The Raiders paid Jordy Nelson a $3.6 million roster bonus in Dec. 2018, roughly four months before it was due. It was done for salary-cap purposes, but doubled as a signal the veteran receiver would return in 2019.
Head coach Jon Gruden said so directly, but his plans obviously changed after acquiring high-priced receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams.
The Raiders needed to decrease their cash flow as much, if not more than they needed extra cap space and, in that light, deemed Jordy Nelson expendable.
He was released on Thursday afternoon along with backup quarterback AJ McCarron.
Those cuts saved a combined $8.5 million in cap space and decrease outgoing cashflow, important outcomes after signing four veterans to massive contracts with significant guaranteed money.
Nelson's base salary would've become guaranteed on Friday. That's also when McCarron had bonuses and some salary locked up. That's why Raiders chose to make hard cuts the day before.
Cutting Nelson saved $3.5 million in cap space and comes with $1.8 million in dead money, a penalty that could've been avoided had they left Nelson's original contract alone. Paying bonuses early was designed to absorb some extra money into the 2018 cap – Lee Smith, Kyle Wilber and Tahir Whitehead also received early sums – but ended up going for naught in Nelson's case.
McCarron's release saved $5 million in cash and cap space.
The Raiders need some flexibility after a flurry of high-priced free agent moves this week and the trade for Antonio Brown, which came with a restructured contract.
The Raiders hoped to retain both players but didn't find it feasible with their offseason needs, goals and new financial commitments. They have not, however, ruled out either player coming at a reduced rate.
"I'm sick to my stomach and I don't even know these guys," Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said in a Thursday interview with SiriusMX NFL radio. "Unfortunately, there are financial realities of this game. At some point, who knows? They might come back to us and we would welcome it with open arms"
Both guys would have to return at reduced rates, though they'll have options on the open market
Nelson will become a free agent for the second time in as many years. Nelson has played a full decade in the NFL, including nine previous seasons in Green Bay. The Packers cut him this time last year, and he quickly signed on with the Raiders.
Ultimately, the Raiders paid Nelson roughly $10 million in salary and various bonuses for a year's service, where he had 63 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns dealing with knee issues down the stretch.
The Silver and Black appreciated his steadiness and influence on a young receiver corps that could still be valuable with Brown and Williams in the receiver room.
The Raiders traded for McCarron just before the regular season and hoped to retain him in 2019 but couldn't. The Raiders need another quarterback is McCarron doesn't come back – Nathan Peterman's the only reserve quarterback on the roster – and there's a real chance the Raiders draft a developmental prospect in the middle or later rounds.