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Talking The Terms And Phrases Of Free Agency

Some of the definitions you need to know this time of year

On March 14 at 1 p.m. Arizona time (don't forget the rest of the country's clocks change over the weekend, so Arizona will again be aligned with West Coast time) NFL teams can legally "tamper" -- talk to -- the agents of players who will be free agents 48 hours later. Then free agency starts on March 16.

There are always a lot of terms and phrases thrown around this time of year, so for the uninitiated, here are a handful of them to give you clarity before roster moves begin.

  • Dead cap hit: Any leftover salary cap money from a player that counts against the cap even though the player is no longer around. For example, the Cardinals released linebacker Jordan Hicks on Wednesday; while he is free to sign elsewhere and the Cards no longer owe him money, his former contract still eats up $3 million on the team's 2022 salary cap.
  • Restructuring a contract: This one is used often, the prime way for teams to quickly clear cap space. If a player restructures a contract, it means he is getting all the money he had due this season, just in a different form; i.e., turning salary into immediate signing bonus. The player gets the money he had coming, and the team by turning salary to bonus can spread the cap hit out over future years. A lot of times someone will note a player could "restructure" by taking less money and doing nothing else to the contract -- nope. That's just a paycut.
  • Agreed To Terms vs. Signed: It's exactly what it sounds like. If a player signs his contract, the deal is done. If the player has agreed to terms, the contract has yet to be signed and usually, the player has yet to take his physical, which must be cleared before a team will sign a guy. Most teams prefer to wait to announce a new player until after he signs (and after the physical is done), which is why often there is a lag between when reports come out that a player is going to a team and the team officially confirming the news.
  • Top 51: In the offseason, until the first Monday before the opening regular-season game, only the top 51 salary cap numbers on each team count against the cap. Once we get to that Monday, every cap number on the roster, including injured reserve players and practice squad players, count against the cap.
  • Voidable years: Teams can add void years at the back end of a contract in order to spread out the signing bonus and lower the player's immediate salary cap hit. The Cardinals have done it multiple times over the past couple of years -- De'Vondre Campbell, J.J. Watt, Rodney Hudson -- but it creates dead cap money in the future.
  • Guaranteed money: The team will never put out details like guaranteed money, but agents will. That comes with a caveat. The guaranteed money that is most important in a contract; if a player has non-guaranteed $5M salaries in the last two years of a five-year deal and is released before those years, he doesn't get any of that cash. But even reports of guarantees aren't always in the strictest sense of the word. Sometimes the money in Year Two, for instance, is considered a guarantee even if it isn't, since most teams won't cut a free agent one year into a signing.
  • June 1 cut: If a player is released after June 1, his dead cap hit can be split up over the next two seasons. A player can be released prior to June 1 with a June 1 designation, but if a team does that, the player's dead money must be carried in full against the cap until June 1 actually arrives on the calendar.
GM Steve Keim smiles during a press conference at the 2022 NFL Combine