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Seahawks will see cap space open up Thursday

Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

With Memorial Day weekend in the rear view mirror, the calendar has rolled over to June. For the NFL that means several things, the first of which is that teams are in Phase III of the offseason program, meaning the true doldrums of summer are just around the corner. However, it also means that after Wednesday the accounting for players traded or released across the league changes for salary cap purposes as June 1 the line of demarcation for determining how the unamortized portion of signing bonuses given to players are treated should those players be traded or released.

Specifically, when teams trade or release a player on or before June 1, all unamortized signing bonus money is charged against the salary cap in that league year. For the Seattle Seahawks, this is why Russell Wilson will count $26M against the cap in 2022, as the team is required to account for both the $13M from 2022 and the $13M that would have been in 2023 had Wilson remained a member of the Seahawks.

On the other side of that June 1 date, when players are traded or released on or after June 2, no additional dead money is recognized against the current year cap, but all future pro rated money accelerates and is recognized in the next league year. That’s a whole lot of confusing legalese, so here’s an easier to understand breakdown for the Seahawks and what it means for their salary cap in 2022 using Carlos Dunlap as an example.

Dunlap, of course, signed a two year, $13.6M contract in 2021 which included a $7M signing bonus and three void years. The void years gave the contract five years for accounting purposes, allowing the team to recognize the $7M signing bonus against the cap in five equal installments of $1.4M in each of 2021 through 2025. For how this signing bonus recognition looks on a year by year basis, it is recognized as the following:

  • 2021: $1.4M
  • 2022: $1.4M
  • 2023: $1.4M (void year)
  • 2024: $1.4M (void year)
  • 2025: $1.4M (void year)

The void year simply means that those were fake years in the contract under which neither Dunlap nor the team had any intention of being real. Now, with the way things played out with Dunlap in Seattle, here is how the $7M signing bonus will wind up being amortized against the cap on a year by year basis.

  • 2021: $1.4M (on roster)
  • 2022: $1.4M (dead cap after being released with a post-June 1 designation)
  • 2023: $4.2M (release processed June 2, 2022, resulting in all future signing bonus amortization accelerating and being recognized in the next league year)

What this means is that while Seattle moved on from Dunlap weeks ago, because they designated him as a post-June 1 release, the accounting for his release in terms of the salary cap is not processed until June 2, or Thursday. That means the Seahawks will finally see the $5.1M of cap space created by the release of Dunlap open up, which will put the team in the high teens in terms of available cap space.

Now, before fans start getting too excited about how the Hawks might go about spending that space, it’s important to keep in mind that the team has yet to sign any of its top three draft picks. So, while the Seahawks will see $5.1M free up on Thursday, sometime in the coming weeks the team will need to sign Charles Cross, Boye Mafe and Ken Walker III. Given the slotting of the rookie wage scale, those three picks will have cap hits for 2022 somewhere in the range of:

  • Cross: $4,452,067
  • Mafe: $1,707,741
  • Walker: $1,681,911

Putting those three together, they combine for $7,841,719. That is not the amount of cap space that will be required to sign these three picks, however, as during the offseason teams only the top 51 largest cap hits are counted against the cap. What that means is that signing Cross, Mafe and Walker will push Stone Forsythe ($866,656), Jacob Eason ($895,000) and Penny Hart ($895,000) past the 51st cap hit, meaning it is necessary to subtract these from the $7,841,719. Netting everything out, the team will need $5,185,063 of cap space to sign its top three picks, meaning every penny of savings from the $5,128,344 of cap space that will be created Thursday when the Dunlap release is processed is effectively already spent. (Author’s Note: Yes, the Dunlap release will create $5,128,344 of cap space rather than the $5.1M reported everywhere, with the extra $28,344 coming from some Rule of 51 accounting that I’m too lazy to work through, so you’ll just have trust me.)

What it all means is that while the Seahawks will see their cap space increase Thursday, that money is effectively already spent, so it’s unlikely the team makes any splash signings at this point. Fans obviously can never rule anything out with Pete Carroll and John Schneider in charge, however, from a cap perspective it seems unlikely.