Recapping The First Day of Cuts


There are still about 500 moves that teams will make over the next few hours to bring their rosters down from 75 to 53, but many teams got to work yesterday, so lets review some of the action.

The Bills biggest moves on Friday came when they announced that they were placing WR Brad Smith and QB Kevin Kolb on season ending IR. I have seen many people mention that Kolb could retire or potentially take an injury settlement. Neither should occur. Kolb’s concussion was considered career threatening. By maintaining a spot on IR when the season completes Kolb is eligible for injury protection under the CBA because he is also under contract to Buffalo for the 2014 season. If Kolb’s injury from 2013 renders him unable to compete in 2014, 50% of his $2 million base salary is protected. He can earn another $1 million by simply being on the roster in week 17. If he accepts a settlement the Bills will be freed from this liability. If he voluntarily retires he will give up this payment and perhaps be asked to repay the Bills a $1 million dollar signing bonus. So it is in his best interests to maintain a presence even if all sides know he will never play again. Kolb lost a $250,000 roster bonus this year because he was placed on IR.

Smith had renegotiated his contract this season to improve his chances to make the team and I wonder if this will mark the end of his career. Smith was drafted in 2006 and was a good kick returner for the Jets while also filling in occasionally as “wildcat” QB. The Bills took a chance signing Smith feeling that he could do more and paid him accordingly, but, as is often the case, paying a specialist to become a complete player did not work. By no means was he guaranteed to make the team this season and it would be surprising if he was brought back next year. Smith has a $1.4 million base salary in 2014.

T Max Starks might have been the biggest name to be released yesterday when the Chargers gave him his walking papers. I had discussed Starks as a logical cut for San Diego because of the teams tight cap situation. Starks’ contract was only worth $1 million but it contained a large incentive that did count on the salary cap and pushed his charge over $2 million which made his cap number too high for the team. The sides could have removed the incentive, but the Chargers probably don’t see much benefit in paying him to be a backup.

The Seahawks released FB Michael Robinson because of salary cap concerns. He was another name I discussed and his $2.5 million dollar salary made him an easy target for release. I had speculated Heath Farwell could also be released due to cap concerns and he would be a name to potentially watch today when they make their final cuts. He is set to earn $1.5 million.

Arizona released a number of veteran players including special teamer Reggie Walker. Walker was set to earn $950,000 which may have been too much for a special teams ace. Arizona had around $6.5 million in cap room and while not a concerning amount it is likely under the mark the team would like to have. The release of a number of veterans saved the squad nearly $1 million in cap yesterday. The bigger concern for Arizona though was placement of their first round selection, Johnathan Cooper, on IR.

While these were the bigger name moves on the day there were many disappointed people yesterday who received their walking papers. Some were given hope of the Practice Squad while others were just clean cuts. Some teams will use practice to continue to evaluate and make decisions before the 4PM deadline today. For those who make it there will be a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately the NFL is always moving and many of the players excited tonight will find out on Monday that the stay on the roster is short as another name hits the waiver wire and they are replaced before the season begins.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to keep up with the cuts on the website today, but by tomorrow we should get the rosters broken down into their final forms. The team web pages will look a lot different as will the real practice facilities which will look barren from all the summer names that were part of the NFL for a few months.


Pay Cut or Be Cut: The Reality of August Football


August can be a very trying month for many mid-tier veteran football players. While many people assume that making it past March is a sign that a player is likely to make a team all it means is that the player makes it through round 1 of the process. If you are lucky enough to have offseason bonus money in your contract at least you earned something for the year. If you don’t have bonus money in your contract you may be worse off than you would be by being released in March.

The middle rung of the NFL roster is unfortunately the group that constantly gets the short end of the stick when it comes to financials. Teams scramble for any opportunity to create salary cap space and save a few dollars here and there. Rarely is the high priced player approached to sacrifice some money for the team. In most cases they are far too protected with base salary guarantees and dead money to even approach. So the attention turns to those mid tier players who will never be stars but are capable football players.

In the summertime teams get incredible leverage over the veteran players. It is one thing for a team to discuss the potential of their rookies or young signings and another to actually see them begin to practice. The NFL is a young man’s game and if the option is a low cost player with upside versus a moderate cost veteran with none, in many cases the low cost player is going to win out. Teams use that to their advantage.

Because the calendar has moved beyond June 1st the rules of contract acceleration change. A player who is released during training camp will only have their signing bonus proration for the current league year count towards the salary cap. The remainder of the bonus accelerates into the following season. This is different than a cut prior to June 1 in which all the money accelerates into the current league year.

