It’s common practice for NFL teams to rework contracts to create more salary-cap space, a move that generally also benefits the player (except in cases where he takes a legitimate pay cut to stay).
Usually, high base salaries are converted to signing bonuses, which are then prorated over five years (or the remaining term of the deal, if less) to lower cap numbers. Paid out as a signing bonus, players immediately receive the money rather than wait for Week 1 of the regular season for that first game check.
With the NFL moving back to a salary cap for 2011, teams over the salary cap or trying to clear cap space — such as the Jets, Raiders and Cowboys — have been reworking deals this week. Veteran CB Stanford Routt, who signed a new deal in Oakland just before the lockout, was one player who restructured his deal this week, according to a league source.
Routt’s contract was reworked to convert a majority of his $10 million base salary for 2011 into an option bonus, and the sides also added two years to the deal. The $9 million or so in “option bonus” is now spread out over five years, greatly lowering Routt’s cap figure (the Raiders did the same thing with Richard Seymour, too).
The two additional years are each worth $11.5 million (which also is Routt’s 2013 salary), but those back-end years are generally never achieved or are later restructured, bringing the total value of the deal to five years and $54.5 million. That figure puts Routt in the top three among all NFL cornerbacks in terms of annual average pay.
The overall picture is that the player receives more upfront money and a contract that, on paper, puts him among the top in the game at his position, while the team spends more “cash over cap” in a given year but also secures greatly needed cap space. It’s what the Raiders needed in order to pursue players such as TE Zach Miller (who joined the Seahawks) and WR Malcom Floyd (who is still a free agent).