Top 2015 pay cut candidates

Players taking pay cuts during the off-season is a regular occurrence in the NFL’s salary cap environment. Sometimes, it is in a player’s best interest to accept a lower salary instead of getting released. Here are five of the off-season’s top pay cut candidates. Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams Bradford is one of the last beneficiaries of high draft picks receiving mega-deals prior to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement creating a rookie wage scale. As the first pick overall in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal (worth a maximum of $86 million) containing $50 million in guarantees. Bradford’s future with Rams seemed in doubt because he missed the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in row until head coach he was consulted on Frank Gignetti’s promotion from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator. This suggests that Bradford will open the 2015 regular season as the Rams’ starting quarterback barring injury or a terrible pre-season. It also gives Bradford some leverage in discussions about reducing his $12.985 million ($16.58 million cap number). Larry Fitzgerald (WR)-Arizona Cardinals The signs have been pointing to off-season pay cut discussions with Fitzgerald for quite awhile. Fitzgerald making $16.25 million on a $23.6 million cap number in 2015 isn’t feasible with the Cardinals having over slightly $151 million of 2015 cap obligations. The eight-time Pro Bowler, who signed a seven-year, $113 million contract extension in 2011, has the NFL’s fourth highest 2015 salary cap number. The situation needs to be before resolved Fitzgerald’s $8 million 2015 roster bonus is payable on the fifth day of the league year (March 14). Although it is ownership’s preference for Fitzgerald to play his entire career with the Cardinals, his performance no longer warrants him being paid like an elite wide receiver. Fitzgerald hasn’t had a 1,000 receiving yards season since 2011. He seemed to be a lock for hitting the mark before he was hindered by a knee sprain and injuries at quarterback. A trade market for Fitzgerald will be somewhat limited because a team must have enough cap room to absorb his $16.25 million salary in order to acquire him. Only after a trade is completed would the acquiring team be able to restructure Fitzgerald’s contract to decrease his cap number. The Cardinals will pick up $9.2 million of cap room with a trade, which is the same amount of cap space that would be created if the team released him. Tamba Hali (OLB)-Kansas City Chiefs Hali has expressed a willingness to take a pay cut if it would help re-sign 2014 NFL sack leader Justin Houston to a long term deal. The Chiefs will use their franchise tag on Houston if a new deal isn’t in place before the March 2 designation deadline. The linebacker franchise tag number will be $13.077 million with a $142 million 2015 salary cap. Some contract maneuvering will be required to fit Houston’s franchise tag under the cap. The Chiefs have less than $1 million of cap room assuming the cap is set at $142 million. Hali, who is entering the final year of a five-year, $57.5 million contract (worth a maximum of $60 million through salary escalators), has a $9 million salary in 2015, with an $11,964,705 cap number. $2 million of Hali’s salary is a roster bonus payable on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Any reduction to his salary would need to take place before he receives the roster bonus. The 31 year old might balk at too steep of a pay cut. It’s conceivable that Hali could make more than his scheduled $9 million in 2015 as a free agent given the market for older pass rushers picked up last year. DeMarcus Ware made $13 million last season in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal he received from the Denver Broncos after refusing the Dallas Cowboys’ attempts to cut his $12.975 million 2014 salary. He got a $250,000 raise for 2014 in his new deal despite coming off a 2013 season where he had career low six sacks while dealing with elbow, quadriceps and back injuries. Julius Peppers quickly landed a three-year, $26 million deal (with $7.5 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $30 million through salary escalators) from the Green Bay Packers once the Chicago Bears released him. He was 34 years old when he signed with Green Bay and made $8.5 million in 2014. $9 million of cap room will be freed up by releasing Hali. 2014 first round pick Dee Ford would need to step up after playing sparingly as a rookie. Hali had 91.8 percent defensive playtime (975 of 1,062 snaps) in 2014 while Ford only received 11.5 percent playtime (122 of 1,062 snaps). Percy Harvin (WR)-New York Jets Harvin was acquired in trade with the Seattle Seahawks last October. The Jets owe the Seahawks their 2015 fourth round pick if Harvin on the roster on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Seattle gets the team’s sixth round pick if he is released prior to this date. This doesn’t leave the new regime of general manager Mike Maccagnan, who came to the Jets from the Houston Texans, and head coach Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, a lot of time to figure out whether Harvin fits into their plans. Harvin, who is scheduled to make $10.5 million in 2015, said during the 2014 season that he would like to remain with the Jets but isn’t interested in taking a pay cut. The Jets have the leverage to ask Harvin to reduce his salary. He’s unlikely to find another team willing to pay him anything close to $41.5 million in the remaining four years of his contract as a free agent after wearing out his welcome with the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. There could be a glut of wide receivers on the open market because several pass catchers currently under contract could hit the streets (Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace, etc.). There also aren’t any negative cap consequences for the Jets with releasing Harvin. His entire $10.5 million cap number comes off the book if he is let go. Adrian Peterson (RB)-Minnesota Vikings The Vikings are presenting a united front about welcoming back Peterson once he’s eligible for reinstatement from his suspension on April 15. Peterson is seeking immediate reinstatement through an NFLPA lawsuit against the NFL. Arguments were heard by U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty on February 6. There isn’t a set timetable for Doty to make a ruling. Peterson, who turns 30 next month, said he didn’t think a pay cut was warranted in an interview with ESPN towards the end of the 2014 regular season. The six-year, $85.28 million contract extension (with a 2017 base salary escalator worth up to $4 million) Peterson signed in 2011 is an outlier in running back marketplace. He is the NFL’s only $10 million per year running back. The 2012 NFL MVP’s $13 million salary and $15.4 million cap number for the 2015 season are the highest among running backs. LeSean McCoy is the only other running back with a double digit salary or cap number in 2015. The Philadelphia Eagles running back has an $11.95 million cap number and is scheduled to make $10.25 million. Peterson has also wondered whether a clean slate with a new team might be best. His salary makes a trade unlikely, which suggests that he may be more receptive to playing for less with another team after his reinstatement. The Vikings would pick up of $13 million of cap room by releasing or trading Peterson. There’s already a lot of speculation that he’ll replace impending free agent DeMarco Murray in the Dallas Cowboys’ backfield since he has expressed an interest in playing for the team before he retires. Others: Dwayne Bowe (WR)-Kansas City Chiefs: $14 million cap number/$11 million salary; Brandon Carr (CB)-Dallas Cowboys: $12.717 million cap number/$8 million salary; Trent Cole (OLB)-Philadelphia Eagles: $11.625 million cap number/$10.025 million salary; Marques Colston (WR)-New Orleans Saints: $9.7 million cap number/$7 million salary; Andre Johnson (WR)-Houston Texans: $16,144,585 cap number/$11.5 million salary; Jerod Mayo (ILB)-New England Patriots: $10,287,500 cap number/$7 million salary; Lardarius Webb (CB)-Baltimore Ravens: $12 million cap number/$8 million salary Follow me on twitter:  @corryjoel

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