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Explaining voidable years in NFL contracts

With Ben Roethlisberger willing to rework his deal with the Steelers, there is another option on the table for Steelers.

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On Thursday, both Steelers’ team president Art Rooney II and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stated they are looking to rework Roethlisberger‘s contract for the 2021 season in order to minimize his $41.25 million salary cap hit. While Rooney spoke about both sides will having to give, Roethlisberger went as far as to say he was not worried about the money he makes for the 2021 season.

Being the last year of his deal, there’s nothing the Steelers can do in order to reduce the salary cap hit and keep Roethlisberger on the team except working out an extension of his current contract, or doing a whole new contract. Either way, $22.25 million of Roethlisberger’s salary cap hit is not going anywhere for the 2021 season.

What are the Steelers options?

Short of Roethlisberger taking a huge pay cut to his salary, which would not be looked upon well by the NFL Players Association, something is going to have to be done to continue to push Reothlisberger‘s salary into future years when it comes to counting towards the salary cap.

With Ben Roethlisberger having more than seven years in the league, the minimum salary he can take for 2021 is $1.075 million. With Roethlisberger set to earn $19 million in 2021 with $15 million as a roster bonus in March and $4 million and base salary, the Steelers could convert all of that amount except $1.075 million into a signing bonus. By doing so, the Steelers could spread out nearly $18 million over however many years left on the new contract.

One option available to the Steelers, which many may not know exactly how it works, is including “voidable years” as part of the deal. What this practice allows to happen is to have the signing bonus spread into additional years for salary cap purposes without committing any base salary to the player in those years. If a player reaches the first of the voidable years, they become a free agent once the league year begins. If the player signs a new contract with the team, the dead money amount for each year stays in place with the new contract along with the financials of their new deal.

What is the difference between using voidable years and just signing a regular extension?

Let’s use a possible extension for Ben Roethlisberger as an example. If the Steelers were to give Roethlisberger the league minimum base salary and give him the remainder of what he is due, nearly $18 million, as a signing bonus then it would be divided up over the life of the contract. For simplicity sake, we’ll say Roethlisberger will have $18 million as a signing bonus and will do two extra years on his contract for a total of three years through 2023. If this is the case, then $6 million of the signing bonus would count in each of the three seasons and the Steelers would save essentially $12 million on the salary cap for 2021. Of course, that $12 million would count eventually over the next two seasons. If Roethlisberger only plays in 2021, the full $12 million would count as a dead hit in 2022.

If Roethlisberger signis a regular extension, his base salary for 2022 and 2023 would be something they would negotiate now and he would be due each season should he continue to play. Steelers would have Roethlisberger locked in and he would have a specific salary he would be playing for. If the Steelers did the other two years as voidable years, there would be no base salary given for the other two years. Instead of the Steelers holding Roethlisberger‘s rights beyond 2021, he would be a free agent even though he technically had two years left on his contract.

Why do voidable years?

The biggest reason teams do voidable years is to spread out the salary cap hit without having to negotiate what the base salary would be should the player continue with their career. If the Steelers did not want to commit to having to pay Roethlisberger anything for 2022 yet wanted to move out his current salary as a signing bonus, voidable years are a good option.

Does this actually work?

There are two good examples whenever it comes to voidable years on an NFL contract. Both Tom Brady and Drew Brees have had these as part of their deals.

Tom Brady‘s 2019 contract with the New England Patriots had two voidable years attached to the end in 2020 and 2021. This allowed the Patriots to save $13.5 million against the salary cap for Brady in 2019. In having to voidable years, the $20.25 million was spread out as $6.75 million per season for three years. Because Brady did not sign another contract with the Patriots in 2020, the remaining $13.5 million all came due to count in 2020.

As for Drew Brees, he signed a new deal in 2020 which had two voidable years at the end of a four year contract. In 2021 Brees is set to make $25 million as a base salary and his voidable years do not kick in until 2022 and 2023. It allowed the Saints to move just over $17 million out of the 2020 salary cap. Unfortunately, with the $11.5 million in dead money across the two voided years, Brees would have $22.65 million counting towards the 2021 salary cap should he retire or be released. So even though breeze was due a base salary of $25 million in 2021, he would only save the Saints $13.5 million against their enormous salary cap because of the money involved in those voided years.

Should the Steelers use voidable years contracts for Ben Roethlisberger or others?

While it would be kicking the can down the road, it could help the Steelers out with their current salary cap situation if they were to use voided years for any player who feels they will not be playing beyond 2021 either by theirs or the Steelers’ choice.

What do you think?

Should the Steelers use voided years for players in order to spread out their salary cap hit to help for 2021 but not be tied to the player beyond next season? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.