a sign of cheapness if we go with two.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Departures

Juan Manuel Martinez frees up a designated player spot, so that’s about $480,000 in budget charge.

Jamison Olave made $215,000 in guaranteed compensation, but that’s not an accurate measure of budget charge. Let’s approximate that at $200,000 — even though it’s almost certainly higher, given the way the salary cap inflates beyond a player’s compensation. It reflects their overall compensation package, including readily achievable bonuses.

Chris Wingert might seem like he’d make a big impact on the salary cap, but it seems like most readings of the league are that New York City FC was eating a pretty big chunk of his salary. Let’s estimate $50,000, knowing that we may well be entirely wrong about this one.

Javier Morales — the big one — wasn’t a designated player, despite making roughly $150,000 above the league maximum. That’s probably a case of being bought down with targeted allocation money, given he would have been a designated player otherwise. A safe approximation could be $400,000, because we definitely know he wasn’t impacting a budget charge of more than $450,000, given his roster designation.

Olmes Garcia was recorded on the books at around $160,000, but again, that number is only a rough guide for cap hit. Let’s not estimate above $150,000, for the sake of being remotely accurate.

Other departures were

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Changed budget charges

Joao Plata, by virtue of no longer qualifying for a young designated player charge, could have a negative impact on the cap situation, despite freeing up a designated player slot. Again, estimation isn’t indicative of reality, but let’s say $50,000, just because we need to try something.

Aaron Maund, if he returns, would likely impact the salary cap negatively as well — let’s estimate another $50,000.

Chris Schuler likely didn’t get a huge pay raise, but given he signed mid-2016, his budget charge was halved. Let’s say he extends about $50,000 — that leaves him making roughly $125,000 total.

And, of course, player salaries do go up inside a contract structure, so there is that to content with — but let’s not factor that into our estimates right now.

How much do we have?

Conservatively, we’ve freed up about $1.2 million in salary cap charges while adding about $150,000 — so if we’re to be really bold, let’s say we have $1 million in salary cap charge available. That can obviously change, and it likely will; of course, there’s plenty we don’t know right now, and plenty we will never know.

What should we spend it on?

$1.2 million is enough for two designated players — that cap hit would be about $900,000, leaving $300,000 in additional salary cap charge to spread across the squad.

But let’s be frank about this: We need more help than that. Bringing in two high-priced players likely wouldn’t elevate us. We’re sitting with 16 players under contract right now — 17 if Aaron Maund signs a new contract. We may be at 18 if Sebastian Saucedo comes back to RSL.

That’s a 10-player gap to fill, and most of that is going to need to come in the form of senior roster players. Our supplemental and reserve rosters — eight deep — are fairly full: Fernandez, Glad, Allen, Velazco, and Acosta are the five I’d peg for those spots. That leaves us with three options there that wouldn’t impact the cap, and it’s in our best interest to keep homegrown players there to avoid their budget charges hitting the salary cap. Remember, of course, that homegrown players can have a charge that’s $125,000 more than the senior minimum or reserve minimum, depending on designation.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

So right now, that leaves us with three supplemental and reserve players who wouldn’t impact the cap, three players to fill the senior roster, and two designated players. If we have only $300,000 for that, we’re left using a combination of general allocation money and inexpensive players to fill that gap. Even if we estimate less conservatively — let’s say we have $600,000 left, which I think is a very bold estimate — we’re doing alright. Sunny, for instance, sits around $200,00–$250,000 in salary cap budget impact.

So why shouldn’t we sign two designated players? If we sign one, that leaves us with somewhere around $750,000 to spend on four senior roster players. That allows us to boost the overall quality of the squad with four players just under $200,000, rather than simply boosting the top end and filling the middle with $100,000 impact players.

With four or five international slots available, too, that leaves plenty of room for signings from abroad. With targeted allocation money boosted once again, we could also afford bringing in players making more than just $200,000 — if they consist of more than $450,000 in budget charge, we could buy them down to a point where we can control our cap situation. We can’t do that with everyone, but think about it — three or four players making DP-money with cap charges closer to an experienced MLS veteran? That’s the dream.

That enables us to transform the squad rather than keeping things relatively the same. If we saw anything, it’s that we needed more senior players that could step in and control a game when members of the first-team are absent. It gives us depth again — and that’s something we’ve missed.

Real Salt Lake has a tremendous opportunity this offseason to really transform their roster structure, and if they don’t take it, they’ll find themselves hurting.