Quarterback Jay Cutler retired to become an NFL game analyst with Fox Sports when there was limited interest in him after he was cut by the Bears in March 2017. It took a season-ending knee injury to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill last August for Cutler to continue playing. He signed a one-year, $10 million deal with an additional $3 million in incentives.
Cutler is the exception rather than the rule, financially, when it comes to veteran players who weren't with teams for workout programs and minicamps still unsigned when training camps open. Seven-time All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson is more indicative of how the process works with these veterans. He just signed a one-year contract at his $1.015 million league-minimum salary with the Redskins, because of injuries at running back after no other teams expressing serious interest in the five months since free agency started.
A majority of veterans signing in the preseason get one-year minimum salary benefit contracts because beggars can't be choosers. A vested veteran player (four or more years of service) receives his applicable league-minimum base salary and up to a maximum of $90,000 as additional compensation whether as a signing bonus, roster bonus, workout bonus or incentives with these deals. The league-minimum salary for players with four-to-six years of service is $790,000. It's $915,000 for players with seven-to-nine years of service. Players with 10-or-more years of service have a $1.015 million minimum salary.
The player's base salary counts on the salary cap at the $630,000 minimum salary for players with two years of service instead of at his actual base salary. No more than the $630,000 can be guaranteed, but players signing at this juncture rarely get any guarantees.
These contracts also usually contain a split salary, where the player receives a lower salary when he is still under contract but not on the 53-man roster. Typically, this occurs when a player is put on injured reserve. The amount of split salary is like the minimum salary. It depends on years of service. For example, a player with 10-plus years of service receives a split salary of $508,000, which is what Peterson has.
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Outside of Cutler, wide receiver Anquan Boldin was the only veteran who had been sitting on the open market since the early stages of free agency that signed for more than $2.5 million per year last preseason. He got a one-year, $2.75 million contract with additional $1.25 million in incentives from the Bills.
There hasn't been a veteran player who was available at the beginning of August to sign a deal with the base value hitting the $2 million per year mark so far. Quality veteran players released at the roster cutdown have a much better chance of getting a lucrative contract than an available veteran free agent.
Some out-of-work veterans might already be on rosters if they had lower financial expectations. Unless salary expectations are adjusted, it may take a dramatic change in circumstances before a team is willing to seriously consider their monetary demands.
Here's a look 15 notable veteran players that remain available. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn't included because nobody has shown any interest in signing him since the Ravens last preseason. The grievance he filed against the NFL alleging collusion during the middle of last season because of his refusal to stand for the national anthem before games in 2016 to protest racial injustice may have effectively put an end to his football career.
Safety Tyvon Branch is also omitted. He was having a solid 2017 season with the Cardinals before tearing the ACL in his right knee last November. He may not be completely recovered before the start of the regular season.
Dez Bryant, WR
Bryant turned down a three-year contract from the Ravens believed to be averaging $7 million per year shortly after the Cowboys released him in mid-April. He decided to wait until training camp before looking to sign with a new team since the offers and interest he was getting weren't satisfactory. Bryant visited the Browns last week, although his preference is a contending team. Signing Bryant has been put on Cleveland's back-burner with Josh Gordon returning after missing the first part of training camp for personal reasons. Bryant's patience won't be rewarded if recent history is any indication. The most lucrative wide receiver deals over the last couple of years for players first hitting the open market after April belong to Jeremy Maclin and Eric Decker. Maclin signed a two-year, $11 million deal worth a maximum of $14 million through incentives several days after the Chiefs cut him last June. It took Decker less than a week to land a one-year, $4 million contract (worth up to $5.5 million with incentives) once the Jets let him go last year right before the start of the June minicamp.
Eric Reid, S
Reid, along with Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro, was a victim of an extremely soft safety market. His significant role in the anthem protests is a contributing factor in his continued availability. Reid filed a grievance against the NFL in early May alleging collusion because of his lack of employment. The Titans reached out to Reid after strong safety Johnathan Cyprien tore his left ACL earlier this month. Reid never made it to Nashville because of delayed flights. Vaccaro was signed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract with another $2.05 million in incentives instead. Reid should expect a similar deal or one for less if he lands with a team.
Bashaud Breeland, CB
Breeland signed a three-year, $24 million contract with the Panthers at the beginning of free agency in March. The Panthers voided the deal because Breeland couldn't pass his physical due to an infection after cutting his foot while on vacation in the Dominican Republic. Multiple teams (Browns, Chiefs, Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, Raiders) have expressed interest in Breeland since his foot has healed but the money, which won't be anything close to the voided Panthers contract and will likely be a one-year prove-it deal, hasn't been to his liking.
