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NFL Dead Cap 101

NFL Dead Cap 101
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As the 2018 NFL offseason begins to take shape and we head toward the beginning of the league year and free agency, many teams are shuffling their current rosters to acquire additional cap space, trim a few unnecessary pieces, and prepare for fresh blood. The season of roster cuts, restructures, trades, & even retirements brings up an important vice connected to NFL contracts - dead cap. We'll take a quick look at what it is, why it's important, and which players and teams have accounted for the most in recent years.


What is Dead Cap?

NFL contracts contain two major elements: Cash, & Cap. Dead cap refers to any guaranteed cash or unallocated cap that hasn’t yet been accounted for in the remaining years of a contract.


Types of dead cap

Guaranteed Salary
A base (or Paragrah 5) salary represents a player’s bi-weekly paycheck over the course of a season. If a base salary is fully guaranteed, but a team releases that player prior to the season, the player is not only paid the cash, but the team must account for that payment as dead cap.

Signing or Option Bonuses
For salary cap purposes, items like signing/option bonuses are divided over the course of a contract. A $10M signing bonus for a 5 year contract means $10M in cash for the player, but $2M in salary cap per year of the deal. If a player is released before the 5 years is up, the team that paid the signing bonus must still account for the years of signing bonus cap not yet allocated.

Generally speaking when a player's contract is restructured, money from a base salary or a roster bonus is converted into a signing bonus. This allows that money to be spread out over the remaining years of the contract, instead of being allocated all in the current year, lowering the salary cap hit. However once that money becomes a signing bonus, it also becomes dead cap for the remainder of the contract, so if the salary or bonus wasn't guaranteed before - it is now.

What About Trades?
When a player is traded, any base salary left on the contract transfers to the new team - guaranteed or not. If the contract included a signing bonus when signed, the team that paid the signing bonus must take on a dead cap hit for any of the unallocated bonus years.



The Osweiler example

Brock Osweiler was given a 4 year, $72M contract from the Texans for some reason back in 2016. The deal included a $12M signing bonus, $9M of guaranteed salary in 2016, and $16M of guaranteed salary in 2017.

The Texans then traded Osweiler in March of 2017 after 1 miserable season to the Browns. So here’s how the dead cap played out in this scenario:

  • Houston took a $9M dead cap hit for the remaining 3 years of signing bonus ($12M/4 = $3M per year, 3x3 = 9).

  • The Browns acquired Osweiler’s $16M guaranteed salary for 2017 - but then cut him a few months later. Because of the guarantee, Cleveland took a $16M dead cap hit last year for Brock Osweiler to not play for them.

Offset Language & Dead Cap
Osweiler then signed a contract with Denver for 1 year, $775,000. Now because the $16M guaranteed salary contained what is referred to as “offsets”, Cleveland was able to reduce their $16M dead cap hit by the $775,000, down to $15,225,000. Offsets are becoming extremely popular in all contract types, and are a hot topic with 1st round draft picks every year, as it hands the team a bit of leverage.


Dead Cap and the Post-June 1st Scenario
By now you’ve likely heard of the Post 6/1 designation when it comes to player releases or trades, but just to quickly offer some clarity, we’ll use the Brock Osweiler example again to show what this means.

  • Had the Texans traded Osweiler to Cleveland on June 30th instead of March 9th, the $9M in signing bonus that converted to dead cap would have been split across 2018 & 2019. Any allocations in 2018 (so $3M) would have become 2018 dead cap, and the rest of the contract’s allocations ($6M) would have become 2019 dead cap.

  • This is NOT the case with guaranteed salaries however. If a player is released after June 1st, any guaranteed salary for the upcoming or any future years automatically accelerates as dead cap for the current year. So, had Osweiler been RELEASED on June 30th, Houston would have had a $19M dead cap hit in 2018, and a $6M hit in 2019.


The Biggest Dead Cap Hits of the Salary Cap Era

Since 2011, 27 players have accounted for at least $10M in dead cap to their team per a release, trade, or retirement, led by the Bills trade of DT Marcell Dareus last fall, a move that left a whopping $24.8M in dead cap behind. ($14.2M of which will be accounted for in 2018). Dak Prescott’s quick rise bumped Tony Romo out of a job, but left the Cowboys with $19.6M in dead cap.

Player Team Pos. Total Dead Cap Hit
Marcell Dareus BUF DT $24,864,705
Tony Romo DAL QB $19,600,000
Junior Galette NO OLB $17,550,000
Brock Osweiler CLE QB $15,225,000
Navorro Bowman SF ILB $14,365,500
Ray Rice BAL RB $14,250,000
LaMarr Woodley PIT OLB $14,170,000
Richard Seymour OAK DT $13,714,000
Percy Harvin SEA WR $13,482,352


Team Dead Cap Totals Since 2013

Since 2013, plenty of dead cap has been accrued across the league as team’s found their way with the new hard salary cap, and silly contracts were blown up.

Player Total Dead Cap Hit
New Orleans Saints $137,496,180
Cleveland Browns $133,535,269
Buffalo Bills $125,380,744
San Francisco 49ers $110,979,041
Dallas Cowboys $107,469,893

And the teams with the least amount accrued since 2013

Player Total Dead Cap Hit
Cincinnati Bengals $26,879,283
Green Bay Packers $35,326,234
Minnesota Vikings $42,833,959
Denver Broncos $49,476,583

New York Giants



Dead Cap by Position Since 2013

It shouldn't be surprising that the positions at the top here garner the bigger total contracts, and therefore cost more to get out of. However this also shows a bit of a shift in teams have spent their dollars positionally. As rosters are built more for depth, dead cap will accumulate, but in smaller bits and pieces. Shorter term contracts with front-loaded cash and smaller bonuses = less dead cap, a trend we're seeing in Running Backs, Tight Ends, and especially with Middle Linebackers.

Player Total Dead Cap Hit
Wide Receivers $355,411,286
Cornerbacks $309,049,340
Quarterbacks $225,744,300
Defensive Ends $198,371,240
Outside Linebackers $197,410,253
Defensive Tackles $197,066,129
Guards $180,728,300
Safeties $177,315,215
Running Backs $162,517,601
Inside Linebackers $157,026,645
Tight Ends $134,963,094
Left Tackles $81,626,873
Right Tackles $74,170,455
Centers $45,262,650
Kickers $42,352,269
Fullbacks $23,789,138
Punters $14,535,857
Long Snappers $5,170,333