Monday is Labor Day, meaning the NFL offseason has officially come to a close, and it’s just three days until the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans kick off the 2020 NFL season. It’s been a long, strange offseason since fans last watched Sammy Watkins beat Richard Sherman deep in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, a game in which the San Francisco 49ers held a ten point lead in the fourth quarter and lost, still leaving the team on its Quest for Six for a 26th consecutive season.
In any case, fans of the Seattle Seahawks are excited about the weapons surrounding Russell Wilson, who is now armed with an offensive arsenal that includes Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Greg Olsen, Will Dissly, Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde, David Moore, Josh Gordon once he is reinstated and others. However, where the Seahawks seem to be lacking is on the defensive line, where they appear to be short of impact pass rushers.
Particularly frustrating for Seattle fans is the fact that in the past couple of weeks, two key free agent defensive linemen, Everson Griffen and Jadeveon Clowney, have been signed by other teams for $6M and $12M, respectively. That combined $18M is less than the $18.5M per year the Seahawks reportedly offered Clowney before free agency started as part of a 4-year, $74M contract.
The failure of the Hawks to add impact pass rushers during the offseason is a disappointment for many fans who had hoped to see the team make a big splash in an offseason that was set to see the team enter free agency with a significant amount of cap space for 2020. However, the team decided to go elsewhere in terms of spending its money, specifically, giving $19.3M to offensive linemen.
there's no telling where the money went— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) September 6, 2020
Jadeveon Clowney: $12M
Everson Griffen: $6M
Brandon Shell: $9M
B.J. Finney: $8M
Cedric Ogbuehi: $2.3M
Fans will, of course, be quick to point out that the contracts for Brandon Shell and B.J. Finney cover two seasons, and that is absolutely the case. So here’s another way of looking at the Seahawks 2020 offseason from former Field Gulls contributor Ben Baldwin.
Postscript on this: Jadaveon Clowney signed elsewhere for 1 year, $12 million https://t.co/H71BFpeJ1w— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 6, 2020
So, Seattle put its money into a lot of lower priced players, rather than a smaller number of higher priced players this offseason, and the result as of Monday morning is that the Hawks are one of the teams with the lowest amount of cap space for 2020.
As of this AM, the Rams were actually over the cap. Per the NFL report, the teams closest to the cap ...— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 7, 2020
1) Rams -$404K
2) Saints $1.50M
3) Vikings $1.65M
4) Falcons $1.93M
5) Steelers $6.01M
6) Seahawks $6.19M
7) Cardinals $6.51M
8) Bucs $6.79M
9) Chiefs $7.04M
10) Bills $7.58M
That’s $6.19M in cap space for Seattle, with the team still needing to put money aside for an injury reserve pool to cover replacement players. Teams typically need a couple of million dollars to cover these costs, depending on the timing and nature of such injuries, meaning Seattle is likely looking at finishing the 2020 season with somewhere in the neighborhood of $2M-3M in cap space. So, 2020 is tight, but what about 2021?
With league revenues taking a hit due to no fans in the stands in 2020, most expect the 2021 cap to drop to the $175M the league and union have agreed to as a cap floor for next season. Adding $3M in rollover to that, the Hawks should have a team cap somewhere in the neighborhood of $178M in 2021. Looking at their current financial obligations, the team currently has $151M in contractual obligations for 2021, with just 37 players under contract. Assuming the roster is filled out with minimum salary players ($660k rookie minimum salary for 2021), it would take another $10.6M minimum to fill out the roster. Add in around $5M to cover an injured reserve pool, practice squad, signing bonuses for draft picks and dead money from players released at roster cuts this season and all of a sudden the Seahawks are at around $167M in contractual obligations.
That means Seattle is likely looking at being in a situation where they have somewhere in the neighborhood of $10M-$12M in cap space for 2021. Any money they would have spent on Clowney or Griffen or any other higher end pass rusher would have decreased that amount. Yes, it’s certainly the case that the team has the ability to get aggressive in order to open up cap space in 2021, but they have tended to shy away from that the past couple of years after doing so to add Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown in 2017.
In short, while cap space can be created by borrowing from future seasons, the Hawks tend to be one of the more conservative teams in the NFL when it comes to cap management and tend to stay away from backloading contracts and aggressive maneuverings. Yes, they have done it in the past, but it was exactly that type of aggressiveness that has landed teams like the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys in cap trouble in seasons past and future.