NFC South capitalizes on veteran minimum

All four NFC South general managers have been doing some very astute salary-cap maneuvering when it comes to the veteran minimum salary benefit -- even Tampa Bay’s Mark Dominik, who seems to think the word “veteran’’ applies to anyone who has reached his 22nd birthday.

The minimum-salary benefit is designed to give teams that sign veterans a salary-cap break. It can be used on any player with four or more accrued seasons, who signs for the minimum base salary, which varies depending on the number of years the player has in the league. As a general rule, the cap hit for those players is $525,000, even though the player might actually earn far more in base salary. The cap hit can also escalate a bit if there is a signing bonuses involved in the deal.

Let’s use New Orleans safety Pierson Prioleau, a 12-year veteran to demonstrate because he the highest-possible minimum base salary. Prioleau is scheduled to earn $910,000 in base salary. He also got a $50,000 signing bonus. Under normal circumstances, Prioleau would count $960,000 million against the salary cap. But the benefit drops his cap figure to just $575,000.

The Saints also used the veteran minimum benefit on offensive lineman Jordan Black, linebacker Clint Ingram, safety Chris Reis, receiver Courtney Roby, cornerback Leigh Torrence, running back Patrick Cobbs, tackle George Foster and tackle Alex Barron. In the case of Barron, general manager Mickey Loomis did a very nice job of guarding his team against the cap. Barron’s deal, which was for $685,000, was structured with a split salary, meaning his salary and cap hit drop dramatically if he’s placed on injured reserved or waived while injured.

Barron currently is on the injured-reserve list and his cap figure has dropped to $228,000. It could be lowered even more if the Saints release Barron with an injury settlement.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney was almost as active as Loomis with the benefit. He used it on six players – safety Sean Considine, quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker Omar Gaither, receiver Legedu Naanee, cornerback E.J. Wilson and cornerback Cletis Gordon.

Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff used it twice and got some big savings because both of his veterans have a lot of years under their belts. Tight end Reggie Kelly and linebacker Mike Peterson each got $910,000 base salaries with $50,000 signing bonuses. Kelly and Peterson each are counting only $575,000 against the cap.

Tampa Bay, which is poised to have the league’s youngest opening-day roster, used the benefit on only one player. That’s defensive tackle John McCargo. His base salary is $685,000 with no signing bonus, so his cap figure is $525,000. The Bucs also protected themselves against injury to McCargo. His deal also includes a split salary, which would pay him only $353,000 if he is injured.