Soon after J.J. Watt signed his contract this week, many of the deal's details began to leak out, as they usually do. But one that wasn't known, and one that was perhaps the most important in the short term, was Watt's salary cap number in 2021, especially given the precipitous drop in the pandemic-stressed NFL salary cap for the season.
Sure, Watt has some $14.5 million coming to him this season, but due to cap acrobatics, his cap number for 2021, according to overthecap.com, is a very manageable $4.9 million. That puts tangible reasoning behind GM Steve Keim's comments that the Cards are still very flexible for free agency.
(Overthecap, after the report that the Cards ended up rolling not $5M but $9.5M left over from the 2020 cap, estimates the Cardinals with about $12.5M of cap space right now.)
The key to the deal, and one suspected after the way the team did something similar with linebacker De'Vondre Campbell in 2020, was to take Watt's two-year contract and add three voidable years to it on the back end. That allows the $12M signing bonus to be prorated over five years, dropping its hit to $2.4M a year. Add in Watt's $2.5M salary, and that's where the $4.9 cap number for 2021 comes from.
Now, Watt's salary jumps to $13.5M next season, and his cap number balloons to $15.9M. But the anticipation is that the cap overall is going to jump as well. There is also $7.2M of dead cap space sitting there for 2023, which will eat up some cap regardless of what Watt is doing or if he signs a new deal.
But it allows the Cards a better place to be now, when they are clearing trying to gear up for a postseason push as Kyler Murray remains under his rookie contract.