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The Seahawks’ budget overrun isn’t as big a deal as it sounds

Despite earlier reports that the team is dangerously over the salary cap, discounted roster bonuses for inactive players and rollover allowances both help John Schneider manage Seattle’s burgeoning roster deficit

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2017 regular season winding down, the Seattle Seahawks head into their final home game of the season with several tough roster decisions to be made in the coming months. Complicating things is the salary cap situation for 2018, where the team does not have a ton of cap space, and there is not likely to be any salary cap carryover from the 2017 league year due to the simple fact that, as has been mentioned here before, the Seahawks are actually over the salary cap this season.

As has been noted, a large part of the reason Seattle is over the cap has to do with the per game roster bonuses that have been incurred by certain players that have been on the gameday active roster more times in 2017 than they were in 2016. As a refresher, the amount of cap space allocated to a player as likely to be earned (LTBE) per game roster bonuses is based on the number of games for which the player was active the prior season.

So, for example, left guard Luke Joeckel has a per game roster bonus of $62,500, for a total, full season potential salary cap charge of $1,000,000. Because Joeckel appeared in only four games during the 2016 season, when estimating the 2017 salary cap charge for Joeckel, only four games worth of the per game roster bonuses are counted. Thus, heading into the season, Joeckel’s estimated cap charge for the Seahawks was $7.25M, and if turned out that he played in more than four games, each game beyond four games would simply be charged to the salary cap at a rate of $62,500. As Joeckel has now played in ten games, and appears likely to finish the 2017 season with eleven gameday roster appearances, his final salary cap charge for 2017 should be $7,687,500.

As mentioned in the linked article, Seattle has multiple players who have been earning per game roster bonuses beyond what was anticipated heading into 2017. This list includes Michael Bennett, Blair Walsh, Joeckel and Eddie Lacy, which is why, according to the NFLPA salary cap report, the Seahawks are $525,196 over the salary cap as of today.

However, just as per game roster bonuses taketh away, they have the ability to give back as well. For 2017 Seattle has at least two of its veteran players, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril, who were each earning per game active roster bonuses of $31,250 before landing on injured reserve. Those per game roster bonuses that aren’t earned are not credited back into the salary cap until the end of the season, so even though neither Chancellor nor Avril has been earning their bonuses the team has yet to receive the cap credit for these players. Thus, it becomes necessary to take a quick look at their-per game bonus situation and its effect on the 2017 cap.

Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril per game roster bonuses

Cap calculation category Kam Chancellor Cliff Avril
Cap calculation category Kam Chancellor Cliff Avril
2016 games played 12 16
2017 games played 9 4
Per game roster bonus $31,250 $31,250
Per game roster bonuses earned 2017 $281,250 $125,000
Per game roster bonuses estimated based on 2016 games played $375,000 $500,000
Unearned LTBE incentives to be credited to salary cap $93,750 $375,000

And thus, just between those two players, the team will get a credit that will absorb the majority of the amount Seattle is over the cap, rendering the salary cap situation a bit easier to deal with.

One other question that fans have posed in recent weeks had to do with the rules regarding the team’s compliance with the salary cap, and why the team was allowed to stay out of compliance. Technically the CBA gives teams a week to come into compliance when they are not under the salary cap, but the rules regarding a team being over the salary cap were created in the 90s when it was a hard use it or lose it type cap. With teams now having the ability to roll cap space from year to year, going over the cap one season simply results in an automatic reduction of cap space the next season.

Now, obviously the league is not about to allow a team like the Seahawks to use future cap years as a credit card, and would not likely approve contracts with base salaries or prorated signing bonuses which put the team over the cap. However, the league does not seem to mind if earned incentives end up pushing a team slightly past the salary cap. For example, returning to the salary cap report from the NFLPA, here are the four lines of the report looking at the NFC West teams.

NFLPA Salary cap report for NFC West Teams

Team Current Contracts Previous Year Carryover Team Cap Cap Room
Team Current Contracts Previous Year Carryover Team Cap Cap Room
AVERAGE/TEAM (NFL) $9,141,347 $164,304,099 $10,800,051
Arizona Cardinals 80 $4,405,068 $170,807,031 $1,639,287
Los Angeles Rams 71 -$939,689 $158,233,361 $4,361,950
San Francisco 49ers 85 $38,708,916 $151,319,981 $54,182,254
Seattle Seahawks 80 $2,065,865 $170,253,561 -$525,196

In particular, take note of the fact that the Los Angeles Rams rolled a negative $939,689 from 2016 into 2017, which is a far larger negative amount than Seattle is likely to roll from 2017 into 2018. Thus, it appears, the Seahawks are unlikely to face any penalty for finishing 2017 above the salary cap, with the league simply deducting whatever amount they are over the cap from their available 2018 cap space.

In the coming weeks I’ll be taking a look into the 2018 cap situation, in particular evaluating some of the options available to Seattle as it pertains to the star players in the later years of their contracts. However, for the time being, the Seahawks still have the final game of the 2017 regular season to worry about, and with some luck a handful of playoff games following that.