10 Biggest Dead Salary Cap Hits in NFL History

min read
Andrew Doughty Jun 15, 2021, 1:21 PM
Carson Wentz Dead Cap Hit Money Eagles Colts
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Dead money is common in the NFL. While teams prefer to avoid it, dead money exists every year on every NFL roster. It has never existed as it will on the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster in 2021 thanks to a disastrous Carson Wentz extension.

In dealing Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts, the Eagles triggered a $33.8-million dead cap hit, the largest in NFL history. Here are the 10 biggest one-year dead cap hits in NFL history:

10. Blake Bortles

Dead Money: $16.5 million

On May 1, 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced their intention to pick up the fifth-year option for quarterback Blake Bortles. Ten months later, they signed Bortles to a three-year, $54-million contract extension, a reward for leading them within one quarter of their first-ever Super Bowl appearance. 

Bortles played 13 more games in a Jaguars uniform and was cut in March 2019, two days after the team signed Nick Foles to a four-year, $88-million deal. 

“I don’t regret drafting him. I don’t regret extending him. He earned that extension. I regret that it didn’t work out,” then-Jaguars’ general manager Dave Caldwell said of Bortles’ release.

9. Nnamdi Asomugha

Dead Money: $17.2 million

Widely regarded as the top free agent in 2011 after closing an eight-year run in Oakland with three sensational seasons, Nnamdi Asomugha signed a five-year, $60-million deal with the “Dream Team” in Philly. 

Asomugha was cut two years into the five-year deal, resulting in the largest dead cap hit for a defensive player in NFL history.

8. JaMarcus Russell

Dead Money: $17.9 million

In March 2006, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis was one of 30 (of 32 total) NFL owners who voted for a new CBA that included, among other things, more revenue in the salary cap and post-career medical benefits. It didn't include a new rookie wage scale. 

Five years later, Davis and the Raiders probably wished they voted against the 2006 CBA and/or pushed for a more modest rookie wage scale. Because it was five years later the Raiders selected JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and signed him to a six-year, $68-million rookie deal.

Russell was cut in May 2010 after 25 starts over three seasons. He earned a whopping $39 million and left the Raiders with a dead cap hit of $17.9 million in 2010.

7. Ryan Tannehill

Dead Money: $18.4 million

It was no surprise in the spring of 2015 when the Miami Dolphins exercised Ryan Tannehill’s fifth-year option after a career-best 2014 season for the former top-10 pick and months of reports saying the Dolphins would do so before the May 3 deadline. And, for the same reasons, it was no surprise the Dolphins signed Tannehill to an extension in mid-May, three weeks after exercising the option.

Ryan Tannehill Cut Dead Money Dolphins
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

It was called a “low-risk, high-reward” move by then-CBS Sports NFL reporter Jason La Canfora, a sentiment largely echoed around the NFL as the Dolphins invested $45 million in guarantees in a promising fourth-year quarterback.

It wasn’t low risk, nor was it high reward. After restructuring the deal in March 2018, the Dolphins took an $18.4-million dead cap hit in trading Tannehill to the Titans.

6. Nick Foles 

Dead Money: $18.7 million

The Jacksonville Jaguars paid Nick Foles $30.5 million to start–and lose–four games in 2019.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, per a four-year, $88-million deal signed in March 2019, paid Nick Foles $30.5 million to not be their long-term answer at quarterback. And, amazingly, it could’ve been worse because his contract called for $50.1 million in guaranteed money. Upon trading him to the Chicago Bears in March 201, they were left with an $18.7-million dead cap hit, part of the $30.5 million they paid him to complete 77 passes and throw three touchdowns.

5. Peyton Manning

Dead Money: $19.3 million

In July 2011, Peyton Manning signed a five-year, $90-million contract that presumably ensured he’d finish his career with the Indianapolis Colts. He didn’t take another snap in a Colts uniform.

Manning missed the entire 2011 season and was released in March 2012 before a $28-million roster bonus was due. Even without the bonus, he was paid more than $26 million, largely thanks to a $20-million signing bonus from the five-year deal, for doing nothing in 2011.

4. Antonio Brown

Dead Money: $21.1 million

On New Year’s Day 2019, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport squashed rumors of Antonio Brown’s trade request with the Pittsburgh Steelers, citing, among other reasons, $21.1 million in dead cap money if Brown was traded, or released, prior to the 2019 season. 

Two months later, Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a third- and fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft. The move triggered the dead cap hit as part of a four-year, $68-million extension signed in 2017 that made him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.

3. Brandin Cooks

Dead Money: $21.8 million

In 2018, the Los Angeles Rams like Brandin Cooks so much they invested a first- and fifth-round pick (in a trade with the New England Patriots) and $50.5 million in guaranteed money in him. At the time, it was an aggressive investment to give Jared Goff a weapon. In hindsight, it was a reckless investment that gave Goff 122 receptions over two seasons.

After acquiring Cooks in April 2018, the Rams signed him to a five-year, $80-million extension in July 2018. It was one of the worst contract decisions in NFL history, one that left the Rams $21.8 million in dead money after trading Cooks to the Houston Texans in April 2020.

2. Jared Goff

Dead Money: $22.2 million

Just 10 months after the Cooks’ dead cap hit, the Rams took an almost identical hit when dealing Jared Goff and his four-year, $134-million deal to the Detroit Lions.

Jared Goff Cap Hit Dead Money Rams Lions
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

After exercising Goff’s fifth-year option earlier in the league year, the Rams signed Goff to the mega-deal in 2019 that included $110 million in guarantees. It was the most guaranteed money in NFL history and made him one of the 15 highest-paid athletes in the world for 2020. 

Like Cooks’ deal, it proved reckless and left the Rams with $22.2 million in dead money, breaking their own record from a year earlier.

1. Carson Wentz 

Dead Money: $33.8 million

The number itself is staggering. The difference between the previous record, set one year earlier by the player drafted one spot ahead of Carson Wentz, is incomprehensible. 

Included in the four-year, $128-million deal Wentz signed in June 2019 was a signing bonus to be paid before the deal began in 2021 but spread over the four years, 2021-24, to lower his cap hit in each year. And it will cost the Eagles nearly 20 percent of the projected 2021 salary cap.

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM

About the Author

Andrew Doughty

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.