This is a guest post by Curtis Allen…
See a need? Fill a need.
In last week’s update we discussed how little cap room the Seahawks have available and that the period to come would be a litmus test for their determination to dramatically improve the team:
“If the Seahawks are determined to improve in a big way this offseason, they will need to be more aggressive.
That means restructuring players, cutting players you otherwise might not, or having a hard conversation with a player you have invested heavily in, like Jamal Adams.
It also means being aggressive with your salary cap strategy in regards to new contracts. They can do what other teams do, acquire a big piece that helps them tremendously with very little cap room available and just manage the cap to make it work.”
The Seahawks have impressively answered the call early in the off-season in order to push their roster forward in a more competitive fashion.
Pete Carroll says they need to close the talent gap with San Francisco, particularly with regard to having a defensive line difference-maker? Welcome to Seattle, Dre’Mont Jones.
They need more effective depth on the line? Come back home where you belong, Jarran Reed.
They have questions in the defensive backfield and want to run more three safety sets? A super-versatile player who could hedge Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs and even plug in at nickel if needed would be terrific. If he has been a defensive leader as well, that would be a bonus too. Julian Love, you’re gonna look fantastic in green and blue.
Moving on from Gabe Jackson and Quinton Jefferson were not difficult choices.
Cutting Shelby Harris and Al Woods were. However, the Seahawks flipped their script and made the best of the situation. Rather than take the cap room gained and spend it on roster-clogging JAGs – as they have done in the past – they went out with determination and brought in young, rising players with real upside.
All this while impressively filling immediate needs with some intriguing stop-gap players (Evan Brown on the offensive line, Devin Bush at linebacker and bringing back Drew Lock), tendering Ryan Neal in a clearly aggressive move – daring another team to set his market but also saving $1.7 million in cap space – as well as bringing back the bulk of their Exclusive Rights Free Agents.
It is not hard to see what the Seahawks are doing: Making this roster younger, with more upside and giving them as much flexibility as possible to maximize their return in one of the most important drafts in franchise history.
Rather than passively letting the market and player agents dictate to them, the Seahawks are striking with purpose and vision. It is a far cry from what we have witnessed in the recent past. Even if every move does not ultimately prove to be a pure stroke of genius, you can see what they are doing, most of it makes sense and you cannot fault them for trying.
There is one move, however, that does fill a need but does not quite match the other moves.
The Seahawks Have Brought Back Bobby Wagner
Yesterday it was announced they’ve brought Wagner back into the fold on a one-year, up to $7 million contract with incentives.
We are still waiting to hear on the structure of the contract but it is clear what the Seahawks want out of this deal. They want to return a fan favorite, to bring some stability to the linebacker position and to avoid being beholden to a draft that is not deep in effective inside linebackers.
The cost does seem prohibitive, though. Since Wagner had a very good year in Los Angeles, the incentives have a very, very good chance of being “Likely To Be Earned” and thus will count against the current year salary cap.
This will move the Seahawks to make sure they have enough room to cover them on their cap and force some corresponding moves, as you will soon see.
Where They Stand on the Cap
We are going to build on what we talked about last week. I took you on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, telling you the Seahawks had no money to spend and then outlined ways that they could find money to improve the team.
They chose to exercise some of those options and were very active in the market early on. While that is fully commendable, we need to talk about the cost of their aggression.
So again, the Seahawks have no money to spend. None. And that is much closer to reality than the last time I said it.
Currently, the Seahawks have $8.918 million of cap room per OTC. If we take the Wagner contract at full face value, they now have only $2.068 million.
Their draft pool will now cost them about $8.981 million, once you adjust for the 10 picks pushing players off the top 51 against the cap. So, their effective cap space will be in the red by about $6.9 million.
Adding to that, they will need their practice squad and injury money cushion. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $6-10 million would work. They need to find room for that contingency money by trimming some cap space from the current roster.
If you want to call that ‘true effective cap space’, they are about $13-17 million over the cap currently.
Before we get into how they can make up that cap room, let’s backtrack a little and re-emphasize the time element we talked about last week.
The Seahawks will not need that draft pool cap money available until they sign those picks. So likely May or early June.
And the contingency money? They can wait until later in the summer to open that money up.
The point being, it is not great that they are in the red currently. But they do have some time to work things out.
