Tim Howard Rapids Contract: Good Off Field, Inefficient On Field

(Editorial) – The rumors were swirling months ago. Then they died down for a bit. Then they picked up again. Now it’s official. The Colorado Rapids have signed American goalkeeper Tim Howard to a DP contract. Howard will join the club on July 4th with the opening of the Secondary Transfer Window. The Rapids currently have 25 of 28 roster spots filled, so no transactions will be needed to make room for Howard.

Tim Howard Rapids Contract: Good Off Field Move, Inefficient On Field

While the official numbers have not been released by the league, ESPN FC has reported that the Rapids paid $600,000 transfer fee to Everton. They also reported that Howard’s contract will run through the end of the 2019 MLS season and he will average between $2.5-2.8 million per year. The Denver Post reported his salary to be around $2 million per year. It is possible the league is picking up some of his salary. Howard is 37-years-old and will be 40-years-old when this contract runs out.

This is hands down the biggest goalkeeper move (in price and notoriety) in league history. What then does this Tim Howard Rapids signing mean for the club? Let’s break it down.

Great Off Field Signing To Energize the Fan Base:

Even the casual American soccer fan knows who Jermaine Jones is. After a standing ovation during half time of the home opener, it’s clear Rapids fans are excited about Jones signing with the club. Multiply that by three at least for Howard. He’s a great player. He’s got a solid online presence. Nevermind his tattoo and beard game.

His performance against Belgium in the World Cup are the stuff of legend. Everton has gained a strong following from American soccer fans who latched onto the club because of their Howard fandom. I don’t think a goalkeeper’s jersey has ever been a top seller in MLS merchandise (maybe Nick Rimando or Bill Hamid?). Howard’s Rapids kit will sell well in Colorado and around the country.

The Rapids now have several poster boy options. Howard and Jones represent the veteran standard as USMNT players. Dillon Powers is a potential MLS star in the making. Then there are DP strikers Kevin Doyle and Shkëlzen Gashi. Howard will easily make the posters, banners, tifos, etc because of he’s recognizable and an American International.

Howard has played in England since 2003 so the only chances Americans have had to see him on home soil have been USMNT games. He will definitely draw new fans and casuals to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. On the road, the Rapids may also draw larger crowds in the same way the Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, and Toronto FC have in recent years because of their prominent USMNT stars.

In every aspect of bringing in more revenue, publicity, and relevance, this signing is a slam dunk for the Rapids.

Inefficient Use of Funds On the Field:

The Rapids already had Zac MacMath. He’s still a work-in-progress as he showed on the goal this weekend. Still, he’s already a decent keeper at 24-years-old and has a few years to develop before he enters his prime. MacMath will be 28 when Howard’s new contract expires. That’s 3.5 years he could be starting and developing into a solid and reasonably priced starting goalkeeper. Instead, he’ll be riding the bench and isn’t happy about it.

MacMath made $130,000 last year. Luis Robles won Goalkeeper of the Year last year and he made just over $150,000. Howard could make more money than all other starting keepers in MLS combined. Let’s say Howard’s only making a reported $2 million and let’s say the league office is picking up half of that. Howard’s still making over seven times what MacMath is making.

Howard is a better keeper than MacMath, but he’s not seven times better than him. The Rapids gave up 43 goals last year (6th best in the league). Say Howard prevents 10 of those. That probably gets the Rapids in the playoffs, but it doesn’t get to them to the top of the Western Conference. Meanwhile, DPs Didier Drogba, Andrea Pirlo, and Federico Higuain will all make less than $2.8 million this year. All three could make the Rapids a playoff contender and be dangerous in a playoff series.

Spending a Designated Player spot and millions on a keeper just isn’t an efficient use of resources under the current salary cap structure. Maybe the Rapids weren’t going to hit any other targets, so if they wanted to make a splash and couldn’t sign anyone else on their short list, I get it. But they could be using the same amount of money on a DP field player who would have a bigger impact on the team.

On the plus side, Howard has been very healthy during his time in England. In an interview on ESPN2, he told Taylor Twellman that his training and conditioning is going well. He should be healthy and serviceable through the end of this contract.

If the Rapids can progress quickly, Howard could be the centerpiece of the defense of a contender come 2018. If not, this could be an inefficient use of money that stunts the growth of their keeper of the future.