While NFL owners appear willing to lock out their players in 2011, they already have one advantage that none of the owners in other professional sports have: nonguaranteed contracts. While a team in virtually any other sport is stuck paying an underperforming player for the full length of his contract, NFL organizations can choose to cut a player, and avoid paying any future bonuses and base salaries due to him.
Normally, there's a downside to that move. Players receive the cash from a signing bonus immediately upon signing a deal, but teams are allowed to spread the cap hit from a signing bonus across the length of a contract.
For example, a $10 million signing bonus on a five-year deal results in a cap hit of $2 million in each of those five seasons (in addition to a player's base salary, incentives and other bonuses). When a player is released or traded, the bonus money assigned to the cap in future years is accelerated onto the current year's cap, forcing the team to devote a portion of its precious cap space to players who are no longer on the roster. That's commonly known as "dead money."
This year, though, things are different. Because this is an uncapped year, teams can release players with onerous base salaries and large signing bonuses without having to worry about cutting corners on this year's roster. That presents teams with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to erase their mistakes for good. Assuming there will be a salary cap on the other side of any lockout, there are plenty of examples of bad contracts teams would be wise to get rid of. We've identified 10 below, listed alphabetically.