Dead money is a salary cap charge for a player that is no longer on a team's roster. It exists because of how salary cap accounting rules operate.
Signing bonuses, option bonuses and certain roster bonuses are prorated or spread out evenly over the life of a contract for a maximum of five years. When a player is released, traded, or retires, the remaining proration of these salary components immediately accelerate onto his team's current salary cap.
For example, $2 million of defensive end Vinny Curry's $10 million signing bonus counted toward the Eagles' salary cap for each year of the five year, $46.25 million contract he signed in 2016. Since he was released in March 2018 after playing two years under his contract, the $2 million of signing bonus proration from each of the last two years of the contract automatically accelerated onto Philadelphia's current salary cap. The Eagles have $6 million of dead money this year for letting Curry go.
There are two major exceptions to this general rule of bonus proration accelerating. Only the current year's proration counts toward the cap with players released, traded, or retiring after June 1. The bonus proration in future contract years is delayed until the following league year, which typically begins in early to mid-March.
A team can also release two players each league year before June 1 (known as a post-June 1 designation) that will be treated under the cap as if released after June 1. With a post-June 1 designation, a team is required to carry the player's full cap number until June 2 even though he is no longer a part of the roster. The player's salary comes off the books at that time unless it is guaranteed.
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This means dead money is typically a sunk cost where money isn't owed to a player. In Curry's case, Philadelphia has a residual cap charge this year although his signing bonus was paid in 2016. A payment is associated with dead money when there are salary guarantees at the time of release or departure comes after the player has already begun receiving a portion of his compensation in that particular league year.
Excessive dead money can inhibit a team's ability to field a competitive team. The salary cap room needed to be active in free agency or give contract extensions to important players on the team shrinks. Although the NFL sets the salary cap annually, each team's adjusted salary cap varies because unused salary cap room can be carried over from one year to the next. The carryover ability can help offset the effect of dead money.
Three NFL teams currently have more $25 million in dead money. There's a correlation between dead money and team performance so far this season. The three teams leading in dead money have a combined 5-10 record. The 49ers, who didn't quite hit the $25 million threshold, are 1-4.
Here's a look at the teams with the most dead money this year and the players responsible for the largest amounts.
Potential dead money subject to a grievance is not included in the calculations. Neither are potential expenses from termination pay since a player must submit paperwork during a small time frame right after the regular season ends in order to collect even though there's a cap charge for it when a qualifying player is released. The collective bargaining agreement's $215 daily amount for participating in a team's voluntary offseason workout program is included in dead money when applicable.
1. Buffalo Bills
Dead Money: $53.66 million
Adjusted Salary Cap: $188,412,871
Dead Money Percentage: 28.48 percent
Biggest Charges: Marcell Dareus (DT) $13,564,705, Cordy Glenn (OT) $9.6 million, Eric Wood (C) $9,591,668, Tyrod Taylor (QB) $7.6 million.
The Bills have been extremely active in remaking the roster ever since head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane were hired from the Panthers after the 2016 season. A lot of major pieces from former general manager Doug Whaley's tenure are gone.
Dareus, who signed a six-year, $95.1 million extension in 2015, was dealt to the Jaguars for a 2018 fifth-round pick at last year's trading deadline after he got off on the wrong foot with the new regime. McDermott benching Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman last season prior to a Week 11 game against the Chargers while in the middle of the playoff hunt was a strong indication he wasn't considered the long term answer at quarterback. He was traded to the Browns for a 2018 third-round pick (65th overall) early in the offseason.
Glenn was shipped to the Bengals in March to pave the way for 2017 second pick Dion Dawkins to take over at left tackle. Foot and ankle problems limited Glenn to six games in 2017. The Bills were able to move up nine spots in this year's NFL draft to the 12th overall pick. The change at tackle saves Buffalo a lot of money. Glenn was scheduled to make $30 million in the three remaining years of his contract while the last three years of Dawkins' rookie deal are worth approximately $2.55 million. The 12th pick and two 2018 second-round picks were sent to the Buccaneers in order to take quarterback Josh Allen seventh overall.
Center Eric Wood's unexpected retirement due to injury is contributing to Buffalo's dead money. He signed a two-year, $16 million extension (with additional $500,000 in salary escalators) shortly before the 2017 regular season started. A career ending neck condition was discovered in a postseason physical. $4.8 million of his $5.05 million 2018 base salary was guaranteed for injury when he signed the extension. The Bills are getting a slight break on Wood's dead money. $4 million of the guarantee is counting against the cap while $800,000 is being paid through workers compensation.
The Bills made two curious moves during the preseason that added to the dead money. Wide receiver Corey Coleman was acquired from the Browns for a 2020 seventh-round pick. The 2016 15th overall pick didn't make the 53-man roster despite having full guaranteed 2018 and 2019 base salaries. His dead money is $3,548,860 because any guarantees from future contract years accelerate into the current year when a player is released. In other words, Coleman's $2,039,316 2019 salary guarantee is a 2018 cap charge.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron signed a two-year, $10 million deal worth up to $14.5 million through incentives and salary escalators in March to compete for the starting job. He was dealt to the Raiders at the roster cutdown for a 2019 fifth-round pick. McCarron was paid $4.1 million for his brief stay in Buffalo. His dead money this year is $2.1 million since $4 million of the pay was signing bonus.
