The Detroit Lions got creative with Will Harris’ contract, taking advantage of CBA rules and releasing the salary cap.
The Detroit Lions re-signed Will Harris on Tuesday and they were able to get a break on their salary cap that had been hit for him due to some sort of veterans salary benefit called one four-year qualifying contract.
Here’s the NFL’s explanation of the veteran’s salary benefit:
“Formerly known as the Minimum Wage Benefit, the Veteran Wage Benefit allows teams to offer any player with at least four credited seasons a “qualifying contract” at a reduced salary cap. Under this provision, a qualifying contract is a one-year deal worth the minimum base salary applicable to a player with his number of seasons credited, plus $152,500 in additional compensation (i.e., signing bonus, roster bonus, incentive, etc. – amount begins rise in 2024). These contracts are deducted from the salary cap at the rate of a player with two credited seasons in that league year.
Essentially, the Veteran Salary Benefit is designed to allow teams to sign a player who has been in the league for four years at a discounted rate. This is good for the team because these players cost less, and it’s good for the players because it encourages teams to sign veterans rather than just turning to cheaper players for rookie deals.
There are two key numbers to remember here. First, the veteran minimum for a fourth-year player is $1,080,000. Second, veterans can get up to $152,500 in bonus money to stay compliant.
Here’s the league’s explanation of the four-year qualifying contract:
“Another type of veteran salary benefit, it may be offered to a player with at least four credited seasons whose contract with a team has expired after serving four or more consecutive, uninterrupted league years on that team before their contract expired. Such a player must have been on the team’s 90-man active/inactive list (and every regular season and post-season game) during said seasons. Teams can sign up to two eligible players for this type of salary benefit.
“A qualifying contract under this benefit is a one-year contract with a base salary of up to $1.35 million more (increased in 2024) than the minimum base salary for that player. However, if a team signs two players to a qualifying contract, it can only give a combined base salary of $1.35 million between the two deals. Under such agreements, only the applicable minimum base salary (not the $1.35 million allowance) will be deducted from the salary cap.”
First, to be eligible for this benefit, players must have been on a team’s active roster for four full seasons and enter free agency after their rookie contract expires. The Lions had three players who met those requirements this season: Harris, Amani Oruwariye and Austin Bryant. Bobby Price didn’t qualify because he spent time on the Lions practice team during his rookie season, while CJ Moore didn’t qualify because he was released on cutdowns last season before returning midway through.
The key numbers to know here are that teams can bid up to $1.35 million more than the veteran league minimum, which is $1,080,000 as mentioned earlier.
In addition, this money can be used for one player or split between two players. The Lions chose to apply the offseason to only one player (Will Harris).
With these numbers in mind, let’s take a look at the parameters of Harris’ new contract.
Will Harris — Veterans pay cap benefit with a four-year qualifying contract
(Details via Overthecap.comcharts made by Erik Schlitt)
As you can see in the contract above, Harris’s base salary is $2.43 million. That number came about by taking the fourth-year veteran minimum ($1.08 million) and adding it to the increase allowed by the four-year qualifying option ($1.35 million). The $152,500 prorated bonus is also determined by the Veteran Salary Benefit.
Once the parameters of the veteran’s salary contract are met, the four-year qualification discount kicks in, lowering Harris’ salary cap in 2023.
One final note on this type of contract: expect Harris to make the roster
To prevent teams from taking advantage of this benefit, both base salary and prorated bonus are fully guaranteed, totaling $2,582,500 to Harris.
If the Lions keep Harris on the roster, he will cost them a $1.3 million cap hit in 2023, but if they choose to release him, they will face a $2,582,500 dead cap penalty due to the warranties .
Therefore, it would cost the Lions more money ($1,265,000) to cut Harris than to keep him on the roster.