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How much cap space Seahawks can create by converting base salary to signing bonus

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With teams across the NFL looking to come into compliance with the decreased salary cap for 2021, in recent days reports have become more common about teams taking advantage of the mechanics of the cap to reduce the 2021 cap hit for players by converting base salary to signing bonus. Teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints have created substantial amounts of cap space through the conversion of base salary to signing bonus.

With the Seattle Seahawks set to be right in the neighborhood of the salary cap once it is finally set in the next couple of weeks, the logical question is to look at which of the players on the roster could potentially have their base salary converted to signing bonus in order to create cap space.

The first thing to understand is how the mechanics of this work and why this is available to teams. In short, base salary counts again the cap in the year in which it is earned by the player, while signing bonus money is broken up over the life of the contract, up to a maximum of five seasons. So, if a player signs a two year contract, half the signing bonus counts against the cap in each season, it’s one third per year on a three year contract, a quarter of the amount of the bonus each season in a four year contract and one fifth of the bonus amount for a five year contract.

In the case of base salary being converted to signing bonus, the amount of base salary converted is divided by the number of years remaining on the contract. As for how much base salary is converted, that is up to the team, depending on how much base salary is available to be converted up to the maximum amount that would reduce the player’s base salary to league minimum.

That’s basically a lot of legalese math junk, so in the read world, what it all boils down to is that the Seahawks have at their disposal the following players under contract with whom they can convert base salary to signing bonus.

Base salary to signing bonus conversion cap availability table (no void years)

Player 2021 Base Salary Years left on contract Amount able to be converted Maximum 2021 cap space that can be created
Player 2021 Base Salary Years left on contract Amount able to be converted Maximum 2021 cap space that can be created
Russell Wilson $19,000,000 3 $17,925,000 $11,950,000
Bobby Wagner $13,150,000 2 $12,075,000 $6,037,500
Jason Myers $3,350,000 2 $2,360,000 $1,180,000

While it might seem shocking that those are the only three options for the Seahawks to create cap space through base salary conversions, the simple fact is those are the only three veteran players currently under contract past 2022. Now, that is not to say the team cannot create cap space by converting base salary to signing bonus for other players, it’s just that doing so would require either first signing an extension. Alternatively, the Seattle front office could use void years to push cap hits out into the future, but that is an aggressive tactic that the team has tended to shy away from in the past.

Assuming the Hawks decided to get as aggressive as possible and use the maximum allowable number of void years for veteran players, here is how much cap space could be created with the veterans currently on the roster.

Max cap space available assuming max void years used to minimize 2021 cap hit

Player 2021 Base Salary Contract length using max void years Amount able to be converted Maximum 2021 cap space that can be created if max void years used
Player 2021 Base Salary Contract length using max void years Amount able to be converted Maximum 2021 cap space that can be created if max void years used
Russell Wilson $19,000,000 5 $17,925,000 $14,340,000
Bobby Wagner $13,150,000 5 $12,075,000 $9,660,000
Tyler Lockett $11,000,000 5 $10,010,000 $8,008,000
Carlos Dunlap* $10,100,000 5 $9,025,000 $7,220,000
Carlos Dunlap** $13,100,000 5 $12,025,000 $9,620,000
Duane Brown $10,000,000 5 $8,925,000 $7,140,000
Jarran Reed $8,325,000 5 $7,335,000 $5,868,000
Quandre Diggs $5,950,000 5 $4,960,000 $3,968,000
Jason Myers $3,350,000 5 $2,360,000 $1,888,000
*After roster bonus due fifth day of league year
**Prior to roster bonus due fifth day of league year

Now, it’s obviously unlikely that a team that has stayed away from using void years in the past will suddenly go bonkers and start using void years left and right, but it is at least in theory possible. That said, should the team need cap space in order to sign a veteran free agent or two and feels comfortable borrowing cap space from a future season on a player it is confident will be extended prior to the start of the season, using a void year could make sense. For example, it’s very likely that with very minimal depth at tackle that Duane Brown will be the starter at left tackle for 2021. Assuming that Brown won’t be released between now and training camp, the outcomes for him are that he either is healthy and is the Week 1 starter, making his salary fully guaranteed, or he gets injured and lands on injured reserve, which effectively guarantees his 2021 salary.

So, if the team is going to be paying Brown’s $10M salary in 2021 no matter what, it might make sense to add a void year on to his deal, convert something along the lines of $8M in 2021 base salary to signing bonus and create $4M in 2021 cap space. Borrowing $4M from 2022 likely wouldn’t be a huge expense with the cap set to rebound due to the new television contracts and could allow for extra flexibility this season. Again, that’s not to say this is what the team will or should do, simply that it is something the team could do. Other teams that have traditionally been very conservative in their cap management, specifically the Pittsburgh Steelers, who recently dipped their toes in the void years pool with the recently signed Ben Roethlisberger contract. Whether the Seahawks join in the fun in the coming weeks remains to be seen.