Former sports agent and current NFL salary cap guru, Joel Corry, from overthecap.com recently put together a piece in which he broke down how each NFL team structures contracts and it was a pretty enlightening article (if your'e into that kind of stuff). Here is what he had to say about how the Raiders' current regime prefers to structure deals.
General manager Reggie McKenzie went the pay-as-go-you-go route with most of the deals he signed in free agency after spending the previous two years cleaning up the salary cap mess he inherited. The Raiders didn't get true pay-as-you-go treatment with the five-year, $30 million contract Austin Howard signed. Since his $7 million roster bonus was only one day after he signed his contract, it's being classified as a signing bonus under the cap and prorated for five years ($1.4 million annually on the cap). At least three days must elapse between a contract's signing and a roster bonus for it to avoid being treated as signing bonus.
As he said here, Reggie McKenzie likes to use a "pay-as-you-go" model. Here is a break down of what that means:
Pay as you go is a relatively new structure teams are starting to embrace. A player's cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus under this model. The first contract year usually consists of a fully guaranteed base salary and a roster bonus due a few days after signing. The second year in the most lucrative pay-as-you-go contracts has a fully guaranteed base and a conditionally guaranteed early roster bonus similar to the conditional salary guarantees in the signing bonus/salary guarantee structure.
There may also be conditional guarantees in the third year. Deals with this structure have higher cap numbers, particularly in the early years, because of the absence of a signing bonus. Since there isn't any signing bonus proration, teams have more cap flexibility. A team won't have any dead money (a cap charge for a player no longer on the roster) if a player is released during the latter years of the deal once the guarantees have expired, provided that his contract hasn't been restructured.
The Raiders signed a lot of free agents this off-season and taking this approach to most, if not all of them, allows the Raiders to get out from under them after this season should they not pan out. This approach may have scared away some of the top talent on the market or caused other (such as Tarell Brown) to opt for one-year deals, but they were still able to reel in a few potentially solid players such as Justin Tuck, James Jones, and the aforementioned Austin Howard.