The Phinsider Dawn Aponte and everything you need to know about NFL contracts and the salary cap.

The next few days could be a very interesting time for our Miami Dolphins. It has been said that up to 10 players that will be on our week one roster are currently not on our team. And when most people were like wow that is 20%! I was the guy sitting at my screen going...18.87 (rounded to the nearest hundredth). Now I have spent a lot of time compiling information about the Salary Cap, Player Contracts and how they work together. Because it seems to be this mystical thing that people don't get and understandably so as the rules are complex as hell. People want to make a bunch of personnel suggestions but few of them take the time to look up the contracts involved and how the rules work. It is a tangled web of money and not the easiest thing to figure out. So I am going to break it down for everyone as best I can.

Salary Cap

Let's start with the salary cap. The NFL has a hard cap that all teams must stay under at all times. The math is complicated but is basically the TOTAL revenue collected by all teams added together and divided by all 32 teams.(A certain percentage of this and that and subject player benefits etc etc.) The CBA is now going to require the league to count monies made by airing the games on T.V. Something that was not done before. Now this includes monies collected all the way through the Super Bowl and that is why we don't get next years Salary Cap number until near the FA period. Also players making league minimum, which is 390,000 for a rookie and goes up on sliding scale based on years in the league, do not count against the cap.

Salary Floor

There is also a floor that they must stay above. If you thought the cap was complicated the salary floor is freaking crazy. It is 95% of the cap must be spent leauge wide with each team having to spend at least 89% of the cap in Cash Money, which is different than Cap Money. Cash Money includes and entire signing bonus, say 8 mil. For easy math say that is applied to a 4 year contract. The team can choose to spread that 8 mil across the 4 years of the contract in Cap Money. What this means is that the 8 mil signing bonus counts as: 8mil to the Cash Money and Salary Floor, but it could only mean 2 mil per season to the Cap Money and Salary cap.

Still with me so far? Good, that was the easy part. Now onto the contracts themselves.


There are numerous ways to write an NFL contract. The math is the easy part if you don't speak legalize. Seriously man it is worse than trying to keep score Tennis for the first time. (Not that anyone should ever sit and keep score watching Tennis in my opinion.) But there are a few basic parts to the contract and they all effect the Salary Cap.

Signing Bonus'

First there is a signing bonus, pretty simple, we pay a guy a bunch of money just for signing up. As I said before, that money can be divided along the length of the contract. Usually it is evenly split but distinctions and exemptions can be made by the NFL to divide it a specific way based on the team needs.

Guaranteed Money

Then there is guaranteed money. The simplest of all, it is the base salary for the player for the year. It goes directly against the cap. Unless the player is making the league minimum as stated above.


There are two types of incentives in the NFL LBE and NLBE. LBE's, or likely to be earned, incentives count against the cap and NLBE or not likely to be earned. When the contract is written, incentives are placed in the contract as benchmarks for the players stats that will be like a bonus if they reach them. The NFL makes the determination if the incentive is LBE, or NLBE based on the players previous accrued season (you must be on the 53 man roster for at least 6 games). For instance, when Peyton signed with Denver the league didn't determine his incentives based on last season where he was on IR. They looked at the last season he played. A LBE incentive is counted towards your cap. An NLBE incentive is not. However, if a NLBE incentive is reached, the money that player earns this season is counted towards next years cap. For instance let's say Dansby got hurt and Guyton played all season, Guyton's contract has incentives in it that the league viewed as NLBE because he has been a back up his whole career. But if he reaches those, then it will count towards next years cap space.

Player Movement

Now we get to why I am writing this. You had to understand all of the above to understand who can and should or should not be cut or traded and why. Every player move cut or trade results in effecting the cap and dead money. So how does that work? Glad you asked.

Basically, dead money accumulates for cutting a player or trading them. The money that is considered “dead money” is all of the money you have paid them in signing bonus and half of their guaranteed money for one season. The dead money from a signing bonus can be spread out to effect your cap as if the player were still on the team over a shorter period than his contract. Say a guy has a 5year deal and we cut him, the NFL won't let you spread that out over all 5 years they cut that down again based on the length left on the contract in another sliding scale of math doom. That is why you see the same players on the “dead money” list for multiple years. (Looking at you Matt Roth)

When a player is traded away, the cap is effected as if the player were cut. However, if the player were to receive a suspension for conduct while he was still on your team, and maybe the reason you traded him, you get a portion of that back in cap space. The mathematical logarithm for that is incredibly complex but us basically a sliding scale of games suspended/ base salary. This is why the F.O. was hoping Brandon Marshall was gonna be suspended after we traded him to Da Bears!

Now, you can begin to see why trading a player too early in his contract would negatively effect the cap. For example, Karlos Dansby, due to the huge signing bonus would cost us an EXTRA 50,000 to the cap this year if we traded him. Jake Long on the other hand even with a 12mil contract saves us 7mil if we trade him because it is the last year on his contract and the signing bonus has basically already been paid out. And if we traded him we would only count half his salary and the amount of the signing bonus that was placed into this year of his contract. (I am not advocating trading Long before anyone says anything.)

I just thought this little bit of info would help you along when your thinking about who we might trade and who for and if we can pay them or not.

2.9 million doesn't sound like huge cap space, but trade away Reggie Bush, Tony McDaniels and Matt Moore and suddenly we have 13.68 million to resign players that we traded for. Or better yet, trade Bush and some picks for a player and get picks for the other two.


Lyndon Murtha (2nd year in a row on IR) 1.9 million and Ryan Cook 1milion and we are looking at having 16.58 million in capspace. Yes, we could sign Mike Wallace (12mil) and Jabar Gaffrney(Vet minimum) and James Jones (2.8 mil I think) and it would leave us with 1.7 mil in the bank. BOOYA Math rocks!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.

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