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What signing Greg Olsen means for Seahawks salary cap

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New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Tuesday the Seattle Seahawks announced that they had signed tight end Greg Olsen, who had spent the prior 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers. In Seattle Olsen will get to catch passes from Russell Wilson while opening holes for the run game for Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny.

Olsen should provide at least some level of stability in a tight end room that has seen a massive number of injuries in recent seasons. While the running backs get most of the attention in terms of the injury issues at the position, over the past five years the tight end room has seen its share of injuries sideline key contributors. Some of the players who have missed significant time due to injuries in recent years include:

  • Jimmy Graham with a torn patellar tendon in 2015,
  • Nick Vannett with ankle, back and shoulder issues in 2016, 2017 and 2018,
  • Will Dissly with a torn patellar tendon in 2018 and a torn Achilles in 2019,
  • Ed Dickson with knee issues in 2018 and 2019,
  • Luke Willson with a hamstring in 2019 and

I’m sure there are others I have probably overlooked. Olsen himself hasn’t played a full 16 game season since 2016, but here’s to hoping that his 14-game 2019 performance is a better indicator of what’s in store for 2020 than his 7 and 9 games in 2017 and 2018.

That said, the reports are that Olsen signed a $7M contract, with $5.5M guaranteed. At this point, what constitutes the difference between the maximum value and the guaranteed money is unknown, but based on how the team has structured things in the past, it’s likely that at least a portion of this $1.5M is made up of per game roster bonuses.

The team traditionally puts per game roster bonuses into second and third contracts as protection for the team, as they act as a buffer that covers the cost of a replacement player should an injury land a player on injured reserve. My guess is that the $1.5M is comprised of a combination of per game roster bonuses ($500k) and performance and award incentives ($1M).

That said, my guess is that Olsen’s cap hit heading into 2020 is likely to be $5,937,500, representing the combination of the per game roster bonuses and guaranteed money (I’m also assuming the players and owners will reach agreement on a new CBA in the coming weeks, as that will have an impact on how teams are required to account for incentives in contracts for the 2020 season).

In addition, however, the signing of Olsen likely marks the end of the road in Seattle for Ed Dickson. Dickson has one more season left on the three year contract he signed with the Hawks in 2018, however, it seems unlikely the team will carry two over-30, pricey tight ends. Thus, the cost to sign Olsen can be netted out against the savings that will come from the seemingly imminent release of Dickson.

Since releasing Dickson saves the team $3M in cap space, subtracting that from Olsen’s projected hit, the difference between the two comes in at net cost of $2.9375M. Now, a key question regarding when the team might release Dickson will revolve around how quickly his knee recovers from whatever issue landed him on injured reserve twice during the 2019 season.

That arrives at a question for which we don’t currently have answers. The fact that Dickson reportedly had multiple procedures and was unable to return to the field, seems to indicate that whatever the issue was with Dickson’s knee, it wasn’t something that could be easily addressed. In short, if it’s a chronic issue that requires some sort of serious procedure, such as microfracture surgery, then it’s entirely possible Dickson may not be able to pass a physical. That, of course, is important because if that proves to be the case, then he would carry an additional $1.2M cap charge for Article 45 injury protection, just as Cliff Avril did for 2018 and Doug Baldwin did for 2019.

Now, just to be completely clear, I have no idea what the issue is with Dickson’s knee, and I have no idea what the odds of him being able to pass a physical in the coming months are. This is simply something to keep in mind in the coming weeks and months as we await news of his release, and if and when that release does come, it will be important to note whether or not he is released with an injury designation. If he’s released with no injury designation, the math on the net cap effect of signing Olsen is simply the $2.9375M, or whatever the actual number winds up at. If he is released with an injury designation, then it’s a matter to keep an eye on because the net cost might wind up at $4.1375M. We won’t know for certain until Dickson is indeed released, and even then things could change depending on what the issue is and whether he winds up signing with another team.