When the San Jose Earthquakes signed Simon Dawkins to a Designated Player contract in early January, it presented a curious problem. Dawkins, it turned out, became the fourth DP on the roster, joining Chris Wondolowski, Matias Perez Garcia, and Innocent in an elite group that was one more than the three DPs MLS roster rules allow.
The infraction was one that the Quakes will need to correct ahead of the league's March 1 roster compliance deadline, but as of the end of February, the team had yet to make any announced moves to rectify the situation. In fact, during the last 10 minutes of the Earthquakes 1-0 victory over the Cosmos last Saturday, all four Designated Players were on the field at the same time.
"We're rewriting the rules of MLS," quipped Dominic Kinnear in response to the apparent violation.
Was something only the LA Galaxy seems to get away with -- bending the roster policies of MLS -- now an option for San Jose? Not so fast, clarified Kinnear, who would go on to explain that the Quakes would play by the rules come March 1.
"We're going to be fine," said Kinnear. "Everyone is looking for the answer about who is doing what or where we are going here. And our answer has always been the same: We are going to have three DPs, we're going to be roster compliant, and we're not losing sleep over it."
The criteria for how a player qualifies as a DP are fairly straightforward: A combination of annual salary and amortized transfer fees add up to a player's salary budget hit, and when that number exceeds $436,250, he is classified as a Designated Player. In 2015, Wondolowski, Perez Garcia, and Innocent occupied the club's three DP slots.
This year, with Dawkins now in the mix, one of those three will either need to be traded or will need to have his salary budget hit adjusted below the DP limit. Kinnear made it clear that the first option was not one the club was pursuing.
"Yes," said Kinnear when asked if all four current DPs would be on the 2016 roster. "We're going to be okay."
The logical candidate of the four to be reclassified is Perez Garcia, who, according to salary figures released by the MLS player's union, earned $240,000 last season. His status as a DP is due to a hefty transfer fee paid to his former club in 2014, reported to be over a $1 million, that the Quakes have been paying on their salary budget in annual installments. Using Targeted Allocation Money, known as TAM, San Jose could restructure MPG's deal to have it fit under the DP threshold.
How so? According to the roster rules published on the MLS website, "Clubs may buy down the budget charge of an existing Designated Player (no longer making that player a DP) provided the club concurrently signs a new Designated Player at an investment equal to or greater than the player he is replacing." Perez Garcia, or either Wondolowski ($675,000 in 2015) or Innocent ($1,300,000 in 2015), could see his budget charge reduced by this mechanism.
Could the Quakes use General Allocation Money, or GAM, instead? Apparently so, as the league's roster rules specify: 'Allocation Money can be used to "buy-down" a player's salary budget charge as part of managing a team's roster, including buying a salary budget charge below the League maximum of $436,250. For example, a team may "buy down" a player earning $450,000 to a budget charge of $250,000 by using $200,000 of Allocation Money."
TAM or GAM, it looks like the Quakes have option in their efforts to be roster compliant by March 1. In fact, the only real change will be that one of the four current DPs will no longer carry the Designated Player label.
"They're titles, by the way," said Kinnear, "and I understand why they are titles, and there are ways to get around the titles. People like titles; I just like players."
And Kinnear likes his DP quartet, soon to be DP trio. So no matter who loses his title, he'll still be an important part of the Earthquakes in 2016.