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How the Seahawks are likely to work the cap to make a Jadeveon Clowney deal fit

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

Friday I provided an update on the 2020 salary cap picture for the Seattle Seahawks with the meat of free agency having already passed. While Hawks fans were hoping for a big name to be added on the offensive or defensive line, the team did exactly what it has done every single season for the past several years by targeting value at positions of need. With those signings now done, and the team’s cap space dwindling, some are beginning to wonder whether the team has the ability to retain free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or add another veteran defensive end like Everson Griffen.

Specifically, in the comments to the Friday piece, the following comment expressed concern about whether there was enough space to do anything further with the defensive line.


If I understand correctly:

1. The $11.3M remaining from OTC accounts for 2019 rollover, adjustments, and current top 51 cap hits.

2. Once the season starts, the cap must go from accounting for top 51 to accounting for the entire 55 man roster. So adding the next 4 cap hits from OTC would add about $2.9M, reducing available cap space to about $8.4M.

3. If Seattle uses their current draft picks without trading and all 7 rookies made the final roster, they would only cost about $1.5M over the players they would push off the roster. Down to $6.9M. Of course, the odds of Schneider standing pat with his draft picks seems low, so this is a wild card.

4. The practice squad will cost $2.1M. Down to approximately $4.8M.

5. Need to reserve about $4M (?) for injury replacements during the season. Down to less than $1M to spend.

I realize part of the point of the article is they can make later moves to free up cap space. However, looking at my progression above and considering the author’s example, Hunt and Pocic are already in the top 55. Releasing them frees up their cap space but releasing them presumably pulls two more minimum salary players back into the top 55, at a cost of $610K to $750K each. Just assuming one of each means their replacements would cost $1.36M, which is almost a complete offset of clearing Pocic’s salary.

Seems like they would have to do something more drastic, like cutting Britt, if the idea is that they can make moves later to clear enough space for another significant free agent signing. But even then, that would imply they only have about $9M to spend. Is that enough to get Clowney or Griffen? I’m skeptical. Plus, that means starting Finney/Hunt all season…?

There is a high probability I have misunderstood or miscalculated something here. Hoping John or others will explain.

The short answer is they can do whatever they want and have plenty of flexibility to manipulate the cap in a way that makes things work.

The longer answer is that while the salary cap is a fixed amount in any given season, there are countless ways for teams to free up the cap space necessary to make moves by borrowing from future seasons.

The Seahawks are no different from other teams, and have borrowed cap space from future years multiple times over the years. Yes, they certainly have a tendency to be more fiscally disciplined, however, when necessary they’ve stepped outside their norms and used accounting tricks to create the space desired. In particular, the Hawks have used two primary tools to create current year cap space when necessary.

The first of these two tools is to convert base salary to signing bonus. This is pretty simple and straightforward, and simply pushes a player’s current year cap hit into future seasons. Seattle took advantage of the ability to do this twice in 2017. They first did it when they converted much of Doug Baldwin’s base salary to signing bonus ahead of the acquisition of Sheldon Richardson from the New York Jets. They then did it again when Russell Wilson saw his base salary converted to signing bonus when Duane Brown was added from the Houston Texans.

This remains an option, and the Seahawks have the ability to create up to $12,712,500 in 2020 cap space by converting most of Russell Wilson’s base salary. No need to bore everyone with the calculations, however, this is how Wilson’s contract would look in terms of cap hits by season if the team did indeed convert his entire base salary to signing bonus.

Russell Wilson cap hit by season as scheduled versus if team converts base salary to signing bonus

Season Current Cap Hit Post Conversion Cap Hit
Season Current Cap Hit Post Conversion Cap Hit
2020 $31,000,000 $5,287,500
2021 $32,000,000 $36,237,500
2022 $37,000,000 $41,237,500
2023 $39,000,000 $43,237,500

Obviously, some of those cap hits at the end of the contract get somewhat ugly, especially if an economic downturn hits the the NFL hard and results in salary cap growth stagnating or shrinking in the coming years. However, those are different topics for different days.

The second method the Seahawks have put to work multiple times in the past to avoid salary cap restrictions has been deferred bonuses. Specifically, when the team extended both Bobby Wagner in 2015 and Justin Britt in 2017 the team took advantage of deferred bonuses in order to maintain cap space in the season the extension was signed.

When Wagner agreed to his extension in August 2015 the Seahawks had just allocated a significant amount of their cap space for Wilson’s extension. As such, with minimal cap space available for 2015 the team broke up Wagner’s signing bonus into two parts. The first part was the $8M signing bonus given when he signed, and then a $4M option bonus payable during the next season.

This was similar to the structure used when extending Britt in 2017. As noted above, in 2017 the team was tight against the cap and would need to create space multiple times over the course of the season. Thus, when signing Britt the team again used a deferred option bonus, just as it had with Wagner. Specifically, Britt was given a $5M signing bonus when inking the extension in August of 2017, with a second $5M option bonus due the following season. It is the prorated portion of these two bonuses, $1.25M and $1.667M that combine to create the $2,917M of dead money that the team would recognize if Britt is released or traded this year.

So, rounding back to the question from the beginning, the answer is that the Seahawks have the space to do whatever they want to do on the defensive line, whether with Clowney or another player. The only real question is exactly how the team would go about maneuvering the cap in order to make the move fit, and how aggressive the front office might get in borrowing from future seasons in order to go all in for 2020.