As the summer heat creeps in and the slow period of the NFL news cycle rapidly approaches, the NFL remains firmly in the news as teams continue their offseason programs, specifically with many teams hosting mandatory minicamp this week. For the Seattle Seahawks, minicamp originally had been scheduled for next week, but was moved up to Tuesday through Thursday of this week.
However, the Hawks aren’t the only team in the NFC West staying in the headlines, with the Los Angeles Rams stealing the spotlight Monday by agreeing to a reworked contract with seven-time All Pro, eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Donald has, of course, relentlessly disrupted the Seattle offense during his time with the Rams to the tune of 15.0 sacks, 38 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 41 quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles. Seattle fans hope that one of the younger members of the defensive front seven can develop into a force that is anywhere nearly as disruptive as Donald, whether that’s Boye Mafe, Darrell Taylor, Tyreke Smith or one of the other younger members of the group.
However, the big question that many fans of teams other than the Rams have asked following the restructured deal for Donald is how Los Angeles can afford to continue to sign big name players to these monster contracts? That is a question for which the answer is made up of several parts, but two of the biggest keys are a willingness to manage the salary cap in an aggressive manner while also ignoring short-term, middle class contracts in free agency.
For the first part, the key to keep in mind is that while the salary cap is a fixed amount in any given season, in reality the cap space available to NFL teams includes significant amounts of space from future seasons as well. It’s just a matter of how willing a team is to dip into that future space.
Not updated for the new league year, but conceptually nothing has changed. https://t.co/L0AHomtDWv pic.twitter.com/iMULymqV6x— John P Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) June 6, 2022
In addition to how the Rams manage their cap, they also manage their roster in a significantly different manner than the Seahawks and many other teams. Specifically, Seattle tends to address multiple roster holes each season with one and two year contracts with veteran players, while the Rams plug in a youngster on a rookie contract and hope for the best. For example, here is a look at some of the veteran players that Seattle has signed in free agency over the past six years:
Rashaad Penny: $5.47M
Austin Blythe: $4M
Sidney Jones: $3.56M
Geno Smith: $3.5M
Gerald Everett: $6M
Ahkello Witherspoon: $4M
Ethan Pocic: $3M
Al Woods: $2.5M
Greg Olsen: $7M
Quinton Dunbar: $3.5M
Benson Mayowa: $3M
Mike Iupati: $2.5M
Bruce Irvin: $5.906M
Ziggy Ansah: $9M
Mychal Kendricks: $4.5M
Mike Iupati: $2.625M
Shamar Stephen: $2.1M
Tom Johnson: $2.1M
Sebastian Janikowski: $2.015M
D.J. Fluker: $1.5M
Luke Joeckel: $8M
Eddie Lacy: $4.25M
Bradley McDougald: $1.9M
The initial reaction to each of these contracts is that while there are certainly a handful of them that were more money than fans wanted to hand out at any given time, there aren’t any of them individually that scream of being an absolutely atrocious value. Certainly there are some that are extremely, extremely unattractive, but there is a reason for each and every one of them. (Author’s Note:
Since Tyler Jorgensen is currently screaming about For those of you wondering where Ed Dickson, Barkevious Mingo and Jaron Brown are, they will be addressed shortly, so no need to get all kinds of worked up.)
However, when combining them, the picture starts to get a little ugly. Here are the totals for these contracts in each of the six seasons:
Are there any of the seasons in question where the Seahawks got their money’s worth out of the players signed to the one year contracts? The 2018 season is likely the closest the team came to getting value out of the free agents signed to one year contracts, but that is largely because many of the players the team signed, including Jaron Brown, Barkevious Mingo and Ed Dickson were inked to longer deals. So, although Brown ($2.75M), Dickson ($8.35M) and Mingo ($4M) only played for the Hawks for a single season on their multi-year contracts, this overview is focused solely on players who signed the one-year deals. That said, if the 2018 contracts for Brown, Dickson and Mingo are included, it pushes the cumulative cap space total for these contract from $91.929M to $107.026M.
So, this is where the debate truly begins, and the question that needs to be asked is whether or not it is better to bring in a handful of players, most of whom won’t earn a second contract from the team, or to roll with youngsters and find out what they can do while putting the cap space into a single player or two. Would the Seahawks have been better in 2019 or 2020 if they had retained Earl Thomas rather than signing Ansah, Kendricks and Iupati? Does 2020 end differently if George Fant had been kept? How does 2021 look if Shaquill Griffin and D.J. Reed both return as starters at outside cornerback?
There is no right or wrong answer, and for the Rams to continue to see success with their strategy they will need to continue to rely on finding youngsters on Day 3 of the draft who can step onto the field and perform with some level of competence, rather than be a liability. There are certainly multiple ways to build a roster, but is it simply a coincidence that when the Hawks hoisted a Lombardi they did so after having been players in free agency over the several seasons prior? The names added through free agency during that time included Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Cliff Avril and Matt Flynn, just to list a handful. So, should the Seahawks continue down the path of building through the draft and covering the holes in the roster with short-term bandaids, or should they get back to playing in the first wave of free agency?