The Detroit Lions re-signed Will Harris on Tuesday and they were able to get a break on their salary cap hit for him due to a type of veteran salary benefit called a four-year qualifying contract.
Here’s the NFL’s explanation of the veteran salary benefit:
“Formerly known as the minimum salary benefit, the veteran salary benefit allow teams to offer a “Qualifying Contract” to any player with at least four credited seasons at a reduced salary-cap hit. Under this provision, a qualifying contract is a one-year deal worth the minimum base salary applicable to a player with his number of credited seasons, plus $152,500 in additional compensation (i.e., signing bonus, roster bonus, incentive, etc. — amount begins to increase in 2024). These contracts are charged against the salary cap at the rate of a player with two credited seasons that league year.”
In essence, the veteran salary benefit is designed to give teams the ability to sign a player that has been in the league for four years at a discounted rate. This is good for the team because these players cost less, and it’s good for the players because it encourages teams to sign veterans instead of just turning to cheaper players on rookie deals.
There are two key numbers to remember here. First, the veteran minimum for a fourth-year player is $1,080,000. Second, veterans can be offered up to $152,500 in bonus money in order to stay compliant.
Here’s the league's explanation of the four-year qualifying contract:
“Another type of veteran salary benefit, it can be offered to a player with at least four credited seasons whose contract with a team has expired after being on said team for four or more consecutive, uninterrupted league years prior to his contract expiring. Such a player must have been on the team’s 90-man active/inactive list for said seasons (and every regular-season and postseason game). Teams can sign a maximum of two eligible players to this type of salary benefit.
“A qualifying contract under this benefit is a one-year deal with a base salary of up to $1.35 million more (set to increase in 2024) than the minimum base salary for said player. However, if a team does sign two players to a qualifying contract, it can only give a combined $1.35 million in additional base salary between the two deals. Under such agreements, only the applicable minimum base salary (not the $1.35 million benefit) is charged against the salary cap.”
First, to qualify for this benefit players need to have been on a team’s active roster for four full seasons and are entering free agency after their rookie contract expires. The Lions had three players who met those requirements this season: Harris, Amani Oruwariye, and Austin Bryant. Bobby Price did not qualify because he spent time during his rookie season on the Lions practice squad, while C.J. Moore did not qualify because he was released at cutdowns last offseason before he returned halfway through.
The key numbers to know here is that teams can offer up to $1.35 million more than the veteran league minimum— which is $1,080,000 as previously noted.
Additionally, this money can be applied to one player, or split between two. The Lions opted to apply it to just one player (Will Harris) this offseason.
With these numbers in mind, let’s dig in on the parameters of Harris’ new contract.
Will Harris — Veteran salary cap benefit with a four-year qualifying contract
(Details via Overthecap.com, charts created by Erik Schlitt)
As you can see in the above contract, Harris’ base salary is $2.43 million. That number was arrived at by taking the fourth-year veteran minimum ($1.08 million) and adding it to the increase allowed by the four-year qualifier option ($1.35 million). The prorated bonus of $152,500 is determined by the veteran salary benefit as well.
Once the veteran salary contract parameters were met, the four-year qualifier discount kicks in, reducing Harris’ salary cap hit in 2023.
One final note on this type of contract: Expect Harris to make the roster
To keep teams from taking advantage of this benefit, both the base salary and prorated bonus are fully guaranteed, totaling $2,582,500 for Harris.
If the Lions keep Harris on the roster, he will cost them a $1.3M cap hit in 2023, but, if they elect to release him, they will take a dead cap penalty of $2,582,500 because of the guarantees.
Therefore, it would cost the Lions more money ($1,265,000) to cut Harris than keep him on the roster.