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The Seahawks and the Salary Cap

The CBA deal seems to be all but done, though let's keep the champagne on ice until everyone's signature is on it. One thing no longer apt to change much is the salary cap, which ended up at $120 million to $123 million. It is not yet clear how the floor and ceiling will work, one-year exemptions may be put into place so teams heavily over or under the cap won't get into trouble trying to reach the cap figure in a single year. Without knowing yet what the exact rules are, we can still assume there'll be a $120 million cap and a floor that is at least $108, if not higher. The last capped year, 2009, had a $128 million cap. 2010 was uncapped and got kinda crazy. The Redskins are way out there because they drew much of Albert Haynesworth's unmanageable contract into that one year. The Seahawks were in the top 5 with $138.8 million.

But most of the veterans and scrubs we rotated in have already rotated out and are not likely to come back. Our current team is made up of a lot of youngsters with only a handful of very highly paid veterans: Lofa Tatupu ($4.35 million), Marcus Trufant ($5.9 million), Colin Cole ($3.75 million) and Stacy Andrews ($5.25 million). Aaron Curry is the team's most expensive player ($5 million + $5 million roster bonus), but most likely can not be renegotiated under the new CBA. I doubt very highly that all of those four highly-paid vets will make it through training camp with those contracts intact (and remember, cap is calculated by the end of the year, not at the start), but we don't know exactly what kind of restructuring or cutting our FO will do. So what's our cash/cap commitment like? According to ESPN, we're at $81.1 million, 6th-lowest in the NFL, but those numbers are months old and I don't know how accurate they are in the new CBA. I asked Football Outsiders' cap guru Brian McIntyre what numbers he had and his estimate is in the $90-91 million range for both cash and cap commitment, which is average in cash commitment and above average in available cap space, Brian's viewpoint being that the Seahawks will have "the cash and cap space to be very aggressive in free agency".

That's certainly true at face value, but it'll be a difficult market. McIntyre's numbers put us at having to spend $18 million or more to reach the floor and $30 million before we hit the cap. Sounds good, but realize his numbers also put 18 of the NFL's 32 teams under the $108 million floor, and the bottom five (Panthers, Bucs, BrownsColts and Bills) are well below us, though the Colts won't be once they re-sign Peyton Manning. Teams like the Jets and Packers are over the cap, and our divisional rival 49ers and Rams have over $100 million committed, as per McIntyre and Doug Farrar.

We won't have the elbow room to be the biggest spenders in town, that much is clear. It should also be obvious that the likely 3-day period given to re-sign your own FAs will be used to fill in some of the cap gap for teams like the Colts (with Manning) as well as the Panthers (James Anderson, Charles Johnson) and the Buccaneers (Davin Joseph, Barrett Ruud). Expect a lot of the incredibly rich FA market to be thinned at the end of that 3-day period.

So let's push it to the limit and say we'll spend the full $30 million, either to reach the floor if our cap is at ESPN's 80 or to reach the ceiling if our cap is at McIntyre's 90. We offered Matt Hasselbeck $7 million for one year, that's nearly 1/4th of the money gone. Carson Palmer would come in with a Cincinnati contract that sees him make $11 million in 2011, and while he may be willing to restructure it'd be presumptuous to think his new contract's front-loading wouldn't still see him make as much in his first year, or at least Hasselbeck's seven. So that's still 1/4th to 1/3rd of the money gone.

My favorite free agent out there for us is Johnathan Joseph, a good young press corner who would fit our system perfectly and upgrade our secondary, a huge need. The last CB signed to a reasonable (not Nnamdi) high-end contract was Dunta Robinson, who got a six-year, $57 million contract. That contract had a $7 million signing bonus and he made $5 million in his first season. Again, more than 1/3rd of the money gone.

Re-signing Brandon Mebane is another oft-noted priority. I'm not sure what he'll be targeted at as there's no immediately comparable player. Mebane certainly won't make less than Colin Cole in his first year, which was $6 million if I recall correctly. Corey Williams might be the most recent comparable player. Franchised after two 7-sack seasons and then traded to the Browns, he signed a 6-year, 38.6 million dollar extension. The deal included a hefty $8 million in signing/1st year roster bonuses, plus about $2 million in wages for his first year. That contract was smaller than what the Raiders gave Tommy Kelly and the Redskins gave Albert Haynesworth, and if Mebane doesn't get targeted in that $10 million range for his first year, he's as like to walk.

What about Robert Gallery? He's older, doesn't play a premium position, would like to play for Tom Cable. Should be cheap, right? Not really. There are other bidders, like the Patriots. The richest interior lineman contract out there belongs to Jahri Evans, who signed a 7-year $56.7 million contract worth $19 million. Davin Joseph will command similar numbers. Gallery will not. The Raiders claim that they offered Gallery $2.5 million a year and he asked for $8 million. He should be closer to the $4-5 million range, but I'd be surprised if he still makes much less than $8 million in his first year.

7 + 12 + 10 + cap is already gone! Hell, I'm over the cap by McIntyre's numbers. On just four pick-ups. And I still need to pay my rookie draft picks. I didn't even address the SS spot or much-needed depth on the offensive and defensive lines, or re-sign our still-of-value free agents like Will Herring, Jordan Babineaux, Raheem Brock, Ray Willis, Chris Spencer or Lawyer Milloy. We currently have 54 players under contract (some under future contracts), 1 restricted free agent (Polumbus) and 9 draft picks. The number of players you can bring into camp will be at least 80, perhaps 90.

On top of that, the splashy signings don't fit our FO's MO as established last season. I don't expect the same kind of rotation of scrubs, because the cap is back and because this FA market is much better than last year's. And realize all the numbers above are just guestimates, with flexibility available in opting not to front-load contracts (if the player is willing) or restructuring or cutting some more expensive players. Still, expecting us to make more than one or two splash signings is stretching it. Expecting us to make no big signing at all and still make the cap is also unlikely, though one could see a scenario of signing Hasselbeck or Palmer and no other big FAs. That would certainly be a downer, a high-level young player like Joseph would have a huge positive impact on our rebuild, while Hasselbeck and Palmer are both placeholders at best.

The undertackle is probably our biggest position of need. QB is also a big need but that position never has a good FA market. Unlike the secondary and Oline, no high picks were put into the Dline. We've got young players who could grow into the position for our other important spots where we lack a clear starter: Walter Thurmond at CB2, Kam Chancellor (and rotation) at SS, Tyler Polumbus at LG. But our current DTs are Kentwan Balmer, Colin Cole and Jay Alford. Alford and Cole are nose players, so that leaves Balmer as the undertackle. Balmer is not strictly speaking a bad fit (nor is Mebane), but given what we've seen from him out of the 5-tech I wouldn't be too excited. It's not a great market for those looking for 3-techs. Mebane and Barry Cofield are the best options and should come with hefty price tags. Putting in an older but good DT like Cullen Jenkins would also be an option, or PC could opt for the tactics he used last year and put in one-year scrubs. Unless our FO surprises us by cutting Cole and aggressively going for top-tier players at the NT and undertackle position, our defensive line will likely be pretty disastrous next season.

Personally, I'm just hoping whoever they sign are young and valuable. One or two of high-tier players on positions of need while lower-tier players are put into the other spot would make for a satisfying off-season. Signing more old-timers would not.