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How did the Jaguars afford NFL free agency?

NFL: International Series-Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars once again spent in NFL free agency, landing high priced free agent Andrew Norwell, as well as a slew of other players. If you follow along on Twitter you’ve probably noticed replies to the likes of Adam Schefter all have common replies.

Where did the Jaguars get all this money?

How do they still have cap room?

Did they find the unlimited cap room cheat code?

There’s no secret thing the Jaguars did to be able to do what they did in free agency, it’s just a simple manipulation of how the salary cap works, an owner who can dish out cash and managing cap hits on a yearly basis. The team also continuously structures big deals as kind of like two-year deals with a series of optional one-year deals after that. It gives the team flexibility if the deal goes south or if they need to clear a big chunk of cap room.

For instance with signing guard Andrew Norwell, his cap hit for the 2018 season is just $5 million. How in the world, right? Well, it’s simple. The Jaguars gave Norwell a $15 million signing bonus that he gets immediately, but for cap purposes counts as $3 million each year of the five year deal. His base salary for 2018 is just $2 million, so Norwell pockets $17 million for this season, but only $5 million of that ($2 million salary + $3 million signing bonus) counts for the Jaguars cap.

The same kind of math applies for Marqise Lee, who is getting all $18 million of his guaranteed money in the first two years of his four-year deal, in part because of a $7 million signing bonus. Lee’s cap hit for 2018 is only $4.75 million, but after 2019 he can be cut for huge cap savings.

This is part of why I’ve tried to explain repeatedly not to worry about the Jaguars salary cap, or how they can afford a big splash signing and keep some of their guys or sign other players. When you have an owner like Shad Khan, who is flush with cash, you can use things like signing bonuses to significantly manipulate cap hits of contracts while still putting money in the player’s pockets immediately.

It helps when you have a cap wiz like John Idzik, as well.