Lions use contract quirk via veteran benefit to re-sign Will Harris

Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s ultimately fairly small potatoes, at least financially, but the Lions have used a unique contract benefit with their re-signing of defensive back Will Harris.

Among the Detroit Lions re-signings in free agency thus far is defensive back Will Harris. He led the team in defensive snaps in 2021, and his versatility to play corner of safety is broadly valuable even if he’s not outstanding at either spot. If the Lions were going to re-sign one of their free agent cornerbacks this offseason, it was going to be him over Amani Oruwariye and Mike Hughes.

It’s only a one-year deal for Harris, and he’s obviously not breaking the bank to be depth piece in the Lions’ secondary. But a unique contract provision has been used by the Lions in his new deal.

Having spent four full seasons on the Lions’ active roster, Harris is eligible for a veteran salary benefit called a four-year qualifying contract (highly scientific name, I know).

Here’s the NFL’s descriptions of the veteran salary benefit and the four-year qualifying contract:

Veteran salary benefit:

"Formerly known as the minimum salary benefit, the veteran salary benefit allow teams to offer a “Qualifying Contract” to any player with at least four credited seasons at a reduced salary-cap hit. Under this provision, a qualifying contract is a one-year deal worth the minimum base salary applicable to a player with his number of credited seasons, plus $152,500 in additional compensation (i.e., signing bonus, roster bonus, incentive, etc. — amount begins to increase in 2024). These contracts are charged against the salary cap at the rate of a player with two credited seasons that league year.”"

Four-year qualifying contract:

"Another type of veteran salary benefit, it can be offered to a player with at least four credited seasons whose contract with a team has expired after being on said team for four or more consecutive, uninterrupted league years prior to his contract expiring. Such a player must have been on the team’s 90-man active/inactive list for said seasons (and every regular-season and postseason game). Teams can sign a maximum of two eligible players to this type of salary benefit.A qualifying contract under this benefit is a one-year deal with a base salary of up to $1.35 million more (set to increase in 2024) than the minimum base salary for said player. However, if a team does sign two players to a qualifying contract, it can only give a combined $1.35 million in additional base salary between the two deals. Under such agreements, only the applicable minimum base salary (not the $1.35 million benefit) is charged against the salary cap.”"

Lions use veteran salary benefit to re-sign Will Harris

Essentially Harris gets a little more money via additional salary ($1.35 million plus the $1.080 milion veteran’s minimum) and a signing bonus ($152,500) while the Lions take a cap charge equivalent to the rate of a player with two years of service time.

Via Over The Cap, here’s the details of Harris’ one-year deal.

Base salary: $2.43 million (guaranteed)
Signing bonus: $152,500
Cap number: $1,317,500

Harris’ odds to make the roster were probably solid anyway. But the Lions would take $2.582 million in dead money if they cut him. It’ll literally cost them more to cut him than to just keep him on the roster, even if he’s an extra defensive back and mainly a special teamer.

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