Should Pats release Nick Kaczur
posted at 3/9/2010 8:56 PM EST
Ten logical cap casualties for 2010
By Bill Barnwell
While NFL owners appear willing to lock out their players in 2011, they already have one advantage that none of the owners in other professional sports have: nonguaranteed contracts. While a team in virtually any other sport is stuck paying an underperforming player for the full length of his contract, NFL organizations can choose to cut a player, and avoid paying any future bonuses and base salaries due to him.
Normally, there's a downside to that move. Players receive the cash from a signing bonus immediately upon signing a deal, but teams are allowed to spread the cap hit from a signing bonus across the length of a contract.
For example, a $10 million signing bonus on a five-year deal results in a cap hit of $2 million in each of those five seasons (in addition to a player's base salary, incentives and other bonuses). When a player is released or traded, the bonus money assigned to the cap in future years is accelerated onto the current year's cap, forcing the team to devote a portion of its precious cap space to players who are no longer on the roster. That's commonly known as "dead money."
This year, though, things are different. Because this is an uncapped year, teams can release players with onerous base salaries and large signing bonuses without having to worry about cutting corners on this year's roster. That presents teams with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to erase their mistakes for good. Assuming there will be a salary cap on the other side of any lockout, there are plenty of examples of bad contracts teams would be wise to get rid of. We've identified 10 below, listed alphabetically.
Bernard Berrian, WR, Minnesota Vikings
When the Vikings signed Berrian away from the Chicago Bears in 2008, the hope was he would emerge as the team's No. 1 receiver while keeping safeties honest, opening holes for Adrian Peterson in the process. He hasn't produced like a No. 1 since then, though, and with the emergence of Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin this past season, Berrian might not even start in 2010. Most of Berrian's bonuses have been paid already, but here's a chance for the team to save some genuine money: He's due $3.7 million this year, and in 2012, that rises to $6.9 million. That's too much for a slot wideout.
Reggie Brown, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
While the Eagles normally see healthy returns when they sign young contributors to long-term deals, Brown's 2006 extension has proved to be an exception. No better than the team's fourth wideout at this point, Brown has more than $3 million in bonus money left on the team's cap to go along with nearly $11 million in base salary. While Philadelphia would love to get a draft pick for him, he's likely to be released. (Note: Shortly after this article was written, Brown was sent to the Buccaneers for an undisclosed draft pick. The deal makes sense for both teams; the Eagles get Brown's salary off their roster, and the Buccaneers get a deep threat to play alongside their collection of tall, slow guys.)
Marc Bulger, QB, St. Louis Rams
Bulger's 2007 contract extension has proved to be a disaster; since then, he's missed 12 games, and when he's been healthy enough to play, the Rams have gone 5-31, with Bulger throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Whether or not the team chooses to draft Sam Bradford in April, it's pretty clear Bulger is not going to be a part of the next successful Rams team, making him a good candidate for salary relief. Cutting him now would keep up to $6 million off future Rams' caps and save $37.5 million in yet-unpaid salary. St. Louis might want Bulger to tutor Bradford, but that's one expensive teacher.
Nate Clements, CB, San Francisco 49ers
While the 49ers' defense took a huge step forward this past season, it wasn't because of their most expensive player. Clements became the highest-paid defensive player in history when he signed an $80 million contract with San Francisco in 2007, but he lost his job last year before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. The team still has $8.5 million of Clements' initial $22 million signing bonus left on its cap and owes him a $6 million base salary that rises steadily to nearly $11 million in 2013. The team has suggested Clements will return, but that seems short sighted.
Vernon Gholston, LB, New York Jets
The former sixth overall pick is solely a special teams player in New York, having shown virtually nothing during his first two seasons as a pro. He's young -- so there's still some promise -- but it would be unprecedented for a player who started so poorly to turn into a star. With a good chunk of a $21 million signing bonus left on the Jets' cap in future seasons and little interest league-wide, Gang Green are better off cutting their losses.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Houshmandzadeh chose Seattle over Minnesota; had he chosen the Vikings instead, Sidney Rice would have been consigned to the fourth wideout slot and likely never had his breakout year. Sometimes, it's the moves you don't make that work out. Seattle ended up with the lesser of the two players. Houshmandzadeh turns 33 next season and can't get the separation he needs to get downfield, making him a very expensive possession receiver with no upside. His $7 million base salary for this season is guaranteed, but the team can save about $1.5 million on its cap and nearly $26 million in base salary from 2011 through 2013 if it releases him.
Nick Kaczur, T, New England Patriots
Kaczur consistently has been the weak link of a once-formidable Patriots offensive line, and while the team signed him to a contract extension in the summer of 2009, the emergence of Sebastian Vollmer should force him out of New England. The team could trim $3 million in bonus money by releasing him, while avoiding his $2.7 million base salary for this year.
Tommy Kelly, DT, Oakland Raiders
When the Raiders gave Kelly a $50.5 million contract extension in 2008, it seemed incomprehensible; Oakland had one of the worst run defenses in the league, with Kelly and Warren Sapp manning the middle. Sapp retired, and Kelly got a huge contract in the hopes that he'd become, well, the next Warren Sapp. In that sense, he has been; the Raiders' rush defense is still awful, and Kelly doesn't offer enough as a pass-rusher to justify his contract. The Raiders still have a good chunk of Kelly's $18.2 million in signing bonuses (he received a second signing bonus in 2009) hanging over their future cap space, and Kelly isn't worth the $4.5 million he'll get this year as base salary. That goes up to $7 million by 2014; it shouldn't.
Bob Sanders, S, Indianapolis Colts
No one doubts Sanders' incredible talent, but since he signed a $37.75 million contract extension in December 2007, he has played in four of a possible 32 regular-season games. More than $7.3 million in bonuses remain on the Colts' cap over the next three years; the team is better off cutting Sanders and re-signing him to a new, cap-friendly deal.
Roy Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Williams' tenure in Dallas has been an unmitigated disaster, with the Cowboys giving up far too much in terms of draft picks and cash to acquire and retain the former Texas star. At this point, he's the team's third receiver (behind Miles Austin and Jason Witten), and there's no reason to believe he's going to get much better. Williams is owed a guaranteed $9.5 million bonus this season, but if the Cowboys cut him, that bonus won't be applied to the cap over future seasons. They'll also save nearly $3.5 million in salary this year, a figure that will go up to nearly $33 million by the time his deal ends in 2014. How much do you think denial is worth to Jerry Jones?