This is an important valuation difference even though the total acceleration charge is the same. You have to realize that at this point in time cutting a player in August operates the same from a cap perspective as keeping a player all season and then cutting him in 2014. By cutting him today you save yourself the non-guaranteed portion of his base salary, thus increasing your current year’s salary cap space. Sure you have the dead money in 2014, but you were going to have that anyway. You may as well save some extra money now that you have some replacement parts in place.

Back in March maybe the cost under normal valuations is too high to cut a player who may contribute to the team.  You don’t know who you will draft nor do you know how the draft pick will work out. Now you see how a 3rd or 4th rounder has progressed and the mid tier player begins to become more vulnerable than ever. Teams still don’t really know in August but with more information they can be more confident in their approach.

What happens next is that players are asked to take paycuts. We saw that in Buffalo with Brad Smith who likely had no chance to make the team(had the Bills switched GM’s earlier he probably would have been cut in March) without taking a paycut. Smith could say no but consider his options at this point.

Smith now makes his in-season residence in Buffalo and you are asking him to pick up and go. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, training camp has begun. Teams are pretty focused on their rosters and while they will always look for upgrades you have to be realistic. Smith is two years removed from being a relevant player to a team. He is being cut by one of the worst teams in the NFL. Are teams going to be knocking at his door with a great paying gig?  No chance. At best he’ll get a minimum salary deal with some team and that is if he is lucky.

His best chance is to take whatever paycut the Bills offer and hope he can stand out in camp. After all, the Bills did think enough of him to at least give him the camp opportunity. They didn’t grab anyone in a major position to uproot his spot on the team. Someone may take it but if not Buffalo has shown an inclination to keep him.

This extends all the way down to players at the tail end of their rookie contracts. Most first contract players earn escalators in the 4th season that is the equivalent of the lowest cost RFA tender, which for this season is $1.323 million. Unfortunately the salary isn’t guaranteed so teams make the decision that the player either needs to give up his escalated salary and return it to the minimum or be cut. In some cases a player is lucky and if he has any leverage can grab some guarantees and maybe meet halfway in between.

Last season Jets starting LG Matt Slauson fell into this category. This was really the dark side of the NFL and the salary cap. Slauson’s salary jumped to just over $1.3 million due to playing time and workout participation. Rather than paying him this amount the Jets created a fictional competition in training camp between he and G Vlad Ducasse, with Rex Ryan praising the younger Ducasse and talking about how the job was wide open. The Jets knew Ducasse was not good so Slauson had some leverage, but still he had to take a $258,000 paycut to ensure he stayed a Jet. The day he signed his new contract Slauson was named starter.

While the numbers don’t seem like much this pay cut represented close to a 20% decrease in salary for Slauson. O’Brien Schofield, claimed this week by the Seahawks, took a 47% pay cut to get a chance to make Seattle’s roster. These are significant numbers. This would be the equivalent of Sidney Rice taking a $3.995 million dollar pay cut. Asking Rice to take the same number pay cut is only 8% of his salary for the year, but the name player is rarely asked and this low tier guys get the short end of the stick. It makes you wonder what point there even is to earning the escalator.

Unfortunately for the players they have almost no options. September is just around the corner. There is no time to sell your services to multiple teams and pick and choose what looks like a good spot. Those jobs are already filled.  There is only one answer most players can give to the question “Either you will take this pay cut or you will be cut”. It’s not fair, but expect to see more of this in the coming weeks.


Brad Smith Takes Large Paycut with Bills


We had mentioned the other day that WR/KR Brad Smith of the Buffalo Bills had restructured his contract to reduce his cash and cap charges to help keep a spot on the roster. Smith reduced his total contract by $3 million dollars, taking a $1.25 million dollar paycut in 2013 and a $1.75 million dollar paycut in 2014 in an attempt to keep his roster spot with the Bills.

Smith’s new base salary for the season is $1.5 million.  Smith had already received a $500,000 roster bonus in March and he will carry a $2.575 million dollar salary cap charge for the season. Smith’s 2014 salary will decline from $3 million to $1.4 million and his roster bonus was reduced from $500,000 to $250,000. Smith also has the potential to earn a $100,000 workout bonus in 2014 plus incentives. No upfront money was paid to Smith in the renegotiation.

Smith had signed a 4 year contract with Buffalo worth $14.75 million in 2011, based on his work as an all around threat for the New York Jets. The contract, which contained $3.25 million in guarantees, reflected the belief that Smith could be a “Wildcat” QB, Wide Receiver, and Kick Returner for the Bills. The Bills may have fallen into the trap of falling in love with a division rival’s player as Smith has failed to develop as a WR for the Jets and was one of just many return men to thrive under Mike Westhoff’s special teams units. With Smith’s dead money remaining at $500,000 in 2014 he will need to become a bigger contributor to the Bills offense in 2013 if he has any chance of playing out the 2014 season.

View Brad Smiths Salary Cap Page