Russell Wilson is the unquestioned starter on a team with a new backup. How does this set the team up for the future in terms of the salary cap?
This is the first part of a series that will look at where the Seattle Seahawks stand heading into the season from a contract and salary cap perspective for each of the separate position groups on the team.
The leader of the team and the player with the largest contract for the Hawks currently is Russell Wilson, who in spite of signing a contract barely two years ago that many argued was too expensive, is now a straight bargain playing on a discount deal after the ridiculous contracts signed by Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford. While we are all extremely lucky to have Russell as the leader of this team, the market for QBs continues to be moved higher and higher, and with both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota eligible for an extension after the 2017 season, there is a very reasonable chance that Wilson’s cap numbers will explode when he signs his next deal. I mean, we’re talking about Jason Licht and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers here, and if Winston is able to lead the Bucs to the playoffs this year, any contract he signs could be astronomical. And in a world where Stafford gets to be the highest-paid of all-time with an 0-3 playoff record, maybe it doesn’t even matter; This is a GM who traded up into the second round to draft a kicker who, quite frankly, wasn’t all that great his final year in college, so it’s not unforseeable to imagine Winston being the NFL’s first $30M dollar man.
Add in the fact that Kirk Cousins will likely be hitting free agency in the spring and looking to pry the dollars out of the bank accounts of presumably QB-needy teams that are flush with tens of millions of available cap space burning a hole in their pockets. Looking around the league at the week one starters, there are a whole host of teams that are projected to have in excess of $50M in available cap space in 2018, but who enter the 2017 without without a proven franchise QB under center, including the Vikings, 49ers, Browns, Rams, Jets, Skins and the Colts. A free agent QB bidding war next offseason could change the QB salary landscape and make it appear as though Russ is playing for peanuts.
Russ’ current contract runs through the 2019 season, so there is no need to worry about an extension in the coming years, but it is easily forseeable that by the time Russ comes back to the table to discuss a third contract that the market for QBs will be in the $30M-$35M range. Now, I wholly expect the team to sit down with Russ and discuss the team-wide ramifications of committing huge portions of the cap to a single player, and as one of the goals Russ has discussed is to win multiple Super Bowls and be known as the greatest of all time, I would like to believe that he understands that the ability of the team to build the roster could be somewhat limited by having so much cap tied up in a single player. I’m not advocating that he sign for pennies on the dollar, just that he take into consideration that the less he takes the easier it becomes for the team to retain guys like Germain Ifedi, Tyler Lockett, and Frank Clark rather than letting difference makers like Golden Tate and Clinton McDonald leave.
So, while Russ is definitely going to get more expensive in the future, he’s on lockdown for the next three years, so as fans there is no need to panic about a return to the Stouffer-McGwire-Mirer-Gelbaugh-Friesz horror of the 1990s at least until the next decade.
Backing up the RussBot is Austin Davis, for whom the Seahawks are his fifth team in six seasons, and while he has bounced around the league since going undrafted out of Southern Miss in 2012, has managed to start 13 games in that time. Now, what is most interesting is that while he has been far from dominant in those 13 starts, compiling a record of 4-9 in those starts, he is 2-1 in starts against teams that played in the conference championship game the year prior, including being the starter in the Hawks 28-26 loss to the Rams in St. Louis in 2014.
The skill Davis brings to the team which most likely caught the eye of the team is his ability to play behind a questionable offensive line and take a sack. Russ has been sacked 205 times during his five years with the team, with a career high of 45 sacks taken in 2015 (33, 44, 42, 45 and 41 times during his career), with a career sack rate of 8.2% (7.7%, 9.8%, 8.5%, 8.5%, 7.0% by season). Davis has Russ beat hands down, however, as his career sack rate of 9.3% is well above Russ’. In 2014 Davis took 29 sacks in eight starts, which is a pace that would have far exceeded any total Russ has accumulated during his career. Impressively, in spite of taking that beating, Davis never appeared on the injury report during the 2014 season, nor did he appear on it during the portion of 2015 when he was getting beaten up behind the porous line of the Cleveland Browns. Just for reference, both teams Davis has started for in his career – the 2014 Rams and the 2015 Browns – had offensive lines that allowed more sacks than the Hawks line did last season. Obviously a portion of that is on the QB, but it at least shows that Davis has some level of durability even if he might need to work on his pocket awareness.
Turning to the financial side of things, Davis is on a one year, veteran minimum contract of $775,000 with $80,000 in signing bonus and roster bonuses on top of that. This qualifies Davis for the veteran minimum salary cap benefit, meaning that even though he has the potential to make up to $855,000 from the team this season, he will count no more than $695,000 towards the cap. The veteran salary cap benefit simply incentivizes teams to sign veterans to a minimum contract by reducing their cap hit to the level of a player with two accrued seasons, $615,000 for 2017, plus any bonus money up to a maximum of $80,000.
The amount of combined bonus money for a player (signing, roster and workout) cannot exceed $80,000 or else the veteran minimum benefit does not apply, which is why Oday Aboushi, who has accrued an identical four seasons to Davis, but because Aboushi had a signing bonus of $200,000 his contract does not qualify for a reduction in allocatable cap hit.
Davis signed with the team in early June, and the fact that he was available that late in the offseason should be a good sign for the team going forward. If Russ can continue to stay on the field as well as he has in seasons past, there should be no need for Davis to set foot on the field, which would make it unlikely that any team would have significant interest in his services when he is a free agent next spring, just as was seen with Tarvaris Jackson during the years T-Jack served as backup to Russ. That would seem to increase the probability of continuity at the backup QB position in the years going forward, and could be a huge benefit to the team if something should happen to Russ at some point and his backup is needed for an extended period of time.
Behind Davis, hopefully studying up on the practice squad is Trevone Boykin, who filled the QB2 spot on the 53-man roster during the 2016 season. However, between legal issues and a couple of poor showings during the preseason, Boykin managed to watch a journeyman many thought the team signed as a camp arm make the team over him.
In any case, the team should be well covered at the most important position on the field for the coming years with Russ handling things. Seattle is currently ranked 16th in spending at the quarterback position in 2017, at $19.6 million, which is well behind the first place Miami Dolphins (surprise twist, I know), who are spending over $32 million at the position after signing Jay Cutler to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins are followed on the list by the Arizona Cardinals ($28 million to Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton), Washington Redskins ($23 million on the franchise tag to Cousins, but over $3 million to backup Colt McCoy), Atlanta Falcons (also spending over $3 million on a backup, in addition to the expensive starter), and Baltimore Ravens ($24.5 million to Joe Flacco is bad, but how did Ryan Mallett become a $2 million man?). So not only is Wilson a reasonably priced starter, but the Seahawks have also worked to save money at the backup position, in contrast to how they did it with Tarvaris for a couple years once Russ had really settled in.
Behind him, in spite of both Davis and Boykin not being under contract beyond this season (Author’s note: Boykin is on the practice squad, and practice squads are dissolved after week 17, meaning at the moment Boykin has no ties to the team past its New Year’s Eve game against the Cardinals), there is a reasonable chance that the team could see continuity at the backup positions simply because there could be a lack of demand for the services of either Davis or Boykin next spring when names like Cousins, Sam Bradford, Jimmy Garoppolo, Teddy Bridgewater and Tom Savage all could be free agents.