No doubt many players at the lower end of the MLS salary scale greeted the news of more DP slots with more trepidation than excitement.
MLS did chop down the salary-budget charges for DPs from $415,000 to $335,000 and will allow teams to “buy down” those cap hits with allocation money, but the modest salary-cap increases written into the recently signed collective-bargaining agreement won’t amount to much for the rank-and-file if teams go crazy for DPs. There will still be a squeeze, and in the league’s 15 seasons of operation dozens of decent players have been dumped for someone a little cheaper.
Increased DP options exacerbate the importance of personnel decisions and money management -- two areas in which some teams yet to sign a DP have still managed to screw up. True, being allowed to sign as many as three DPs gives a team some leeway in case one of them turns into a bust, but until that salary gets off the books he’s just as costly as a superstar. Since few DPs sign non-guaranteed deals, players far cheaper than the high-priced flameouts could pay the price unless they too are guaranteed.
If a team shells out for three Designated Players and can’t offset some of the salary-budget charges with allocation money, it will have only $1.445 million to stock the rest of its roster. Two DPs leaves $1.88 million to be distributed. Just one DP frees up $2.115 million.
With those three basic scenarios can be assembled rosters in which players fall into certain salary tiers and fit into the per-team salary cap of $2.55 million for 2010. Keep in mind teams can offset salary-budgets charges for certain players with allocation money, and that Generation adidas players do not count against the salary cap.
The rosters are compiled with figures from the 2009 salary list put out by the MLS Players’ Union, using the base salary numbers. The actual cap hits are a bit more in most cases but not that much more.
THREE DPs. Their combined salary charge of $1.05 million leaves $1.5 million for the rest of the roster. Let’s assume all of them are attackers of some sort, either midfielders or forwards, and hope – and pray -- that they are worth the money.
We can afford maybe two relatively high-priced players in the $200,000-250,000 range, and we can use help in the back, so we go with Chad Marshall ($220,000) and Jimmy Conrad ($213,750). That gives us enough cap room to get maybe eight or nine guys in the high five figures or low six figures: Todd Dunivant ($109,974), Brian Carroll ($133,875), Tony Beltran ($70,000), Will Hesmer ($77,000), Bryan Namoff ($100,000), Santino Quaranta ($70,000), Stefani Miglioranzi ($69,999), and Nick LaBrocca ($70,000), for example.
With those 13 players our salary budget is about $2.243 million, and with the minimum salary set at $40,000, leaves us only enough room for five players at that salary for a bare-bones roster of 18, plus GA players of course. Now, we don’t need to spend so much for two proven central defenders, and we could shave off a lot of the cap if we went for Bobby Boswell ($150,000) or Nat Borchers ($130,000) and paired him with a minimum-salary potential starter like Bobby Burling. With the extra money the roster could be expanded beyond 18 by adding good players in the $60,000 range (Kei Kamara $55,835, Kosuke Kimura $52,500, John Thorrington $60,000, Tim Ward $45,000, etc.). How about Oswaldo Alonso at $65,000? A steal!
TWO DPs. In effect, the Galaxy had two DPs last year – David Beckham and Landon Donovan – and though suspicions the team far exceeded the salary cap rumbled throughout the league, Los Angeles got excellent value out of A.J. DeLaGarza ($36,000), Sean Franklin ($64,350), and Bryan Jordan ($34,000), among others. The best value of all, of course, was Rookie of the Year defender Omar Gonzalez, who as a GA player didn’t count a cent against the cap.
Assuming Donovan and Beckham count for $670,000 against the cap this year, can the team afford to pay players like Chris Klein ($175,000), Gregg Berhalter ($162,750), Edson Buddle ($169,950), Eddie Lewis ($160,000), Donovan Ricketts ($150,000), Dema Kovalenko ($130,000), Dunivant, and Chris Birchall ($97,125), and still stay under the cap? Though we are mixing numbers from the final season of the expired CBA and the first season of a new one, the examples show there’s enough cap room, barely, for a team to sign two DPs and field a competitive team.
Adding up the Galaxy salary figures for last year without including Donovan and Beckham, the number is approximately $1.957 million. Because Beckham arrived in the middle of the 2009 season after his loan to AC Milan, he counted against the cap for only half of the $415,000 DP hit. Adding $207,500 to $1.957 million yields $2.164 million and leaves only $153,000, which wouldn’t seem to be enough to accommodate Donovan’s cap hit.
So perhaps MLS allowed Donovan’s “grandfathered” status to fit him under the cap irrespective of his $900,000 base salary, and/or the Galaxy used allocation money in its signings to offset enough salary.
The roster of champion RSL last year included starters Robbie Findley ($60,050), Will Johnson ($51,200) and Yura Movsisyan ($60,582). Captain Kyle Beckerman topped the salary list at $160,650; he was one of seven players who earned at least $100,000. A DP that fouls up the salary dynamics of a good team might not be worth the money, literally. A smart team could add a DP and keep most of its roster intact. After that the math gets tougher, but not impossible.
In 2010, with reduced DP cap hits and a slightly bigger per-team salary cap, teams will be able to include two DPs on a good roster. Hopefully, they can also manage budgets so the guys who see a significant amount of playing time but don’t get many headlines are reasonably compensated for their contributions to success.