When the Cincinnati Bengals sign players to long-term deals, they like to load the early portions of the deal with bonuses and guarantees, allowing annual base salaries to balloon later in the deal. It's a win-win. Players see more money early in the agreement and the team isn't penalized as much if they release that player.
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap is an example of that. After earning $1.3 million in 2013 and a scheduled salary of $1 million in 2014, one thinks to themselves -- that's not very much. However, Dunlap earned a roster bonus of $3.7 million last year, along with an $8 million signing bonus. The combined $11.7 million was guaranteed, given to Dunlap soon after signing his deal.
Things will begin to escalate soon.
Dunlap will earn a $5.7 million roster bonus on March 31, 2014 -- roughly two weeks after Geno Atkins will earn a $3 million roster bonus (defined as five days after the new league year, which starts on March 11). Also triggered in Dunlap's contract is $1.5 million worth of workout bonuses through the life of the contract ($300,000 per offseason).
As the contract continues, Dunlap will earn $3 million in 2015, $4.05 million in '16, $5.05 million in '17 and $6.7 million in '18. Alternatively, the team receives significant cap savings if he's released in the final two years of the deal ($5.35 million in '17 and $7 million in '18).
In other words, it's reasonable to conclude that this contract won't play out entirely; especially with the team having an opportunity to re-negotiate at any point after the 2015 season to avoid a growing base salary with Dunlap, who would be wise to listen, having soaked up his remaining bonuses.