Just a single game remains in the 2021 NFL season, and for the seventh consecutive season the final game of the season will not include the Seattle Seahawks. With that subject in mind, the discussion Monday turned, once again, to the idea that perhaps Seattle could be a more complete, more competitive team if Russell Wilson weren’t taking up so much of the salary cap. This is an issue that fans and observers have discussed at length in recent seasons, but this time around it wasn’t just any old fan or observer. It was former Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright while speaking to 950 KJR host Dick Fain.
“You never want to count anybody’s pockets, but if you have all this money and your goal is to win, then you have to take a little bit less to eat so everybody can eat. We saw how Brady did it and look at him now.”— Dick Fain (@dickfain) February 1, 2022
-@KJ_WRIGHT34 with us talking about Russell Wilson’s contract
Wright wasn’t the only former member of the Seahawks giving an opinion on the matter, however, as Cliff Avril also shared his thoughts on the subject.
"At some point in your career, if winning Super Bowls really does matter to you, you might have to take a pay cut." @cliffavril with us just now. "Taking a pay cut now will definitely benefit you later in life if you go out and win another SB." https://t.co/TwKSFDvj3j— Dave “Softy” Mahler (@Softykjr) February 1, 2022
Now, for those who want to talk about the “Brady Discount”, it’s possible to remember the most-loved post I’ve ever authored in my Field Gulls career, but fans want to believe that Brady won because he took a discount because that’s what they’ve been told for so long. Since the idea of a Brady discount has been evaluated for Brady’s time in New England, it might be worthwhile to spend a quick moment looking at Brady’s cap costs over his two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For the 2020 season Brady cost the Bucs $25M against the salary cap, and in 2021 he was $10,545,588 against the cap. That’s a total of $35,545,588 for two seasons, but it’s not the entire story. If Brady walks away, the Bucs could be on the hook for as much as $32M in dead money in 2022 and 2023, but if he does retire, the Bucs do hold the right to recover half of it, $16M, in the form of signing bonus recoupment. Whether or not the Bucs pursue that option, fans should please ignore the incorrect reports that Brady can earn an additional $15M by delaying his retirement until after Friday, February 4. Regardless of whether Brady announces his retirement before or after February 4, the Bucs are contractually obligated to pay him the $15M on Friday, as it is simply a deferred payment on the $20M signing bonus he received with the two year extension signed last offseason.
In any case, coming back to the cap numbers for Brady, should the Bucs decline to exercise their right to demand repayment of the $16M, they will wind up having paid $67,545,588 for two years of play, or $33,772,794 per year. Should they opt to require Brady to pay that money back, his cumulative cap hits for Tampa would wind up at $51,545,588, or $25,772,794 per year.
That, however, fails to take into account all of Brady’s cap hits during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. When Brady departed the New England Patriots following the 2019 season he left behind a $13.5M dead cap hit. Putting that $13.5M dead cap hit from New England together with his combined cap hits in Tampa, and Brady will wind up costing the Bucs and Pats somewhere between $65,545,588 and $81,545,588 over the past two seasons.
In short, both teams that Brady has played for and won Super Bowls for in recent seasons borrowed against future cap years in order to pay Brady. That in and of itself is not remarkable, as the Green Bay Packers dipped into future cap years to pay Aaron Rodgers this season, the New Orleans Saints for years dipped into future cap years to pay Drew Brees and the Kansas City Chiefs dipped into future cap years, and will continue to dip into future cap years in the coming seasons, to pay Patrick Mahomes.
In contrast, in Seattle, the Seahawks did not dip into future cap years and restructure Wilson to get aggressive with the cap in 2021 and Wilson carried a $32M cap hit this season. That, of course, was the biggest cap hit for any quarterback in the NFC West, where the top five cap hits for quarterbacks in the division were as follows:
- Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: $32M
- Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers: $26.85M
- Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams: $24.7M
- Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams: $23M
- Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals: $9,763,721
Now, some readers are certainly screaming that Goff is a member of the Lions and not the Rams, but that $24.7M cap hit for Goff is just the dead money portion of his contract with the Rams. Putting that $24.7M dead cap hit together with the $23M that Stafford cost against the salary cap, the Rams had an astounding $47.7M of the $182.5M salary cap allocated to the quarterback position. That’s 26.1% of the cap for those wondering about the math.
How can the Rams compete and potential walk away from the 2021 season with a Lombardi with more than a quarter of the salary cap tied up in the quarterback position while a team like Seattle is spending $15M less on the position but needs Wilson to take a discount to be competitive? The simple answer is that the Rams have developed a system wherein they avoid giving bigger contract to the positions that are the easiest to replace, specifically off-ball linebackers and running backs, while at the same time paying their tackles and then using the interior of the offensive line to develop players. Their system certainly isn’t perfect, and their skimping on linebackers nearly cost them in the NFC Championship game, but at the end of the day they came away with yet another postseason win and a second shot at a Super Bowl in the past four years, something the Seahawks haven’t had in seven years now.
What does it all mean? It means that at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter how much of the salary cap is allocated to the quarterback position because it’s a team game and while a good quarterback is effectively a requirement to win the Super Bowl, it means nothing if the team surround the quarterback is lacking in key areas. Fans across the league know what happens when a team with a bad quarterback makes it to the Super Bowl, and that’s that the quarterback is only able to lead their team to three points in the most important game of the year.