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  • MLS Salary Cap Issues, 22.2


    murmur
    • Public Status: Under Review Need More Examples: No
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    I started a new game recently with DC United after the 22.2 patch.  As the salary cap values have been altered from 22.1 such that every team could begin the season under the cap and keep their players, my hope was that there wouldn't be any strange cuts.

    Unfortunately, that still isn't been the case.  All of the below examples are from one save.

    Example #1: NYCFC

    In this save, the most egregious example was when NYCFC decided to waive Valentin Castellanos, this year's golden boot winner, and Nicolas Acevedo, a 21-year old promising defensive midfielder. 

    On April 2nd, the registration day, NYCFC was doing just fine with regards to the salary cap: a team cap hit of $4.71 millions, with a max team salary of $4.9 million (though no GAM to buy down contracts).  At those values, NYCFC could keep everyone on their roster.  After registration, Rodney Redes from Austin FC ($150k cap hit) was put on waivers.  At that value, NYCFC could pick him up without needing to waive any players.  NYCFC was the only team to put in a waiver claim.

    However, before selecting Redes from waivers, NYCFC made two contract offers.  NYCFC decided to extend Sean Johnson's contract, giving him a slight pay cut in salary (from $510k to $457k). Here is the important piece: In 2021, Johnson's cap value is $200k. When he was resigned, his cap value went up to match his new contract value ($457k).  On the same day, the AI also decided to give Tayvon Gray a raise, moving from a reserve contract at $63.5k to a normal contract at $118k.  Importantly, Gray's contract before (being a reserve contract) had no effect on the salary cap.  Both were signed on April 5th.

    So with those two simple moves, NYCFC added $375k to the salary cap, which then moved them from $4.71 million to $5.09 million. Once the waiver claim for Redes went through on April 6th, NYCFC was at $5.24 million, and had to cut players to get under the cap.  Since this was past the contract guarantee date, the only players that could be waived and reduce the cap hit were those on non-guaranteed contracts.  Acevedo and Castellanos (both valuable players) were cut.

    After Acevedo and Castellanos are waived, both players received interest from other teams in MLS.  Castellanos has four teams that make a waiver claim.  Austin had the highest waiver ranking; but because of contract extensions they had a cap hit of $5.77 million, well over the $4.9 million limit.  The game then did not allow Austin to pick up Castellanos, Castellanos was not offered to the other teams who made a waiver claim, and Castellanos became a free agent.  Oddly, the only player interested in Acevedo is Orlando City. They have room under the salary cap AND an international slot - but don't bother making a claim.  So both end up out of MLS.

    Example #2: DC United

    After this, I did some experiments with DC United to see how the AI handles cap issues.  In one example, I signed a player to a senior minimum contract ($81.5k/year), and all the AI needed to do was cut a player with the same contract to stay under the cap.  DC United has several replacement-level players that fit the bill.  Instead, the AI cut Yordy Reyna who is a Peruvian international with a discounted salary cap value of $200k and is more important to the team than, say, Tony Alfaro on a SMS contract.  

    Example #3: Toronto FC

    Toronto FC signed Fredy Guarin to a $612k contract on March 2nd....and then cut Fredy Guarin on registration day.

    Summary of issues/potential fixes

    First, is it possible to "keep" salary cap buy-downs when making a contract extension?  In the NYCFC example, signing Johnson and Gray to extensions resulted in a bump in their salary cap values, even though their overall pay was about the same.  Could the game be set such that MLS contract extensions maintain their cap buy-down even when signing a new contract?  This could help mitigate cap issues.

    Second, does the AI consider signings in light of the salary cap?  It seems like the game doesn't seem to be doing a good job of thinking through the consequences of making moves in relation to the cap.  For example, I can imagine that picking up Rodney Redes would improve NYCFC - but if his signing means losing both Acevedo and Golden Boot-winning Castellanos because of the salary cap...maybe that move shouldn't be made?  The same thing applies to the Fredy Guarin signing - why sign the player if you are going to cut the player in one month for cap purposes?

