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Cash-over-cap becomes viable solution for coming 2021 salary-cap crunch

Mike Florio and Peter King discuss DeMaurice Smith's difficult balancing act during the NFLPA's latest CBA negotiations.

The NFL Players Association wants agents to collude in order to get the best deals for their clients in 2021. As recently explained, that won’t work.

Here’s what will: The NFLPA’s suggestion that agents aggressively push teams to use contract devices aimed at paying players now with cap consequences arising in future years, as the cap increases.

Per multiple sources, the notion of pressing teams to use “cash over cap” has gained steam as agents prepare for the coming wave of free agency. A much more common device before the 2011 CBA, when teams seemed to have salary-cap problems far more often, the practice of spending more than 100 percent of the current year’s cap could make a major comeback this year.

The easiest method for spending above the cap comes from the signing bonus. When, for example, a player receives a $10 million signing bonus on a four-year deal, only $2.5 million of that amount applies in the first year of the deal, with $2.5 million hitting the cap in the second, third, and fourth years.

Extra cash also can be funneled to players through so-called not-likely-to-be-earned incentives that are easily reached. That gives players money in the current year while hitting the cap in the next year. (It may take some effort and creativity, based on each individual player’s situation, to craft incentives that fall into the NLTBE category.)

Future guarantees also can be used, with players getting full security deeper into the term of a multi-year deal. Recent changes to the funding rule make it easier for teams to extend fully-guaranteed payments beyond the current year, reducing the amount of money that must be placed in escrow in order to protect players against potential insolvency of the team, something that won’t be happening in today’s NFL.

While it would be easier to get deals done if the salary cap weren’t dropping from $198.2 million to $182 million or so, there are other ways to skin the cat. Pushing teams to use those devices will be far more fruitful than expecting rival agents to compare notes and to trust each other that the information will be used for the common good.