In week 6 of the 2013 NFL season, New England Patriots starting linebacker Jerod Mayo tore his pectoral muscle. His season ended after he was placed on injured reserve. In week 6 of the 2014 NFL season, Mayo tore his ACL and was placed on injured reserve again – again ending his season.
When he was fully healthy, Mayo was one of the better linebackers in the NFL – a solid presence against both the pass and the run. Due to that, he and the team agreed on a five-year, $48.5 million contract extension in December 2011. In the three years since the extension was signed, however, Mayo played only one full season; finishing his last two campaigns on injured reserve. In those two years, he hit the Patriots salary cap with $5.9 million and $7.3 million.
In 2015, Mayo has another massive cap hit: $10.3 million.
What can the Patriots therefore do with Jerod Mayo, in order to get some cap relief to potentially extend pending free agents Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski?
They have various options, as our friend Miguel Benzan of patscap.com explains in his article Jerod Mayo's Salary Cap Scenarios: the team can cut or trade Mayo or restructure his deal; they might even opt to extend him.
The salary cap implications of cutting Mayo are closely tied to his health. Basically, if he is designated as "injured" upon his release, the Patriots either lose cap space (if he is cut prior to June 2: $772,500) or gain cap space (if he is cut prior to June 2 but designated a post June 1 cut: $1.4 million).
However, if Mayo is healthy when the Patriots cut him, they will save $3.8 million prior, or $5.9 million post June 1. If the Patriots and Mayo part ways after June 1 (no matter if he is healthy or injured at that point), he will hit the 2016 cap with $2.4 million; if they do it prior to this date he will not have a 2016 cap hit.
The more likely scenario, however, is that Mayo will be a Patriot in 2015. Therefore we turn our attention to how the team and the player can make this happen.
One way to keep Jerod Mayo in 2015 is to offer him the same deal his teammate Vince Wilfork signed prior to the 2014 season. Such a deal would lower the player's base salary, while adding a) a signing bonus and b) additional (not likely to be earned) incentives depending on playing time as well as personal, team and defensive performances. Mayo's 2015 cap hit would be about $4.0 million less, while his 2016 and 2017 cap numbers would simultaneously increase because of the signing bonus proration. Still, the team would have Mayo for the upcoming season and would put itself in a place to restructure the contract again during the 2015 offseason, if seen as necessary.
Of course, the team does not have to offer Mayo any bonuses or incentives and could simply lower his 2015 salary – even down to the minimum of $870,000. By doing that, the two remaining years of the contract would stay the way they are (cap hits of $10.0 million in 2016 and $9.2 million in 2017). However, Mayo and his representatives still have to agree to such a move and it is doubtful they would if the player has no chance to recoup some of the money lost in such a manner via incentives and/or bonuses.
Another option, the Patriots have, is to extend Mayo. He is only 28 years old (he turns 29 in a few days) and, under his current contract, is signed through the 2017 season. Therefore, he would enter unrestricted free agency and the 2018 season aged 32. Thus, the Patriots might opt to extend Mayo by one or two additional years as such a move would give them the ability to lower Mayo's 2015 cap hit (via reducing his base salary). The team could potentially sweeten the deal with a signing bonus (spread out over the contract's duration) and a higher salary in the last years of the contract. Depending on the structure and length of the extension, the team might save more than $3.0 million in 2015 cap space, while not being faced with having to restructure Mayo again next offseason (as they probably are with Wilfork right now).
It remains to be seen how the Patriots will ultimately approach Mayo's contract and if the emergence of fellow linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins has any influence on the outcome of this situation. However, as the scenarios above illustrate, we know one thing for sure: the team has multiple options to keep Jerod Mayo on the roster at a lower cap hit.
What would you do if you were the Patriots? Would you restructure or extend Jerod Mayo's contract – or would you simply cut him?