The Bills shouldn't be among the leaders in dead money next year because McDermott and Beane's roster purge is practically complete. Next year's cap situation looks good. The Bills currently have the NFL's second fewest cap commitments at $106.4 million with 30 players under contract.
2. New York Giants
Dead Money: $30.735 million
Adjusted Salary Cap: $178,049,071
Dead Money Percentage: 17.26 percent
Biggest Charges: Jason Pierre-Paul (DE) $15 million, Ereck Flowers (OT) $4,582,659, John Jerry (G) $2.55 million, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB) $2 million.
Nearly half of New York's dead money comes from trading Pierre-Paul to the Buccaneers in March. The four-year, $62 million contract (worth up to $66 million through salary escalators) Pierre-Paul signed in 2017 as a franchise player contained a $20 million signing bonus. The Giants only gained $2.5 million of cap space this year. Having Pierre-Paul off the books for the future creates $19.5 million and $17.5 million of cap room respectively in 2019 and 2020.
The Giants waived the white flag on Flowers on Tuesday. The 2015 ninth overall pick was supposed to anchor the offensive line for years to come. Briefly making Nate Solder the NFL's highest paid offensive lineman to take over at left tackle, which is where Flowers has played the last three seasons, was an indictment of his performance. Consequently the Giants didn't pick up Flowers' 2019 fifth-year option for $12.525 million. The experiment of moving Flowers to right tackle this season also failed.
Jerry was also a casualty of the offensive line overhaul. The 2017 free-agent signee took a pay cut in the offseason and had his 2019 contract year deleted in the process, to stay after 16 unimpressive starts last season. He didn't survive the roster cutdown at the end of the preseason.
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. His $2 million in dead money is almost double the money he's making from his one-year contract with the Raiders.
3. Dallas Cowboys
Dead Money: $28.24 million
Adjusted Salary Cap: $185,900,556
Dead Money Percentage: 15.19 percent
Biggest Charges: Tony Romo (QB) $8.9 million, Dez Bryant (WR) $8 million, Cedric Thornton (DL) $2.5 million.
The Cowboys' aggressive approach to managing the salary cap caught up with them on Romo. Annual restructuring of contracts to free up cap space by continuing to push cap obligations into the future is a way of life in Dallas.
The $19.6 million salary cap charge relating to the bonus proration in Romo's 2013 extension and subsequent contract restructurings for cap purposes in 2014 and 2015 is being taken over two years, 2017 and 2018, because he was released with a post-June 1 designation after he decided to retire in the 2017 offseason. If Romo's 2013 extension had been left alone, the Cowboys would have a $5 million cap charge in 2017 relating to the retirement instead of the $10.7 million of dead money they had for him. There also wouldn't have been any 2018 dead money for Romo.
Dallas picked up $8.5 million of cap space from Bryant's mid-April release. Owner Jerry Jones lamented earlier this week that he hadn't had a number one wide receiver in several years. That's been true since 2015 when Bryant signed a five-year, $70 million contract with $45 million in guarantees after being designated as a franchise player. In the 3 years Bryant played under the contract, he averaged 50 catches for a little less than 680 yards with just under six touchdowns each season. He missed 10 games during the span and didn't have a 1,000 receiving yard season.
There are also 10 players with at least $7.5 million in dead money this year. They are in the chart below.
It isn't a surprise that the Bills are responsible for four of the 10 biggest amounts considering their massive dead money. Bills' occupy the second, third and fourth spots. The collective dead money of those three players (Dareus, Wood and Glenn) are more than every other team's total.
Miami's 2016 restructure for cap purposes helped hasten Suh's departure. His $26.1 million 2018 cap number was unmanageable. The restructure made a post-June 1 designation the only way to pick up significant cap room with a release this year. Miami didn't have the luxury of time because $8.5 million of Suh's $16.985 million 2018 base salary was set to become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year (March 18). Suh's release freed up $17 million in cap space this year. The Dolphins are going to have a $13.1 million cap charge for Suh in 2019 because of the delay in the acceleration of the bonus proration for his 2019 and 2020 contract years.
Mathieu's refusal to entertain a pay cut from the five-year, $62.5 million extension he signed in 2016 led to his release. He was open to simple restructure to create cap room. The Cardinals balked because $18.75 million of Mathieu's $21 million in compensation for 2018 and 2019 was going to be fully guaranteed by March 16, the third day of the league year.
The Jets cutting Wilkerson was expected. He hadn't come close to living up to the five-year, $86 million deal he signed in 2016. Wilkerson was a healthy scratch the last three weeks of the 2017 season primarily because the Jets didn't want to risk him getting hurt, which could have triggered the injury guarantee for his $16.75 million 2018 base salary.
An interesting situation that doesn't involve any of the players responsible for the most dead money is Coleman's. He has dead money with two teams. The Browns have a $1,675,538 million salary cap charge this year, primarily his 2018 signing bonus proration, from trading him to the Bills in the preseason. He is on the Bills' books for almost $3.55 million since his 2018 and 2019 base salary are fully guaranteed. Since the guarantees have offsets, the Bills will get a cap credit from money he earns with other teams. So far, it's only a little more than $50,000 because he is having a hard time keeping a job.