A good portion of the 2020 NFL season was spent with fans wondering how much of an impact the lack of fans in the stands due to COVID would have on the salary cap of future seasons. With the league and the union reaching agreement on a cap of $182.5M in March, it set the stage for teams to begin the necessary cuts and restructures needed to be under the reduced cap. For teams that were projected to be well over, including the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints, one of the few available options was the use of void years to push current year cap hits into future seasons.
Void years are an aggressive tool for salary cap management that effectively dips into the cap space of future seasons to pay players in the current year. The simplest way to think about them is to consider them a credit card that allows teams to pay for their current players in the future. Because of the aggressiveness involved with the usage of void years, and the ability of teams to become mired in cap hell following the continual use of void years, it is a tool that the Seattle Seahawks had shied away from in the past.
At least until this offseason.
With the reduced cap pinching the cap space for the team in 2021, but with multiple holes the team was looking to address, including filling starting spots at tight end, left guard, center, running back and cornerback, along with adding rotational depth on the defensive line, the Hawks got aggressive. Just how aggressive they got moved the Hawks from having no players with void years in their contract to being tied for top three in the NFL in the use of void years, at least by one measure.
Most contracts with void years, by team:— Nick Korte (@nickkorte) April 19, 2021
1. PHI: 14
2. CHI: 12
T-3. NO/SEA: 8
5. CLE: 7
6. ARI: 6
T-7. GB/TB: 5
T-9. DAL/SF/DET/PIT: 4
Teams with no contracts with void years: MIA, NYJ, BAL, IND, JAX, DEN, LAC (oddly enough, all AFC teams)
Before anyone panics and worries that the use of void years has put the Seahawks in a position where the salary cap situation will become untenable in the future, there is no need to fret about that. While the number of contracts in which the Hawks have taken advantage of void years falls towards the top of the league, they are nowhere near the top of the league in terms of the amount of cap space allocated to contracts in which void years have been used. The total amount of future cap space the front office has committed to using as dead money as a result of the use of these void years is just over $12M, with about two thirds of that amount set to hit the cap in 2023.
Of the eight contracts in which the team has used void years, four of them are set to have dead money hit the cap in 2022, with the other four set to unload dead money onto the cap in 2023. The players in each of the two groups and the amount of future dead money is laid out below.
2022 Dead Money: Total $4.6M
Gerald Everett: $2M
Akhello Witherspoon: $1.25M
Ethan Pocic: $1M
Cedric Ogbuehi: $350k
2023 Dead Money: Total $8.05M
Carlos Dunlap: $4.2M
Chris Carson: $1.5M
Benson Mayowa: $1.5M
Kerry Hyder: $850k
It’s also interesting that the players for whom the team pushed dead money into 2022 are younger players who could easily play well enough in 2021 to sign a contract extension with the Hawks that keeps the player in Seattle into the future. In contrast, the players for whom the team pushed dead money into 2023 would seem far more likely to see their recent contract be the last contract they sign with the Seahawks. That’s obviously no guarantee, because if Carson or Dunlap remain productive or healthy and Pete Carroll is still in charge, either of them could easily be retained further into the future. However, the probability of Seattle extending a 29 year old running back or a 34 year old defensive end certainly seems lower than the likelihood of extending a an offensive lineman, tight end or cornerback in their late twenties.
In any case, the use of void years is certainly interesting in the fact that it represents a material change to how the team has operated in years past. The next question, then, becomes whether they will continue to operate as they have in the past with regards to the draft, or if there will be significant changes there as well.