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Last time Jeremy Lane had the leverage, this time the Seahawks have it

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With another NFL season all but in the books and free agency less than two months away, It’s time for the Seattle Seahawks to play hardball with Jeremy Lane following his recent arrest for DUI. Lane played well enough during his first few years in the league, and combining his play with the hot free agent cornerback market led to Lane being rewarded for his performance with a four year, $23M deal.

However, since Lane signed his deal two years ago, the cornerback market has cooled and Lane’s on-field performance has been less than what would be desired, particularly for a player with a cap hit of $7.25M in each of the next two seasons. And that was prior to Lane’s recent arrest for DUI, which is likely to only lessen his value.

So, while many fans have already been quick to write off Lane as unlikely to be on the roster in 2018, the DUI may give the Seahawks the leverage the team needs in order to either keep Lane around in a depth role at a more palatable price tag or to lower his cap hit enough to make him attractive to potential trade partners. The leverage the team now has comes not only from Lane’s arrest itself; it comes from the fact that Lane may now be facing a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and suspensions carry nasty repercussions for players. And the suspension he is faving may be double the typical DUI suspension because of the following:

While marijuana is legal in the state of Washington, Lane is still subject to the employment contract that he willingly signed and is forbidden from partaking in marijuana, just like millions of other employees across the multiple states in which marijuana is legal. And, as a result of this DUI arrest, Lane may be facing a suspension under Section 2.3 of the NFL Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse. The pertinent section of the policy is as follows:

In short, Lane is now looking at an unpaid suspension of up to four games. An unpaid four-game suspension may not seem like a lot, however, in Lane’s case it could add up to be quite a bit. Lane’s base salary in each of the next two seasons is slated to be $6M, which means that based on a seventeen week season, a four game suspension is set to cost Lane $352,941 per game he misses. Thus, if he’s suspended for four games, that would lower the cap hit for his base salary by $1,411,764.

With a pending suspension seemingly likely, any value Lane may have had in a trade is out the window with a scheduled cap hit of $7.25M for each of the next two years, however, a pending suspension also likely extremely limits his value in free agency, which is where Seattle can capitalize. Knowing that Lane is unlikely to sign a contract anywhere close to his current deal on the open market with a suspension pending, and knowing that he likely already stands to lose seven figures to a suspension, the team can now work to renegotiate his 2018 salary lower. Significantly lower.

The Seahawks are now in position to dictate to Lane a hefty pay cut for 2018. And, should Lane resolve the court case in a timely manner and any suspension from the league becomes known, then the team is in far better shape regarding its options, as is Lane. He probably still would not have material value in trade, but anything is better than nothing, and if they could get a sixth or seventh round pick from a trade partner for Lane, it could be worth it to both the Seahawks and the acquiring team. Even getting just a conditional pick in return would be better than getting nothing for cutting him outright.

Say for example Lane accepts his 2018 base salary being cut in half, without any changes to his 2019 salary. Then, even after his four-game suspension he would be looking at the possibility of making roughly $8.4M in base salary over the next two seasons, and there are likely multiple teams with massive amounts of cap space over the next two years who would be happy to take on a 28 year old cornerback with a reasonable cap hit.

In addition, Lane agreeing to seeing his salary cut in half would actually be a better result than many of the other comparable cornerbacks who signed contracts similar to Lane’s. Davon House signed a four-year, $24.5M contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015, a year before Lane signed his contract, but was cut after two seasons and ended up taking a one-year, $2.8M deal with the Green Bay Packers. Perrish Cox signed a three-year, $15M contract with the Tennessee Titans in 2015, only to spend 2017 unemployed.

And the list of cornerbacks who have seen their contracts pay them less than anticipated from that scorching market continues on and on. Byron Maxwell signed a six-year, $63M contract with the Philadelphia Eagles a year prior to Lane signing his contract, and he was first traded to the Miami Dolphins before being cut this season and signing a minimum contract with the Hawks. Chris Culliver signed a four-year, $32M contract with the Washington Redskins a year prior to Lane signing his contract, and was released after tearing his ACL and MCL in practice during the first year of his contract. After coming back from knee reconstruction, Culliver has made only $631k in two seasons, and is currently unemployed.

Lane needs to understand the facts of his situation, and it is time for the Seattle front office to play hardball with Lane, convincing him to accept a significantly reduced cap hit for at least 2018, and potentially both 2018 and 2019. That would make keeping him as depth a far more attractive option, and would make it far more likely for the team to be able to trade him in the offseason in order to recoup some kind of value in return.

When Lane signed his contract in 2016 he had the leverage of a lack of depth and recent memories of Cary Williams having started ten games at cornerback in the midst of the hottest cornerback market in NFL history.

This time around it’s 2018 and the tables have turned. The Seahawks hold the leverage, the cornerback market has been much cooler in recent offseasons, and it’s time for John Schneider and the front office to put on their work gloves and maximize the value of the leverage they hold.