In a somewhat interesting salary cap move, 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith has restructured his one year contract to essentially remove the guarantee from the deal according to Matt Maiocco. According to Maiocco Smith will receive a $2 million roster bonus in April (likely April 1) and then roster bonuses paid out through the season. Smith’s $9.754 million salary was currently guaranteed for injury and would become fully guaranteed on March 10, now most of the salary is not guaranteed. Sounds strange, right? Lets speculate a bit.
Smith’s demons off the field are well known and he has spent signifiant time on the non football illness list and suspended list the last two seasons. During that period his performance has slipped somewhat as well. In Smith’s first two seasons in the NFL he combined to sack the quarterback 1.05 times per game. In the last two seasons that ratio has fallen to 0.58.
Though he does have immense talent both things combined might be enough for him to consider his current earning potential if released. It is possible that in order to earn the same salary as he was scheduled with the 49ers he may have to give up years of free agency in incentive laden contracts. This allows him to play out free agency like planned and hopefully have a strong season with no off the field transgressions that should get him into the $14M per year discussions. The 49ers are also the team most likely to extend him so playing ball with the team on a contract only helps the relationship.
Now before we go off the deep end with Smith giving up guarantees it is quite possible that the contract is essentially virtually guarateed. The April 1 payment is likely guaranteed, at the least for skill and injury. His P5 I would imagine is also guaranteed. For the sake of argument lets assume his new salary is $754,000 and his per game roster bonuses are paid out in installments of $437,500 per week ($7 million total). That $7 million is not guaranteed but it likley has a very high likelihood of being earned.
Normally we associate those bonuses as requiring being active on Sunday, but that is not always the case. It is not uncommon for per game bonuses to include payment to a player for being on injured reserve or the PUP list. So in that respect they can be identical to salary. I would imagine that the negotiation will not pay him for games in which he lands on the NFI or Suspended/Exempt lists, which is basically the same as what would have happened if he had another off the field issue (base salary is not paid on those lists either, regardless of guaranteed status). So as long as he makes it through the summer he is likely going to end up paid the same as before.
So what’s in this for San Francisco then? Mainly salary cap relief. Per game roster bonuses are valued against the salary cap based on the players performance last season. Smith was only active for 7 games last season so using our hypothetical example Smith’s salary cap figure drops from $9.754 million to $5.8165 million, savings of nearly $4 million in immediate salary cap relief for the cap hungry 49ers.
There is a catch, however. That hidden money that is not counted against the salary cap now will need to be accouned for on a weekly basis during the season if earned, which should be pretty likely. So while it gives temporary relief the team still needs the space to account for it in the regular season. What that tells me is that the 49ers front office is strongly considering using the June 1 cut on one of their players.
The way a June 1 cut works is the player designated a June 1 cut will have his cap charge count in full until June 1 and then on June 2 only his current year’s proration will count against the cap with the remaining acceleration hitting the following year. This gives no cap relief for free agency but helps for in season cap management.
If we look at a player like Ahmad Brooks, cutting him now provides San Francisco with just $1.5M in cap relief, which isnt a very big help for free agency. If they designate him a June 1 they will gain $4.7 million for 2015, which more than offsets those roster bonuses being earned by Smith.
While I have no idea if that is the team’s intention it is the way I would look at this deal. Reworking Smith gives me the immediate cap relief right now for free agency and then a player like Brooks pays it back in June. Its a creative way to get some extra cap dollars to spend in free agency while remaining in full compliance with the cap.
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.