New Orleans Saints: An Analytical Approach to Harper, Smith and Vilma Contracts

Tyler RabornContributor IIIMarch 10, 2013

July 28, 2012; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith (91) during a training camp practice at the team's practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints did not get their money's worth last year, according to this in-depth study by Pro Football Focus.

Nathan Jahnke described the basic idea behind Pro Football Focus' "Performance Based Value" studies on the website.

We set out to take the highest cap hit at a position and match that up with that position’s highest-rated player. Then take the second-highest cap hit and match it with the second-highest-graded player, and so on. All players who were either active or inactive for at least one game were included, and players who spent the entire year on injured reserve or as free agents, ignored. The goal being to set salaries right, based solely on player performance during the 2012 season.

Essentially, the measurement is intended to decide how much a player deserved to make last year based on his performance.

For example, in 2012 the Saints took a salary-cap hit of $710,000 for Jimmy Graham's contract. Pro Football Focus determined his performance merited a value, relative to other tight ends, of $4,900,000. Thus, the Saints' investment (in salary-cap allocation) in Jimmy Graham resulted in a gain of $4,190,000.

Yet while players—like Brian De La Puente, Jimmy Graham and Pierre Thomas—resulted in gains for the Saints, many players' performances resulted in losses. But a loss alone does not merit cutting a player. Theoretically, the Saints should only cut a player if they can acquire more salary cap space than that player is worth—or could be potentially worth.

Here's a formula to determine if the Saints should consider cutting a player (or restructuring his contract):

NG(L) = (CH - UCH) - V


NG(L) is the "net gain or (loss)" incurred from cutting a player,

CH is the cap hit a team will incur if a player is not cut,

UCH is the cap hit a team will still incur even if a player is cut—essentially an "unavoidable cap hit," and

V is the value a team has determined a player is worth.

Using Pro Football Focus' 2012 "performance based values" for the New Orleans Saints, here is the formula applied to Roman Harper, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma:

Roman Harper

• 2012 Value (V): $920,000

• 2013 Cap Hit (CH): $7,100,000

• Value and Cap Hit Difference: ($6,180,000)

• 2013 Cap Hit If Cut (UCH): $6,100,000

• Cap Room Acquired If Cut: $1,000,000

NG(L) = ($7,100,000 - $6,100,000) - $920,000

NG(L) = $1,000,000 - $920,000

NG(L) = $80,000

Thus, the net gain or (loss) from cutting Roman Harper would be a gain of $80,000.

Will Smith

• 2012 Value (V): $970,000

• 2013 Cap Hit (CH): $14,541,666

• Value and Cap Hit Difference: ($13,571,666)

• 2013 Cap Hit If Cut (UCH): $6,783,334

• Cap Room Acquired If Cut: $7,758,332

NG(L) = ($14,541,666 - $6,783,334) - $970,000

NG(L) = $7,758,332 - $970,000

NG(L) = $6,788,332

Thus, the net gain or (loss) from cutting Will Smith would be a gain of $6,788,332.

Jonathan Vilma

• 2012 Value (V): $830,000

• 2013 Cap Hit (CH): $8,682,500

• Value and Cap Hit Difference: ($7,852,500)

• 2013 Cap Hit If Cut (UCH): $2,632,500

• Cap Room Acquired If Cut: $6,050,000

NG(L) = ($8,682,500 - $2,632,500) - $830,000

NG(L) = $6,050,000 - $830,000

NG(L) = $5,220,000

Thus, the net gain or (loss) from cutting Jonathan Vilma would be a gain of $5,220,000.

After applying this method, the Saints look to be able to free up around $14,808,332 in cap space in exchange for losing Roman Harper, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma. These three players are valued at approximately $2,720,000 total, so these transactions would result in a total net gain of $12,088,332.

According to these results, the Saints should either cut Harper, Smith and Vilma, or restructure their contracts.

Unfortunately, players' contributions to a team cannot be exactly calculated. Qualities like leadership, experience, and potential growth cannot be accounted for in purely statistical measurements.

But this analytical approach, and others like it, are a starting point. Their results must be analyzed by the Saints' front office in conjunction with other factors to make the best possible decisions for the franchise.

Consequently, due to the huge losses the Saints could potentially incur from Roman Harper, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma's contracts, there seems to be only two choices that can be considered good business—cut them or restructure their contracts.

All contract information was provided by