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Seahawks Future Cap Space

August 5, 2015
Wagner and Wilson both received massive contract extensions last week.

Wagner and Wilson both received massive contract extensions last week.

With the recent massive contract extensions for Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, Seattle has locked in most of their core players for the extended future.

2015-2016: The Seahawks currently have the least cap space in the NFL with just over $2 Million still available for the upcoming season.

2016-2017: Seattle has allocated over $135 Million for the season, 23rd most cap space available. Projected salary cap is $150 Million.

2017-2018: The Seahawks have already allocated over $131 Million this season, 2nd least cap space available. Projected salary cap is above $160 Million.

2018-2018: Seattle has allocated over $81 Million for the season. 3rd least cap space available. Projected salary cap is $170 Million.

Joel Corry of CBS Sports breakdowns the Seahawks Cap Space.

The Seattle Seahawks are facing the challenge of making the rare transition from a championship-caliber team having a low-paid quarterback to a Super Bowl contender with a quarterback on a lucrative contract.

The San Francisco 49ers can serve as a cautionary tale for the Seahawks. Seattle’s NFC West division rival was set to make the same transition before head coach Jim Harbaugh wore out his welcome despite a 49-22-1 record during his four-year tenure, quarterbackColin Kaepernick regressed last season and a few key players unexpectedly retired this offseason.

Seattle has been one of the NFL’s more proactive teams in signing key young players to contract extensions prior to free agency being reached. Quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner became the latest to be rewarded by receiving four-year extensions for $87.6 million and $43 million, respectively, at the start of training camp last week. Wilson’s deal, which contains $61.542 million of guarantees, makes him the NFL’s second-highest paid player with an average yearly salary of $21.95 million. Wagner reset a stagnant inside linebacker market with his extension.

The Seahawks have re-signed eight key players in the chart listed below to contracts totaling close to $350 million since winning Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014.

Cliff Avril 29 $16,000,000 $28,500,000 4-year ext. 2018
Michael Bennett 29 16,000,000 28,500,000 4 years 2018
Marshawn Lynch 29 12,000,000 24,000,000 2-year ext. 2017
Richard Sherman 27 40,000,000 56,000,000 4-year ext. 2018
Earl Thomas 26 25,725,000 40,000,000 4-year ext. 2018
Bobby Wagner 25 21,977,427 43,000,000 4-year ext. 2019
Russell Wilson 26 61,542,000 87,600,000 4-year ext. 2019
K.J. Wright 26 16,000,000 27,000,000 4-year ext. 2018
TOTALS 209,244,427 334,600,000

In addition to these eight players, Kam Chancellor received a four-year, $28 million extension in 2013 and Jimmy Graham, who was acquired from the New Orleans Saintsalong with a 2015 fourth round pick for center Max Unger and a 2015 first-round pick in a March trade, is the NFL’s highest-paid tight end at $10 million per year. Chancellor and Graham are 27 and 28 years old. Both players are under contract through the 2017 season.

The Seahawks are now extremely top heavy salary-wise with their roster where a majority of the money is on defense. The emphasis on defense is understandable considering the Seahawks are first in the NFL in total defense (282.3 yards per game) and scoring defense (15.2 points per game) over the last three seasons. The Indianapolis Colts did something similar under Bill Polian, except the focus was on offensive skill position players.

The Seahawks structure most of their lucrative contracts, which usually don’t have more than four new years, with modest signing bonuses and salary guarantees in the early years of the deals. Most of the guarantees after the first year of a contract are conditional guarantees. Injury guarantees become fully guaranteed either on the fifth day of the waiver period in each specific contract year or five days after the start of the waiver period. The waiver period always begins the day after the Super Bowl. This gives the Seahawks flexibility to exit the deals early on without adverse cap consequences.

Can’t keep everyone: The initial reaction to Bobby Wagner’s “Can’t keep everyone” tweetwas that he was referring to his own situation. This principle is already operating in Seattle because of general manager John Schneider’s ability to assemble a deep roster and coach Pete Carroll and his staff’s knack for developing talent.

Cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, right tackle Breno Giacomini, and wide receiver Golden Tate left via free agency in 2014. Left guard James Carpenter, cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl XLVIII MVP, followed suit this offseason by signing with new teams.

Defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, who were starters in 2013, were released following the team’s Super Bowl victory. Tight end Zach Miller was a salary cap casualty early this offseason.

Seattle has also been quicker than most teams to admit player acquisition mistakes. A taker was found for quarterback Matt Flynn one year into the three-year, $19.5 million contact (worth a maximum of $26.2 million through salary escalators and incentives) he received as a free agent in 2012 by trading him to the Oakland Raiders prior to the 2013 NFL Draft. Wide receiver Percy Harvin was sent to the New York Jets for a 2015 sixth-round pick during the middle of last season. This was 21 regular season games after he received a six-year, $67 million contract when he was acquired from the Minnesota Vikings for three draft choices, including a 2013 first-round pick. The roster turnover will continue by these methods in the coming years.

