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Seahawks unlikely to use the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency is quickly approaching, and with just over six weeks before the deadline for NFL teams to use the franchise tag designation, there have been questions from fans of the Seattle Seahawks in social media regarding whether the team will use the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham in order to retain his services in 2018. The simple answer to that question is no. The use of the franchise tag on Graham would be prohibitively expensive relative to the amount of cap space the Hawks are looking at having heading into the 2018 league year.

In theory the team could sign Graham to an extension, but that is another discussion for another day. The only thing I am looking here at is whether the franchise tag is a viable option for securing Graham’s services in 2018 and ignoring any long term extensions.

At issue in this case is Article 10, Section 2(i)(B) of the collective bargaining agreement regarding the franchise tag, and this portion is shown below, with the relevant portion highlighted.

As this portion of the CBA requires Graham to receive a 120% pay increase over his 2017 salary, the immediate impression of many fans is that the franchise tag should result in a salary of $12M for Graham for 2018 based on his $10M 2017 cap hit. However, such a position fails to take into account the prorated signing bonus portion of Graham’s 2018 salary which was paid by the New Orleans Saints in 2014.

When Graham initially signed his contract with the Saints he received a $12M signing bonus, which would have been amortized over the four years of the contract at a rate of $3M per season. Thus, when calculating Graham’s 2017 salary, this prorated $3M must be included. Therefore, adding the $3M on to Graham’s 2017 cap hit of $10M, yields a total 2017 compensation of $13M.

Before the 120% adjustment can be made, however, one more tweak is required. In particular, the $100,000 workout bonus in Graham’s contract is not included in the computation. Thus, the 120% is taken from a final 2017 salary number of $12.9M. Doing the necessary math on that $12.9M yields a 2018 cap hit of $15.48M for Jimmy Graham, which is in line with the number Jason Fitzgerald has quoted on Twitter. For those who are unfamiliar, Fitzgerald is the gentleman behind the fantastic OverTheCap.com.

Now, that’s a big cap hit, especially for a team that currently is slated to have only $13.7M in cap space based on a cap of $178M, and that’s with only 46 players under contract for 2018. Yes, the team will undoubtedly make changes in the coming weeks that free up cap space, however, the team also needs to be sure to allocate cap dollars for IR, draft picks and the practice squad.

Thus, at this point, franchising Graham appears to be a non-starter from a salary cap perspective. In addition, everything the Seahawks have done so far this offseason seems to reinforce that they are committed to getting back to being a much more ground-based offense in 2018. So, while Graham is a phenomenal red zone threat, he’s not the type of blocker the Hawks will likely be looking to rely upon in 2018. Add in that a $15.48M cap hit for Graham on a franchise tag would give him the second highest cap hit on the team behind only Russell Wilson, and it’s hard to argue that he is the second most important player on the roster.

Thus, while Graham led the NFL in receiving touchdowns by a tight end in 2017, if he repeats that feat in 2018, it’s likely to be for a different franchise, or at least not under the franchise tag.