With much being made of the large salary cap charges associated with cutting or trading certain players this year I thought it would be fun to a take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the biggest dead money charges of all time and see how they rank with compared to the big moves from this year. Rather than looking at them strictly by dead money I wanted to look at them as a percentage of the salary cap which puts them all in a proper perspective(we will use $180M for this year). Please note that this may not be a comprehensive list as it is just a list of players we have records of through the years.
15. Drew Bledsoe, Patriots- $6.67 million/9.38% of 2002 cap
The emergence of Tom Brady in New England made their former starter expendable despite the fact that Bledsoe had just signed a nine year contract extension. Bledsoe had received an $8 million signing bonus as part of the contract and only one year had been accounted for (during that era proration was allowed to be longer than five years). This was actually a highly debated topic at the time as Bledsoe was a proven QB and Brady, despite the Super Bowl win, was not. Money was a big part of the debate given the size of the dead money relative to what was just a $71 million salary cap limit. Bledsoe was traded to the Bills for a first round pick which was used to select solid defensive end Ty Warren. Obviously the Patriots made the right choice as Brady became the greatest QB of all time while Bledsoe was cut from the Bills in 2005.
14. Nick Foles, Jaguars- $18.75 million/9.46% of 2020 cap
The end result was one people saw coming from a mile away. The Jaguars were in desperation mode following a failed bid to return to the playoffs and signed Foles to a big $22 million per year contract. Foles had basically been a failure as a NFL starter but had an epic playoff run that culminated in a Super Bowl and followed that up with another late season surge while in as an injury replacement. Foles would only start four games for Jacksonville missing a good portion of the season with an injury and then being benched for poor play. This could have been far worse for the Jaguars who not only paid Foles a $25 million signing bonus but were on the hook for another $15 million in guarantees. Foles agreed to take a massive reduction in pay to facilitate a trade with the Bears which actually let the Jaguars escape on the cheap relative to what the Dolphins had to do the year before to essentially pull off the exact same trade.
13. Brock Osweiler, Browns- $16 million/9.58% of 2017 cap
This was a bit of a miscalculation by the Browns who took a somewhat innovative step of paying for a draft pick by taking on Osweiler’s fully guaranteed $16 million salary from the Texans who the year before signed Osweiler to a bad contract. The Browns gave up $16 million and a 4th round pick for a 2nd round pick and a 6th round pick. At the time I think they believed they could flip Osweiler for another pick by eating half the cost. Needless to say they found no takers and wound up cutting Osweiler and paying him $16 million (they did receive a small credit the following year for salary earned by Osweiler with the Broncos). Houston took Carlos Watkins with their pick while the Browns wound up using the lesser pick to trade up and select Roderick Johnson and then used the second rounder on Nick Chubb. Not sure paying $16 million for the right to draft a running back is worth it but that was a new regime making the pick so its hard to know the ultimate strategy. In light of some later trades it would seem the Browns overpaid here.
12. Andrew Luck, Colts- $18.4 million/9.78% of 2019 cap
Luck’s abrupt retirement from the Colts in 2019 left the Colts with a massive bill in 2019. Luck still had $12.8 million in bonus prorations remaining on his contract from a $32 million signing bonus he was paid in 2016 and also had received $12 million in roster bonuses earlier that year. The Colts had to account for $18.4 million of that when he retired and then deferred another $6.4 million to 2020. The Colts had the right to go after all $24.8 million but decided not to apparently in the hope he would return to the team in 2020. The end result for the Colts was a wild use of cap space on quarterbacks- a total of $79.6 million in salary cap charges in 2019 and 2020 for Luck, Jacoby Brissett, and Philip Rivers.
11. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins- $18.42 million/9.79% of 2019 cap
Miami signed Tannehill to a questionable contract extension in 2015, though in hindsight maybe they had the right player but the wrong coaches around him. Tannehill’s contract was turned into a salary cap minefield with an ill advised $16.685 million salary conversion in 2018 when he had three years remaining on his contract. They wound up looking to dump him the next year and it was costly. There was $11.1 million remaining from that conversion and $2.3 million from his original signing bonus. It got worse from there because Miami wanted to get something in return for him even though his value in the NFL was next to nothing. Miami paid another $5 million in 2019 to Tannehill as a prepayment of his contract with the Titans to get a 4th round draft pick as a return. Tannehill has been to the playoffs two years in a row. This pick was sent away to the Steelers as part of the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade in 2019.
