With a salary cap plunge of more than $15 million from last season—and really, about $25 million from where it would have otherwise been expected to be this year—teams have been tasked with being creative in going about financing their roster this year.
The latest trend, as we have seen in a number of prominent deals already this offseason, has been the use of voidable years tacked onto the end of contracts that allow teams to spread out a signing bonus over a longer period of time on years that do not contain anymore more than token salaries—generally on deals that automatically void at that point.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were among the most prominent teams to use this technique so far, and in doing so helped them trim quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s salary cap figure for the 2021 season down more than $15 million, coupled with a minor pay cut from $19 million to $14 million.
With more work yet to be done on the salary cap, the question becomes whether, and how, they will employ the void years on other contracts. One possible option would be with cornerback Joe Haden, who is due $7 million in base salary on the final year of his contract, but with a cap hit of over $15 million. John Clayton suggested this could be targeted when he appeared on The Fan yesterday.
“What they can certainly do with Haden is maybe try to redo his contract and get him on a lower deal”, he said. “Because I don’t know if you want to have $13 million tied up in Haden. Maybe he’ll do a deal for a couple years and then have some voids after that”.
How might this look, though? Would it be a true extension of a year or two with void years on top of it, or would it be similar in nature to Roethlisberger’s deal, which essentially has four years of ‘dummy’ salaries?
Haden will be turning 32 in about a month, and the drop-off at the cornerback position can come precipitously, so it’s fair to question whether and how much time the Steelers might want to commit on a true extension. And Haden would have to be open to doing any kind of extension, either way. But the void years are becoming at least a temporary norm.
“What you’re seeing right now, and there’s a whole bunch of it, even on the Dak Prescott deal, that he had two voidable years at the end of his contract, because then you could stretch out the signing bonus and lower the deal”, Clayton observed. “Just like they did with Ben Roethlisberger, because on his deal, which pays him $14 million, he’s got four voidable years”.
I suspect before all is said and done, Roethlisberger’s won’t be the only contract the Steelers complete this offseason that contains void years in some form or fashion, whether that’s from a renegotiation, a retention of a free agent, or the signing of an outside player.