One of the ongoing plots of the 2012 NFL offseason has been the Oakland Raiders' quest to navigate themselves under the salary cap after years of handing out inflated contracts that left the team in a fiscal bind.
New GM Reggie McKenzie has worked diligently to restructure the contracts of veterans such as Carson Palmer, Richard Seymour and Michael Huff in order to afford his team flexibility and the opportunity to add other new players.
He's also had to part ways with respected presences such as Kevin Boss, Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt, whose salaries dictated that they would no longer be a part of the team's future.
Suffice to say, it's been an offseason for McKenzie that he won't soon forget, but also one that still needs plenty of tending to.
One player that could be under consideration for a modification to his contract is wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Raiders' first-round draft pick in 2009 and a guy who had his best season as a pro last year.
Here's the skinny on his rookie deal (which he is still playing under): He has two years remaining on the contract, with a total of $13 million yet to be paid out. His scheduled salary for 2012 is $5.279 million, and the figures jump up to $7.721 million the following season.
Based off of production, another season like 2011 (despite it being his best pro campaign) for Heyward-Bey would not merit the salary. (Sorry, Raiders fan, you can't a pay guy over $5 million if he doesn't eclipse 1,000 yards receiving). Based off of his potential (a word that has been thrown around regarding "DHB" since he was drafted), the story may be different. He's flashed rare speed and is the Raiders' top receiving target already. The root of rookie contracts is, of course, paying a guy for his potential.
Making the situation even more interesting is the fact that each of the six players drafted ahead of Heyward-Bey in 2009 have agreed to modified deals. Those include team and player-friendly extensions for the likes Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, as well as pay-cuts for Jason Smith and Tyson Jackson in St. Louis and Kansas City, respectively.
So, the question is: Should the Raiders attempt to restructure Heyward-Bey's contract?
Oakland needs to clear up more cap space, and there are ways that they could alter DHB's deal that would accomplish that while also being advantageous to the player. They re-tooled the deal of Palmer to reduce his cap hit in exchange for a bonus and could consider the same for Heyward-Bey.
That could be part of an extension for the receiver beyond the 2013 season, a move that—if the team is as interested in keeping him in Black and Silver for many more years as it seems—would also afford the franchise cap space now and benefit the player too.
On the off chance that the Raiders don't have long-term faith in Heyward-Bey, a move to release him this offseason would accomplish little for the franchise on multiple levels.
First, the team lacks elite talent at the receiver position behind him, and, equally importantly, releasing him would only minimally reduce his cap hit for 2012 (it would probably still be at least $5 million). Again, although it's unlikely that the team has any plans to move on from Heyward-Bey any time soon, given their cap situation, it's fair to think that McKenzie has had to evaluate every contract on the roster and how each player fits into his team-building puzzle.
Is a reworked contract imminent for Heyward-Bey? Well, we have no evidence to suggest that the team has even broached the idea, so no, not likely.
That being said, considering the benefit that each side could potentially earn from a restructured deal, it would make sense for the Raiders to consider such a transaction.