February 10, 2023, may not seem like an overly important date on the NFL calendar. But according to overthecap.com (OTC), Cam Sutton was one of a handful of NFL players whose contract officially voided on Friday.
So what does this mean? To understand better, we must first rewind to the 2021 offseason…
When the salary cap went down over $20 million for the 2021 NFL season, a lot of NFL teams had to use different means in order to manage the cap. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they had to make some difficult decisions. Several players were released. Ben Roethlisberger took a pay cut and reworked his salary. Within that salary, the Steelers added void years to his contract for the very first time.
As a reminder of how void years work, they’re basically adding fake years at the end of a contract. 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 are set to become a free agent once the league year begins. The key is the exact date the contract officially voids which often occurs well before the start of the league year. If the player signs a new contract with the team before the contract voids, the dead money amount for each year stays in place with the new contract along with the financials of their new deal. If the void date is reached, all the remaining prorated bonuses roll into dead money for the next season.
Roethlisberger was not the only player where the Steelers used void years in contracts during the 2021 offseason. JuJu Smith-Schuster was re-signed with void years in his deal. Eric Ebron and Stephon Tuitt saw restructures that included void years as well. But as you may have realized, every player mentioned to this point was no longer with the Steelers in 2022.
The only player on the Steelers roster in 2022 who still had void years in his contract that would affect anything with the Steelers was Cam Sutton. Technically there were void years for William Jackson III after he was traded from Washington, but they were on the hook for the prorated bonus and it had no bearing on the Steelers. But for Sutton, it was a whole different story.
When Cam Sutton signed his two-year contract in 2021, it included three void years in order to spread out his $3.5 million signing bonus. With $700k going to each of the five years, there is still $2.1 million that has been paid to Sutton that has not been accounted for on the salary cap. Now that Sutton’s contract has voided, all that money is now placed into the Steelers pool of dead money for 2023.
The good news in all this is the reports on the salary cap have already included this dead money amount for Sutton. So it’s not as if the Steelers were taking an extra hit that wasn’t already anticipated. But had the Steelers chosen to sign Cam Sutton to a contract extension before this date, $1.4 million of his prorated bonus would have not counted on the salary cap as of yet. But since there was no contract with Sutton, this is no longer an option.
It should also be noted that this does not mean the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot sign Sutton to a new deal. At the same time, it’s also not that it doesn’t factor in the equation. A prime example is JuJu Smith-Schuster. With a $5.6 million salary cap hit counting in 2022 due to his void years, anything the Steelers would have signed Smith-Schuster for last offseason would feel like an added cost for the player. At the same time, adding on some money to actually keep the player isn’t the end of the world. But as we know, the Chiefs offered Smith-Schuster a deal which came in at $3.7 million for 2022 according to OTC, which means the Steelers had a higher salary cap hit for JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2022 than the Chiefs had on his one-year deal. But based on the incentives reportedly built into Smith-Schuster‘s contract, the Chiefs will have to account for the remaining cash paid as well.
Although it may have been in the Steelers best interest to sign Sutton before his contract voided, it might not have been that much of a priority to kick the can down the road even further. Exactly why the date of February 10 was chosen for the contract to void is unclear at this time. The two void years that were included in Javon Hargrave‘s contract which helped the Philadelphia Eagles lure him away from the Pittsburgh Steelers has a void date of the day after the Super Bowl. Some void dates for contract come in much later as OTC lists the more than $35 million still remaining from the void years on Tom Brady’s contract not actually occurring until the contract voids on March 17.
Either way, the Pittsburgh Steelers have now put the dead money from their use of void years during the 2021 offseason behind them. With no void years used in 2022, it appears the Steelers only utilized this practice in an emergency. But with new general manager Omar Khan making the decisions, perhaps we will see them appear once again.