We’ve now seen two surprising moves in back-to-back days. Yesterday, the Cowboys cut Jaylon Smith, and today the Patriots traded 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, to the Panthers for a 2023 sixth-round pick. According to former Jets GM and Dolphins EVP Mike Tannenbaum, the process of releasing a player in-season starts by calling other teams to gauge trade interest. It can be difficult to work out a trade if other teams sense that a release is likely. They can opt to wait for the release and try to sign the player for the minimum (or close to it), instead of paying the player more and giving up trade compensation. In Gilmore’s case, the Panthers felt he was worth the draft pick and contract.
For Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys will eat $16.6 million in Dead Money — $9.8 million in 2021 and $6.8 million in 2022. $7.2 million of the $9.8 in 2021 Dead Money is his P5 Base Salary; the remainder of the Dead Money is his signing bonus. Smith played in 97.83% of the Cowboys defensive snaps in 2020 and 91.84% in 2019. Although his defensive snap count percentage is down to 56.06% this season, it is atypical to see a player like Smith cut in-season due to the money he is owed and that he still saw playing time in Dallas.
Releasing Smith does, however, alleviate Dallas of Smith’s injury guarantee for his $9.2 million Base Salary next season. Also, because of offset language, when Smith signs his contract with the Packers, the compensation he’s paid in 2021 from Green Bay will be deducted from the remaining money the Cowboys must pay him. The Cowboys have paid him 4/18th’s of his $7.2 million base salary ($1.6M), so they owe him an additional $5.6M (minus the offset).
As for Stephon Gilmore, this was the final year of his contract, so the Patriots Dead Money of $10,085,765 will be charged this season. Since Gilmore was on PUP, his contract did not vest prior to Week 1. The Patriots therefore are not on the hook for termination pay, but they have already paid 4/18th’s of his $7 million Base Salary ($1,555,556). They will save $6,179,738 which is what the Panthers will owe him; this includes his P5 Base Salary, in addition to his Per Game Roster Bonus and 17th game check.
Per Over the Cap, the Patriots were $2,679,392 under the salary cap. Trading Gilmore gave them the flexibility to sign LB Jamie Collins and make other potential moves. Gilmore refused to restructure his deal when the Patriots asked him to do so for cap relief purposes. Given the demand for CB’s and limited supply, there would have been many suitors if Gilmore hit the open market. The Panthers had the cap flexibility and the willingness to trade draft capital to get the deal done and bypass free agency. The only stipulation is that Gilmore will stay on the PUP list with Carolina. He can’t practice until after Week 6. If he were released, he could have signed and practiced immediately.