Regardless of the outcome of the Week 18 game between the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams, the 2023 offseason could arrive as early as this weekend if the Green Bay Packers defeat the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football. That, of course, means that playoffs or not, the time to begin looking forward at the cap and roster situation for next season has arrived.
The first step in evaluating this picture is, without a doubt, looking to the cap situation of the Seahawks in order to understand the assets that will be available in order to address the holes on the roster. There will, of course, be draft picks the team can use to address some of these holes, but those come with their own set of costs and questions, so the first step is to figure out how the financial picture looks.
As always, the starting point for this analysis is the $52.9M of cap space the Hawks are currently projected to have for 2023 by the best salary cap site on the internet, OverTheCap.com. For those wondering, yes, that number includes the cap rollover from 2022, though if one wishes to be perfectly accurate the $52.9M is a tad bit higher than the actual amount, which is likely closer to $52M. However, because the cap is fungible and cap hits can be massaged to make the room necessary, as long as the starting point is in the right ballpark, that’s all that is necessary.
The first item to be addressed from the starting point is the Proven Performance Escalator, which will automatically increase the 2023 base salary of Damien Lewis. That increase will be from $1,559,774 to the amount of the right of first refusal restricted free agent tender plus $250,000, or somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,879,000. That will give Lewis a total cap hit of $3.16M for 2023.
Next, there are the restricted free agents on the roster. The five RFAs are:
- S Ryan Neal
- CB Mike Jackson
- LB Tanner Muse
- WR Penny Hart
- DL Isaiah Mack
Of those five, it’s difficult to see the team extending an RFA tender to either Mack or Hart, but it seems almost no question that they will tender Neal, likely at the second round level. Meanwhile, given the injury to Jordyn Brooks and the uncertainty regarding his recovery and return to play timeline, it doesn’t seem out of the question that Muse will be extended a right of first refusal tender. Similarly, given Jackson has started every game at cornerback this season, it seems unlikely the team would opt to not extend at least a right of first refusal tender to him. There will be plenty of time to get into the details of these tenders later, but the use of these tenders would require the following cap space:
- Ryan Neal: $4.308M
- Mike Jackson: $2.629M
- Tanner Muse: $2.629M
That’s a total of $11.17M for the restricted free agents, and then accounting for the space needed due to Lewis’ PPE escalator, these four will require a total in the neighborhood of $12.7M. Subtracting that amount from the $52.9M starting number leaves things right in the neighborhood of $40M, which is a nice round number and what will be used going forward. (Author’s note: Yes, $52.9M-$12.7M is not exactly $40M, but the $52.9M number is inflated to begin with, so $40M is actually a high number than if the calculations were being tabulated in complete accuracy.)
The next step is to then account for the fact that even counting Neal, Jackson and Muse there would be just 36 players under contract for the season. With the salary cap taking into account the 51 largest cap hits during the offseason, the next step is to then fill out the remainder of the roster, which the team is likely to do as soon as the 2022 season is over by signing practice squad players to future contracts. Thus, filling out the roster with 15 minimum salary players using the NFL minimum salary of $750k, that will require $11.25M.
Deducting the $11.25M from the $40M number from the previous step leaves the team with $28.75M of cap space. As the cap hits for tenders count as soon as the tender is extended, barring any cap cuts, that $28.75M is the maximum amount of space the team would likely have when free agency starts, as RFA and ERFA tenders are due prior to the start of the new league year.
There are obviously reasons that the $28.75M number stands out so much, including the fact that there are certain to be players who become cap casualties. The two most likely cap casualties would appear to be Gabe Jackson and Shelby Harris, as moving on from those two and replacing each with a minimum salary rookie would free up $14M of cap space. That brings the team back up to the $42.75M range, and gives the front office the ability to apply the franchise tag to Geno Smith.
With the tag expected to be somewhere in the $31.5M to $32.5M range depending upon whose predicted tag value one wishes to use, tagging Smith after releasing Jackson and Harris would leave the Hawks roughly $10.25M to $11.25M of operating space. That will be just enough to sign their 2023 draft class, which as things stand now will require a hair over $10M of cap space.
Boiling it all down, things could be a little tighter this offseason than many fans may be anticipating, and the front office may not spend anywhere near as much adding to the roster as many would like. Which, of course, makes it just another offseason for the front office.