Tennessee Titans: A Salary Cap Primer

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Nov 14, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


When you hear that a team has signed a new player, you will typically hear the terms in the following format:

“Player X has signed a X-year contract for $X million dollars with $X million guaranteed and a $X million signing bonus”.

You can fill in the X’s and have a really good idea of how much money that player is going to make in total if they play the entire contract out. Unfortunately, in today’s NFL very few players make it through the entire life of a contract. Here is the pertinent breakdown:

  1. Contract Years – obviously this is the length of the contract. This is important to know when figuring up the cap number for a player.
  2. Total Worth – the amount that is reported for the player’s contract is the base salary and all bonuses combined over the life of the contract. For instance, Bernard Pollard recently signed a 2-year, $6.3 million contract. That $6.3 million is $4.75 million in base salary, $850,000 in a signing bonus, and $700,000 in roster and workout bonuses.
  3. Guaranteed Money – Players can have guarantees written into their contracts to protect them from being cut. Most of the guarantees you read about are injury guarantees which protect the player from getting cut if injured. Normally, the only fully guaranteed money is the signing bonus.
  4. Signing Bonus – A player that gets a signing bonus might walk away with a big check after signing on the dotted line, but that bonus gets pro-rated out for the life of the contract for cap purposes. For example, Ropati Pitiotua recently signed a 3-year deal that included a $2,175,000 signing bonus. That means that 1/3 of that ($725,000) will count against the Titans’ cap each year that Pitoitua is a Titan.