The NFL is a league of attrition and no team is feeling the financial brunt of that fact quite like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who currently have a league-high $30.1 million of their 2012 cash payroll on injured reserve, according to league-wide salary data maintained by Shutdown Corner.
No other team in the NFL has more than $18 million of their 2012 cash payroll (defined as base salaries, signing/option bonuses, roster bonuses, workout bonuses and likely to be earned incentives) tied up on players currently on injured reserve and the $22 million that the Buccaneers' expected starting guard tandem of Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph is earning is nearly $5 million more than the second-place team in this category.
In addition to bad luck, the Buccaneers' lead in "Cash on IR" is due, in part, to their shift to a "pay as you go" approach to player contracts. Instead of handing out large signing bonuses, the Buccaneers are guaranteeing large amounts of current and future base salaries when signing or retaining free agents. For example, in the opening days of free agency in 2012, the Buccaneers went out and signed Nicks, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and cornerback Eric Wright to contracts totaling $140.5 million, with $72 million in guarantees, and did so without using a single signing bonus. Of the $33.25 million in first-year cash those three free agents will receive from the Buccaneers, $24.75 million (nearly 75 percent) is being paid in the form of fully guaranteed base salaries this season, while $8 million was paid out of "fifth day of the league year" roster bonuses to Jackson ($2 million) and Nicks ($6 million). (Wright received a $500,000 workout bonus)
The Buccaneers crossed the $30 million threshold when they placed linebacker Quincy Black ($5.75 million in cash in 2012) on injured reserve.
The second-highest amount on "Cash on IR" belongs to the New York Jets, who have $17.3 million in cash on injured reserve, mostly tied up in cornerback Darrelle Revis ($7.5 million) and wide receiver Santonio Holmes ($8 million). The Atlanta Falcons ($14.8 million), Cincinnati Bengals ($14.5 million) and Baltimore Ravens ($13.7 million) round out the Top 5, though the Bengals deserve an asterisk as $2.7 million of their total is attributed to center Kyle Cook, who is on injured reserve, but with a "Designated for Return" label.
While they're in the middle of the pack in terms of "Cash on IR," the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles would be just outside of the Top 5 if we included players on other reserve lists, such as "Non-Football Injury" or "Physically Unable to Perform." Left tackle Jason Peters will earn $4 million while on the Eagles' "Non-Football Injury" list this season. Jaguars linebacker Clint Session, who is on the physically unable to perform list due to a concussion, received a $2 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2012 league year and is earning a $1.9 million base salary this season.
The five teams who currently have the least amount of cash stuck on injured reserve are the Seattle Seahawks ($3.155 million), San Francisco 49ers ($2.554 million), Minnesota Vikings ($1.789 million), Chicago Bears ($1.137 million) and San Diego Chargers ($1.005 million), who have just two players — wide receivers Vincent Brown and Richard Goodman — on injured reserve after releasing kicker Nate Kaeding ($2 million in cash compensation this season) from the IR list last month. San Diego's number also increases when you factor in that the team's third-largest cash earner this season, left tackle Jared Gaither ($9 million, fully guaranteed), has missed five of nine games and could miss Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos. Gaither has played in just 41.25 percent of the Chargers' snaps, nearly 20 percent less than his replacement Mike Harris, who received $3,500 guaranteed as an undrafted rookie out of UCLA.
Cap/Contract Odds n' Ends
On Nov. 14, the Dallas Cowboys placed defensive end Kenyon Coleman on season-ending injured reserve due to a torn triceps that will require surgery. To replace Coleman on the 53-man roster, the Cowboys elevated rookie defensive end Ben Bass from the practice squad.
When Bass originally signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, he received no signing bonus or base salary guarantee. Considering that the Cowboys guaranteed a league-high $322,000 to undrafted free agents this offseason, including $205,000 to guard Ronald Leary (who remains on the practice squad), receiving nothing in guarantees was quite a feat. To perhaps make up for that, a source with knowledge of the situation has confirmed that the Cowboys gave Bass a signing bonus of $17,241 when elevating him from the practice squad to the active roster on Wednesday. That amount represents the financial difference of what Bass had been earning each week on the practice squad ($5,700) and what he will earn while on the 53-man roster ($22,941).
Increased Practice Squad Compensation Watch
Here's a team-by-team look at which players are currently earning more than the $5,700 per week minimum while on an NFL practice squad:
Baltimore Ravens: linebacker Sergio Kindle ($17,000 per week)
Minnesota Vikings: running back Jordan Todman ($17,000 per week)
New England Patriots: offensive lineman Matt Kopa and defensive back Sterling Moore ($8,820 per week), wide receiver Greg Salas ($27,353 per week)
New Orleans Saints: wide receiver Andy Tanner ($7,000 per week)
Philadelphia Eagles: wide receiver B.J. Cunningham ($6,000 per week)
San Francisco 49ers: offensive tackle Al Netter ($22,941 per week)
Seattle Seahawks: quarterback Josh Portis and wide receiver Charly Martin ($6,700 per week)
St. Louis Rams: offensive linemen Ty Nsehke ($22,900 per week) and Brandon Washington ($9,500 per week)
Washington Redskins: offensive tackle Tom Compton ($22,941 per week)