Hankins languished on the open market for a month in 2017 before signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Colts because he was reportedly looking for top-tier defensive tackle money initially. He was released in March because he wasn't a good fit in new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' 4-3 scheme. The Redskins expressed interest shortly after Hankins' release. Hankins recently worked out for the Browns.
NaVorro Bowman, ILB
Bowman led the Raiders with 89 tackles although he didn't land in Oakland until the 49ers released him five games into last season. There was mutual interest in Bowman remaining in Oakland during the early part of the offseason. Bowman may have overplayed his hand because the Raiders went in another direction after the NFL Draft. Derrick Johnson (who at 35 is five-and-a-half years older) signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract worth up to $3 million through incentives in early May. According the NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, the Packers had internal discussion about Bowman after inside linebacker Jake Ryan suffered a season ending knee injury early in training camp.
Antonio Gates, TE
Gates' 15-year run with the Chargers was thought to have ended after the 2017 season when his contract expired, because of 2016 second-round pick Hunter Henry's emergence. Henry tearing the ACL in his right knee during team workouts in May has opened the door to the 38 year old returning for a 16th year. Tom Condon, Gates' agent, said there were active negotiations about a month ago. Head coach Anthony Lynn acknowledged that the Chargers were still talking with Gates, who made $5 million in 2017, less than two weeks ago.
Rodgers-Cromartie balking at drastically cutting his scheduled $6.5 million 2018 salary and a possible move to safety led to the Giants releasing him in March. The Seahawks expressed some interest recently. Rodgers-Cromartie is on the Chargers' radar screen because of Jason Verrett's torn Achilles. A return to Giants can't be ruled out after 2018 supplemental draft pick Sam Beal's season-ending shoulder surgery.
Jeremy Maclin, WR
The Ravens released Maclin, who was scheduled to $5 million in 2018, in March. Free agency has been much different this time around than when the Chiefs let him go in 2017. Maclin was quickly signed by Baltimore. There has been speculation that Maclin could return to the Eagles, who selected him in the first round in the 2009 draft, because of injuries at wide receiver and his history with head coach Doug Pederson. He was Maclin's offensive coordinator in Kansas City in 2015, and was part of the coaching staff during Maclin's first four years in Philadelphia.
Brian Cushing, ILB
Cushing, who served a 10-game performance-enhancing-drugs suspension in 2017, announced his retirement after the Texans released him in February. It was the second such infraction of Cushing's nine-year NFL career. He quickly had a change of heart. Cushing visited the Seahawks in early March. He played for Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll at USC. Cushing also drew some interest from the Raiders but his scheduled visit was cancelled after Johnson was signed.
Julius Thomas, TE
Thomas didn't live up to the five-year, $46 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2015 before the Jaguars traded him to the Dolphins last offseason. The change of scenery to Miami didn't result in Thomas resurrecting his career. Thomas hasn't been linked to any teams since the Dolphins released him in March.
Elvis Dumervil, DE
The 34 year old is still capable of being an effective situational pass rusher. Dumervil led the 49ers in 2017 with 6.5 sacks while playing slightly more than 30 percent of San Francisco's defensive snaps. The 49ers haven't ruled out a Dumervil return if there's difficulty getting to opposing quarterbacks although his 2018 option year worth $4 million with an additional $1 million of incentives wasn't picked up in March.
Luke Joeckel, OG
The second overall pick of the 2013 draft began his career as a left tackle with the Jaguars. His switch to left guard for Jacksonville in 2016 was limited to five games because of major reconstructive left knee surgery. That didn't prevent the Seahawks from signing him to a one-year, $8 million deal where $7 million was fully guaranteed last offseason. 2017 second-round pick Ethan Pocic's emergence during the five games Joeckel missed because of minor knee surgery made re-signing him unnecessary. The offensive line being decimated by injuries might prompt the Vikings to take a look at Joeckel.
Jamaal Charles, RB
Charles grew frustrated as the 2017 season progressed because of a lack of opportunity with the Broncos. He received a season-high 10 carries in the 2017 season opener and never had more than 10 touches (combined rushing attempts and receptions) in a game after the third week of the season. The Redskins kicked the tires on Charles before signing Peterson.
Matt Moore, QB
Moore has been surveying the quarterback landscape waiting for the right opportunity to arise. He kept the Dolphins' playoff hopes alive in 2016 when Ryan Tannehill went down late in the season with a knee injury. Miami won two of their final three games with Moore under center to earn a wild-card spot. The Broncos could be a landing spot if there isn't comfort with 2017 seventh-round pick Chad Kelly as the top backup behind Case Keenum.
Junior Galette, DE/OLB
Galette played all 16 games with the Redskins in 2017 after missing the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Achilles tears. According to Pro Football Focus, Galette had 37 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) in 258 passing rushing snaps last year. The Rams and Seahawks brought Galette in this week but neither team signed him.