In a move to become roster compliant ahead of the their MLS season opener on March 3, the San Jose Earthquakes exercised their one-time off-season option to buy out a guaranteed contract in releasing Simon Dawkins. The 30-year old midfielder had counted as a Designated Player and held an International Player slot on the Quakes senior roster, so his departure moves the team one step closer to roster compliance.
Dawkins had featured in 43 games since signing his DP contract with San Jose in 2016, but his attacking prowess was lacking, and he tallied only 5 goals in two seasons. When former head coach Dominic Kinnear was let go last June, Dawkins virtually disappeared from the team sheet, playing in only 3 games over the last half of the season.
Dawkins first played for the Earthquakes in 2011 and 2012 on loan from Tottenham, when he scored 14 goals in 53 appearances. His heroics in 2012 were a big part in the club’s Supporters’ Shield winning campaign, and when he returned to play in England, his composure in the midfield was missing in the Quakes play. Unfortunately, he never recaptured that excellence in his second stint in San Jose, and he became superfluous to the current Quakes ambitions.
The mechanism by which San Jose released Dawkins is an interesting option for the team to follow. MLS roster rules allow for one guaranteed contract to be bought out each off-season, at the club’s expense, and the charge won’t be counted against the team’s salary budget — the more commonly coined “salary cap.” This option frees up space on the roster and room under the cap without incurring any other roster expenses. It is money out of the owners’ pockets, not from the player salary pool, and signals a club’s intention to spend above the guidelines, even on a mistake.
The Quakes were required to do something this off-season as it related to their stable of Designated Players. League rules allow each team to have three DPs, so when San Jose signed Magnus Eriksson to a DP contract in December, the club was one over the limit — Dawkins, Chris Wondolowski, and Vako already carried the DP label. Buying down the salary charge of one of the three to become compliant — a mechanism that had been used in 2016 when Dawkins signed, creating the same situation, saw Wondolowski bought down — was an option that could have been accomplished by using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), a source of additional funds from MLS to pay players above the salary cap limit.
That San Jose instead went for the out-of-pocket buyout is a bit curious. After all, the TAM available to individual MLS clubs must be spent each season. If the Quakes had already spent their allocation on other signings, then this move to buyout Dawkins directly makes some sense. It could also signal that Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli wanted to conserve the TAM he already has at his disposal for a future big-money signing. The Quakes could now sign another TAM-level player and not need to go down the Designated Player pathway.
The bottom line for the Quakes are that they have one less distraction going into the 2018 season — and one less International Player to fit on the roster. Dawkins was absent for most of the second half of last season, and even with new head coach Mikael Stahre in charge, a relatively quiet player this preseason. The 30-year-old had little playing future in San Jose, and it is best for both club and player that he moves on.