NFL teams constantly restructure player contracts, but what does that actually mean? Some clubs, agents, media members, and analysts use the term “restructure” in varied ways. Let’s dive into what contract restructures entail and how they impact NFL salary caps and rosters.
What Is an NFL Contract Restructure?
Technically, restructuring an NFL contract can include any sort of change to how a player will receive his money.
But an NFL contract restructure generally refers to a team converting a portion of a player’s base salary or roster bonus into a signing bonus.
The primary reason NFL teams restructure deals is to create immediate cap space. While base salaries and most roster bonuses count in full against the cap, signing bonuses are prorated over the life of the deal or five years, whichever is shorter.
For example, Patrick Mahomes had a $34.4 million roster bonus due this offseason. If the Chiefs had left the terms of his deal in place, Mahomes’ roster bonus would have counted — in full — against Kansas City’s salary cap in 2023.
Instead, the Chiefs converted $12 million of that roster bonus into a signing bonus, which will be prorated over the next five seasons. That transaction reduced Mahomes’ cap 2023 cap charge by $9.6 million, space which can now be devoted to other players.
For the most part, NFL teams don’t even have to consult players before redoing their deals in this fashion. Most clubs have baked automatic conversion clauses into contracts that allow them to orchestrate restructures as they choose.
Meanwhile, restructures are generally favorable for players. Instead of waiting to be paid their base salaries on a weekly basis during the season, the player will get money immediately in the form of a signing bonus.
Simple Restucture vs. Maximum Restructure
Those types of restructures — converting payments into signing bonuses that prorate over the rest of the contract — are typically known as “simple restructures.”
But teams can go even further and create additional cap space by conducting a “maximum restructure.”
In a maximum restructure, a club will either extend the player’s contract or tack on void years at the end of the deal. Void years are essentially dummy seasons that exist for no other reason but to prorate a player’s signing bonus.
While teams can execute simple restructures without asking the player, maximum restructures usually involve the player’s consent since they include a contract renegotiation.
For more, check out Over the Cap’s Restructure Potential tool, which highlights how much cap space each NFL club could theoretically create.
When a ‘Restructure’ Is Really Just a Pay Cut
Sometimes, NFL reporters will suggest a player restructured his contract when all the player really did was accept a pay reduction.
This is often done as something of a favor to NFL agents. By using the softer language of “restructure” instead of “pay cut,” the agent and player come out looking a bit better than they would have otherwise.
However, pay cuts can often include other details that do constitute a restructuring.
For instance, Packers running back Aaron Jones took a pay reduction this offseason, but Green Bay also added a void year to his deal. That’s technically a restructure, even if the Packers’ primary goal was to get Jones to accept less money.