At first glance, one of the oddest moves the New England Patriots made during cut-down weekend was to keep Marquice Cole on the initial 53-man roster on Saturday, August 31, only to cut him the next day.
Even stranger than that was his return to the 53-man roster the next day.
According to Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com, Cole benefited from his temporary separation from the team: although his base salary remains $715,000, the new contract contains significant playing time incentives. If Cole plays 25 percent of the defensive snaps this season, he'll earn a $95,000 bonus. He'll earn another $95,000 if he reaches 35 percent and a final $95,000 if he reaches 45 percent. If he reaches this highest plateau, he'll earn a total of $1 million for the season.
But that raises a question: why did the Patriots release him only to bring him back?
The key lies in Article 27, which covers the deals more commonly called vet-minimum contracts.
Years ago, when the NFLPA realized that the salary cap gave teams an incentive to kick veteran players to the curb and replace them with cheaper rookies, they decided that something needed to be done. That something is called, according to the CBA, the "Minimum Salary Benefit."
Here's how it works. Let's say a player with four or more years of experience signs a contract that meets these criteria:
- It's a one-year deal.
- The salary is the minimum allowed for veterans of his experience level.
- It contains no more than $65,000 in bonuses and incentives, combined.
Then his contract qualifies for the Minimum Salary Benefit, which means that while the team is responsible for paying his entire salary as specified by the contract. For the purposes of the salary cap, he is treated as if he had only two years' experience.
So, for example, since Marquice Cole has completed six years in the league, his minimum salary is $715,000. But, since his original contract carried only a $15,000 workout bonus, it qualified for the Minimum Salary Benefit. Therefore, his original contract would have counted $555,000 against the Patriots' cap this year.
However, the CBA has one nasty stick in terms of the Minimum Salary Benefit: contracts that earn the benefit cannot be renegotiated.
So, to add the playing-time incentives, the Patriots had to release Cole and sign him to a new contract.
That move has a downside and an upside for the Patriots. The downside is that Cole's new contract has incentives far above the $65,000 threshold, so it no longer qualifies for the minimum salary benefit. Thus, his entire $715,000 salary now counts against the cap.
On the other hand, the CBA also prohibited players on qualifying contracts from signing an extension; that restriction has also been limited. So if the Patriots feel Cole is worth keeping around in 2014, by being willing to spend more now, they've made keeping him easier in the future.