The salary-cap implications of Jonathan Vilma's suspension, if it isn’t overturned or delayed in the legal system, are more complicated than I’ve ever seen with any suspension.
Generally, when a player is suspended for an entire season, his cap figure comes entirely off the books for that season and his contract is rolled over. In Vilma’s case, the second half of that equation remains true. His contract, which was set to expire in 2013, now runs through 2014 with everything pushed back a year.
But a portion of Vilma’s contract will count against this year’s salary cap. If he was playing, Vilma’s cap figure would have been $4.9 million, after he restructured his deal in the offseason. But Vilma still is going to count $3.333 million against the Saints’ cap this year. Why is Vilma counting when past suspended players didn’t?
I found a league source that knows much more about contracts and the salary cap to help explain. The answer is multi-layered. Most significantly, Vilma’s old contract is the biggest culprit. Outstanding pro-rated money on the previous deal adds up to $2.133 million that has to count against this year’s cap.
Then, there’s some money for this year. Although he was rehabbing his injured knee, Vilma did enough during the offseason program to collect a $100,000 workout bonus that counts fully against this year’s cap. He also collected a $600,000 roster bonus simply for being on the roster any two days of the league year, which began in March and that whole amount counts toward this year’s cap. Finally, Vilma got a $1 million signing bonus when he restructured his deal in April and $500,000 of that counts against this year’s cap.
Although Vilma’s suspension frees up $1.6 million in cap space and the Saints now are roughly $8.8 million under the cap, I wouldn’t go looking for the Saints to suddenly go spending a lot of money. With Vilma’s situation tied up in the legal system, it remains possible the suspension could be overturned. If that happens, the Saints instantly would be back on the hook for the full $4.9 million cap figure this year, so they’d be wise to keep enough space open, just in case Vilma lands back on the roster.