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Already over salary cap, Seahawks need to create space to finish 2017 season per NFLPA

Players Association lists Seattle exceeding the limit by nearly 200,000 dollars with more roster bonuses triggering every week, requiring John Schneider to make arrangements to free up an extra million quickly

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week Miguel Benzan, a Boston Sports Journal contributor who tracks salary cap news for the @patscap Twitter account made a cryptic tweet predicting coming Seattle Seahawks contract reconfiguration:

Indeed, the NFL Players Association confirms that after recently elevating Joey Hunt to the main roster and filling out the remaining practice squad Seattle is currently over the salary limit for the season in its latest public report. As noted by Benzan, Blair Walsh, Luke Joeckel, Eddie Lacy and Michael Bennett have all been earning “not-likely to be earned” per-game roster bonuses that are eating away at the Seahawks’ 2017 cap space.

Now, there was a small bit of confusion about this when the subject was brought up in the comments for Century Links Friday, and credit to BCHawk for correcting me on this roughly a week or so ago.

To understand the issue here, we turn to the collective bargaining agreement. In particular, the first pertinent part is Article 13, Section 6(c)(i). This portion of the CBA lays out what incentives are described as “likely to be earned”.

The CBA makes for Scintillating reading

After that, and shown in the same picture, is Article 13, Section 6(c)(ii), which lays out that any bonuses that were deemed “not likely to be earned” (“NLTBE”) are to be included in the salary cap computations of the team for the following season.

So, with that being the case, what determines whether per game roster bonuses are LTBE or NLTBE? The CBA covers that in Article 13, Section 6(c)(xix)

That pretty plainly spells out that these are determined based on what the player did last season. So, for that we simply look at how many times each player was on an active roster in 2016, which are shown in this table.

Per game roster bonuses baked into Seahawks cap coming into 2017 season

Player Per Game Bonuses LTBE counted against cap heading into 2017
Player Per Game Bonuses LTBE counted against cap heading into 2017
Blair Walsh 9
Eddie Lacy 5
Michael Bennett 11
Luke Joeckel 4

Now, if the NLTBE bonuses that are earned are included in the salary cap for the following season, why are they an issue in the current season for the Seahawks? The answer to that lies in one of the four exemptions the CBA spells out for when NLTBE bonuses are charged to the cap in the present season as opposed to next season. Returning to the CBA, those four exceptions are laid out in Article 13, Section 6(c)(xxi), with the pertinent portion that is at issue here highlighted.

So, now that we know that per game roster bonuses in excess of expectations are charged to the current year’s cap and we know what the expectations for each of the players was, what exactly does this mean for Seattle in 2017? Obviously, the next step would normally be to look at the four Seahawks who are earning per game roster bonuses and to figure out if they are over or under their expectations. However, we can skip this step because, as noted in the above tweet, the four players named are already past the number of games for which they were active during the 2016 season. That means the per-game roster bonuses for each comes off the cap immediately this season, so we turn to the amounts:

Seattle Seahawks per game roster bonus liabilities for remainder of 2017

Player Per Game Bonuses LTBE counted against cap heading into 2017 Per Game Roster bonuses earned 2017 Marginal cost per game
Player Per Game Bonuses LTBE counted against cap heading into 2017 Per Game Roster bonuses earned 2017 Marginal cost per game
Blair Walsh 9 12 $25,000
Eddie Lacy 5 9 $62,500
Michael Bennett 11 12 $93,750
Luke Joeckel 4 7 $62,500
Total Per Game N/A N/A $243,750

Seattle could save these bonuses by not dressing one or more of these players for games (Lacy, for example, hardly played Sunday anyway with four running backs active) but, with Walsh, Bennett and Joeckel being key contributors, if the coaches plan to keep all four NLTBE qualifiers on the 46 man active roster for all four remaining games of the season, the team needs $975,000 more in salary cap space just to be able to finish out the season. How much cap space do they have available? For that we turn back to the NFLPA report which the organization updates for the amount of salary cap space teams have available daily. Looking at the most recent report, the Seahawks are listed as being $184,459 over the salary cap, so obviously the team needs to do something to make some cap space available and get out of the red.

So, with the team apparently $184,459 over the cap and likely needing $975,000 in additional space between now and the end of the season to cover the aforementioned active roster bonuses, combining those yields a cap space need of $1.159 million.

John Schneider could free up that amount by converting base salary to signing bonus for any of a number of players, or a combination of players (like Russell Wilson did to make room for Duane Brown earlier this season). Or, if Schneider decides to go the extension route, by my count (could be wrong, it does happen) there are only four players for whom an extension would free up enough cap space: Sheldon Richardson, Brown, Jimmy Graham and K.J. Wright. Wright and Brown both still have a year left on their deals, so an extension would break with protocol, leaving either Richardson or Graham as the likely extension candidates.

One of the keys to making an extension for either of those players work would be the structure of the deal: Either of those players would likely be looking for a large signing bonus, but since the team’s cap space is currently extremely tight, even prorated a bonus that large could not be paid right now. What the team would have to do is to use a deferred bonus, whether in the form of a deferred signing bonus, a roster bonus or an option bonus. This is a structure the team has used multiple times in the past, most recently with Justin Britt, but Bobby Wagner also received a deferred bonus when signing his extension prior to the 2015 season.

I wouldn’t be unhappy with an extension for either Richardson or Graham, but it’s probably much more likely Schneider will simply move money around to create the necessary cap space. In any case, with the team being over the cap, don’t be surprised to hear “Cheathawks” chirps from opposing fans. They’re probably just jealous their GM isn’t as creative with the books as Schneider, and—while Schneider has his work cut out for him the rest of the season—he’s built a solid contender with the (excess) dollars he’s spent.