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Why the B.J. Finney free agency signing went wrong

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The legal tampering period for the NFL is set to begin a week from Monday, with the official start of free agency following just a couple days later. For many fans this is a time of optimism, as they begin to look over the names of the players who will be available to sign, while for others it is a time to look back at the 2020 free agency period and wonder how things could go so wrong for the Seattle Seahawks.

The Hawks signed multiple outside free agents last spring, and while guys like Brandon Shell and Benson Mayowa were solid contributors, others provided little to nothing. The biggest names fans cite for the second group seem to be B.J. Finney and Phillip Dorsett, neither of whom played a single offensive snap for Seattle during the 2020 season.

Dorsett, of course, spent the overwhelming majority of the season on injured reserve while battling a foot issue, while Finney was buried on the depth chart behind Ethan Pocic and Kyle Fuller at center after expectations among many that he could claim the starting role. However, a report Friday from Jeremey Fowler of ESPN shed significant light on what happened with Finney’s case, and also appears may have been a factor in Dorsett’s situation.

Basically, according to Fowler, the Seahawks did not do official physicals last spring due to the pandemic, and the result was that Finney was not medically evaluated by the team until training camp opened in August. That may not seem like a significant deal, but in the NFL it is huge. The reason is that if a player gets injured while working out away from the team facility, it could land the player on the nonfootball injury list upon reporting to training camp.

Being placed on the NFI list can be extremely detrimental to a player for the simple reason that teams have the option of not paying players who are unavailable to play due to a nonfootball injury. However, in Finney’s case the impact of failing a physical upon reporting to camp might have been even greater. Based on the report from Fowler, it appears as though the contract Finney signed with Seattle likely carried a requirement to pass a physical upon reporting to training camp. Thus, if during his offseason training he had suffered an injury which would result in failing a physical, the Hawks might have been able to void his contract and avoid paying him the $2M signing bonus which came with that contract.

Losing out on $2M might not be huge for many players, but as a former undrafted free agent who had spent 2015 on the practice squad of the Pittsburgh Steelers before playing 2016, 2017 and 2018 on league minimum contracts before finally playing 2019 on a second round RFA tender, it was likely significant. Specifically, in Finney’s case, he had made a total of $4,817,400 during his five seasons with the Steelers, meaning the $4,500,000 in guaranteed money in his Seattle contract would nearly double his career earnings. In addition, with the two year contract he signed with the Hawks running through his age 30 season, it’s unlikely that he would get another bite at the apple of free agency in a meaningful way.

So, at the end of the day, Finney opted for the safe route. He limited his workouts during the offseason, and that led to him reporting to training camp out of shape and above his normal playing weight, something from which he was unable to recover. Whether he may have been able to bounce back had training camp been a normal length or if practice time had not been significantly reduced by the collective bargaining agreement signed in the spring will never be known. But what is known is what went sideways with the signing, and as with many things over the past year, it appears the pandemic may take a large piece of the blame.

That all said, Finney will live forever as the third string lineman John Schneider signed in free agency and then traded to the Cincinnati Bengals for two time Pro Bowl defensive end in Carlos Dunlap like something out of Madden. So, in the end Finney got his payday and the Seahawks got a much needed pass rusher out of it, and all’s well that ends well.