Barely three weeks remain until all 32 NFL teams descend upon Kansas City for the 2023 NFL Draft, where for three days in late April they will attempt to add the talent necessary to make a run at the title in 2023 and beyond. However, with the heart of free agency in the rear view mirror and most eyes on the draft, there is another key offseason deadline rapidly approaching that is relevant to the Seattle Seahawks for multiple reasons.
That deadline is May 1, and it is the date by which teams must either exercise or decline the fifth year option for players selected in first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. For Seattle, that means deciding whether or not to exercise the option for former first round selection Jordyn Brooks. In Brooks’ case, having hit the playtime threshold to bump the salary amount associated with the option from the lowest level to the second level, exercising the option would mean giving him a fully-guaranteed salary of $12,722,000 for the 2024 season.
Whether or not that is an enticing contract for a single season of Brooks’ play, the reality of the situation is that he is still early in the recovery process following surgery in late January for a “legit” knee injury. Given the timeline for players to return from ACL repair, and most current estimates for a return to the field for Brooks put him on the field very late in the 2023 season. That creates a very interesting situation, and could make it much more affordable for the Seahawks to keep Brooks in Seattle for 2024. The reason for this is that Brooks is likely to spend much of the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which could impact his contract. Specifically, under Article 20, Section 2 of the CBA, there is a potential for the final year of Brooks’ contract to toll:
Section 2. Physically Unable to Perform: Any player placed on a Physically Unable to Perform list (“PUP”) will be paid his full Paragraph 5 Salary while on such list. His contract will not be tolled for the period he is on PUP, except in the last year of his contract, when the player’s contract will be tolled if (i) he is still physically unable to perform his football services as of the sixth regular season game; and (ii) he is not reinstated to the Club’s Active/Inactive List during that regular season or postseason. For the avoidance of doubt, if the player returns to practice, but is never reinstated to the Club’s Active/Inactive List during that regular season or postseason, his contract will toll.
What this means is that if Brooks spends the entirety of the 2023 season on the PUP list and is never activated for a game, his contract tolls. For those who are not lawyers and wish to understand the meaning of tolling, short and sweet it means that Brooks will be under contract for 2024 at the exact same terms for 2024 as for 2023. That would put Brooks under contract for the 2024 season with a base salary of $2,278,492, of which $2,164,567 would be fully guaranteed. That, again, only happens if he were to spend the entire 2023 campaign on the PUP list and is not on the 53 man roster for either a regular season or a playoff game.
On the flip side, if he is activated to the 53 man roster for even a single game - regardless of whether he is one of the 48 gameday active players or not - his contract will not toll. This differs from the rules under the 2011 CBA, and is presumably different due to the 2017 rules changes that had DeShawn Shead set to become a restricted free agent for a second consecutive offseason in 2018 prior to the Seahawks releasing him.
In any case, should Brooks be activated to the 53 man roster at some point during the season, while his contract would not toll, he would still need to be on the roster for at least six regular season games in order to earn an accrued season and qualify for becoming an unrestricted free agent next offseason. As it stands right now, Brooks has three accrued seasons, but players on the PUP list do not earn credit towards an accrued season. Thus, the requirement to be on the 53 man roster for at least six regular season games. Given the way the calendar sets up for the 2023 season, to be on the 53 man roster for at least six games likely requires Brooks to return to the field no later than the game the Seahawks play in Week 13, which should be the weekend of December 3, 2023.
Should Brooks not be on the 53 man roster for at least six regular season games, he would finish the 2023 season with just three accrued seasons, and that would make him a restricted free agent (RFA), rather than an unrestricted free agent (UFA), in the offseason. As a former first round pick, and as a restricted free agent, the Seahawks would be able to extend to Brooks a right of first refusal tender (ROFR), and that would require any team wishing to sign him to send their first round pick in the 2024 draft to Seattle. The ROFR tender is projected to carry a salary of $2.992M for the 2024 season according to OverTheCap.com, which is slightly more than it would cost to keep Brooks on contract which has tolled, but significantly less than the fifth year option.
Obviously, there likely isn’t a team willing to spend a first round pick on a 26 year old linebacker who missed most of the previous season recovering from a knee injury, making it unlikely any team would sign Brooks to an offer sheet. That means a ROFR tender would likely all but guarantee his return to the Hawks in 2024.
Lastly, of course, there is the possibility that Brooks’ rehab and recovery timeline are shorter than have been anticipated by most, and that he is able to return to the roster ahead of Week 13. Should that prove to be the case, he’d earn an accrued season, and barring the Seahawks exercising the fifth year option, would be slated to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. This certainly remains possible, but given what is known about the situation, seems extremely unlikely.
In any case, based on what is known publicly regarding Brooks’ injury and recovery timeline, combined with the Seahawks projected cap space picture for 2024 and the price tag associated with the fifth-year option, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Seattle declines the option.