Steelers a proponent of using discounted contracts

Thearon W. Henderson

When Adam Podlesh signed a contract last week with the Steelers his salary was another deemed to be a qualifying contract eligible for minimum salary benefit relief but what is that and how does it work?

When faced with the difficult task of putting a roster of 53 players together General Managers constantly struggle with tough decisions when it comes to older veteran players. While their skills may be more advanced than a younger more inexperienced option the salary they command under league rules is much higher and that can often be the deciding factor in letting them go in favor of a younger player.

To help balance this under the rules of the CBA a team can sign any player with four years or more professional experience to a contract that will pay the player the league minimum for his experience but allows the team to discount that salary for cap accounting purposes as if it was that of a second year player. In 2014 that figure is $570,000.

There are certain conditions to the contract the player must sign to be a "qualifying contract" eligible for this "minimum salary benefit" :

  1. The contract must be no longer than a one year deal.
  2. The player may receive a signing bonus but it cannot be in excess of $65,000.
  3. Any guaranteed portion of the base salary cannot exceed the minimum salary of a second year player that year.

To date the Steelers have signed eight players to these sorts of contract. Most received the minimum signing bonus to go along with their deal, only punter Adam Podleah and tight end Michael Palmer did not. After discount they will either have a cap charge of $635,000 with bonus or $570,000 without in 2014.

The eight names signed to these deals:

Player Actual Salary 2014 Cap Hit
Darrius Heyward-Bey $815,000 $635,000
Michael Palmer $730,000 $570,000
Guy Whimper $920,000 $635,000
Arthur Moats $815,000 $635,000
Will Allen $1,020,000 $635,000
Brice McCain $815,000 $635,000
Adam Podlesh $855,000 $570,000
Greg Warren $920,000 $635,000
Total: $6,890,000 $4,950,000
Saving: $1,940,000

While a saving of almost $2 million might not seem like much, in the Steelers cap strapped world that is a lot of money that effectively paid to sign a player like LeGarrett Blount this off-season with some change left over.

You would assume that these sort of moves are a no brainer and all teams must have a number of players on their roster like this. After going through the contracts of each NFL team for this year and working through the data from the good people at OverTheCap for last year it appears that is just not the case.

This is a list of the number of players on each roster signed to a qualifying contract:

Team 2014 Team 2013
Bears 11 Giants 10
Lions 9 Saints 8
Giants 8 Bears 8
Steelers 8 Lions 6
Buccaneers 7 Panthers 6
Redskins 5 Chiefs 6
Cardinals 4 Steelers 5
Panthers 4 Jets 5
Browns 3 Vikings 5
Chargers 3 Redskins 4
Ravens 3 Buccaneers 4
Saints 3 Seahawks 4
Texans 3 Bengals 4
Titans 3 Patriots 3
49ers 2 Cardinals 3
Broncos 2 Titans 3
Falcons 2 Chargers 3
Seahawks 2 Ravens 3
Raiders 2 Raiders 3
Vikings 2 Cowboys 2
Bills 1 Bills 2
Chiefs 1 Browns 2
Colts 1 Texans 2
Dolphins 1 Eagles 1
Rams 0 Rams 1
Cowboys 0 Colts 1
Eagles 0 49ers 0
Jaguars 0 Jaguars 0
Jets 0 Broncos 0
Packers 0 Packers 0
Patriots 0 Dolphins 0
Bengals 0 Falcons 0

Clearly some franchises see more value in these types of contracts than others with teams like the Giants, Lions, Bears and Steelers high on the list both years whereas teams like the Packers, Rams, Jaguars and Eagles seemingly less interested. According to the figures from OverTheCap teams collectively saved $23,745,000 against the cap in 2013 by using these sort of deals.

For a team in salary cap difficulty this sort of rule is a real bonus and the wealth of cap space for teams like the Jaguars may explain why they have no one on their roster that qualifies. More of a surprise looking at the data is a team like the Cowboys, with all their cap issues this year, have not gone down this route in 2014. Although Jerry Jones has always been a rather "special" and one of a kind GM.

Thankfully Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan have become experts at working contracts and squeezing every dollar out of the cap wherever they can and Steeler fans are lucky to have the two of them guiding the team through these troubled cap times.

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