Tons of veteran players were cut before the start of the season, and while different clubs had different reasons for shuffling their rosters, the looming vested veteran guarantee may have played a part in many of those moves. Vested veterans – players with at least four years of NFL experience – had their 2018 base salary guaranteed for the year by being on an NFL team’s roster for the first game of the season.
That means that if a team decided after Week 1 to part ways with a veteran player with a 2018 base salary of $1MM, the team would still be on the hook for that full $1MM, which would count against the cap. A veteran who has received this form of termination pay in the past wouldn’t be eligible to receive it again, but otherwise the player can put in a claim for his full salary and receive it. Veterans not a Week 1 roster don’t benefit from that provision, however.
If a player is signed during the season, following a team’s first game, and is later released, he’s only entitled to 25% of his full-season salary. For instance, let’s say a team signed a player in Week 2 for a full-year salary of $1.02MM. First, that salary would be prorated for 16 weeks, meaning it’d be worth $960K. If a player is cut shortly after signing, he’d receive 25% of that amount, or $240K. If the player is released within four weeks of signing, he’d only count for $240K against his team’s cap, rather than the amount of his full salary.
Ultimately, the Labor Day weekend numbers crunch is about much more than talent-based decisions. Teams are mindful of expenses and potential dead money hits, particularly when they’re tight against the cap. The smaller vested veteran guarantees may seem like a drop in the bucket when compared to a $177.2MM cap, but every dollar counts for clubs with less than $2MM in breathing room such as the Vikings, Patriots, and Rams.