Teams relegated from the Premier League face a myriad of decisions on players and transfers, but it is all underpinned by one basic question: what do you do with your parachute payments?
Do you roll the dice and invest it in players, and try to force your way out of a difficult division at the first time of asking? Or, do you use the money and try to improve your finances and make them more sustainable in the long-term?
Sunderland have clearly opted for the latter, a decision forced largely by crippling debt and an owner who, while still covering the club’s significant losses, has stopped investing to any significant degree.
Teams who have gone for the former, such as Middlesbrough or Burnley, have had the luxury of either a highly committed owner or an already strong balance sheet.
Sunderland have so far, taking into account the profit made in the January transfer window as well as the sale of Jordan Pickford, covered the jaw-dropping drop in revenue for this first season outside of the top tier, aided largely by their first payment. That is likely why Martin Bain played down talk of a ‘perilous’ financial situation at Simon Grayson’s unveiling.
The biggest issue comes next summer and the summer after that, when those payments drop in size.
Sunderland have no realistic chance of making the kind of money in the market that they have in the last two windows to plug the gap.
This is the context for a worrying lack of investment.
When David Moyes left, it was clear that his warnings about having to depend on loans and free transfers would become a reality.
Most accepted that, but few would have believed the budget would be just over £1 million, as has been spent so far.
Grayson has been impressively efficient in his work, devising a plan to target players who have been consistent performers over a number of years, but have seen their value depreciate disproportionately in recent years.
The market has exploded beyond comprehension, but the flip side of that is clubs being left with expensive flops that they desperately need off their books.
Sunderland have tried to exploit that, but with the window to close soon they are currently short.
That is clear to all who have watched the team since the start of the season. There has been a good work-rate, in patches, and good quality, in patches. Not enough to challenge for the league.
Pouring parachute payments into an inflated market with Sunderland’s finances would be a risk, but it is equally dangerous to leave Grayson short of what he needs to compete.
There is never a better time to bounce back from relegation than the first season, and the Black Cats are currently behind their rivals.
Even Hull, who face many of the same problems as Sunderland, are beginning to look powerful as they invest the money made from selling Sam Clucas well.
Further outgoings will help new signings arrive, but as the possibility of players expected to leave actually staying grows, a rethink may be required.
The Sunderland support accept that better value needs to be found in the market, that belts need to be tightened to build a long-term future for the club, with this owner or another.
A flat end to the transfer window, nevertheless, will harm morale fast declining after two tepid defeats.
Big spending does not guarantee success, as many Championship sides will discover this season, but having an unbalanced and thin squad guarantees problems.
Financial caution does not have to mean a lack of ambition.