NFL teams will often use contract bonuses as a way to spread out a cap hit that might otherwise be exorbitant. For example, if a player’s four-year deal includes a $8MM signing bonus, that money can be paid immediately but spread out over four years for cap purposes. This way, the cap charge for the bonus amounts to $2MM per year for cap purposes, rather than $8MM in year one.
There’s an obvious benefit to kicking the can down the road, but it can also hurt teams if they want to terminate that deal. If a team in the above scenario wanted to release the player in Year 2 of his contract, it would still have to account for remaining prorated bonus money. Rather than counting against the cap as $2MM/year for two seasons, that dead money “accelerates,” and applies to the cap for the league year in which the player is released. In other words, the remaining $4MM in prorated bonus money immediately counts against the cap.
Although these rules apply to many cuts, a different set of rules is in place for players released after June 1. In that case, a team can spread the cap hit across two seasons rather than one — for the current season, the prorated bonus figure stays at its original amount, with the remaining bonus balance accelerating onto the following season.