Defensive end Greg Hardy signed a contract today with the Dallas Cowboys, officially taking the last monster free agent off the market. It is a very unique contract that is designed to protect the team in the event Hardy remains on the exempt list or suspended while offering both salary cap and actual cash protection. So let’s look at the way the contract works.
The base value of Hardy’s contract is $11,311,000 with the potential to max out at $13,111,600. Why such an oddball number? The $13.116 million was Hardy’s salary last year on the franchise tag. Being that he was will last year to sign that contract it was likely an easy to agree to number. The base value is made up of a $750,000 base salary, 1,311,600 workout bonus, and $9.25 million roster bonus that is earned in weekly installments for being on the active 53 man roster.
The roster bonus is the most important part of this contract. Hardy spent all but the first two games of the season on the exempt list, so for salary cap purposes the NFL will only consider 2/16 of Hardy’s roster bonus against the salary cap, a charge of just $1.5 million. This fully protects the Cowboys interests while the NFL decides what to do with Hardy during the season.Because it is tied into being on the 53 man roster any injury, PUP, NFI, exempt, or suspension designation will prevent Hardy from earning the money. Had the money been in the base salary it would be more protected from the injured or PUP lists. That is likely the tradeoff for the Cowboys taking a risk on signing a player who is a PR problem for the NFL right now.
The odd workout bonus is really what should be considered the signing bonus of the contract. This is the same amount that Hardy received from Carolina last season as a salary advance, so again an easy negotiating point. Once Hardy is reinstated he should be able to participate in offseason workouts since any suspensions won’t take place until the games begin in the regular season. Once Hardy’s earns his workout bonus that money can not be attacked in the event of suspension or any other off the field issues that could trigger an automatic forfeiture of bonus money. It is his to keep provided he shows up for the offseason workout prorgam.
All told I am calcuating his cap charge at just $3,217,850 (It will be about $2.6 million if I am incorrect about his exempt date), which fits him easily under the cap…for now. Yes there is a catch to this contract that we need to consider. When we deal with per game roster bonuses that do not count against the salary cap in the offseason, we have to be prepared for taking those charges on in the regular season.
For each week Hardy is active beyond the two week expectation his cap charge will grow by $578,125. If he plays all 16 games that means he will eventually count for the full $11.311 million against the cap in 2015. Obviously Dallas does not have the room to deal with that at the moment.
I would imagine that this puts Brandon Carr on the chopping block for a June 1 cut designation (or simply to be cut in the summer). Releasing Carr after June 1 creates $8 million in cap room, which would offset this potential charge for Hardy. While I would not expect Dallas to do anythin until the Hardy situation with the league is resolved, they should have all the leverage to approach Carr now about a pay cut if he wants to remain in Dallas. Another option is restructuring Tony Romo’s contract during the season as the need arises for more money.
So it is definitely a creative contract that allows the team to bring in a potential devastating pass rusher now and then come up with a way in a few months to deal with the potential cap charges assoicated with the move.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.