Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood, who was diagnosed with a career-ending neck injury in his season-ending physical, gave a weird press conference this afternoon in which, instead of announcing his retirement as expected, he showed up nearly an hour late and gave just a two-minute statement without answering any questions. The statement reiterated the news from Friday that Wood’s neck injury will keep him from ever being cleared to play football again. However, Wood said that he will remain on the Bills roster and added, “I look forward to helping the team in some capacity.”
An Associated Press report from shortly after the press conference sheds some light onto the weirdness behind that event, and the lack of an official retirement from Wood. The AP says that Wood’s retirement is being held up by a dispute with the Bills over bonus money from a two-year contract extension Wood signed before the 2017 season. According to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, if a player retires before his contract is up, a team can get some of the player’s signing bonus money back. However, if that retirement is due to a career-ending injury, that may not be possible (the AP calls it “a gray area” under the CBA).
If they can’t get some bonus money returned, the best option for the Bills might be to keep Wood on the roster for at least a few more months. According to contract data viewed by Deadspin, Wood has a $4.8 million injury guarantee on his $5.05 million 2018 base salary, which means if he were to retire right now due to injury he would cost the Bills approximately $10.4 million against their 2018 salary cap. This is because $5.6 million pro-rated from the bonus Wood already received would accelerate to this year’s cap. Also, that additional $250,000 of Wood’s base salary becomes fully guaranteed if Wood is still on the Bills’ roster by March 16.
Had Wood played this season, he would have counted $8.875 million against the cap, so his retirement would mean an additional $1.775 million in cap obligations. The Bills are in a bit of a cap squeeze, so they’d likely prefer to place Wood on the reserve/retired list after June 1, which would allow them to spread that cap hit across 2018 and 2019.
Bills GM Brandon Beane seemed to confirm that the delay in Wood’s retirement was about money. “We don’t have any cap room right now,” he said today. “So, he’ll be on our roster for a while until we figure things out.”
Staff writer Dom Cosentino contributed to this report.