CJ Spiller and the Mysterious Player Option

I’ve been getting a large number of questions recently about CJ Spiller of the Buffalo Bills in regards to a player option that I wanted to address. The confusion seems to come from a contract info blurb on Rotoworld that was picked up from a report back in 2010. Rotoworld’s contract information was later used by Spotrac and Forbes in reporting that Spiller could opt into his contract next season. Both are incorrect and were based on a misinterpretation of the original report from 2010. Since this relates to a few other players this offseason I thought it was a good topic to address.

In the old CBA players that were drafted in the top portion of the draft were eligible to sign 6 year contracts. However the 6 year maximum was not mandated and the actual contract length was negotiated between the team and the agents. These contracts were often very complex because of the need to comply with the constraints of the 25% rule and Year One rookie pools.

Obviously the goal for most players is to be able to enter free agency as soon as possible after the draft. Players also wanted to earn as much as possible under their rookie contracts. There were two ways that teams met these demands. One was to make the 6th year salary astronomically high once incentives were earned to force an extension or make it worth the player’s lost year of free agency. Often, though, the compromise was reached to add a sixth year onto a players’ contract that was essentially a “dummy year”, a year that in all likelihood would never be valid when that season occurred.

The “dummy year” was essentially a salary cap placeholder for prorated money from an option bonus paid in the second year of a player’s contract. The way the process worked is the team would have the option of picking up the 6th year of the contract which would allow the option bonus value to be maximized and comply with the rules.

The catch is that the contract year is voidable. Once the player hits a minimum playtime threshold the void kicks in. There is no option on the void, it’s an automatic termination of the contract once earned. Typically minimum playtime was 45% in any year thereafter to earn the void. If unearned the season would remain and the team could choose to honor or not honor the contract just as they would any other player.

It was a rarity for the void to not be earned and the player to still be on an active rookie contract—usually if you were that bad you were released before the final year of the contract.  The only recent example I can think of was last season when Larry English just narrowly missed out on a void that many of us, myself included, thought he earned. He was eventually released anyway.

Spiller should have easily earned this void back in 2012, but regardless there is no player option that exists. The contract either voids or does not void.  The salary that is listed for him is simply a placeholder salary agreed upon in the event the void did not occur. That salary will vanish once the void kicks in and just his prorated money will be left on the books. For Spiller and most of the rookies this will happen a few days following the Super Bowl.  Then the players will become a free agent in March just like all other unrestricted free agents.

With the new rookie contract system in place this will be the final year that we encounter these contracts. Other player’s who will be treated the same as Spiller and are on pace to become free agents include:

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions

Tyson Alualu, DE, Jaguars

Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers

Brandon Graham, LB, Eagles

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants

Derrick Morgan, DE, Titans

Of those players I believe Graham is the only one who has never played very often. The other players whose contracts contained voidable years have either been extended (Gerald McCoy, Anthony Davis, Joe Haden) or released (Rolando McClain).