SEATTLE – When the Seahawks restructured the contract of receiver Tyler Lockett in early May, they might have also raised the expectation that a big move was on the horizon.
Lockett’s restructure – in which his 2023 base salary of $8.53 million was turned into a bonus, allowing it to be spread out over the final three years of his deal for salary cap purposes – cleared almost $5.7 million in cap space for this year.
The idea that the move was done mostly to create room Seattle needed for draft picks and other less-expensive signings appears to be coming to fruition.
Seattle has made just two roster moves of any real significance since then, re-signing veteran cornerback Artie Burns and signing free agent defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.
As was revealed Wednesday, each was acquired about as cheaply as possible.
Burns signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum worth up to $1.08 million but with a cap charge of $940,000, while Edwards signed a veteran salary benefit deal in which he gets $1.17 million with a signing bonus of $152,500 but counts $1.09 million against the cap.
Those signings bring Seattle’s total salary cap space down to just over $7.9 million, according to OvertheCap.com.
But according to OTC, the Seahawks are still in the red when it comes to effective cap space – a calculation of how much space the team really has – at minus-$984,175.
That’s because the Seahawks have yet to sign three of their first four draft picks: first-round cornerback Devon Witherspoon, taken fifth overall, as well as second-round picks defensive end Derick Hall and running back Zach Charbonnet. Until signed, their full contracts do not count against the salary cap (they instead count for a standard $750,000).
Once signed, Witherspoon’s contract is projected for a $5.7 million cap hit, which accounts for much of OvertheCap.com’s estimate of Seattle’s negative effective cap space number.
Seattle has signed its other first-round pick, receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, taken 20th overall. He signed a four-year deal worth up to $14.4 million on May 11, the same day Lockett’s restructure was reported.
Via the terms of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, all drafted players get four-year deals worth an amount based on where they were selected, descending in value with each pick.
That change, which began with a CBA enacted in 2011, essentially eliminated holdouts by draft picks and made it almost non-news when a player signs.
While the years and overall dollar values are not negotiable, some things are, which is why not all rookies sign immediately.
Among negotiable items are how many years of base salary are guaranteed, the schedule of payments for signing bonuses and offset language.
Offset language involves guaranteed salary for which a team could be on the hook if a player is cut before his rookie deal runs out.
First-round picks have all four years of their base salaries guaranteed.
Many teams, though, try to insert offset language into the contracts, which means that if a player is cut, say, in the fourth year of his deal and then signs with another team, it does not owe him the full salary.
Essentially, offset language means a player can’t “double dip” by getting all of his salary from the team that cut him as well as money from a new team signing him. Without offset language, a player could essentially get two salaries for whatever seasons would be left on his rookie deal.
That Witherspoon has yet to sign isn’t a surprise – none of the top five picks has, and only seven of the top 19.
More interesting may be that none of the top 25 second-round picks had signed as of the end of last week, including Hall and Charbonnet.
But, with all first-round picks getting all four years of their contracts guaranteed, the perception is that there is more negotiating with second-round picks in terms of guaranteed salary years, particularly in the third and fourth years.
Last year, the Seahawks guaranteed the first two years of the base salary for second-round pick Kenneth Walker III and roughly two-thirds of his Year Three salary ($1.03 million of a total of $1.47 million).
The Seahawks did similarly with their other second-round pick last year, Boye Mafe. They did not do that with second-round pick Dee Eskridge in 2021 – he had only the first two years of his deal guaranteed.
Rookies who have not signed their contracts can sign waivers protecting them against injury to take part in offseason programs. But they cannot participate in training camp without a signed contract.
Teams can always restructure contracts to try to create some immediate cap space.
But that also just pushes that cap spending into the future, and Seattle has typically tried to avoid that tactic more than necessary.
And the Seahawks already have what is on paper a somewhat tight cap situation for 2024, listed with just over $24 million, according to OvertheCap.com, 21st overall.
That number includes the huge increase in Geno Smith’s cap number from $10.1 million in 2023 to $31.2 million in 2024. And with no guaranteed money beyond 2023, that ballooning cap number is one reason many assume Smith won’t play out that deal, likely instead to get a reworked contract to stay beyond 2023.
The restructuring of Lockett’s contract means his cap number will increase from $11.06 million this year to $26.89 million in 2024, making him another likely candidate to get a reworked deal.
Safety Jamal Adams also has a hefty $23.6 million cap number in 2024 but with no guaranteed money, making it almost certain that if he stays in Seattle beyond the 2023 season – of which there is no guarantee – it will be on a different contract.
When Seattle signed safety Julian Love in March, some wondered if the Seahawks might have had an eye on doing something with Adams’ contract for this year, or possibly even releasing him.
But the Seahawks envision Adams being a major part of the team this season once he recovers from a quadriceps injury suffered last September – he also has $2.56 million of his salary for this year guaranteed.
At this point, the Seahawks might not want to do anything with Adams’ contract to push cap hits into the future.
General manager John Schneider reiterated earlier this year that the team doesn’t have just a cap budget but also a cash one – meaning, how much money the team actually pays out to players in any given year.
Seattle is on the hook for more than $242 million in cash spending in 2023, 15th most in the NFL, according to OvertheCap.com.
But that does not include the contracts of the three unsigned rookies – Witherspoon’s deal, for instance, comes with a predetermined signing bonus of $20.1 million. Though, as noted, when that money is paid out is something that can be negotiated.
What this all means is that, barring a significant move to create more cap space, the Seahawks roster you see is mostly the one you are likely to get when training camp begins in late July.