If it seemed as if NFL teams have been shedding contracts nearly as fast as signing them in recent weeks that’s because it’s almost true.
With a shrinking salary cap in a sport with few contracts that are fully guaranteed, teams have spent the weeks leading up to free agency and the first few days of the new league year getting out of deals signed in recent years when there was more money available to spend.
Whether it was Kansas City getting rid of banged-up and expensive starting offensive tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, the Raiders cutting ties with Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams after building their free agent class around them, or Tennessee shedding starting defensive backs Adoree Jackson, Malcolm Butler and Kenny Vaccaro, veterans around the league have been sent to the chopping block.
In all, according to transactions data from SportRadar and contract information from Spotrac and Over The Cap, teams have released players with a combined total of approximately $600 million left on the deals they originally signed between the Super Bowl and the end of the first week of the league year. That figure excludes players who were on rookie or minimum level deals.
The cuts have come after the salary cap was reduced from $198.2 million in 2020 to $182.5 million in 2021 in response to the reduced revenues resulting from mostly empty stadiums last year because of the coronavirus.
The bloodletting could have been even more severe had the league and the NFLPA not agreed to spread those losses over multiple years.
“I think the unprecedented part being, for the first time in modern era, the cap decreases instead of increases,” Rams general manager Les Snead said. “But again, I think many people on this planet, not just us in NFL football, have had to make sacrifices, some probably harder than others over the past year.”
Cutting high-salaried players is nothing new in the NFL where most free agent contracts have teams often committing to paying lucrative signing bonuses and guaranteed money in the first couple of years of a deal and then deciding whether to keep the player or get rid of him to create salary cap room.