Under the Cap: Redskins Utilizing the Uncapped Year
by J.I. Halsell
After nearly three weeks, the team many suspected to be most likely to leverage the uncapped year has finally done so. However, contrary to popular thought, the Redskins didn't take advantage by signing Julius Peppers and Karlos Dansby all on the same day. Instead, the Redskins renegotiated the contracts of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
As of March 11, the Redskins had a total team salary of $141.6 million. By virtue of the Haynesworth and Hall renegotiations of March 12th, this number is now roughly $170 million. To put this in perspective, the baseline salary cap in 2009 was $128 million. So what did the Redskins do?
In his infamous $100 million contract of 2009, Haynesworth had a $21-million option bonus. As part of the deal, the Redskins reserved the right to convert that option bonus to a signing bonus, and that’s exactly what they did. But they converted it with a slight twist. Not only did they convert the option bonus to a $21-million signing bonus, but they also added a voidable provision. In the provision, if Haynesworth pays back $26 million of his signing bonuses, then the 2011-2014 contract years void away. From a team salary accounting standpoint -- because the voidable is solely in the player’s control -- the proration of the signing bonus does not go into 2011-2014. That means all of the $21 million signing bonus counts in the uncapped year of 2010. As a result, Haynesworth’s team salary number in 2010 went from $8.8 million to a whopping $25.6 million. His subsequent team salary numbers are $6.4 million, $8.2 million, $10 million, $10.8 million, and $12.8 million, respectively.
Similarly, Hall had a $15 million option bonus in his contract 2009 contract. The Redskins converted this $15 million to a signing bonus and provided Hall with the voidable clause, whereby the entire $15 million, from a team salary accounting standpoint, stays in 2010. As a result of this maneuver, Hall’s team salary number went from $6.8 million to $18.3 million in 2010. His subsequent manageable team salary numbers are $5.3 million, $6.8 million, $8.3 million, and $9.5 million, respectively.
In a December ESPN.com article, I discussed Redskins GM Bruce Allen's creativity with the cap and contracts. The Haynesworth and Hall renegotiations illustrate that creativity. The voidable language added to the Haynesworth and Hall contracts is the same device included in the contract for center Jeff Faine that Allen in Tampa. Interestingly, Allen named the voidable clause the "I-4 Off-Ramp," named after the highway that joins Tampa to the rest of central Florida.
Some may point to the release of veterans Fred Smoot, Rock Cartwright, Cornelius Griffin, Randy Thomas, and Antwaan Randle El, among others, as a sign of the Redskins taking advantage of the uncapped year. The reality is that those terminations were relatively meaningless in terms of salary total. If those veterans (including Ladell Betts, Todd Collins, and Chris Samuels) had been on the team, they would have counted $30.8 million in team salary. As a result of their terminations, their dead money totals $30.5 million, a savings of $300,000. If anything, the uncapped year allows the Redskins to replace these players without being handcuffed by a salary cap, but these terminations are not nearly as significant as the Haynesworth and Hall renegotiations.
The conversion of bonus money to signing bonus is a fairly common practice in the NFL. One presumed advantage to converting an option bonus to a signing bonus is the concept of forfeiture. An option bonus is not subject to forfeiture, but a signing bonus is subject to forfeiture. Therefore, a team protects its interests in the event a player defaults on the contract (a la shooting themselves in the leg) by converting money to signing bonus. However, the interpretation of the amount of money open to recovery based upon the timing of the default is not clearly defined in the CBA.
One argument is that the forfeiture amount is prorated over the term of the contract. In the case of Haynesworth, if one were to prorate his $21 million signing bonus over 2010-2014, that equates to $4.2 million in each year. That said, if Haynesworth were to default prior to 2011, then $16.8 million would be subject to forfeiture.
The other argument is that forfeiture is calculated in line with team salary accounting proration. In the case of Haynesworth’s renegotiation, given the voidable provision, team salary accounting places all $21 million in 2010. Using the same example of a Haynesworth default in 2011, because all of the signing bonus was in 2010, there is no money available to forfeiture in 2011. This is an area of ambiguity that would more than likely have to be resolved in arbitration.
As I’ve previously written, given the uncertainty of what 2011 holds, clubs who take advantage of the uncapped year by incurring high team salaries in 2010 run the risk of possibly being penalized in 2011 as part of a new salary cap and CBA. Clearly, this is a risk the Redskins are willing to take -- or perhaps they know something the rest of us don’t.
Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter @SalaryCap101