NFL franchises have exhibited an increased willingness in recent years to release underperforming, highly-paid players while swallowing “dead money” on their payroll, as the salary cap has increased by at least $10 million each year since 2012. There are currently 23 players whose cap holds account for at least $5 million on each of their former teams' payrolls. There were 20 such players the last time I ranked the biggest dead money hits in 2015.
The drag of dead money on a team’s salary cap may never be heavier than it will be next year, however, when the cap is expected to drop for the first time since 2011 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Friday's agreement between the NFL and NFLPA established a salary cap floor of $175 million for 2021. That would be a sharp drop from the $198 million figure for 2020 and about $40 million less than teams were expecting it to be until the COVID-19 pandemic threw off any and all calculations.
Teams figure to be more cautious than ever next offseason about incurring dead cap hits, which means the raw amount of dead money in the league right now is probably the highest it'll be for a while. Seems like as good a time as any to revisit which players are costing their former teams the most salary cap space. Players are ordered strictly by the amount of money they are costing teams, not necessarily the larger impact the dead money will have on a team's entire financial situation.
A basic rundown on the math of dead money: If a player received a $4 million signing bonus on a four-year contract, that money would be spread out as $1 million per year in cap dollars. If that player was released halfway through the deal, there would be a cap hit of $2 million in dead money during what was supposed to be the third year of the contract, to represent the sunk cost of the two unfulfilled years. Got it? Good.
All salary cap data comes courtesy of OverTheCap.
20. Larry Warford, former Saints guard
2020 cap hit: $5.1 million
The Saints cutting Warford, a Pro Bowler in all three of his seasons in New Orleans, was a surprising move, albeit one lessened by the selection of interior lineman Cesar Ruiz in the first round of the draft and the massive five-year extension handed to left guard Andrus Peat. The team’s hierarchy evidently grew tired of the immobile Warford’s limitations in pass protection, which were laid bare in New Orleans’ first-round playoff loss to Minnesota. Warford was set to count $12.9 million against the cap in 2020, and the Saints saved $7.8 million in space by releasing him. He’s still a free agent, but at 29 years old, will almost certainly soon join a team looking to improve its run blocking.