With Peter King writing in MMQB that the Seattle Seahawks represent the best potential fit for Colin Kaepernick on the same day that Pete Carroll admitted the organization has inquired about Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, it’s worth comparing how much it would cost to sign one of these former starting quarterbacks and how much such an investment might be worth.
King gets a couple things wrong in his analysis. One factual error is his claim that incumbent Seattle backup Trevone Boykin got “arrested twice” already this offseason—actually it was only one incident, though he faces a separate arraignment owing to a probation violation after his sentencing last year. No one knows yet what the consequences will be for Boykin’s March car crash or the probationary matter, but the Seahawks haven’t so far signaled any concern. If Boykin’s job is challenged, it’s because Seattle may want to upgrade the on-field talent behind Russell Wilson, not for any legal jeopardy. Second, King claims the Seahawks’ iffy offensive line renders backup quarterback one of the team’s “12 most important spots”—which seems like an exaggeration. Yes, Wilson’s injuries and the ongoing instability on the line raises some eyebrows, but remember Wilson still started every game in 2016 and his injury-and-protection situation should be better in 2017. It has to be, right? Right?
Anyway, the rest of King’s thought experiment is probably right on. Seattle probably is an ideal market for Kaepernick to find acceptance with open-minded fans (politically, that is; the San Francisco 49ers pedigree may be the greater obstacle) and the Seahawks are probably the right locker room-coaching staff mix for the dissident quarterback. But the main factor complicating any deal with Kaepernick or possibly Griffin, should they want to sign with Seattle, is going to be money—a detail King omits from his calculus altogether.
The advantage to Boykin or another scrap-heap competitor is extremely low cost. Boykin is scheduled to make $540,000 in 2017 and Skyler Howard would be about $100,000 cheaper, at the league minimum (Jake Heaps is not winning this battle, sorry). But how much can the Seahawks afford?
According to Spotrac, Seattle is currently $5.5 million over the 2017 limit with its whole 90-man offseason roster accounted but is projected to have $9-10 million below that cap following required preseason cuts (during the offseason only the top 51 contracts are counted, to allow for this roster flexibility). John Schneider prefers to keep aside about $2 million to account for practice squad contracts and other loose ends, so that leaves about $7 million “free”. Ideally, you’d want to preserve some chunk of that for rollover purposes or the chance that a desired player comes available during training camp or between the 75-man and 53-man roster cutdowns, like Jahri Evans last year.
So that leaves $4-5 million “available” if Schneider wants to spend it now. For whatever reasons, Twitter rumors persist that Kaepernick has not yet signed with an NFL team because he’s demanding at least “$10 million” per year and a starting job. Obviously, Kaepernick wouldn’t sign with the Seahawks expecting to start or compete for the starter’s spot, and the first part was debunked by Kaepernick’s camp way back in March. Following free agency and the draft, Kaepernick and his agent surely recognize that the market is lower than ever (at least until quarterbacks start getting hurt in August and September).
The most expensive backups in 2016—meaning quarterbacks signed as veteran backups not, like, Tony Romo—were Chase Daniel, Chad Henne and Shaun Hill. Daniel is an unusual case: Although at first ostensibly the backup option to Sam Bradford, Daniel got a salary suggesting he was destined to compete for the starting job. Howie Roseman’s choice to trade up and draft Carson Wentz and then the trade Bradford trade changed the Philadelphia Eagles’ depth chart and shuffled their expectations for Daniel, who (now in New Orleans on a much smaller contract) is still getting $5 million thanks to his Eagles guarantees. Henne drew $4.5 million and Hill got $3.2 million in the second year of his Minnesota Vikings deal. Case Keenum played for $3.6 million to mentor Jared Goff on the Los Angeles Rams, but he began the season as the intended starter and lasted nine games. Griffin had a cap hit of $5 million in 2016 as the intended starter for the Cleveland Browns.
This offseason, Josh McCown solicited $6 million from the New York Jets to offer veteran guidance to either Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg. Meanwhile the Chicago Bears mysteriously gave Mike Glennon $8 million in base salary for 2017 and then took
Mike Mitch Trubisky second overall. All other non-rookie-scale backups will make around $4 million or less.
The last time Seattle signed a non-UDFA to back up Wilson, in 2015, it paid Tarvaris Jackson $1.25 million for one year, a slight raise over his one-year deal in 2014.
Kaepernick, presumably eager to rehabilitate his amenability to NFL owners for a chance to sign a longer deal in 2018, most likely wants a one-year contract around $4 million. If the Seahawks can get him between $2 and $3 million, it will be a competitive rate for a young former starter without destroying their cap situation. Griffin would probably be looking for the same $3-4 million range, and a similar value and fit. Remember also that replacing the undrafted Boykin, whose dead money is only $10,000 from his bonus, will subtract that half-million from the books, hypothetically making the true difference in cost only $1.5-2.5 million. But another million more might be too rich for Schneider’s comfort.