2015: The Seahawks are attempting to become the first team in the salary cap era to reach the Super Bowl in three consecutive seasons. The last team to accomplish this feat was theBuffalo Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls to start the 1990s. The Seahawks slightly trail the Green Bay Packers as favorites by Las Vegas oddsmakers to win Super Bowl 50.

Seattle had two major offseason contract priorities, which were accomplished in signing Wilson and Wagner to long-term deals. There has already been fallout from these contracts. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, who had been a starter during his two years in Seattle, was released. His departure saves $3 million in salary cap space, which is now a more precious commodity.

The Seahawks have $4.787 million of cap room after factoring in Wilson and Wagner’s contracts, McDaniel’s release and cornerback Mohammed Seisay being acquired from theDetroit Lions for a 2016 sixth-round pick.

The $4.787 million may not be enough of a cushion because salary cap accounting switches from the top 51 players counting to every player under contract, including those on injured reserve and the practice squad, when the regular season begins on Sept. 10. There probably won’t be any more extensions this year because of Seattle’s tighter salary cap.

Since Seattle has refrained from restructuring contracts to free up cap room, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Brandon Mebane, who is in the final year of his contract, was approached about a pay cut to lower his $5.5 million base salary. Mebane would likely have a difficult time finding another team willing to pay anything close that on the open market this close to the season starting.

The Seahawks could attempt to get his salary more in line with Ahtyba Rubin‘s one-year, $2.6 million deal (worth up to $3.1 million through incentives). Mebane could be given a chance to make up the difference between his old and new salary with not likely to be earned playtime incentives that could start at 30 percent defensive playtime. The 30-year-old, who was sidelined after nine games in 2014 with a hamstring injury, played 28.6 percent of Seattle’s defensive plays last year.

Mebane might draw interest from the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders if released, which would create another void with the interior of the defensive line, because of Seattle ties on their coaching staffs. Former Seattle defensive coordinators Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn are head coaches of the Jaguars and Falcons. Ken Norton, Jr. is in his first year as Oakland’s defensive coordinator after five years as Seattle’s linebackers coach.

One pressing issue is Kam Chancellor’s holdout. Chancellor, who has three years remaining on his contract for $16.775 million, is missing training camp in an attempt to secure a new contract. The All-Pro strong safety is subjecting himself to a $30,000-per-day fine while he holds out. Since Chancellor’s holdout has now reached six days, the Seahawks can recover 15 percent of his $1 million 2015 signing bonus proration. That’s $150,000. It’s one percent for each additional missed day with a maximum of 25 percent of the prorated amount during training camp, which is $250,000 in Chancellor’s case.

Chancellor isn’t underpaid. His deal was near the top of the veteran strong safety market when he signed in 2013. Eric Berry is the NFL highest paid strong safety on the six-year, $50 million deal he received as the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft.

The only material changes to the safety market since then are three free safeties, Thomas,Jairus Byrd and Devin McCourty, signing deals averaging at least $8.75 million per year with over $25 million in guarantees.

The Seahawks should be careful about making any adjustments to Chancellor’s contract with so much time left because of the potential ramifications. Accommodating Chancellor could create a situation where multiple players over the next few years are continually looking to renegotiate regardless of their contract status.

Addressing Chancellor’s situation will likely upset Bennett who is already unhappy with his contract. Bennett couldn’t realistically walk out because he would be exposing himself to a “five day letter” from the Seahawks where if he didn’t return to the team within five days of receipt, he could be placed on the reserve/left squad list. Once a player goes this list, he can’t play for the rest of the season.

2016: The Seahawks have slightly over $135.5 million of 2016 cap obligations with 60 players under contract after Wilson and Wagner’s deals. Depending upon where the cap is set, Seattle should have between $14.5 million and $20 million of cap room next year.

The Seahawks are extremely top-heavy cap-wise. The five highest cap numbers Wilson ($18.542 million), Sherman ($14.769 million), Lynch ($11.5 million), Thomas ($9.9 million) and Bennett ($9 million) take up $63.711 million of cap space. The top ten account for slightly under $96 million of cap room.

Thirteen projected 2015 starters with five on offense and eight on defense are under contract in 2016. The Seahawks are going to have to be selective in re-signing the 10 most important players set to become unrestricted free agents, which include outside linebackerBruce Irvin, Mebane, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, left tackle Russell Okung, punter Jon Ryan, and right guard J.R. Sweezy.

Left guard Alvin Bailey will be a restricted free agent. Seattle should be able to retain him for another year with the lowest restricted free agent tender, which will be between $1.619 million and $1.696 million.

The most intriguing free agent situation may be Okung’s. He recently decided that he will represent himself on his next contract. Okung could price himself out of Seattle. He probably won’t be interested in a new contract that’s less the six-year, $48.5 million deal (with $29.3 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $58 million) he signed in 2010 as an unproven commodity when he was the sixth overall pick in the draft. Okung probably needs a strong 2015 season for his rookie deal to realistically be his salary floor. He hasn’t consistently played at a high level since his 2012 Pro Bowl season partially due to injury.

