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The high price for high draft picks

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills
First round pick L.J. Collier chases first round pick Josh Allen
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Field Gulls reviewed how much cap space the Seattle Seahawks will need in order to sign the players they select in the 2022 NFL Draft, which is little more than two weeks away. Many readers were grateful for the post and very thankful for the information provided, but there were also concerns voiced regarding the relatively higher cost for whatever player the team would draft with the ninth overall pick.

Specifically, while the post Monday looked only at the cap hits of the draft class for their rookie year, drafted players obviously sign a four year contract. As such, concerns regarding the potential cost of that player in the seasons to come were noted, and these concerns are valid, particularly given that the range of possible outcomes for the player. It’s certainly true that fans want the players added by their team to develop into All Pros and Pro Bowlers, but more often than not, the players selected in the draft don’t reach the high expectations of many fans.

Commenter djafrot spelled out the risk very well with the following comment:

Oof, that #9 price tag is why I don’t like the idea of taking the third-best tackle at that spot.

Dude is gonna be hella expensive three or four years down the road and may not even be top ten.

This is by my less-than-adept way of understanding contracts, of course.

And that concern is spot on. Specifcally, for whatever player the Seahawks select in the ninth overall spot, the cap hits during the four years of their rookie contract will be:

2022: $4,452,067
2023: $5,565,084
2024: $6,678,101
2025: $7,791,118
Total: $24,486,270

Obviously when it comes to draft picks, as is always the concern, there is no guarantee a player will be able to perform in the NFL. It’s entirely possible that the player drafted ninth overall develops into an Earl Thomas or a Marcus Trufant or a Shaun Alexander or a Joey Galloway. However, it’s also possible they turn out to be a Russell Okung or a Germain Ifedi or Aaron Curry or Jerramy Stevens or Kelly Jennings or whoever one wishes to choose.

The outcome of the pick is important because the $24,486,270 that the number nine overall pick gets is fully guaranteed. It doesn’t matter whether the player is Brian Bosworth or Aaron Curry levels of bad, whoever is selected with the ninth overall pick will get that $24,486,270 as long as they do two things:

  • avoid a suspension that would allow the Seahawks to void the guarantees in the contract
  • avoid injuring themselves away from the team facilities and winding up on the nonfootball injury (NFI) list by doing something silly like, hypothetically, crashing an ATV.

This gets into why the Seahawks have traditionally traded down when it was their turn to pick during the draft. Later picks, obviously, receive contracts for smaller amounts, and giving guaranteed contracts to players who have played exactly zero snaps of football in the NFL is a very good way for a team to find its roster burdened by players with guaranteed contracts who may not warrant the salaries they are earning.

For a quick example, twice in recent seasons the Seahawks have chosen at the 27th overall pick. In 2018 they added Rashaad Penny at 27, and in 2020 they drafted Jordyn Brooks in that spot. The contract the player selected at 27 will receive will look like this:

2022: $2,644,040
2023: $3,305,050
2024: $3,966,060
2025: $4,627,070
Total: $14,542,220

That’s just under $10M less than what the player selected ninth overall will receive, and, obviously, when trading down, teams add more draft picks that can then be used to add more potentially impactful players. So, what it boils down to is that while there may be a greater likelihood of finding an impact or star player at number nine overall, it won’t be a surprise if Pete Carroll and John Schneider opt to trade down from nine to a spot later in the round, in order to both reduce contractual obligations while also adding more draft ammunition.