The first big cuts came out today with the Indianapolis Colts releasing safety LaRon Landry. The Raiders also have a safety whose contract situation is less than ideal. That of Tyvon Branch who will be the team's highest paid player this coming season with a cap hit of nearly $10 million.
Branch is the only holdover among the big contracts that were handed out by the previous regime. All the other players who had bloated and backloaded contracts have been unloaded in the past three off-seasons.
Not only was Branch not cut loose, he was given a new 4-year contract extension through 2017. The new contract allowed some cap relief in the first year of the deal. And that was the last time he played more than two full games in a season.
While his cap hit has risen each season, he has been on injured reserve. In 2013, he was lost in week two with a cap hit of $3.9 million. Last season he broke his foot in week three and was lost for the season with a cap hit of $7.1 million. That's just 5 games in the past two seasons.
Now he is set to make $9.7 million which is by far the largest cap hit on the team (Austin Howard is next highest at $6.4 million).
Cutting Branch is not nearly as simple as it was for the Colts to cut Landry.
It would cost the team $6.7 million in dead money should they cut Branch. That is more than twice as much as the savings ($3 million). Landry left behind $3.5 million in dead money with a savings of $2.25 million.
The Raiders are set to have over $60 million to spend under the cap. And that's even if they leave Branch's contract alone. They still have ground to make up to stay up with the mandatory minimum salary cap which is averaged over four years time.
And here's where it gets tricky - Dead money doesn't count when figuring up the minimum salary cap.
The minimum salary cap is 89% which is averaged over a 4-year period from 2013-16. Due to a lot of dead money the team took on in 2013, they already must use up about 95% of the allowable amount under the cap each year and they are still behind due to leaving $7.6 million in salary rollover from 2014.
Last year they had $6.2 million in dead money from cutting Michael Huff and a total of $17.7 million in dead money. Adding $6.7 million this season would just make it harder to meet that minimum by 2016.
With all this considered, the team's best options are to either bite the bullet and go with the contract as they structured it, or attempt to restructure his deal. He has three years left on his current deal with his salary going up again each of the next two seasons.
The Raiders have in recent years taken on a lot of dead money now for savings down the road. That's what happened when they traded Carson Palmer to the Cardinals. Had they kept Palmer for one more season, it would have cost them a lot more actual money but his dead money hit would have been lessened.
No question about it, the Raiders knew this day was coming. What they couldn't have foreseen when originally making the deal was the injuries that have plagued the formerly durable Branch who had missed just two games in four seasons prior to 2013.
Neither side holds the upper hand here.
Branch has never made a Pro Bowl and is now considered an injury risk so should he be cut, he won't have a lot of teams itching to throw money and long term deals at him. He knows even if the team stands pat now, he won't see the final two years of his current deal.
For the Raiders part, they would like to have Branch on the team. Then again they would have liked to have had him the past two seasons but were forced to scramble to replace him both times, so you could understand if they were reluctant to put all their eggs in that basket again.
The best case scenario for both sides is to re-work his contract, which may require extending it if even by just a year, with a new roster bonus to avoid Branch losing money in the deal. The kind of deal he would probably not get from another team should he be cut loose by the Raiders.
Al Davis moved money around like this for years so he could keep spending and still slide under the cap. The new regime has zero worries at the moment about getting under the cap. Even still, a decision must be made as to how to proceed with Branch. Part of that decision lies in Branch's hands as well.