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The Dangerous Trick The Saints Used To Give Out A $57 Million Contract Without Having Any Money To Spend

Business Insider

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The New Orleans Saints signed safety Jairus Byrd to a six-year, $57 million contract on the first day of NFL free agency.

Byrd was the best free agent on the market, and the Saints made him the highest-paid safety in the league.

The move was surprising for one reason: The Saints weren't supposed to have any money to spend.

New Orleans was just $2 million below the $133 million salary cap on Monday morning — ranking 31st out of 32 teams in cap space. With several roster spots and a full 2014 draft class to sign, it was assumed that they wouldn't be in the mix for any of the high-priced free agents.

Yet they somehow managed to squeeze a $57 million contract ($28 million in guaranteed money) into $2 million of 2014 cap space.

They did it with a dangerous but fairly common book keeping trick that differs the bulk of the cap hit to the later years of the deal. Here are the details of Byrd's contract of the deal, from Andrew Brandt of SI:

  • $57 million in total over six years
  • $28 million in guaranteed money
  • $11 million signing bonus
  • $1.3 million in 2014 base salary

Here's the formula for a player's salary cap number for a given year:

Cap Number = Base salary (and annual bonuses) + prorated signing bonus

With the signing bonus and the base salary, Byrd will get paid $12.3 million in 2014.

But only $3.5 million of it will count against the salary cap. 

Under NFL rules signing bonuses are prorated over a maximum of five years for salary cap purposes. So even though the Saints will pay Byrd a $11 million signing bonus this week, it only counts $2.2 million against the salary cap every year for the next five years.

Combine that $2.2 million with Byrd's intentionally small $1.3 million base salary and you have Byrd's final 2014 cap figure — $3.5 million. The Saints then traded Darren Sproles and cut a few guys to fit Byrd's $3.5 million under the cap.

It's great in the short term (the Saints got Jairus Byrd without having any cap space!), but potentially disastrous in the long term. All of Byrd's money will eventually count against the cap. By back loading the deal the Saints have effectively kicked the can down the road.

Byrd's cap figure is going to balloon when his base salaries increase exponentially over the next few years. New Orleans will still owe him $15.7 million in guaranteed money after 2014, and his signing bonus will eat up $2.2 million in cap space every year until 2018 no matter what.

This isn't necessarily a reckless move. The Saints know that Drew Brees is getting old, and their window for winning another Super Bowl could shut at any moment. Just like the Broncos, they're torpedoing their long-term cap health in order to give their aging QB one more shot at a title.

The problem is that the Saints lose a ton of flexibility when dealing with other players, especially if they want to work out a deal with Jimmy Graham when he's an unrestricted free agent after 2014.



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