Monday reports came down that the Seattle Seahawks had retained free agent special teams ace Neiko Thorpe. While terms of the contract signed by Thorpe were not immediately available, the Hawks may have had an advantage over other teams in working to retain the services of Thorpe through a new tool created in the recently approved CBA.
Teams have long had the ability to sign players to contracts which qualified for the veteran minimum salary benefit, which Seattle has taken advantage of plenty in recent seasons, including the contracts give to Chance Warmack, Phillip Dorsett, Dwight Freeney, Luke Willson and others. However, under the new CBA there is a new tool teams can use to retain certain of their own free agents without impacting their cap. Specifically, Article 27, Section 7, allows teams to sign certain of their own free agents who meet the criteria without a piece of the player’s salary counting against the cap.
Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract:
(a) For purposes of this Article, a “Four-Year Qualifying Player” shall be defined as a player with four or more Credited Seasons whose contract with a Club has expired after four or more years of continuous, uninterrupted service with that Club (i.e., the player must have been under contract to that Club and on that Club’s 90-player roster for the immediately prior four or more consecutive League Years without interruption prior to the contract’s expiration. For the purposes of determining whether a player qualifies as a Four-Year Qualifying Player in accordance with the immediately preceding sentence, a player must have been on the Club’s 90-player roster for every regular season and postseason game in which the Club participated during each of the four consecutive League Years.) Such a player may sign a Four-Year Qualifying Contract, which shall be defined as a Player Contract that covers only a single League Year and contains a Paragraph 5 Salary for up to $1.25 million more than the applicable minimum Active/Inactive List Salary for a player with the Four-Year Qualifying Player’s number of Credited Seasons for the 202021 League Years and, in the case of a split contract, for up to $1.25 million more than the applicable minimum non-Active/Inactive List Salary for a player with the four-year Qualifying Player’s number of Credited Seasons for the 2020-21 League Years. In any League Year, a Club may sign a maximum of two Four-Year Qualifying Players to Four-Year Qualifying Contracts; provided, however, that the combined amount by which the players’ respective Paragraph 5 Salaries may exceed the players’ respective minimum Active/Inactive List salaries or, in the case of a split contract, the players’ respective minimum non-Active/Inactive List salaries, shall be limited to a total of $1.25 million.
That’s a whole lot of legalese that boils down to the the simple fact that if a player has spent the past four seasons on the roster of a team, the team can then sign the player for up to $1.25M above minimum salary and exclude everything above the minimum salary from the salary cap. Obviously, as stated in the CBA, teams are limited to a total of $1.25M of such a benefit per seasons, which may only be split among no more than two players. In the case of the Seahawks, of the 19 unrestricted free agents they had this offseason, the team had only a handful who qualified for this benefit, and Thorpe was the last of those unsigned.
In Thorpe’s case, the minimum salary for 2020 with a player with seven or more credited seasons, as Thorpe has, is $1.05M. That means, assuming the team utilized this new benefit, the Hawks could pay Thorpe up to $2.3M in salary for 2020, while carrying a cap hit of just $1.05M. Whether or not the team took advantage of this new benefit or not won’t be known until the details of the contract become public, however, if they did indeed use this new tool it would be one of the first applications since it came into existence less than a month ago.