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Examining cap ramifications of Incognito's release for Bills

The on-again, off-again relationship between Richie Incognito and the Buffalo Bills officially ended Monday when the team released him from the reserve/retired list.

Doing so means Incognito can continue his playing career elsewhere – if another team is interested in his services. It also will provide the Bills with some additional salary cap space, although figuring out exactly how much gets a bit murky.

Let’s start at the beginning. Incognito was originally scheduled to count $7.575 million against the 2018 salary cap in the final year of his contract. However, that number dropped to $5.9 million in March, when ESPN’s Field Yates reported that Incognito’s contract was “restructured” to a $3.65 million base salary, $1 million signing bonus, $100,000 workout bonus and the remaining $1.15 million from Incognito’s $3.45 million signing bonus that he received in 2016.

When Incognito announced last month that he was retiring – part of a bizarre few days that included him firing his agent on Twitter – the Bills saved at least $3.75 million off his 2018 cap hit – the amount of his base salary and workout bonus. However, it would stand to reason that the Bills would ask for the $1 million signing bonus that he received in March back, given that he “retired” less than a month later. If the team got that back, they would save $4.75 million off the 2018 cap.

Now that Incognito has been released, the question becomes whether the team asked for the $1.15 million back that was part of his 2016 signing bonus. Typically, when a player is released as the result of a team decision, signing bonus money they’ve already received is theirs to keep.

However, the circumstances in Incognito’s case are different. By retiring, and then expressing a desire to play, the Bills could easily say, “sure, we’ll release you, but you need to pay back the $1.15 million from your 2016 signing bonus.”

If the Bills were successful in getting that money back, Incognito’s entire $5.9 million 2018 cap hit would be released.

Bills grant Richie Incognito his release

Got all that?

As it is, contracts websites Spotrac and Over the Cap both show the Bills with a $1.15 million dead money charge for Incognito, which is the amount it likely would have been whether he remained retired or was released.

At the time of his retirement, Incognito was still the subject of an NFL investigation in relation to the accusation he directed racial slurs at Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue during the teams’ playoff game in January. The league has not commented on its findings in that investigation.

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