It is definitely not a comfortable situation. Particularly when you examine the needs they have on the interior of the defensive line. A veteran running back would also be a nice addition. A veteran wide receiver too, if we are filling out a wish list.
But the Seahawks do have some time to work things out.
Candidates to Gain Some Cap Room
Updating the chart from last week, the Seahawks still have a few options to get back in the black:
Noah Fant and Uchenna Nwosu – it will be interesting to see if the Seahawks decide to make a move on their contracts to save some cap room. They both have played well but 2023 is the last contracted season for both.
The Seahawks also have robust depth around them (for 2023 at least) and the draft class appears to be a good one at their positions.
Therefore, they have options with those two. Wisdom might seem to dictate that they let the rest of free agency and the draft come to them and then gauge their options — be it a trade (in the case of Fant) or a contract extension.
I did add a column for Post-June 1st trades, because the cap gain numbers for Adams, Diggs and Dissly are very healthy there. It would be a surprise though, if any team wanted to trade for those three with their cap numbers and health status.
That $8.44 million for cutting or reworking Jamal Adams seems like a foregone conclusion given they have invested in two other safeties and now are in desperate need for cap space.
So why hasn’t it happened yet? The Seahawks could have designated him a post-June 1st cut by now, finally tying off one of the worst trades in franchise history.
There are the obvious reasons: swallowing a $24 million dead cap hit is painful, even if it is split over two seasons. They just came off a year where they had $26 million of dead cap on their roster for Russell Wilson but that was easily justifiable. Getting a fantastic return in trade and a wholly unexpected great season from Geno Smith at only a $3.5 million salary made that dead cap number far easier to bear.
The Seahawks would have no such public relations buffer to point to if they cut Jamal Adams loose (although maybe the return of Wagner would blunt it a bit).
It could also be that the team has convinced themselves to give Adams one more year to make this investment work. They had him rushing the passer like crazy in 2020, returning to a more standard strong safety role in 2021 and 2022 got wiped out by injury. They could reason that more defensive line strength and less coverage responsibility on his plate could lead to the true ‘weapon’ style season they have been envisioning since they acquired him.
The counterargument to all that though is Adams’ injury history. After enduring serious groin, shoulder and finger injuries his first two seasons, 2022 was not kind to Jamal Adams in the least. He injured his hand badly on the first day of training camp and once again missed a chance to get valuable practice reps with the team. Then he tore his quad in the first game of the season — an injury that wiped out his 2022 and could put a chunk of his 2023 season in question.
I am increasingly beginning to think that the Seahawks are playing the situation smartly. Not unlike what we discussed above — making some coverage moves on the roster, being patient and letting the market, the draft and circumstance work for them.
How so? By hinging their Adams agenda on some key upcoming dates:
The first of course is June 1st. That is when it is most advantageous to cut Adams and save money on the cap this year. They certainly could cut him sooner and still designate him a post-June 1st cut but would any team really be interested in signing him before June 1st? With his severe injury, unlikely. So, they can let it ride.
Other, sooner dates have significance for this situation also — and they bunch together and could determine the Seahawks’ course of action with Adams:
— April 17th has just been announced as the first day of off-season activity for the Seahawks. They will likely have more than just a typical check-in with Adams. They will get to measure his recovery status fully.
— April 21st is the deadline for Restricted Free Agents to sign an offer sheet with another team. Ryan Neal currently counts against their salary cap — having been tendered by the Seahawks — but he is not locked into their roster yet. Not until either Neal signs an offer sheet and forces the team to make a decision, or the deadline passes without another team making an offer.
— April 27-29th is the draft. Rob has gathered some intel that the safety class this year is seen as deep and impressive.
The Seahawks really have no practical incentive to make a move on Jamal Adams – be it outright cutting him, or approaching him about a restructure – until those dates have come and gone.
At that point, they will have a good handle on the bulk of their roster, can have some time to assess how the new acquisitions fit on the team, they will have a better picture of Adams’ health timeline and can make a decision on how to proceed.
They also will have sufficiently built-up pressure to negotiate from. Considering the poor safety free agent market, to their cap situation, all the way to a pure numbers game on the roster, they will have a multitude of reasons to talk Adams into considering a pay cut.
