With the NFL salary cap set to decrease in 2021, teams across the NFL have begun to release higher priced players whose cap hits are larger than their on field impact. While there have certainly some bigger name players who have hit the market, including Gabe Jackson and J.J. Watt, it’s likely that the biggest names will not hit the market until just prior to the new league year starting on March 17.
That said, with many teams flush up against the cap, there have been expectations that there could be deals to be found. That is likely to remain the case, but as was seen with J.J. Watt agreeing to a two year, $31M contract with the Arizona Cardinals, it may not be as much of a buyer’s market as many had anticipated. More than a month ago, on February 2, Field Gulls looked at several methods available to teams to aggressively put to use cap space from future seasons in order to sign free agents for 2021. Now that the specifics of the J.J. Watt contract have been made public by former agent Joel Corry, it appears as though teams may not shy away from using many of these aggressive tactics.
J.J. Watt's 2021 salary cap number is $4.9M in his 2-year, $28M Arizona Cardinals deal worth up to $31M with salary escalators & incentives. His $12M signing bonus gets prorated through 2025 because of 3 dummy/voiding years. Cardinals will have a $7.2M cap charge in 2023.— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) March 6, 2021
For those who have not been following the specifics of the contract Watt signed with the Arizona Cardinals, what was announced as a two year, $31M contract is in reality a two year, $28M contract with $3M in available incentives based on reaching certain sack production thresholds. However, even though the contract is in reality a two year deal, the Cardinals added three void years on the back of the deal for the purposes of keeping the cap hit low in the early years of the contract. So, given that, here is how Watt’s contract breaks down:
- Signing bonus: $12M
- Base salaries: $2.5M in 2021 and $11.25M in 2022
- Roster bonus: $2.25M in 2022
So, cutting through all the fluff, at the end of the day Watt will carry the following cap hits for Arizona in the coming years:
2023: $7.2M (all dead money, as Watt’s contract will void after the 2022 season)
Watt and the Cardinals are hardly the first to use void years to fit under the salary cap, and with the 2021 cap set to see a dip from $198.2M in 2020 to somewhere likely in the $182M-$183M range, void years appear likely to be used extensively this offseason in the pursuit of free agents across the league. Add in how little cap space the Seattle Seahawks are currently looking at for 2021, and the possibility exists that this could be the year that they look to get aggressive and make use of the cap machinations that allow for backloading contracts.