When the Raiders entered the off-season they were thought to be a pretty good amount over the salary cap. The usual talk of not being able to make any significant free agent acquisitions and losing all their own free agents has dominated any such conversation.
The most common conversation with the regard the Raiders salary cap situation has been that of Carson Palmer and his $13 million salary and $15 million against the salary cap. It's as if their entire future relies upon him taking a pay cut. And if he doesn't, he must be cut. But how true is that, really?
The Raiders were a projected $8 million over the salary cap as the season was ending. Bleak by some folks' viewpoint. It's a far cry from the $22 million the Raiders were a season ago. And yet, despite the "cap jail" the team was still able to keep many of their core players, and sign a few new ones. All while not even touching the big contracts of guys like Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey. This year is really nothing compared to that mess. So, why does it seem like the same reaction to the Raiders' salary cap situation?
There has only been three moves made this offseason and the Raiders are already an estimated $6.5 million under the cap. Those moves were voiding Richard Seymour's contract, restructuring Mike Brisiel's contract, and extending Tyvon Branch's contract. None of those moves were even among the most expected.
The $6.5 million they are under the cap now is plenty to re-sign any of their own free agents they want. The reason it would go so far is most contracts have low first year cap hits with the bulk of the player's pay coming in the form of the signing bonus. It is why Tyvon Branch's new contract has his salary at veteran minimum while not losing any overall contract money. Any new contract would be similar so that $6.5 million would go a long way.
The next on the agenda would be if the Raiders look to be players in free agency. With many holes still to fill, I will say they do. In that case, they can clear more cap space as of March 12 with as many as two cuts allowed whose cap figures spread out over two years.
If the team were to simply cut ties with McClain and Kelly on Tuesday they would save as much as $9.2 million off the cap this year. That's a pretty good amount of money. If you add Darrius Heyward-Bey, they would has as much as $14.5 million in cap spending at Reggie McKenzie's fingertips.
Now we come back to Carson Palmer's $13 million salary. He is the highest paid player on this Raiders team. But he's the quarterback so that's to be expected. Some will tell you he isn't worth that kind of money. That may be true. But, how many NFL contracts pay a player exactly what they're worth? Some players are underpaid and others overpaid. Teams and players can't re-work their deals every year to more accurately reflect a players' worth.
With the cuts I mentioned, the Raiders will almost certainly have at least $14.5 million to spend early in free agency. Reggie McKenzie is not the type of GM to have a pen ready to dole out big money to big name free agents the moment free agency hits. So as far as the $6.5 went in re-signing players, that $14.5 will go a considerably long way in free agency.
This all plays into the myth of the "cap casualty". Most of the time, teams don't really have to cut a player. They can make it work. Sometimes, as in the case of the Raiders last off-season, there are truly cap casualties. But this year? Not even close.
Palmer could easily do a restructure similar to what Tom Brady did which didn't cost him any money while still saving the team cap money this season. Although, it would require more guaranteed money and more of a hit down the road, which is part of the reason all the talk has been of a straight pay cut.
The hard line alternative would be cutting him which would saddle the Raiders with $9.3 million being paid to a player who is no longer on the team. It's one thing to pay big money to your current players. It's entirely another to pay for someone who is not.
Would it be great for the Raiders if Carson Palmer took a pay cut? Sure. Is it critical to the Raiders financial situation that he do it? Absolutely not.
It is far more sensible to re-visit the idea next year when he is set to receive a higher salary with less dead money if he's cut.