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No, the Seahawks are not about to sign a pricey free agent

Extending Uchenna Nwosu likely freed up cap space, but not enough to make a splash signing.

Seattle Seahawks defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 37-23 during a NFL football game. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Monday the Seattle Seahawks did the expecting, signing outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu to a three year contract extension that ties him to the club through the 2026 season. As the deal was just signed and announced late Monday, the exact terms remain unknown, but given that the front office of the Hawks tends to operate in a predictable manner, it’s easy to imagine what the cap impact, at least for 2023, is at this point.

Specifically, looking at Nwosu’s cap hit prior to signing the extension, per his 2023 cap hit of $13.01M broke down as follows:

  • Base salary: $7.5M
  • 2022 signing bonus proration: $4.75M
  • Per game roster bonuses: $510k
  • Other bonus: $250k

The other bonus and 2022 signing bonus proration in the amounts of $4.75M and $250k can be ignored because there is nothing the Seahawks can do to adjust those numbers or make them go away. The only relevant portions when it comes to lowering the 2023 cap hit for Nwosu are the base salary of $7.5M and the per game roster bonuses, which combine for a total of $8.01M.

All the contract extensions the Seahawks have given out in recent seasons, including those of Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Jamal Adams and others, have had a similar structure, and there is approximately zero reason for the front office to deviate from its standard practices. Thus, assuming that the structure of Nwosu’s deal will be similar, the new deal likely includes the following pieces:

  • A minimal base salary for 2023 (likely $1.5M-$2M),
  • A modest signing bonus that replaces the reduced 2023 salary and per game roster bonuses ($7M-$8M) and
  • A roster bonus scheduled for the spring of 2024 that is guaranteed for injury at signing and vests into a full guarantee the Friday after the Super Bowl in February.

The 2024 roster bonus is irrelevant when it comes to the 2023 salary cap, meaning Nwosu’s 2023 cap hit will be comprised of his base salary and one quarter of his 2023 signing bonus. Those two pieces should combine to be somewhere around $3.5M to $4M, and since they will replace the $8.01M of base salary and per game roster bonuses, the contract extension should open up somewhere in the neighborhood of $4M-$5M of 2023 cap space.

That, of course, has Twitter X social media all aflutter with renewed hopes that the signing of Shelby Harris could be coming very soon. However, the reality is that even with a newly created $4M of cap space, the Hawks don’t have a ton of wiggle room for the 2023 season. Starting with the NFLPA public salary cap report, prior to the Nwosu extension the Seahawks were sitting on $7,651,695 of cap space for the upcoming season. Thus, adding an additional $4M on top of that gives the team $11.65M of space.

However, and this is a big however, there are things for which the team needs that money. First and foremost, Devon Witherspoon and Zach Charbonnet remain unsigned, something that is likely to change Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. Once they do sign, their cap hits for the upcoming season are expected to be, once again per

  • Witherspoon: $5,792,939
  • Charbonnet: $1,250,197

Those two cap hits add up to $7,043,136, but the team won’t need all of that space. Because it’s still the offseason, the Rule of 51 is still in effect, meaning signing Witherspoon and Charbonnet will bump the players currently with the 50th and 51st largest cap hits out of the calculation. Currently the players in those spots each have 2023 cap hits of $870,000, meaning the net cap impact of signing these two will be $5,303,136 (that’s $7,043,136 - 2 * $870,000 for those wanting to know where that number came from). Removing that $5.3M from the $11.65M of free space estimated earlier, that leaves Seattle with somewhere around $6.35M for the season.

From there the next step is to set aside the cap space that will be necessary for the practice squad. Each team has 16 spots on the practice squad, with each player earning $12,000 per week over each of the 18 weeks of the season. Doing the math on that, $12,000 times 16 players times 18 weeks works out to the beautiful, and easy to remember, total of $3.456M that is necessary for the practice squad for the season. From there, the cost to elevate a player from the practice squad to the 53 man roster during the season starts at about $30k and goes up from there, meaning just a single elevation of a player each week over the 17 game season requires no less than an additional $500k of cap space. So, combining the salary requirements of the practice squad with the cost of elevations, a total of around $4M is necessary for the practice squad for the year.

That, of course, means the $4M is removed from the $6.35M calculated above, leaving somewhere in the neighborhood of a whopping $2.35M of cap space.

Now, given that it is still the offseason and the Rule of 51 is still in place, the Seahawks could sign a veteran to a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.2M for the year, but that would reduce their available cap space down to almost nothing. Having no cap space is not the end of the world, but if a player suffers an injury and lands on injured reserve and there is no cap space available to replace that player on the 53 man roster. Most teams will keep a reserve of a couple of million set aside to add injury replacement players over the course of the season, and with minimum salaries continually increasing under the 2020 CBA, the size of that necessary reserve is also growing.

So, could the Seahawks add a big name in the coming days? Yes, they certainly could. But the reality is that it seems unlikely, unless they’ve got another move planned in the coming weeks to create more cap space, because the Nwosu extension did little more than create the breathing room necessary to operate comfortably during the 2023 season.