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Seahawks won’t simply restructure Russell Wilson’s contract to create cap space

Wild Card Round - Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft is now firmly in the rearview mirror, the heart of free agency is but a distant memory and teams across the league have largely assembled their 2021 rosters. That said, there of course remain a number of notable free agents unsigned, and who could potentially perform crucial roles for any of a numbers of clubs. Fans have been quick to wish their favorite team would make the moves necessary in order to free up the cap space for the upcoming season to add the talent that could be the final piece that pushes a team over the final crest of the contender hill.

When it comes to the Seattle Seahawks, many have been quick to call for the team to restructure the contracts of Russell Wilson or Bobby Wagner, converting base salary to signing bonus in order to free up cap space for a summer spending spree. The names on the wish list of fans include former Hawks such as K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Golden Tate and others, along with a host of other players who have never donned a Seattle uniform. Add in recent rumors regarding the availability of one Julio Jones, who reports indicate could be a slightly better than mediocre wide receiver available in trade

However, at this point in the offseason it appears that the team will explore almost every other alternative to create cap space rather than restructure the contract of either of those two. First, the team released two of its top defensive linemen in Carlos Dunlap and Jarran Reed this offseason in cap related moves rather than restructure Bobby or Russ. Then the front office moved from a team that had never used void years in contracts to carrying one of the largest numbers of contracts containing void years in a matter of weeks. Lastly, the team used a fully guaranteed option bonus in 2022, which is effectively a deferred signing bonus, in the contract extension Tyler Lockett inked this spring.

In short, the team used multiple cap management methods this spring to create cap space, but didn’t bother to make the move that would seem to be the easiest way to create cap space quickly in simply restructuring the contract of Wilson. This restructuring would be simple, and, as former agent Joel Corry noted in February, the team does not even need Russell’s permission to restructure the deal and create the desired cap space.

So, what gives? Why would a team shy away from creating cap space through an easy mechanism? The answer is that it may be as simple as how doing so would impact the next contract negotiation with Wilson. It’s been barely two years since the Hawks and the team announced that Wilson had agreed to terms on a contract that would make him the highest paid quarterback in the NFL and the first $35M per year NFL player, but that doesn’t mean that the team isn’t keeping an eye on what could be coming down the road.

Wilson’s current contract runs through the 2023 season, so it’s likely that in roughly another 24 months or so the two sides will get to work on negotiations for Wilson’s fourth contract. For those who have forgotten, here are the cap hits that Wilson is slated to carry over the final three seasons of his contract:

  • 2021: $32,000,000
  • 2022: $37,000,000
  • 2023: $40,000,000

As with all quarterback contracts in the NFL today, the starting point in contract negotiations is, of course, the franchise tag. The Dallas Cowboys had their heads handed to them on a platter in their negotiations with Dak Prescott, in part because of the team’s use of the franchise tag in 2020. However, it appears the Seattle front office may be prudently working to avoid digging themselves into a future hole as a result of the mechanics of the franchise tag.

The exact amount of the franchise tag fluctuates, of course, but one key thing to keep in mind going forward is that the cap hit carried by the franchise tag is the higher of the tender amount set by the the CBA or 120% of the player’s prior year cap hit. This is relevant to Wilson and the Seahawks because the negotiations for Wilson’s 2024 earnings will begin at what it would cost the team to keep Wilson on a franchise tag. As of right now, negotiations from Wilson’s camp for the 2024 and 2025 season would start at $105.6M for the two years. These numbers are arrived at using 120% of Wilson’s 2023 cap hit as the 2024 floor and 120% of the 2024 cap hit as the 2025 floor. In short, as of right now Wilson’s camp has all the leverage in the world to ask for, and receive, $105.6M for the 2024 and 2025 seasons.

However, let’s say the Seahawks front office decides to restructure Russell’s contract and create 2021 cap space by converting base salary to signing bonus. Then, assuming the team decides to create the maximum amount of cap space available - $11,950,000 - by converting the maximum amount eligible of Wilson’s base salary into signing bonus, the impact on Wilson’s cap hits over the next three seasons becomes as follows:

  • 2021: $20,050,000
  • 2022: $42,975,000
  • 2023: $45,975,000

So, from the perspective of Wilson and his agent, based on a 2023 cap hit of $45.975M, the starting point for any contract extension for 2024 and 2025 is once again what it would cost the team to keep the player using the franchise tag. As the franchise tag is the greater of the CBA determined amount or 120% of the player’s prior year cap hit, for Wilson this would create a situation where his 2024 and 2025 cap hits under the tag would be $55,170,000 and $66,204,000, respectively.

In short, doing nothing more than converting Wilson’s base salary to signing bonus gives Wilson a completely justifiable foundation to base his salary demands in his next contract at $121,374,000 over the first two years of the deal. Basically, simply restructuring Russ’ contract by converting base salary to signing bonus in order to create cap space in 2021 changes absolutely nothing about the amount or timing of the money Wilson is due, but hands Russ and his agent, Mark Rodgers, a giant bag of leverage when it comes time to negotiate what comes next.

That, of course, leads to the question of what options the team has in terms of creating cap space if it were so inclined to trade with the Atlanta Falcons for one Mr. Jones. The answer to that is that that it would likely need to restructure the contracts of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, but it would involve machinations that are more intricate and more involved than simply converting base salary to signing bonus. However, that’s a topic that can be discussed in the coming days or coming weeks, whenever I get around to it.