One of the hardest things for the average fan to comprehend is how NFL contracts work and how they apply to a team’s salary cap. There are many complicated elements, rules, and exceptions that can be hard to sort out. In this series, my goal is to help you better understand how this whole system works, plus what it means to the Green Bay Packers’ current salary cap and contract concerns.
Before reading, make sure to check out the previous article(s) in the series:
Our second article focuses on A.J. Hawk and his current contract restructuring. Make no bones about it, this is a pay cut for Hawk; however, it’s not like he’s getting peanuts for the deal. The point of most restructured contracts is to take an original deal and adjust it for cap reasons. A lot of times, teams are looking to push money into the future for present cap relief, though it’s not unheard of to take advantage of current cap room and relieve some of the burden in later years.
We’re going to start by taking a look at Hawk’s original contract. If you’ll remember, the Packers cut Hawk in 2011 to avoid a $10 million base salary, only to turn around and offer him a new five-year contract. Take a look:
He still got his $10 million that year (plus a little extra), but his cap number was much lighter, and his salary was reduced for the remaining years. An $8 million signing bonus was prorated over five years at $1.6 million per year. With added roster and workout bonuses, A.J. Hawk was looking to chop about $7 million off this current year’s cap number. As many fans have pointed out, that’s simply too much for his value to the team, and apparently the Packers front office agreed.
Now, the biggest problem is that the Packers couldn’t outright cut A.J. Hawk without a significant cap hit. His “dead money” was sitting at $4.8 million, which if you remember is the remaining three years of the amortized signing bonus. While the Packers could split that across two years by cutting Hawk after June 1st, it’s still a substantial chunk of change.
That said, it would still save them from a $7 million cap hit in the current year. A team might be willing to eat some dead money if it means freeing up a little extra and unloading a worthless player. The Packers don’t consider Hawk worthless, though.
So what to do? Get him to restructure the remaining three years. Here’s what happened:
What changed? Namely, the base salary. Hawk went from $4.9 million in 2013 to $3.6 million, and over the next three years his total base salary went down $4.5 million. They couldn’t do anything to lower the yearly cap hit from the prorated signing bonus, and they would have been foolish to touch the incentives, since it helps to keep the player working hard.
The only thing left was the base salary. But how did they get A.J. Hawk to accept such a pay cut? Obviously, he’s been known as a “team player,” yet no one is foolish enough to give up that much without something in return.
What this chart doesn’t actually show you is the fine details of the 2013 base salary. As reported in multiple places, there is $2.21 million in guaranteed money locked into that $3.6 million amount. That’s why you might have noticed the change in the dead money for this year ($4.8 M + $2.21 M = $7.01 M).
In simple terms, there’s no way A.J. Hawk is getting cut this year. His spot on the team is financially guaranteed.
So everyone got something. Hawk gets the comfort of knowing he’s got another year of employment, while the Packers get some more wiggle room under the cap. They also keep open the option of cutting Hawk in future years. Since they didn’t attach another signing bonus to the deal, there’s nothing to increase the amount of dead money and create problems later.
A.J. Hawk’s restructuring is a fancy way to say he took a pay cut, but the devil is always in the details.——————Follow @ChadToporski