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Where contract negotiations between Seahawks, Jamal Adams could hit a snag

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In recent months the Seattle Seahawks have announced multiple contract extension. Most recently it was a four more years for punter Michael Dickson, after the team had agreed to contracts in the spring with wide receiver Tyler Lockett and guard Gabe Jackson. However, one name that has been absent from the mentions when it comes to extensions has been Jamal Adams.

Adams, of course, was acquired from the New York Jets last summer following an offseason of discontent regarding his contract with his former team. The Seahawks famously gave up a king’s ransom to acquire Adams, and with Adams now seemingly indicating that he’s back to full health after multiple offseason surgeries, speculation has begun among fans regarding what his contract extension could look like. Though, before digging in to what a contract for Adams could entail, there is one potential stumbling block that the two sides might encounter that could slow down the negotiations.

Specifically, the simple fact of the matter is that Adams is negotiating from a position of strength when it comes to his 2021 contract status. The recent contract extensions that have been announced for Dickson, Lockett and Jackson have all started from a standpoint that none of those players had any guaranteed money left for 2021. Thus, part of the fully guaranteed money for each of those three comes in the form of providing full guarantees of the 2021 base salary, along with a signing bonus.

To dig into the details of these a bit, Jackson had been set to carry a $9.6M cap hit for 2021 at the time he was acquired, but none of that salary was fully guaranteed. In extending his contract through 2023, the Seahawks gave Jackson $10.075M fully guaranteed in the form of a fully guaranteed 2021 base salary of $1.075M and a $9M signing bonus. However, Jackson has zero fully guaranteed money past the first year of the contract.

For Lockett the concept is similar. He received $24M fully guaranteed at signing, which was comprised of the contract’s $19M signing bonus, his $2M 2021 base salary and his $3M 2022 base salary. However, part of that $24M in fully guaranteed money was effectively the team taking the non-guaranteed 2021 base salary of $11M he had been due to earn and fully guaranteeing that money. In short, the $24M in fully guaranteed money could be looked at as effectively $13M in fully guaranteed money because had Lockett simply stayed on the roster until Week 1, his 2021 base salary of $11M would have become fully guaranteed.

The specifics of the Dickson extension have not yet worked their way into the public realm, but the situations were similar for the 2019 extensions of both Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson. Wagner received $24.5M fully guaranteed at signing, which was made up of a $15M signing bonus and his $9.5M 2019 base salary. Wilson received $70M fully guaranteed at signing which was his $65M signing bonus and his 2019 base salary. The same was true for the 2015 contract extensions of both Wilson and Wagner, whose only fully guaranteed money at signing was the signing bonus and their 2015 salary.

Before anyone bothers to ask, the same is true for the contracts Chris Carson and Carlos Dunlap signed with Seattle this spring, as well as for the 2018 contract extension of Duane Brown. In short, the Seahawks do not hesitate to put fully guaranteed money in the first year of a contract, rarely do they provide full guarantees for the second year of a contract at signing and since 2013 they have basically avoided providing fully guaranteed money past the second year of a contract.

This is where the Seahawks and Adams could run into a bump in the road. To get right to the point, Adams’ 2021 base salary is already fully guaranteed as a result of it being the fifth year option of a first round pick. What that means is that since the starting point for fully guaranteed money at signing is the amount of new guarantees included in the extension, the route the team traditionally uses to reach market rate numbers for full guarantees is largely unavailable. In the situation of Adams, the current market rate for full guarantees is in the ballpark of $30M. Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos is currently tops in that category at $32.1M fully guaranteed, with Landon Collins of the Washington Football Team ($31M) and Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs ($26.8M) rounding out the top three.

Odds are that Adams’ agent is likely starting negotiations for fully guaranteed money north of the $32.1M Simmons got at signing, however, for simplicity sake in illustrating the issue at hand I’m going to use $30M. The reason for using the $30M number is that the 2021 base salary for Adams is already a fully guaranteed $9.86M, meaning a contract for him with $30M in the form of $30M in fully guaranteed new money will include a shade under $40M in fully guaranteed money when the new full guarantees are added to the existing full guarantees.

And that’s where the issue of structuring gets complicated.

As noted above, the Seahawks tend to use a large signing bonus along with fully guaranteed base salary in the first year to make up the full guarantees, so trying to figure out how to give Adams $30M in new guarantees while accounting for his 2021 salary gets a little tricky.

They could give Adams a $35M signing bonus to go along with a reduced 2021 base salary of $5M, but that would increase his 2021 cap number by a couple million and reduce the amount of cap space the team has. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, but between the cap requirements of the expanded practice squad, practice squad elevations and the new injured reserve rules, most teams will need to finish training camp with more cap space available than in seasons past.

That then moves the discussion to whether Seattle would be willing to move some of the fully guaranteed money to Adams’ 2022 base salary in the second year of the contract. As noted, this is something they did not do for either of the extensions that both Wagner and Wilson have signed, and anything beyond the minimal guarantees provided Lockett in the second year could be seen by agents as a break in precedent.

Further complicating matters is that Adams could easily demand market setting full guarantees for the position in the $35M range, which would require working the puzzle to fit $45M in fully guaranteed money into the cap in the next two seasons. It’s certainly not impossible, but it’s a puzzle for which any solution could carry significant financial risk in the future should Adams suffer a stinger during garbage time of a November matchup against the Arizona Cardinals which is later diagnosed as the result of career ending spinal stenosis due to calcification behind his C-2 and C-3 vertebrae, along with bone spurs behind his C-2, C-3, C-4 and C-5 vertebrae.

Basically, for those fans arguing that Adams could sign an extension somewhere in the four-year, $65M range, it’s difficult to structure a contract that would provide Adams the $40M to $45M fully guaranteed early in the contract while maintaining a structure consistent with the way the Seahawks do business and not completely resetting the safety market in the process. It can, and it likely does, get done, but it’s a puzzle that is going to require a lot of time and effort at the negotiating table to make it work for both sides, and the full guarantees could be one of the largest stumbling blocks along the way.