If the Seahawks are to continue the aggressive course they have charted for this off-season, they will at a minimum need to approach Adams about renegotiating his contract. Pragmatically, it is less about the stink of an awful trade and more about assuring that Adams will not make a bad trade worse in 2023 by costing the Seahawks another $8.44 million in guaranteed money if and when he steps on the field without a contract adjustment.
Fant, Nwosu and Adams are the clearest paths to gaining cap room this offseason.
Restructuring Diggs and Lockett by converting some salary to bonus and pushing out the cost to future years are options but should be classed as ‘emergency use only.’
Why? When you convert salary to bonus, that converts non-guaranteed money to guaranteed money, reducing your cap flexibility both in the near term and in the future.
That said, it would not shock me one bit – given how vocal Quandre Diggs has been – if we find out that the Seahawks have restructured some of his 2023 deal already to open up some cap room for Wagner. We will see.
Aside from those options, the Seahawks may choose to utilize void years to make the cap work for them and fill needs this summer. They are loathe to do it but in this case it might be the best option to keep some flexibility with players like Diggs and Lockett in 2024.
Hopefully you see why we stumped so hard for a very aggressive strategy in January, including cutting Diggs before $9.9 million of his salary became guaranteed and dealing with Jamal Adams sooner rather than later in order to pick up nearly $18 million in cap room.
The financial forces are going to push the Seahawks to make some interesting decisions the rest of the offseason, because they will need as much flexibility as possible come next year. Why?
A Brief Look at the 2024 Cap Situation
I am going to give you my same song and dance about the cap. Let me first depress you and then tell you why it is not so bad.
The Seahawks do not have much cap money available in 2024.
Their aggressiveness this year – combined with their as-yet lack of aggression on their two high-priced safeties – is conspiring to keep them from having very much free cap space to splurge on next offseason.
But as always, there is room to maneuver.
What is the current picture like?
They have $54 million with 25 contracted players for 2024 per OTC. Take about $30 million off that for the 2023 and 2024 draft classes and you have about $24 million of room with about 42-45 contracted players.
That room does not include any of the $15 million of roster bonus incentives Geno Smith is eligible to earn. As always, they need their injury and practice squad contingency fund.
So basically, we are back to the Seahawks having zero money.
Now for the uplifting good news: it’s not as bleak as it sounds.
The Seahawks will have two more draft classes primed and ready to join the 2022 draft class to form a dynamic young core. That #5 overall pick this year should have a big impact on the field.
They have already addressed sore needs by adding difference-makers on the defensive line with Jones and Reed and at safety with Julian Love.
They have team control of two potentially key players in Darrell Taylor and Michael Jackson Sr.
They can pick up $20.3 million very easily by moving on from their two expensive safeties.
Another $20 million is available on the contracts of Will Dissly, Bryan Mone and Tyler Lockett.
They can pick up $13.8 million by trading Geno Smith. Or they can renegotiate his contract to keep him and avoid a potential $32-46 million cap hit.
They have options and if the 2022 class keeps ascending and they have a successful 2023 class, the picture will look a lot rosier.
One thing of note: At this point, with their cap situation as it is in 2024, circumstance does seem to be pointing towards the potential of the Seahawks seeking a major, major source of cap relief in 2024 by drafting a quarterback at #5 this year.
Geno’s flexible contract has an easy out in 2024. The ability to cut or trade him before being on the hook for his incentive roster bonus, acquiring a serious talent like Jones on a multi-year contract and then spending themselves into the red in 2023 all could be indicators that the Seahawks are positioning themselves for a handoff of the quarterback spot to a second-year player next season.
Aggression is good but it needs to be smart and well thought out. Opening up cap room is great. But it has to be married to smart moves with that cap room. It is best when complemented by good drafting.
The Seahawks have mostly done well so far. But they have a very long way to go.
At the moment, we have about 60% or so of the off-season picture for the Seahawks. The draft is critical. Even then, the rest of the offseason will not be loaded with simple bottom-shelf roster moves and scouring for summer free agent bargain finds. They still have a lot of work to do.
Finding cap room while still filling key spots on the team without pushing too much cap burden onto 2024 will be the team’s task going forward. John Schneider and his staff are going to need to be very creative and very sharp in their roster planning.
It is most definitely not going to be a boring off-season.
A lot of things will happen between now and the fall. We will be right here all the way to keep you apprised of what is happening and the impact of the moves they make.