The Cardinals are up close to the salary cap. How close, I am not certain — a lot is fluid these days — but it is clear it impacts their ability in the free agent market. For everyone expecting (or for those who had been expecting) a chase of five or six key free agents, it was never going to happen. I’ve been asked a few times my opinion of what the priority right now should be, and I still see a tackle, a pass rusher and then a receiver. Something could (should?) still come in free agency. The draft will be crucial and likely a more important aspect.
Clearing cap space, however, is not always simple. Even when you cut a player, there is “dead” money to take into account, and usually, the players making the most money when it comes to to impacting the cap are the guys you can’t necessarily throw away. You cut a starter or a key reserve, he’s got to be replaced.
When a player restructures his contract, it is not a pay cut. Lowering the cap hit by cutting salary or bonus is just that — taking a pay cut. Restructuring merely means moving the money around legally to ease the current cap hit. Players usually aren’t adverse because in almost every case, to do so means giving the player more of his money now. But it also means that the cap pain is pushed into the future, not eliminated entirely.
For explanation’s sake, let’s look at linebacker Stewart Bradley. This season, his salary cap number is $6.5 million: a $5 million salary, $500,000 workout bonus for the offseason and $1M prorated signing bonus. He has four years remaining on his contract. The Cards could, in theory, turn $4M of his salary into some kind of signing bonus. Bradley would get $4M of his $5M salary now (rather than have it parceled over 17 weeks of the regular season), and the Cards could then pro-rate that $4M over the final four years of the deal — meaning his cap number would drop to $3.5M this season: His $1M salary, his $1M signing bonus pro-rate, his $1M option bonus pro-rate, and the $500,000 workout bonus. But it also means next year’s cap number would grow from $6.5M to $7.5M, assuming nothing else changes and he remains on the team (cutting him would create extra “dead” money too.)
Do that once or twice, OK. Do it too often, and you end up like the 2012 Steelers, who had to cut a bunch of players and restructure a bunch more just to get under the cap (and again, those restructures will come home to roost eventually.) Just something else to keep in mind when wondering when the Cards are going to create more cap room.
P.S. I haven’t yet seen the signing bonus for tackle Levi Brown, but the NFLPA website lists his 2012 salary at only $1 million (it had been scheduled for $8.3M before he was cut). The salary jumps to $4.75M in 2013, $6M in 2014 and then $5M in each of the final two years of the deal. Without the bonus it’s impossible to know the current cap hit, but that salary structure eases a lot of cap issues.
Tags: Levi Brown, salary cap, Stewart Bradley
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