When the Seattle Seahawks released offensive linemen D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt on the Monday following the 2020 NFL Draft, many fans were certain that it marked the clearing of cap space in order for the team to address the defensive line. Whether addressing the defensive line meant the return of Jadeveon Clowney or the addition of Everson Griffen was anybody’s guess, but the prevailing thought among fans in the wake of the moves was that a new addition was on its way. It turns out, however, that the team had basically already spent the money it saved.
Specifically, on Friday Brady Henderson of ESPN reported the terms of the contract the Hawks gave Bruce Irvin.
Bruce Irvin's contract with the Seahawks is for one year and has a base value of $5.5 million, according to a source. With some incentives that are currently counting against the cap, his cap number is around $5.9 million.— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) May 8, 2020
The short version is that Irvin has a $2.5M base salary, received a $2M signing bonus, gets a $500k roster bonus and then earns $31,250 for each 2020 game he is active. More importantly, with the details of Irvin’s contract now known, it’s now possible to accurately assess the salary cap situation of the Seahawks for the 2020 season.
As a starting point, OverTheCap.com lists the team as having $16,145,172 in available space, while the public salary cap report of the NFLPA puts the team at $16,011,707. While OTC has the Hawks at 90 players on the roster, it does not include the cap hits for the newly drafted rookies. Similarly, since the NFLPA only enters contracts once they have been executed, the $16,011,707 does not take into consideration the money necessary to sign the 2020 draftees.
Thus, the first step is to account for the fact that the team will need to sign its draft picks.
2020 Seahawks draft pick cap hits
|Pick||Player||2020 Cap Hit||Replacing||Net Cap Needed|
|Pick||Player||2020 Cap Hit||Replacing||Net Cap Needed|
Next, the team also needs to keep a reserve to cover the potential Article 45 Injury Protection payments to Britt ($1.2M), Ed Dickson ($1.2M), Tedric Thompson ($1.0665M) and Naz Jones $377.5k), which currently total $3.9M. Now, if any of those players sign with another team, those payments disappear. Given the fact that the majority of teams are either at a full 90-man roster, or will be once signing their draft picks, the likelihood of those players signing elsewhere in the coming weeks is not great. That’s not to say that Britt won’t sign on with a team that suffers an injury during training camp or that is looking for depth or competition once his knee recovers further, however, it simply means that the likelihood is not great in the immediate future.
In any case, accounting for the injury protection payments reserve and the cap hits of the draft picks, the Hawks are left with just about $10M in cap space.
From there, the team will also need to set aside cap space to cover the practice squad, as well as the money necessary to cover injury replacements for players that wind up on injured reserve. Assuming a full twelve players at the minimum of $8,400 per week, the practice squad will cost no less than $1,713,600.
The reason the phrase “no less than” is used is because of the ability to promote two practice squad players to the active roster for gameday and the associated pay increase for those temporarily promoted players. For example, say the Seahawks are looking at a situation where Mike Iupati is battling a minor injury and the team wishes to have an extra offensive lineman on the gameday roster, so they promote an interior lineman to the 55 for the game. That player, even though he never leaves the practice squad, will then get a raise of at least $27,482 for that weekend. That means the team could potentially incur nearly $900k of additional practice squad charges just through the automatic promotion rules if they were to promote two players for each game. It seems unlikely that the team would do that, however, it is likely that they’ll promote a handful of players through this mechanism at some point during the season. That makes a $2M practice squad placeholder reasonable.
The next step, then, is to account for injury replacements. Over the past five seasons the team has averaged 15 players on injured reserve or the PUP list at the end of the year (Malik McDowell and his NFI adventures were excluded). Accounting for the salary replacement needs of those 15 players, it’s about a half dozen full roster spots worth of salary. Specifically, assuming four players on split contracts land on injured reserve during the preseason, that’s three roster spots worth of minimum salary coverage requirements. From there, the remaining 11 players would be a combination of players for whom per game roster bonuses would cover a portion of their injury replacement, while the majority of the others would likely be on split contracts.
The cap obligations of allocating six roster spots worth of cap space to injury replacements come in between $3M and $4M. Rounding down to be conservative and using the $3M number, between the IR allocation and practice squad the team needs about $5M for the 2020 season.
Taking all of this into consideration, it leaves the Seahawks with roughly $5M in effective cap space for 2020. While that’s certainly a lower number than fans and the team would prefer, there’s plenty of cap flexibility for the team to do whatever it needs. Whether that flexibility comes in the form of freeing up cap space or using a creative structure, Seattle has the ability to do whatever it needs and whatever it wants going forward. However, what is likely to be the limiting factor for the Hawks is how aggressive they decide to be. In short, names like Clowney, Griffen, Mike Daniels and Damon Harrison remain available, but whether Seattle adds one of those names likely comes down to how badly the player wishes to play in 2020 rather than how much the Hawks are willing to bid for the services of that player.