    One possible solution would be some sort of cap optimization AI.  For registration, MLS teams essentially have three categories of players: ones with automatic necessary cap hits (DPs, injured players), ones with cap hits only if they stay on the roster (most players), and cap exempt players (most homegrown players, minimum contracts - up to 10).  For those players who only have cap hits if they stay on the roster, the AI could run permutations of different player combinations, and choose the best combination of players that is legal under the cap (however judged by the AI).  The same process could be enacted BEFORE signing new players, making waiver decisions, etc.  
     

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    I want to add to this post, as I think I've figured out a big piece of the problem.  In short, the AI is not using targeted allocation money when it should be.

    A primer on target allocation money (TAM)

    In MLS, there are two mechanisms for reducing salary cap impact.  One, which has been implemented in FM for a while, is general allocation money (GAM). With this, you can buy down non-DP contracts (in most cases) such that their cap charge is about half of their salary for any given year.  This is implemented in the game when you click Contract/Buy down salary cap impact.

    However, there is a second way to buy down cap impact - targeted allocation money (TAM).  When signing a player to a contract (either a new signing or a contract extension of an existing player), you can use TAM money to offset the cap impact for any player making above the designated player (DP) minimum that is not a designated player.  TAM funds can be used to decrease the cap value to a minimum of $150k/year if available, and are only utilized the year the player is signed.  So let's say that you sign a player to a three year, $900k/year contract.  You can use TAM funds to decrease the cap impact for year 1 of the contract.  For years 2-3, GAM needs to be used (unless you decide to restructure their contract - then TAM can be used again).

    For MLS, this is an extremely important piece of roster development.  It essentially allows for the development of an "upper-middle class" of players that can really strengthen teams outside of DPs.

    In past versions of FM, TAM funds have been nearly impossible to use.  However, in FM22, you can use TAM.  When signing a player, click on "additional budgets".  A new screen will show up that shows "SALARY IMPACT ADJUSTMENTS".  If the contract is TAM eligible (where the payroll budget is above $612k/year), then you will be able to reduce the cap impact using TAM.  Click on the "On D-TAM" radio button and (importantly) use it to reduce the cap impact as much as you want, as long as you have TAM.  The cap impact will be shown in the section "On Salary Budget".  

    This is an amazing addition for those who play MLS in FM - it allows for quite a bit more flexibility in signing new players, and in dealing with cap issues.  But there is a big problem - the AI doesn't know how to use it.

    TAM and the AI

    Looking at the same game referenced in the previous post, I looked at the LA Galaxy.  In that game, Sebastian Lletget starts the game being paid $924,000 year, with a cap impact of $199,000 a year.  So he has a good cap value, but his contract expires at the end of 2021. Given that he could leave MLS on a free, it makes sense that the AI would want to resign him during the season.

    The AI resigns him on April 4th to a $774,000/year contract for three years, and uses all of its $175,000 of GAM to reduce his cap impact to $612,000.  This is important - in no way is this the right decision.  The Galaxy can easily take money from its $2.8 million in TAM to reduce the cap impact of the Lletget signing all the way down to $150k/year.  However, the AI did not touch their TAM funds.  Instead, they were forced to waive two players and begin the season over the cap.

    Looking across the league at other teams, the same thing is happening.  When either signing new players or resigning current players that are TAM eligible, the AI is either not using TAM, or not using TAM maximally.  In the previous post, Toronto signed Fredy Guarin to a $612k/year contract, and then cut him one month later.  Looking at this cap impact, neither GAM nor TAM was used.  They could have easily stayed under the salary cap and kept him if they used TAM when signing him.

    How to (quickly) fix this

    Given that the AI is barely using their TAM funds, the easy fix would be this: For new signings that are TAM eligible (i.e. cap values that are above the DP-minimum but are not DPs), the team should always use TAM funds to decrease the cap hit to the minimum ($150k).  Given that there aren't many TAM-eligible signings per season, it is unlikely that teams will run out of TAM - and if they do, they can use GAM or restructure contracts.

