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2022 NFL Free Agency: Buffalo Bills LB Marquel Lee contract details

Explaining the Veteran Salary Benefit

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills signed veteran linebacker Marquel Lee this offseason, and his contract numbers are officially in. There’s an interesting wrinkle in that his cap number is lower than the amount of money the Bills are actually paying, so let’s dive into the numbers and explain why.

Typically speaking, every dollar you pay to a player has to be accounted for in the salary cap at some point. Even if you add void years to spread out the hit, the bill always comes due, except in one case.

The NFL’s Veteran Salary Benefit is written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Formerly known as the Veteran Minimum Exception, it was re-labeled in the 2021 CBA and allows teams to count veterans at a lower cap number while paying them more money. It can only be used on players with more than four seasons of experience making the veteran minimum base salary and teams can throw in up to $152,500 in additional compensation in the 2022 NFL year. After all that, the player’s cap hit is reduced to that of a player with two accredited seasons plus the additional compensation.

Let me show you how that works with Lee’s deal.

Lee has four accrued seasons, so the veteran minimum salary for him is $1.035 million. He received a $152,500 signing bonus. He is receiving $1,187,500 in cash but his cap hit is only $1,047,500, a difference of $140,000. That’s because his base salary cap hit was lowered to $895,000 instead of $1.035 million. That’s the difference between a player with two accrued NFL seasons and four accrued NFL seasons.

It’s not a huge difference, but when you can save a few hundred thousand dollars, it at least levels the playing field for veterans and gives them a fair shake for those back-end roster spots.

One more detail that has nothing to do with the Veteran Salary Benefit: $100,000 of Lee’s salary is fully guaranteed.

Here is the breakdown:

Signing bonus: $152,500
Base salary: $1.035 million ($100,000 guaranteed)

Cap hit: $1,047,500
Cash hit: $1,187,500