WNBA CBA Explained: Salary Cap Advanced, Part 2
Do players cut as a result of injuries affect the salary cap? Can teams get a player’s salary off their salary cap if the injury is career-ending? What is a cap hold?
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Welcome back to our WNBA CBA and Salary Cap Explained series. As part of our mission to unlock better insight about the women’s game, we’re breaking down the rules outlined in the 350-page WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), covering the 2020 through 2027 seasons, in plain language. Each article will focus on a bite-size chunk of the CBA to make the concepts more digestible. To catch up on the previous eight pieces in the series, check out the list at the bottom of this piece. We are also compiling all of this information on the Her Hoop Stats website in a single FAQ document.
This is the third installment covering the league’s salary cap and how teams are required to manage their salaries to comply with the rules. In the first piece, we looked at the basics of the salary cap, including the levels of the salary cap, league guarantee, and team minimum. The second piece looked at further topics relating to the cap, including suspensions, roster limits, and training camp contracts. This piece will look at how the salary cap deals with players who are cut following injuries, as well as cap holds.
Do players cut as a result of injuries affect the salary cap?
If a player is cut due to injury, they will continue to be paid their base salary until they become fit to play or the season ends. Until one of those things happens, the player’s salary remains on the team’s salary cap. If the injury occurs in the preseason, as discussed earlier, the team can suspend the player for the season to remove their salary from the salary cap and open up another roster spot.
If the injury happens midseason, however, the team has to choose between cutting the player and continuing to pay them, as outlined above, or keeping the player under contract and paying them. This is what happened with Karima Christmas-Kelly after she tore her Achilles tendon playing for the Lynx this season. Because the injury was in the middle of the season, the Lynx had the choice of cutting her and still paying her to open up a roster spot, or keeping her on the roster and paying her. In either case, her contract would remain on the salary cap, but the Lynx were able to open up a roster spot for Erica McCall by cutting Christmas-Kelly.
Can teams get a player’s salary off their salary cap if the injury is career-ending?
Players who suffer career-ending injuries who have guaranteed contracts are still owed their money if cut, meaning it remains on the salary cap until the contract was supposed to expire. Players who were not guaranteed money are also still paid for the year if they are cut due to injury. If a team wants to exclude that player’s salary from its salary cap, it can apply to the league to do so. To qualify, the player must have played five or fewer games in any one season and no more than nine games in two years.
This can be useful for players on guaranteed contracts with several years left on their contracts. For players without a guaranteed contract, this request is not relevant if the team cuts the player immediately after the injury occurs. This is because the team has to wait between 18 months and two years from the time the injury occurs before they apply, at which point the player would not be on their salary cap anyway.
If the injury takes place between January 1 and June 30, the team can apply for the exclusion on the second January 1 following the injury. This means if a career-ending injury happens on June 10, 2020, then the team can apply for the extension on January 1, 2022. If the injury occurs on or after July 1, the team can apply for the exclusion on the second anniversary of the injury. So if the injury took place on July 10, 2020, the team must wait until July 10, 2022.
Teams may wait to cut the player without pushing back this window. This could happen if a player or team believed the injured player may return to play in the coming years and later learned the player could not. Waiting to cut the player until the team can apply to the league is the only way players without guaranteed money can be taken off the cap in the year they are cut.
If the injury occurred while playing for a non-WNBA team, their WNBA team can suspend the player in each preseason and then cut the player once the team is eligible to request not to count the player toward the salary cap while they wait. This would be impractical unless the injury was suffered playing basketball outside of the WNBA; otherwise, the suspensions would serve no purpose.
What is a cap hold?
A cap hold is a placeholder of salary that teams are given when they have fewer than 10 players counted on the cap. This is only done before the regular season — between the preceding December 1 and the first regular-season game — so it has no bearing on the team minimum or league-wide guarantee. For every player below 10 that is included on the team’s total salary, a cap hold equal to the rookie minimum is added. This typically comes into play when a team has a high number of players leave for free agency in the offseason. These cap holds prevent teams from using up most of their salary cap on a handful of supermax players and then only having eight players when the season starts.
Missed our previous installments? Here are all the topics we have covered so far…
This series is about learning, so we want to hear from you! If you would like a clarification for any rule, suggestions for future CBA Explained topics, or any other questions, please feel free to let us know in the comments or tweet at us @herhoopstats.