Salary cap casualties mean different things to different teams, players

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Former Raiders DB Stanford Routt celebrates an INT against the Chiefs, his new employer. (US Presswire)  
Former Raiders DB Stanford Routt celebrates an INT against the Chiefs, his new employer. (US Presswire)  

There are so many benefits to being at the owners meetings to discuss trends in the game, especially on the business side of things right in the middle of business season.

If you come to these meetings prepared and ready to discuss specifics with some of the decision-makers at the club executive level, they tend to react to things you may have observed. I try to grab their interest on a subject or two and see where it takes the conversation.

One of the areas in salary cap management that always intrigues me is salary cap casualties (SCC). The use of the word "casualty" is interesting when labeling certain players. "Casualty" is a victim or a person lost or destroyed. When you see what has happened to the 2012 salary cap casualties, you may realize that label fits. A salary cap casualty as defined by NFL people is a player released for contract reasons. He might still be a good player, but whether it's living up to the contract in place or simply that the club doesn't have the salary cap space to keep him, he's released into the free agent pool.

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Many players facing the reality of being a SCC are offered reduced contract opportunities to stay with a club, which could avoid the casualty part of the equation. Some take the reduced offer, and others don't.

It has been a relatively slow year for salary cap casualty players; many "smart" men took restructured deals when offered, which was a good idea, with the salary cap lacking significant growth from the past years.

Nonetheless, there have been 65 SCC players to date. Indianapolis (6), Oakland (6), Pittsburgh (6), St. Louis (5), San Diego (4) led the way with the most "victims." Of those 65, there were a few retirements, but only 14 of them have received new contracts with other teams. Only seven of the 14 received multiyear contracts with significant money: Peyton Manning, Eric Winston, Steve Hutchinson, Kamerion Wimbley, Stanford Routt, Travelle Wharton and Kevin Boss feel good about landing on their feet. Think about it: Only 21 percent of the salary cap casualties got any kind of contract, and only 11 percent got good deals. Those kind of numbers justify calling players "salary cap casualties."

Besides the obvious improvement made in Denver when they secured Peyton Manning, I have to hand it to the Kansas City Chiefs. GM Scott Pioli capitalized on the SCC market by picking up Eric Winston, Stanford Routt and Kevin Boss, three starters from teams that had to release players -- two from their own division, and all three from their conference.

One GM I spoke with likes to say, "Money and cap space are power. Rosters are built and broken this time of year." Kansas City has a lot of salary cap space and put it to good use grabbing players other teams couldn't afford to keep.

There are seven teams that have not yet had to release any players for salary cap purposes, and none of them had a losing record in 2011, which means they aren't going backward in the personnel department while trying to get ready for 2012. Atlanta, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans and Tennessee may have lost a player or two because they didn't want to overpay, as was the case with Curtis Lofton in Atlanta. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff told me, "We really like Curtis, but you can't keep the whole group, especially on good teams." Financial discipline is a strength that helps NFL teams avoid salary cap casualties.

Finally, some teams like the Steelers are just trying to get younger, which is understandable, but as GM Kevin Colbert said, "We released our offensive captain, our defensive captain and our special teams captain, and some young players have to step up and be leaders."

The Steelers also have to keep some of their precious salary cap space just in case a team goes after restricted free agent Mike Wallace and they decide to match the offer.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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