10. Darrelle Revis, Jets- $13.0 million/10.57% of 2013 cap
Revis’ first tenure with the Jets came to an end in 2013 when yet another contract dispute between the two sides saw the Jets ship their star cornerback off to the Buccaneers for a 1st round draft pick. Revis was a great player for the Jets in 2009 and 2010 but their whole relationship was filled with contract disputes. Revis held out as a rookie before scoring a big contract from the team. After quickly outplaying the deal he held out again in 2010 before the two sides agreed to a famous “band aid” contract. The Jets put all kind of contract language in this one to prevent another hold out but rumblings had already started in 2012 that he was trying to get a new deal and by 2013 he was very vocal about it. With a new general manager in place not looking to deal with this he just traded him out. Revis’ dead money came from $12 million in remaining prorations from an $18 million option bonus paid in 2011 and a $1 million workout bonus that Revis earned from the team prior to the trade.
9. Brandin Cooks, Rams- $21.8 million/11.00% of 2020 cap
Cooks set the single season NFL record for dead money last year at $21.8 but was surpassed in less than one season. The Cooks deal was a heavily frontloaded contract which saw the dead money skyrocket due to the use of a $17 million option bonus in 2019. Cooks had some issues with concussions while the offense seemed to move away from really needing to utilize Cooks’ vertical abilities. Rather than sinking another $8 million into Cooks they decided to trade him and a 4th to the Texans who sent the Rams a 2nd round pick in return. The Rams used the pick on receiver Van Jefferson. Cooks’ dead money consisted of $4.2 million in prorations left from his 2018 signing bonus, $13.6 million remaining from the option bonus, and $4 million in guaranteed payments the Rams made to Cooks the month prior to the trade.
8. John Randle, Vikings- $7.5 million/11.13% of 2001 cap
Randle’s contract with the Vikings was a bit of a trailblazer contract in the NFL. It was one of the first deals to contain all kinds of guaranteed salaries throughout the contract, roster bonuses at key decision points, and an incredibly big signing bonus relative to the size of the contract. When the Vikings and Randle split the team still had to account for two years of proration from a $10 million signing bonus and a $3 million conversion bonus plus $2 million in salary guarantees. Randle would sign a five year contract with the Seahawks after being cut. He played three seasons in Seattle.
7. Richard Seymour, Raiders- $13.71 million/11.15% of 2013 cap
This was peak Raiders when it came to contract mismanagement. Oakland agreed to a two year, $30 million contract with the 32 year old defensive lineman. To make the numbers work the Raiders utilized four void years on the tail end of the contract. Of the $30 million contract, all of which was basically guaranteed, $28.165 million wound up being prorated. Seymour played 24 games in two years and was done in the NFL while the Raiders were left with the bill. There was a reason players talked about the Raiders as basically being your retirement plan during this era and this illustrated it perfectly.
6. Antonio Brown, Steelers- $21.12 million/11.22% of 2019 cap
Brown is pretty much responsible for the new movement in the NFL that has shifted more power to the players if they make a lot of noise about their situation they may be able to make a move out. Unlike the Revis drama this wasn’t really about a contract though that may have been a small part of it. Brown just wanted a change of scenery despite agreeing to a contract extension just two years earlier. The Steelers held firm on this one for a bit in large part because of the big investment they had in him until the noise became too much and they traded him to the Raiders for a 3rd and a 5th round pick. The dead money came from a $19 million signing bonus paid in 2017 and a $12.96 million bonus paid in 2018. Brown was the first player to cross the $20 million dead money mark, a record that did not even last a year. The Steelers took Dionte Johnson and Zach Gentry with the picks while the Raiders dealt with the “summer of Brown” which led to his being released for conduct.
