NFL teams who had players opt out of the 2020 season are about to get millions of dollars in salary cap relief.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday morning that the NFL Management Council informed clubs that signing bonus proration -- not just unearned salary and bonuses -- will be removed from the 2020 cap immediately upon notification a player is opting out, per sources informed of the situation.
When a player signs a contract that includes a signing bonus, that portion is prorated over the length of the contract for salary cap purposes. Since players who are opting out will have their contracts toll, the prorated portion of those bonuses will move along with the contract, instead of being counted this season.
For example, Broncos tackle Ja'Wuan Jones, who opted out Monday, had his $10 million base salary come off the books, and Denver will also get $3 million in prorated signing bonus back this year, for $13 million total, which will kick to 2021.
The rolling-over of the entire deal, not just the unearned portion, keeps the contract intact during the opt-out and doesn't further spread out the prorated portion. Nate Solder of the New York Giants, for example, would still count $13 million in dead money if cut in 2021. If the prorated bonus hadn't rolled over, it'd have cost the Giants just $6.5 million to cut Solder next year, per Over The Cap. The move will help players by keeping some more difficult to cut.
The decision to remove the prorated bonus also frees up money for teams to replace players who have opted out. Clubs could also roll over that money to next year. With the salary cap expected to fall precipitously in 2021 (but with a floor of $175 million), it's likely teams will plan for the future by rolling over most of their unused cap space.
Teams with a lot of opt-outs like the New England Patriots, including highly paid players like Dont'a Hightower and Marcus Cannon, will get a boatload of spending money now, and into the future. Once crushed against the salary-cap ceiling, the Pats now have about $35 million to spend now or roll over to next year.
Pelissero added that after Thursday's opt-out deadline, there are only two ways a player can opt out of the 2020 season: A new diagnosis that he has a high-risk condition or a player's family member dies, is hospitalized or otherwise moves to a medical facility because of COVID-19 or a related condition.