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Breakdown of Ed Dickson’s contract

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NFL: Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans of the Seattle Seahawks went into free agency with the belief that the team could possibly begin to rebuild some of the pieces that had been lost to age and the salary cap, looking for big splash acquisitions. That has yet to happen, and in fact the exact opposite has happened: the Seahawks front office has so far gone bargain shopping in working to rebuild the roster.

Many fans were fuming when word leaked out about the addition of tight end Ed Dickson, especially once it became known that Seattle had signed Dickson to a 3 year, $14M deal. As is often the case, however, it’s always prudent to wait until the specifics come out before making a judgement on the value of a contract. That is proving to be accurate yet again, as some, but not quite all, of the details are making their way out on Dickson’s contract. As of now, it’s not looking like a bad deal at all.

That is kind of a mess of information, so I’ll break it out into a table that is easier for me, and hopefully most of you, to read and understand.

Now, the very first thing that jumps out to me is the low end cap hit for 2018. Why? because of how much it resembles this.

That salary breakdown, for those who do not recognize it, is a capture from OverTheCap.com of the salary breakdown for the last two seasons for Luke Willson. Taking a look at just that 1.1% from the far right side of the contract, that is the percentage of the salary cap that the contract represented in each season. The relevance of that to Dickson’s contract is the simple fact that Dickson’s 2018 cap hit before accounting for any incentives is 1.1% of the cap.

For anyone holding out hope that Willson would return, it appears as though his days in Seattle are finished.

Back to Dickson’s contract, however, beyond the low cap hit, it’s a rather palatable contract for a player who was on the field for 870 offensive snaps in 2017. That is more snaps than Nick Vannett and Luke Willson played last season combined (656), and more than Willson has played in the last two seasons combined (729). In addition, Dickson is a more than competent pass blocker at tight end, as can be seen in this sampling of clips from his 2017 performance.

Just to demonstrate the level at which he is able to perform, some of the players Dickson blocks in those clips include the likes of Robert Ayers, Vinny Curry, Vic Beasley and Brandon Graham. Those are respectable names, and nothing to scoff at for a player who will have a very small cap hit this coming season.

And while the cap hit certainly escalates, Seattle has an out for $1.73M in a year if it chooses. That may seem like an expensive out after just a year, but there may be some logic behind it when looking at it in regards to Nick Vannett and the Proven Performance Escalator (PPE).

For those who are not familiar with the PPE, it is an incentive for players drafted in the third through seventh rounds of the draft who see significant playing time during the first three years of their rookie contract. The PPE can be earned through one of two ways:

  • The player plays 35% of offensive or defensive snaps in two of their first three seasons or
  • The player plays 35% of cumulative offensive or defensive snaps over their first three seasons.

When a player hits either of those thresholds, their base salary for the fourth year of their rookie contract is automatically raised to be equal to the original round tender for restricted free agents for that season. So, for example, Tyler Lockett has played over 35% of offensive snaps in all three seasons of his career, so he qualifies under both sets of criteria. Thus, his base salary for 2018 has been raised to $1,907,000. Another example is Mark Glowinski, who played more than 35% of the cumulative offensive snaps the Seahawks played from 2015 through 2017. So, even though Glowinski was waived, when the Indianapolis Colts claimed him off waivers they assumed his rookie contract, and therefore even though he is on the Colts roster, Glowinski will have a base salary in 2018 of $1,907,000. (Marginally related side note, I believe part of the reason Seattle waived Glowinski was in hopes he would clear waivers, which would have terminated his rookie contract and eliminated his ability to get a raise under the PPE. As such, that would have allowed the team to bring him back for 2018 at the league minimum of $705k instead of $1.907M, but that’s a different topic for a different day.)

Getting back to Vannett, through his first two seasons he has played only 362 of the 2,019 offensive snaps Seattle has run, which is 17.93%. He has not met the 35% threshold in either season, so the only way he could potentially hit the PPE would be through the second threshold of playing 35% of the team’s cumulative offensive snaps through the first three years. Based on the fact that the team has averaged around 1,000 offensive snaps a season, Vannett would need to play somewhere around 675-700 snaps to hit the PPE escalator and earn himself a raise.

Now, looking at new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offenses from his time in St. Louis, the top tight end averaged 728 offensive snaps per year. That means if the team went with Vannett as their option as the starting tight end and he stayed healthy, he’d likely be in for a raise of about $1.3M in 2019. With Dickson now likely to be the starter in 2018, it’s extremely unlikely Vannett hits the PPE trigger, and that means no raise for Vannett in 2019. Thus, looking at it from the perspective of the total salary cap impact, the $1.73M out in 2018 is closer to an overall net impact of $400k. Of course, the calculations will also depend on performance incentives and multiple other factors, but this is just another item to plug into the back of your mind when analysing the Dickson contract.

Now, do I think the team went out and signed Dickson in order to prevent Vannett from earning a raise in 2019? No, but I’d imagine that they are at least aware of this. If there’s some random guy in Florida who know of this, then I’d be very surprised (and disappointed) if the Seahawks front office does not at least have it on their radar. In any case, the biggest reason they likely went out and signed Dickson was to get one of the best pass blocking tight ends in the NFL on the roster in order to protect their franchise quarterback. Further, while far from a star as a pass catcher, he can contribute in that facet of the game and his presence on the field does not tip the defense either way whether the playcall is a pass or a run.

Finally circling back to Dickson’s contract, it’s a very good deal for a starting tight end for 2018, and depending on the specifics of the $1.1M in incentives, it’s possible that Dickson’s 2018 cap charge could be in the same realm as what the team has paid its second tight end in recent years. Basically, the contract offers a great bargain for 2018, with the potential to be a great bargain in both 2019 and 2020 as well.

In addition, as a three year contract it keeps the Seahawks as one of the only teams with no players signed past the 2020 season. With the current CBA running through 2020, there could be potentially drastic changes to the salary cap beginning with the 2021 season, and this contract is consistent with the Seattle front office setting the team up to have significant financial flexibility once 2021 arrives. In the meantime, Seattle has Ed Dickson on a contract that is palatable given the team’s other salary cap commitments.