It’s not often that you see players signed in the offseason released during the season but today we got two such released by the Browns and Steelers, who released Ben Tate and LeGarrette Blount this afternoon. Usually teams shy away from the move for two reasons. One is that the player likely received a decent signing bonus that was already promised to the player early in the season. Secondly the player will either have his salary guaranteed via his contract language or via the Termination Pay clauses in the CBA.
But when such players are released after the trade deadline that must pass through waivers despite the fact that they are considered veteran players in the NFL. If claimed they must report to that team and honor their contract. Once that occurs their original team should be off the hook for the balance of their salary. So by releasing players now it is, in many ways, an effort to trade a player for cash considerations, something that happens in other sports but is not allowed in the NFL. If they clear waivers they are free to sign with any team.
Tate, who entered free agency expecting a mega contract, settled for a two year, $6.1 million contract from the Browns. Tate received a $1.5 million signing bonus and another $1 million in fully guaranted salary in 2014. He could also earn up to $750,000 in gameday active roster bonuses and another $500,000 in incentives for performance.
Tate would be one of the biggest flops of free agency, rushing for just 333 yards in 8 games before his release. In perhaps the last moment of frustration for him, he watched the majority of the Browns loss to his former team while sitting on the bench and seeing his replacement in Houston flourish. If Tate is claimed a team would be required to pay him $342,941 for the remainder of the season and an additional $46,875 per game in which he is active. If he goes unclaimed the Browns will pay him the $342,941 but their obligation on the roster bonus is relieved as the roster bonus is not protected by termination pay or contractual guarantees. He will also carry a $750,000 cap charge for the Browns in 2015.
Blount signed a two year deal for just $3.85 million but did receive a $975,000 signing bonus from Pittsburgh. His $900,000 salary is not guaranteed but should be protected by termination pay. At stake here is $317,647 of salary. Because the Steelers have yet to have a bye week he could have an interesting situation where he actually has a 17 game season. Any claim for termination pay comes after the season and if he believes he could be signed by another team next season could also opt to not file a claim for it, which may also be part of the Steelers thought process. You can only file a claim once for termination pay and this number is less than what he would earn on a new contract at the veterans minimum in the future. The Steelers will carry a $475,000 salary cap charge for Blount in 2015.
All in all the offseason has been a total bust for the position of running back. Besides these two failures we have also had the failures of Chris Johnson ($4M, 360 yards), Toby Gerhart ($3.5M, 154 yards), Donald Brown ($3.5M, 149 yards), Joique Bell ($3.1M, 442 yards), Knowshon Moreno ($3M, 148 yards), Maurice Jones Drew ($2.5M, 70 yards), and Rashad Jennings ($2.5M, 455 yards). These are contracts that will have an impact on mid level runners moving forward in that teams will have no incentives to offer much more than the minimum, especially in light of plug and play runners like Jonas Gray finding ways to put up huge numbers when given the chance.