5. Jared Goff, Rams- $22.2 million/12.33% of 2021 cap
We may be experiencing something new in the NFL where teams with mediocre QB’s are finally deciding that it is better to part ways with the player than to continue a push to mediocrity for the next few seasons. The next step will be to see if they stop doing extensions and instead play out the Kirk Cousins type scenarios. While I do not think you can fault the Rams for doing this contract with Goff it is a tough pill to swallow when the alternative was to just force him to play out his rookie contract and save millions of dollars doing that. The Rams had paid Goff a $25 million signing bonus in 2019 and a $9 million bonus in 2020 to give the Rams some cap relief last year. They packaged two first round picks along with Goff to bring in Matthew Stafford to bring a little more upside to the position.
4. Steve McNair, Titans- $13.46 million/13.20% of 2006 cap
The McNair contract was a wild one and one of the ways of adding years for relief in the earlier days of the cap without really doing an extension. McNair had three years remaining on his contract with the Titans with cap hits in the $10M+ range. In order to get more cap relief they needed to add years to the deal but by no means should a player just add contract years. Instead they came up with a contract that was designed to force the Titans into a decision. In 2006 they either had to pay McNair a $50 million option bonus to kick in the 2007 to 2009 seasons or they had to pay him an extra $1 million to play out his deal. This allowed the Titans to prorate a bunch of money into the future, paying a $6 million bonus in 2004 and $6.75 million bonus in 2005. When 2006 came things got strange. The Titans barred McNair from their facility fearing he might get hurt and he filed a grievance which he won. The Titans traded him to the Ravens rather than dealing with it. The dead money also included prorations from 2001, 2002, and 2003 as this deal was loaded with bonuses for cap purposes.
3. Peyton Manning, Colts- $16.0 million/13.27% of 2012 cap
If Twitter was a bigger thing back in 2011 and 2012 I wonder how this whole scenario would have been received. There was no discounting Manning’s place as one of the greatest of all time but he was undergoing surgery to his neck when the Colts agreed to a contract with him that included a $20 million signing bonus and $54 million to be paid in the first two years of the contract. Manning never played a down with the team due to injury and the team changed course in part because of the large payment due the following year and the chance to draft Andrew Luck. Manning would go on to sign with Denver after being released by the Colts where he was paid a more realistic $38 million over the first two years of the deal with some injury considerations being afforded to Denver if his neck was a problem.
2. Troy Aikman, Cowboys- $10.06 million/14.93% of 2001 cap
The great Dallas teams of the 90s had been completely gutted by the cap and Aikman was one of the last remnants of that group. The Cowboys actually signed Aikman to a new long term contract in 1999 but it was really just for salary cap relief. Back in those days that was the way things were done more than void years like we see now. Aikman missed 5 games in 98, 2 games in 99, and 5 games in 2000. Since 1997 the team was 24-28 in games he started and the concussions had really begun to pile up. Dallas released him and Aikman retired a few weeks later. This is the first $10 million dead money charge we have a record of. It took nearly 20 years to get to $20 million to give you an idea of how big this number was for the time.
1. Carson Wentz, Eagles- $33.82 million/18.79% of 2021 cap
This is the new addition just today to the lit and it is a whopper. This was essentially the same as the Jared Goff contract situation except the Eagles were far more aggressive on using Wentz for cap relief. Wentz was paid a $16.4 million signing bonus in 2019 and a $30 million option bonus in 2020 only to be benched at the end of the 2020 year. Just today the report came out that he will be traded to the Colts in return for a 3rd and 2nd round pick next year that could increase to a 1st rounder depending on how he plays. The numbers here are nuts. The next closest player we had a record of was Aikman at 14.9% and even if the cap was normal this year Wentz’ dead money would represent about 16% of the salary cap. As I mentioned above it took nearly 20 years to go from $10 to $20 million in dead money and the jump from $20 to $30 million only took a year due to Wentz. My assumption is that this number will hold for quite some time given the way teams now approach the salary cap and it may fundamentally change the way some extensions are approached in the future.
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.