    And just a note: It would be really nice to put some resources into this. Imagine if a Football Manager game was released and, say, Harry Kane  and a slew of very good Premier League players were released on a free to start the season. There would be an uproar, the game would be rightfully panned, and the issue would be fixed immediately. This doesn't seem to happen with MLS. It's wonderful that new additions (like the ability to implement TAM) have been added - but the game isn't really playable if only the user can use it and the AI can't.

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    • SI Staff

    Firstly, thank you for the level of detail you've went into here - it'll be really helpful to the team when we review this.

    If possible, could you also provide a save before each of the aforementioned issues? Would be greatly appreciated if you have them!

     

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    I've uploaded them - there are three files at different stages.

    dcu5b.fm - A few days before the registration date (March 30th, 2021)

    dcu5c.fm - Registration day (April 2nd, 2021) 

    dcu6.fm - After Castellanos is waived (April 6th, 2021)

    All of the examples from the posts above are from this save series - but I've replicated the problem with a different start.  Happy to send those as well if needed.

    Also, one more thing to note that might help.  As noted above, one issue is that the AI is extending contracts without using TAM, which affects the salary cap.  However, some players aren't paid enough to use TAM - you need to have a cap hit above $612k for it to go into effect.

     Many of the players in MLS in 2021 have contract extensions as part of their contract.  Using the example above, Sean Johnson has a one-year contract extension available to him (you can see it in the dcu5b.fm save, as he hasn't been resigned yet).  If the team wants to extend his contract, it has three choices - each with different cap impacts.

    1. Simply trigger the contract extension clause for 2022 at $510k/yr.  This does not in any way influence the contract AND cap value for 2021.  So if the player has a favorable cap value (which Sean Johnson does at $200k/year), then this is the best choice - the cap value does not change.

    2. Sign a more lucrative extension, but use TAM to reduce the cap value for 2021.  There might be a slight advantage to a smaller cap hit (of $150k), but it would involve a moderate outlay of TAM funds and a larger contract (at least $610k/year).

    3. Sign an extension, and have a full cap hit.  This is what the AI typically does; and it is frequently a mistake if a contract extension is available.

    So it might be best to have three steps for the AI when it wants to resign a player with a "good" cap value for the current season.

    Step 1: If the player has an automatic contract extension, use it.

    Step 2: If the player does not have an automatic contract extension, and will sign a contract that is TAM-eligible (cap value above $610k/year), then use TAM to reduce the cap hit as much as possible (i.e. to $150k/year).

    Step 3: If the player does not have an automatic contract extension and will NOT sign a contract that is TAM-eligible (cap value below $610k/year), have their contract start date be "End of Season".  Then the current cap value does not change.

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    On 04/01/2022 at 10:08, murmur said:

    I want to add to this post, as I think I've figured out a big piece of the problem.  In short, the AI is not using targeted allocation money when it should be.

    A primer on target allocation money (TAM)

    In MLS, there are two mechanisms for reducing salary cap impact.  One, which has been implemented in FM for a while, is general allocation money (GAM). With this, you can buy down non-DP contracts (in most cases) such that their cap charge is about half of their salary for any given year.  This is implemented in the game when you click Contract/Buy down salary cap impact.

    However, there is a second way to buy down cap impact - targeted allocation money (TAM).  When signing a player to a contract (either a new signing or a contract extension of an existing player), you can use TAM money to offset the cap impact for any player making above the designated player (DP) minimum that is not a designated player.  TAM funds can be used to decrease the cap value to a minimum of $150k/year if available, and are only utilized the year the player is signed.  So let's say that you sign a player to a three year, $900k/year contract.  You can use TAM funds to decrease the cap impact for year 1 of the contract.  For years 2-3, GAM needs to be used (unless you decide to restructure their contract - then TAM can be used again).

