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Where the Seahawks stand with the NFL’s 2019 estimates for the salary cap

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Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Wednesday the NFL informed teams across the league of the early estimates for the 2019 salary cap that will go into effect in March when the new league year starts. As Adam Schefter reports here, the range the teams were provided to expect is from $187M to $191.1M.

The final cap number will be determined over the next month or two as the final revenue numbers are calculated for the next league year.

The first question that fans of the Seattle Seahawks obviously want answered is what this new cap means in terms of the team’s ability to retain its pending free agents, as well as to have money to play in free agency. Thus, let’s take a look at the Seahawks 2019 cap situation using the number $190M, which is towards the high end of the range, but will at least put us into the right ballpark.

Seahawks 2019 salary cap overview

Total Cap $190M
Total Cap $190M
Contracted Players (33) $130.2M
Available space $59.8M
Fill Out Roster (22 players) $11M
Practice Squad & IR $5M
Draft Picks $2.8M
Remaining Cap Space $41M

Keeping that $41M in available money in mind, the team is most certainly expected to cut Kam Chancellor, which will free up $2.8M in space. (Author’s note: Before anyone loses there mind and tells me cutting Kam frees up $8M per, please read this regarding his injury guarantees and why cutting Chancellor only saves $2.8M.)

So, having added that $2.8M back in for Kam, that puts the team at just under $44M in available space. That’s obviously more than enough for the team to do what it needs to do in terms of retaining its own players, but there will indeed be some interesting discussions regarding the decisions that need to be made.

It was not that long ago that I looked at what the contract status of players for the Seahawks will be this offseason, and now we have some firm estimates from the league regarding what the cap will actually look like. With the league having provided estimates for 2019, it is now possible to get more accurate numbers for the 2019 Restricted Free Agent tags that will be available to teams for players like George Fant. Former agent Joel Corry provided those estimates yesterday on Twitter.

We can debate all day who the team should extend and who the team should allow to walk, but what I want to focus on at this moment is the following. Here is a chart of what the salary cap has done since the cap went into effect for the 1994 season.

Obviously, that’s a great trend for both the owners and the players alike, as the money being generated is obviously on the rise. However, what I want to draw attention to is that blip in the middle where the cap stagnated for a period of several years. From 2008 until 2013 the cap increased only $7M total, from $116M in 2008 to $123M in 2013, and the reason why was twofold.

The first thing was that the players had a new negotiator at the table for the CBA negotiations and they ended up getting a smaller slice of the pie than they had under the old agreement. Secondly, the players elected to defer a larger portion of their slice of the pie to the future in terms of post-playing days health insurance and retirement benefits. Both of those things worked to keep the cap stagnant for almost five full years. It was the stagnation of the cap that forced several teams to let quality players go in 2012 and 2013 for salary cap reasons. In turn, that contributed to the Hawks ability to sign players such as Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to relatively team friendly contracts in 2013 because teams did not have nearly as much money to play with as they had anticipated heading into the 2010 CBA negotations.

That is of course crucial because the current CBA runs out after the 2020 season. There are already rumors of either a lockout by the owners or a strike by the players, and it’s completely possible that the exact same scenario unfolds heading into 2021. I firmly believe this is a major reason why the Seahawks have only ten players under contract for the 2020 season, and not a single player under contract for 2022. In addition, it could easily become a major sticking point in extension negotiations with players like Frank Clark, Russell Wilson, Jarran Reed and Germain Ifedi.

Lastly, there are two other factors which I expect could lead to a tightening of the cap space available to teams. The first is an increase in the rookie wage scale, which keeps salaries artificially low for younger players, and pushes money to veterans. Minimum salaries typically see an increase of 15-20% when the league adopts a new CBA, and I fully expect a minimum salary increase to be well above that range this time around. Further, I expect there to be either an expansion of the Proven Performance Escalator, or some other form of incentive program which allows players on their rookie contracts to increase their earnings based on performance and/or playing time.

Secondly, I will not be surprised if the new CBA includes some form of modification and tightening of the minimum spending requirements for teams. The ability to roll unused cap money over from one year to the next was a new development under the current agreement, and I expect the players to demand an increase in the minimum spending thresholds and requirements.

In short, when the new CBA rolls out in 2021 (or 2022 if we lose the 2021 season due to a work stoppage), I expect to see a similar flattening of the cap for several seasons, combined with an increase in salary costs on the lower end for players. That likely results in a cap tightening situation for several of the teams, and will work greatly to the advantage of teams that have retained their future cap flexibility heading into the end of the current CBA.