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Why the Seahawks cap space has been disappearing recently

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Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Back in August after the Seattle Seahawks acquired Jadeveon Clowney from the Houston Texans, I took a look at why the team was shedding salary in order to create a salary cap reserve. Long story short, with several of the contracts the team signed carrying per game roster bonuses, I estimated the team would need a salary cap reserve somewhere in the neighborhood of $3M-$5M in order to cover the per game roster bonuses that were not counted against the cap coming into the season.

For the quick and dirty cap classroom on these bonuses, the way the league determines how many per game roster bonuses to count for a player heading into a season is to look at how many games the player played the prior season. So, Ziggy Ansah played seven games for the Detroit Lions in 2018, so seven of his $93,500 per game roster bonuses counted against the cap heading into the season. Similarly, between his suspension and a knee injury, Mychal Kendricks played in just four games last season, meaning only four per game bonuses of $125,000 would count against the cap heading into the season.

Now, players obviously aren’t robots, and the majority of players obviously don’t play the same number of games in consecutive seasons, so there has to be a system for dealing with a player appearing in larger or smaller number of games compared to the prior season. The way the NFL handles this is that if a player appears in fewer games, any additional salary cap charge which was recognized in a season is credited back the next season. This is what will happen with Justin Britt. Britt had $500,00 in per game roster bonuses this season that were counted against the cap since he was active for and appeared in all 16 games during the 2018 season. However, because he tore his ACL in the Week 8 contest against the Atlanta Falcons, Britt obviously was not active for the final eight games of the 2019 season. Thus, at the end of the year, the Seahawks will receive a $250,000 salary cap credit to account for the fact that Britt was not on the active gameday roster for the final eight games of the year.

On the flip side, if a player appears in a greater number of games than in the prior season, the extra amount is charged to the salary cap immediately. So, as noted above, Kendricks played in just four games during the 2018 season. Therefore, starting with his fifth game on the gameday active roster, the Seahawks would be required to recognize a $125,000 salary cap charge immediately. With Kendricks having already played in 13 games, and appearing set to play in the finale Sunday, that will be ten games worth of per game roster bonuses the team will have needed to recognize over the course of the season.

This became a new issue to the Hawks this season, as they began using a newer structure of contract this past spring with several players, as they started handing out contracts which came with significantly larger per game roster bonuses than they had used in seasons past. Some of the players for whom the per game bonuses were large this season include Kendricks and Ansah, as well as K.J. Wright, D.J. Fluker and then Mike Iupati could be included in the list simply because if he stayed healthy for the full season, it could use up a couple hundred thousand in cap space. Remarkably, Iupati appears to be set to play sixteen games in a season for the first time since 2012 and max out on his per game bonuses.

In any case, getting back to how much of the $3M-$5M reserve Seattle has actually ended up needing, here is how things break down on a player by player basis for those mentioned.

How much cap reserve did the Seahawks use in 2019 for per game roster bonuses?

Player Per game bonus 2018 Games 2019 LTBE Cap Hit 2019 Actual Cap hit Max Bonus Potential Extra Space Needed
Player Per game bonus 2018 Games 2019 LTBE Cap Hit 2019 Actual Cap hit Max Bonus Potential Extra Space Needed
D.J. Fluker $62,500 10 $625,000 $875,000 $1,000,000 $250,000
K.J. Wright $93,750 5 $468,750 $1,500,000 $1,500,000 $1,031,250
Ziggy Ansah $187,500 7 $1,875,000 $2,531,250 $3,000,000 $656,250
Mychal Kendricks $125,000 4 $500,000 $1,750,000 $2,000,000 $1,250,000
Mike Iupati $31,250 10 $312,500 $500,000 $500,000 $187,500
Total N/A N/A N/A $3,375,000

So, assuming Ansah, Kendricks, Wright, Iupati and Fluker are all active Sunday against the 49ers, the Hawks will end up having used $3.4M in additional cap space on these players over the course of the season. Taking these per game bonuses into account, and assuming these players are all active for Sunday Night Football, their cap hits for the 2019 season will end up as follows:

  • Mychal Kendricks: $4.25M
  • Mike Iupati: $2.75M
  • Ziggy Ansah: $8.531M
  • D.J. Fluker: $2.375M
  • K.J. Wright: $5.5M

An interesting thing to watch into the offseason and free agency will be to see if the team continues to use this type of contract structure, or if they return to the historically preferred version which was much less tied to bonuses and incentives.