    For MLS, this is an extremely important piece of roster development.  It essentially allows for the development of an "upper-middle class" of players that can really strengthen teams outside of DPs.

    In past versions of FM, TAM funds have been nearly impossible to use.  However, in FM22, you can use TAM.  When signing a player, click on "additional budgets".  A new screen will show up that shows "SALARY IMPACT ADJUSTMENTS".  If the contract is TAM eligible (where the payroll budget is above $612k/year), then you will be able to reduce the cap impact using TAM.  Click on the "On D-TAM" radio button and (importantly) use it to reduce the cap impact as much as you want, as long as you have TAM.  The cap impact will be shown in the section "On Salary Budget".  

    This is an amazing addition for those who play MLS in FM - it allows for quite a bit more flexibility in signing new players, and in dealing with cap issues.  But there is a big problem - the AI doesn't know how to use it.

    TAM and the AI

    Looking at the same game referenced in the previous post, I looked at the LA Galaxy.  In that game, Sebastian Lletget starts the game being paid $924,000 year, with a cap impact of $199,000 a year.  So he has a good cap value, but his contract expires at the end of 2021. Given that he could leave MLS on a free, it makes sense that the AI would want to resign him during the season.

    The AI resigns him on April 4th to a $774,000/year contract for three years, and uses all of its $175,000 of GAM to reduce his cap impact to $612,000.  This is important - in no way is this the right decision.  The Galaxy can easily take money from its $2.8 million in TAM to reduce the cap impact of the Lletget signing all the way down to $150k/year.  However, the AI did not touch their TAM funds.  Instead, they were forced to waive two players and begin the season over the cap.

    Looking across the league at other teams, the same thing is happening.  When either signing new players or resigning current players that are TAM eligible, the AI is either not using TAM, or not using TAM maximally.  In the previous post, Toronto signed Fredy Guarin to a $612k/year contract, and then cut him one month later.  Looking at this cap impact, neither GAM nor TAM was used.  They could have easily stayed under the salary cap and kept him if they used TAM when signing him.

    How to (quickly) fix this

    Given that the AI is barely using their TAM funds, the easy fix would be this: For new signings that are TAM eligible (i.e. cap values that are above the DP-minimum but are not DPs), the team should always use TAM funds to decrease the cap hit to the minimum ($150k).  Given that there aren't many TAM-eligible signings per season, it is unlikely that teams will run out of TAM - and if they do, they can use GAM or restructure contracts.

    And just a note: It would be really nice to put some resources into this. Imagine if a Football Manager game was released and, say, Harry Kane  and a slew of very good Premier League players were released on a free to start the season. There would be an uproar, the game would be rightfully panned, and the issue would be fixed immediately. This doesn't seem to happen with MLS. It's wonderful that new additions (like the ability to implement TAM) have been added - but the game isn't really playable if only the user can use it and the AI can't.

    Nice write up! perfectly explained the main issue with MLS. Hopefully this is fixed!

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    Was this fixed in the latest patch?

     

    From a very small sample size, it seems that teams are using TAM now and teams aren't in a salary cap crisis. However, I noticed after a sim to 2053, teams had as much as $32,000,000 in GAM! That seems way off if we are basing things on the current structure of MLS as it should be gone if not used in a certain amount of time... Which in the games says 5 years.

     

    Im not sure if the AI is now just not spending GAM enough or it's not expiring. If it's the later, this goes back to my post I made about trading as teams very frequently are trading and hoarding draft picks but in reality the most used asset for trading is GAM and not draft picks. These days, GAM is like a transfer fee for domestic league players and is also used a lot to get additional international slots. Most draft pick trading is during the actual super draft.

     

    Quote

    General allocation money must be used within 30 days of the close of the third full MLS transfer window after it was acquired. If a quantity of general allocation money is not used within that timeframe, it is halved by the league. That halved amount is then available for use during the next two transfer windows. If it is still not used after those transfer windows, the quantity is no longer available for use.

     

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