After the Seattle Seahawks released Richard Sherman in the spring of 2018 after seven seasons with the team, he nearly immediately signed with the rival San Francisco 49ers on a contract that was considered by many to be very team friendly. The contract was short on guarantees and long on requiring Sherman to prove his worth, and the incentive structure of the contract provides significant upside for Sherman.
On the flip side, the significant incentive structure also has the ability to hit the 49ers cap in a negative way in the coming seasons should he perform at an All Pro level. I won’t get into too much detail, as I’ve covered how this could happen in the past, so there’s no need to rehash things again. However, in light of a tweet from over the weekend, it seems a good time to revisit the potential impact of the subject. As for the tweet in question, here it is.
A late night/early morning salary cap tidbit on 2020, knowing that, for now anyway, Staley is on the books for $11.25M , plus Bosa/Samuel yet to sign, the 49ers are low on cap room for 2020, with all 3 counting they're at $3.784M under a $200M cap, before any carryover.— Jason Hurley/Cap Space=$28,515,980 (@Jay_AB81) June 9, 2019
That $3.784M under the cap is quite a sight to see for the 49ers, who for many of the past several seasons have been sitting on tens of millions in cap space. However, as noted in the tweet, that number is before any rollover. As of today, OverTheCap.com has the 49ers at $35.3M in cap space for 2019, but that is without their first two draft picks, Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel. Once the contracts for those two are considered, it takes them down to a hair under $30M, and then it’s necessary to take into consideration an allotment for injured reserve and the practice squad. Those two items will require roughly $5M in additional cap space, leaving the 49ers with somewhere in the neighborhood of a comfortable $25M they would be able to roll over, assuming they do not use that space during the upcoming season.
So, adding that potential $25M in rollover to the $3.784M in 2020 cap space from the tweet, the Niners end up with somewhere in the neighborhood of $29M in cap space. Obviously they have the ability to free up space by cutting players on bloated contracts if they should decide to do that. However, the issue with Sherman potentially performing at a high level comes from the double whammy of the $4M in incentives he has this season.
If Sherman is able to stay healthy and play 90% of the Niners defensive snaps this season, he’ll get a $1M bonus. On top of that he can make an additional $1M by being voted to the Pro Bowl, and another $2M if he is either the first or second team All-Pro. Assume, hypothetically, that he does that, even though it’s obviously extremely difficult for a 31 yeard old cornerback to do that, but it’s not impossible.
Back to the assumption that Sherman does make both the Pro Bowl and All Pro teams while hitting that 90% playing time threshold in 2019, it would leave Sherman with a cap hit in excess of $17M in 2020. That would represent an $8M increase in the expected cap hit for Sherman that the $3.784M cap number is currently accounting for, and would consume more than a quarter of the cap space the Niners are looking at having for 2020 season.
That brings the 49ers to a position where they would need to seriously discuss potentially cutting a cornerback that just made the All Pro team simply to avoid him eating up a ton of the team’s cap space. Obviously, the odds of all this happening are pretty low, but it’s not impossible.
However, what this theoretical situation does show is how much things have been reversed this offseason. While the 49ers are looking at potentially having only $29M in cap space in 2020, the Seahawks are sitting on $76M in cap space for that season before accounting for any rollover. Once rollover is added and space allocated for the practice squad and injured reserve both this season and next, the Hawks could be looking at close to $90M in cap space heading into 2020.
Some of that massive amount of space could go to extensions for players like Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed and Bobby Wagner, but even if the team extends all three of those players, they should still have a comfortable amount of space available. Next offseason should be the first time in a long time that the cap space situation for the Hawks would be that way, but with the end of the CBA looming after 2020, the team might not put all that money to use in the free agent market. In any case, it could be a very interesting offseason depending on how things develop with the extension eligible players between now and next March.