Last week, I took a quick look at the salary cap situation for the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks, and today I am going to give a 30,000 foot overview of the cap situation for the running back position. With a mixture of size, speed, power and receiving threats, the Hawks have a good mix of styles in the running back room, but there could well be nearly fifty percent turnover among the backs in the room next season based on the contracts of the guy the Seahawks currently have. All the salary numbers used in this article are, once again, pulled from the phenomenal website, OverTheCap.com, which is in fact so phenomenal that I decided to go ahead and become a premium member even though I really have no idea what the premium features offer.
The most expensive back on the roster for 2017 is Eddie Lacy, whose contract has $2.865M in guarantees, $385k in weight maintenance bonuses and $1M in gameday active roster bonuses. Based on Lacy’s less than stellar showing against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, and the fact that the team has stated Thomas Rawls is ready to rip in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers, there is a chance the team could designate Lacy as inactive. If they were to do this, it would save the team a small amount against the salary cap, as the $1M in gameday active roster bonuses breaks down to $62,500 per week he is on the 46-man active roster.
Thus, if the team decides to go with Rawls, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise on the gameday active, it would save the team a small amount of money. Now, while that $62,500 represents only 0.03% of the NFL salary cap of $167M for 2017, that amount is enough to cover roughly half the annual salary for a practice squad player. So, while keeping Lacy off the gameday roster for only a week or two is not going to materially increase the team’s cap space for 2017, if he ends up being kept inactive for large portions of the season, it could end up funding a decent portion of the team’s practice squad this season.
The second most experienced back on the roster behind Lacy is the aforementioned Thomas Rawls. Signed as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) out of Central Michigan in 2015, he flashed brilliantly before suffering a nasty ankle injury. In 2015, he was beset by injuries, including a second broken leg in as many seasons in the NFL and a shoulder injury suffered against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his second game back. Neither of those injuries prevented Rawls from showing flashes of his brilliance against the Carolina Panthers and in the playoff win over the Detroit Lions, games in which he recorded his fifth and sixth career 100-yard performances.
However, in spite of the flashes of brilliance he has shown at times, Rawls has been plagued by the injury bug during his NFL career, and his inactive status for Week 1 against the Packers makes him three for three in terms of seasons in which he has missed time due to injury during his career. While his $620k salary for 2017 is minimal compared to what another back, such as Lacy, is making this season, Rawls is slated to be a restricted free agent after 2017, and that could lead his price tag to increase significantly in 2018.
The restricted free agent (RFA) tags for 2018 should start somewhere in the $1.95M range for the original round tender, with first and second round tenders coming in materially more expensive. While a healthy Rawls is a steal at the original round tender, an injured Rawls may not be. In any case, it is likely that Rawls future with the team will largely be determined by the durability he demonstrates over the course of the year.
Behind Rawls are Prosise and Carson, both of whom are still on their original rookie contracts which run through 2019 and 2020, respectively. As a third round pick, the caps hits for Prosise for the remainder of his contract are $738k (2017), $833k (2018) and $918k (2019). In the case of Carson, his rookie contract runs through the 2020 season with caps hits of $481k (2017), $571k (2018), $661k (2019) and $751k (2020).
One item which does jump out about Chris Carson is something in the picture at the top of the article that caught my attention. In watching Carson's college tape and through the preseason, Carson always carried the ball in his right hand, regardless of which direction he was running on a play. In the picture at the top of the article, the ball is readily visible in his left hand, which would seem to indicate that Carson is coachable and willing to adjust as his duties required. That fact alone would place him above certain highly athletic physical specimens the team has had on its roster in the past, and could be a good sign for Carson's future with the team.
What is far from a pressing matter at this point, but which could pop up with the team’s backfield containing both a third and seventh round draft choice is the Proven Performance Escalator laid out in Article 7, Section 4 of the CBA. The Proven Performance Escalator is an incentive system designed to reward players on their rookie contracts taken in the later rounds of the draft with a pay raise in the final season of their initial rookie contract. There are two ways a player can hit the Proven Performance Escalator, with the first being to play 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps over the first three years of his rookie contract. The second way a player can activate the escalator is to play at least 35% of his team’s offensive snaps in at least two of his first three seasons in the league.
Once triggered, the Proven Performance Escalator increases the base salary of a fourth year player to be the same amount as the original round RFA tender, which for 2017 was $1.797M. As the RFA tenders increase with the salary cap, by the time Carson and Prosise reach the fourth year of their rookie contracts, that amount is likely to be significantly higher.
Whether or not either of them actually hits the escalator will be something to watch. In spite of the explosiveness and potential he demonstrated as a rookie, Prosise played just 149 of the 1,059 offensive snaps the team ran, so he has some ground to make up. And while Carson got off to a good start in his first game playing well over 50% of offensive snaps, he will need to continue to stay healthy and contributing for the next three seasons in order to give himself that fourth year pay raise.
While some of you may be asking if this will affect Rawls’ contract in the same manner, the answer is no. Rawls, as an UDFA, is not eligible for the Proven Performance Escalator, as only players drafted in rounds three through seven are eligible for this pay increase. As an UDFA the pay for Rawls fourth year will be determined by the RFA tender the team places on his, whether that be a first round tender, a second round tender or an original round tender. Should the team decide to not tender Rawls, it would make him an unrestricted free agent, just as the team has done with multiple key RFAs over the past couple of seasons, including Christine Michael and DeShawn Shead.
(Author’s note: For those astute readers at home thinking of Seahawks who could qualify for the escalator in the coming seasons, Tyler Lockett and Mark Glowinski have all but assured themselves of hitting the required number of snaps to trigger the escalator. The Seahawks would have to run a record number of offensive plays in 2017 for Lockett and Glow to not earn the escalator in 2018, and this will require somewhere in the ballpark of an additional $2.3-$2.4M in cap space in 2018 for these two players, as the escalator will increase each of their base salaries to somewhere in the $1.95M range.)
The fifth and final player currently on the roster at the running back position is FB Tre Madden. Madden won the FB job over Marcel Reece, and is in his second year with the team after being signed as an UDFA out of USC in 2016. However, in spite of being in his second season, having spent his first year on IR after being waived with an injury designation in 2016, he has zero credited seasons and thus is earning the league minimum of $465k for 2017.
(Author’s note: credited seasons are different than accrued seasons, and while players on IR earn an accrued season, they do not earn a credited season while on IR. Accrued seasons are used to determine a player’s free agent status upon the expiration of their contract, while credited seasons are used to determine their retirement benefits and minimum salary. Anyone who wishes to debate this may feel free to check Article 26, Section 2, part (iv) of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement located on page 146 of the agreement.)
And that is the overview of the running back position from a salary cap and contract standpoint, and should any of you have any specific questions you would like answered, please feel free to ask away in the comments section and I’ll attempt to answer them when I can.