Right tackle Justin Britt, a 2014 second-round pick, and Bailey might be the only returning starters from the 2015 offensive line. Outside of Unger, who was a part of the Graham trade, Seattle hasn’t made a much of a financial investment in veteran offensive line contracts. Sweezy may view the four-year, $19.1 million deal Carpenter received from the Jets as a salary benchmark. Lemuel Jeanpierre and Patrick Lewis, who are both filled in for Unger in 2014 and battling to take his place, will also be up.

The Seahawks have started making plans for the potential offensive line turnover. Fourth-round picks were used this year on guards Terry Poole and Mark Glowinski, and a sixth round pick on center Kristjan Sokoli, who is making the switch from a defensive line position like Sweezy did.

Seattle’s approach to the offensive line is interesting considering no team has been more dedicated to or successful in running the ball over the last three years. During this span, Seattle is first in the NFL in rushing yards (157.7 per game) and rushing attempts (32.7 per game). The team is also second in yards per carry (4.8).

It is in stark contrast to the Dallas Cowboys, who have arguably built the league’s best offensive line after using first round picks on offensive lineman in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Losing Okung may make keeping a first round pick for the time since 2012 a necessity in order to find a left tackle.

The Seahawks also seem to have a succession plan in place at wide receiver, which could make Kearse expendable. Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood were taken in the second round and fourth rounds in 2014. These selections were followed by drafting Tyler Lockettin the third round this year. There’s a good chance Richardson begins the regular season on the physically unable to perform list, which would keep him out of at least the first six regular season games, because he tore the ACL in his left knee during the playoffs.

Chris Matthews, who came out of nowhere to catch four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX, is another receiving option. Since the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League product doesn’t have any years of service towards free agency yet, he is extremely affordable.

Irvin will likely move on in free agency after Seattle turned down a fifth-year option with him for $7.751 million. His preference is to reunite with Quinn in Atlanta. The secondary should be able to survive cornerback Jeremy Lane‘s possible departure with Seisay and Tharold Simon waiting in the wings.

An important situation to watch is Marshawn Lynch’s since he is the driving force behind Seattle’s offense. It would not be a surprise if he retired after the 2015 season regardless of how he performs. Lynch contemplated retirement before signing his two- year extension.

It will be incumbent upon Wilson to start demonstrating he can shoulder more of the offensive load, much like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have done as their careers progressed. Robert Turbin, who is in a contract year, and Christine Michael haven’t shown that they are capable of replacing Lynch. Grooming someone to take over for Lynch whenever that is should be a priority.

The five-time Pro Bowler isn’t showing any signs of slowing down but he is an older running back with significant mileage. Lynch is 37th all-time in the NFL with 2,033 career rushing attempts. The Seahawks can exit Lynch’s deal if he hits the wall during the 2015 season since none of his $9 million 2016 base salary is guaranteed. $6.5 million of 2016 cap space will be gained if Seattle parts ways with Lynch or he retires.

2017: The Seahawks have a little more than $124 million of cap space devoted to 40 players. There are 12 current starters under contract, which are four on offense and the same eight on defense as in 2016.

Seattle continues to be top heavy with Wilson leading the way with an $18.8 million cap number. The top five, which have cap numbers of at least $10 million, take up $65.331 million of room.

Some of the more important players that will be unrestricted free agent include wide receiver Doug Baldwin, kicker Steven Hauschka, defensive tackle Jordan Hill and tight endLuke Willson. Core players Bennett, Chancellor, Graham and Wright will be entering contract years. Britt, Norwood, and Richardson could be extension candidates since they will be in the final year their four year rookie contracts. Matthews will be a restricted free agent after this season.

Prognosis: The pieces are in place for Seattle to be Super Bowl contenders at least through the 2017 season. It’s more important than ever for the Seahawks to have more draft classes like in 2012, which produced Wilson and Wagner, because to roster is so top heavy financially and to sustain the loss of players in free agency.

Schneider has done an excellent job of identifying talent that fits head coach Carroll’s vision, especially with undrafted players and in the latter part of the draft. Chancellor and Sherman were fifth round picks. Maxwell was taken in the sixth round. Baldwin, Smith and Kearse weren’t drafted. There isn’t a reason to think that will change. More pressure will be put on the defense when Lynch departs, particularly if there isn’t an obvious successor or Wilson has plateaued.

It will become increasingly harder to sign players to one-year deals like Bennett’s initial $4.8 million contract (with an additional $200,000 in incentives) to become a Seahawk since the salary paradigm has changed with the inclusion of bunch of high end contracts. However, Seattle should be a favored destination for talented free agents once it becomes a buyer’s market in the secondary phases of free agency.

One of the biggest threats to Seattle’s potential supremacy could be changes to the organizational structure. Schneider and Carroll are both under contract through the 2016 season. Because of his unbridled enthusiasm, it’s easy to forget that Carroll is the NFL’s second-oldest head coach. He turns 64 in September.

The Packers should be the team that is the biggest continued obstacle to Seattle’s title hopes. It’s conceivable that the Seahawks and Packers become to NFC what the 49ers and Cowboys were during the first half of 1990s when they met in NFC Championship Game three years in a row.

For more information contact a Seattle NFL Agent.

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