Per ESPN’s Field Yates, the Patriots slightly reworked the contract of Tight End Rob Gronkowski, by paying him a $4 million signing bonus and reducing his end of the year option from $10 million to $6 million. Technically the move has no impact on the salary cap changes since the option was already being prorated starting this season, but I believe it does modify Gronkowski’s cap treatment this year and the Patriots cap the next season. though I’m not 100% certain on this treatment, I’ll explain my thought process and then see if anyone has any additional info on the topic.
Normally in the NFL once the League Year begins an option bonus, regardless of a player’s roster status, remains as part of the contract. Patriots fans that are followers of mine likely remember this being the case when Brandon Lloyd saw his option count on the cap despite his release before it was paid. The team received a credit for the bonus the following season.
So the cap treatment for Gronkowski in 2015 should include a $10 million option plus the new $6 million option and new $4 million signing bonus. That will increase his cap charge by $2 million this season. Don’t worry though because that $2 million will be used to increase the Patriots cap space in 2016 and his cap charges will go back to normal.
So why do this? I think that’s an interesting question worth exploring. It might be as simple as making a player happy and showing your appreciation for him by paying a bonus now. Afterall for the cap it’s essentially the same as carryover. $2 million they would have saved and carried over will now carry over as an adjustment. But it may also be a somewhat calculated move by the teams front office.
The Patriots have a three players who will likely be extended sometime between now and next season. Those three players are Nate Solder (free agent in 2016), Donta Hightower(FA in 2017), and Chandler Jones (FA in 2017). All three players could be looking for big money especially in light of some recent contracts signed. The latter two have low salaries this season and any extension this year would significantly raise their cap charges.
By “hiding” the money for 2015 in Gronkowski’s contract it gives a team a bit more leverage in terms of bonus money that needs to be paid at the start of an extension. Considering Jones and Hightower have two years remaining on their contracts the Patriots should be more cautious with the manner in which money is prepaid on the extension. Whenever there is cap money available you can guarantee someone is going to ask for it in an extension or a free agent contract.
Now $2 million is gone for them or any other player to ask for. It’s still there in 2016 if no extensions are signed this year and considering its guaranteed to be there it should help the team with their big players who they want to keep for the next four or five years.