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Free agents Seahawks could use Four-Year qualifying contract to retain

NFL: DEC 12 Seahawks at Texans Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Less than four weeks remain until the official start of the 2022 NFL League Year on March 16, and teams across the league, including the Seattle Seahawks, are looking at how they can retain the key players on their roster set to be unrestricted free agents. As teams continue to rebuild their financial and cap positions after the drop in the salary cap following the mostly fanless 2020 COVID season, some teams may dip into a relatively new tool in order to keep their own free agents around.

Specifically, when the league and union agreed to the most recent collective bargaining agreement in the spring of 2020, they included a feature known as the Four-Year Qualifying Contract. Similar to the veteran minimum salary benefit with which many fans are familiar, the Four-Year Qualifying Contract is similar in how it allows a team to keep a veteran on the roster while a portion of that player’s salary does not count in full against the salary cap. However, the Four-Year Qualifying Contract is much more restrictive in its machinations, and very few players are even eligible for such a deal.

To dip right into the ever exciting legalese of the 2020 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the eligibility requirements for the Four-Year Qualifying Contract are spelled out in Article 27, Section 7:

Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract: (a) For purposes of this Article, a “Four-Year Qualifying Player” shall be defined as a player with four or more Credited Seasons whose contract with a Club has expired after four or more years of continuous, uninterrupted service with that Club (i.e., the player must have been under contract to that Club and on that Club’s 90-player roster for the immediately prior four or more consecutive League Years without interruption prior to —180— the contract’s expiration. For the purposes of determining whether a player qualifies as a Four-Year Qualifying Player in accordance with the immediately preceding sentence, a player must have been on the Club’s 90-player roster for every regular season and postseason game in which the Club participated during each of the four consecutive League Years.)

What that boils down to is that a player must

  • have four or more Credited Seasons,
  • have completed their contract and
  • have been with the same team for every regular and postseason game that team has played for the past four seasons.

Once a player has been deemed eligible, the Four-Year Qualifying Contract allows the team to sign that player to a contract that is worth up to $1.35M more than the veteran minimum salary for that player, with only the player’s minimum salary counting against the salary cap. That said, there are additional restrictions in the CBA regarding the Four-Year Qualifying Contract.

First of all, each team may sign no more than two players to Four-Year Qualifying Contracts in any given season, and the combined total salary of the two players above minimum salary cannot exceed the $1.35M threshold. Basically, teams have a total of $1.35M in Four-Year Qualifying Contract pay that can be handed out each season, which may be allocated between a maximum of two players. Just to illustrate out what this means, say the Seahawks decide to extend a Four-Year Qualifying Contract to Will Dissly that is for $1M more than league minimum, the team would then only be able to offer league minimum plus $350k to one other player eligible for a Four-Year Qualifying Contract.

Having been through all that boring stuff, who are the players on the Seattle roster who would even qualify for such a contract?

Four-Year Qualifying Contract eligibility for Seahawks pending free agents

Player Four Credited Seasons Four Years with Seahawks Eligible
Player Four Credited Seasons Four Years with Seahawks Eligible
Duane Brown Yes Yes Yes
Quandre Diggs Yes No No
Gerald Everett Yes No No
Ethan Pocic Yes Yes Yes
Jamarco Jones No Yes No
D.J. Reed Yes No No
Will Dissly Yes Yes Yes
Rasheem Green Yes Yes Yes
Robert Nkemdiche Yes No No
Alex Collins Yes No No
Geno Smith Yes No No
Sidney Jones Yes No No
Al Woods Yes No No
Rashaad Penny Yes Yes Yes
Brandon Shell Yes No No

So, with all of that, the players who meet the eligibility requirements are:

  • Duane Brown
  • Ethan Pocic
  • Will Dissly
  • Rasheem Green
  • Rashaad Penny

Before moving on, someone is going to ask why Jamarco Jones is not eligible when his draft mates in Penny, Green and Dissly are. The answer to that is found in the table above, as Jones does not have four Credited Seasons. To understand why this it is the case, it is necessary to turn to Article 26, Section 2 of the CBA: (Author’s Note: Bolding added for emphasis on the relevant portion)

Credited Season: For purposes of calculating Credited Seasons under this Article only, a player shall earn one Credited Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of three or more regular season games, but which, irrespective of the player’s pay status, shall not include games for which this player was on: (i) the Exempt Commissioner Permission List; (ii) the Reserve PUP List as a result of a nonfootball injury; (iii) a Club’s Practice or Developmental Squad; or (iv) a Club’s Injured Reserve List.

Jones spent the entirety of his rookie season on injured reserve, and as such did not earn a Credited Season for 2018. He earned an Accrued Season, but not a Credited Season and the Four-Year Qualifying Contract requires a player have four Credited Seasons.

So, in any case, of the five Seahawks eligible, it seems unlikely that Brown is interested in a contract for barely more than league minimum, so there’s likely little point considering his situation. In addition, even the one-year, $3M contract that Pocic signed last year as a free agent was too large to qualify, and it seems likely that after gaining another decent season of experience and a salary cap that is set to increase by more than 14% that he would be fielding offers for 20% less than he played in 2021. Moving on to Green, he posted better production numbers that weren’t all that dissimilar to those put up by guys like Quinton Jefferson or Kerry Hyder prior to hitting free agency, and those players landed multi-year deals that exceeded the minimum plus $1.35M threshold.

That brings it down to Dissly and Penny, either of whom would seem to have the potential to sign a deal for more than $2.385M, but obviously it depends on how their market shakes out. That said, if another team puts a multi-year offer on the table, given the automatic injury protection guarantees given to players in multi-year deals of the current CBA, the Hawks might need to forego the use of a Four-Year Qualifying Contract in order to compete on a level playing field.