The Seahawks aren’t in great salary cap shape, but there are clear options available in order to reduce costs for 2018.
As of now, the Seattle Seahawks are set to have just over $14.1 million in salary cap space once the 2018 league year commences on March 14th, presuming that the per-team cap is indeed $178 million as projected by Spotrac. That number includes the nearly $1.7 million in carry-over cap space the Seahawks will take with them from 2017, but does not factor in the cost of Seattle’s 2018 draft class. That means that only six teams are currently in a worse cap situation at this time, and thus will require the Seahawks to find ways to boost their coffers in the coming months.
These are two of those cost-cutting options.
Reducing Defensive Expenses
The main problem is that the most effective money-saving measures would also be among the most unpopular.
Seven of the Seahawks’ biggest cap commitments come on the defensive side of the ball in 2018; the 11th, cornerback Jeremy Lane, is also another expensive defender for Seattle. And it is in this area where the Seahawks can recoup a great deal of the cash they need in order to pay for any in-house or open-market free agents they may want to sign as well as make enough room for extending current contracts and paying the eventual crop of rookies.
Moving on from defensive end Cliff Avril appears to be a no-brainer. Avril is set to have a $7.625 million cap hit this year ($7 million by way of base salary) and is coming back from a severe neck injury that was, just months ago, thought to be career-ending. Avril told the NFL Network this week that he plans on being able to play, though he did note that he’s still “in the process or recovering,” one he characterized as “a long process, a long journey.” The length and complexity of that recovery, though, may not have Avril ready in time for the Seahawks to feel comfortable keeping him on the roster at such a cost. The cap savings could easily force Seattle’s hand in the coming months as releasing Avril adds only $500,000 in dead money for 2018.
Safety Kam Chancellor is in a similar situation as Avril, having also suffered a career-threatening neck injury. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of both Avril and Chancellor in early January that they “are going to have a hard time playing football again,” and though he tried to walk that statement back later that day, it still belies the severity of what the two players suffered and the hard road back to the football field that lies ahead. Chancellor’s injury took place six weeks after Avril’s and though it hasn’t required surgery, it has at least prompted Chancellor to contemplate retirement maybe:
In 2018, Chancellor has a minimum cap hit of nearly $9.6 million that can be as high as $12 million with incentives included. However, the Seahawks would have to act quickly. Chancellor’s $6.8 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on February 9. After that, releasing him would come at a cost too high for the team to absorb. Between he and Avril, it is the latter player who has the least likelihood of remaining on the roster this year, barring the neck injury making Chancellor’s decision for him.
Cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas could also see their financial situations change in Seattle this year. Though the pair have come to define the Seahawks secondary, it still cannot be forgotten that Sherman is coming off of a torn Achilles tendon and another “clean-up” surgery on the opposite leg. At the same time, he’s also set to make $13 million this year—$11 million of that in base salary—and is in the final season of his four-year deal. With his guarantees mostly front-loaded, releasing him will cost just $2.2 million in 2018.
But, like Thomas (who has a $10.4 million projected cap hit for this year, but only $1.9 million in dead money should he be released), Sherman seems primed for a contract extension that lessens his immediate cap hit, reflects the injury he suffered in November and its attendant recovery time but also keeps him in the fold as an integral member of the defense. Thomas, meanwhile, has already said he’s not interested in remaining with the Seahawks without a contract extension, which makes said extension not only beneficial to Seattle from a cap perspective but also keeps a top player in the fold and happy.
Walking away from either or both of Sherman and Thomas would hurt, and while it would not be surprising if either are released this offseason (or perhaps traded), for continuity’s sake extending the contracts to reduce 2018 costs would be prudent, if not necessary. Regardless, Seattle needs more cash on hand and it will be easier to come up with that money by making a few key adjustments on the defensive side of the ball than on offense. While extensions for both or either of Sherman and Thomas will push cap concerns into the future, the alternative is even less sustainable. On the other hand, the Seahawks may instead hope to find lightning in a bottle by way of the draft and rip off a bandaid that will need eventual removing; weighing the risks and rewards regarding ways to save money will be a huge offseason question for the team.
Extending Russell Wilson
When the Seahawks gave quarterback Russell Wilson a four-year, $87.6 million extension in 2015, it seemed designed to lead to yet another extension near the ending of the deal. He’s already had one restructuring of the deal, last October, when $6.26 million of his base salary was converted into a prorated bonus to be split up over the last three seasons (2017, 2018, 2019) of his contract.
However, with base salaries of $15.5 million and $17 million in 2018 and 2019 and combined bonus compensation of $16.58 million over those two years, another extension could easily reduce his immediate cap hit as well as secure him as the franchise quarterback through his early and mid-30s, when Wilson will ostensibly be in his prime.
At present, the Seahawks are set to have 14.72 percent of their 2018 cap space dedicated to the quarterback position, with 14.37 percent in Wilson’s name. Only seven teams currently have a greater percentage of their 2018 cap dollars committed to the position, a sign that this is a place in which the Seahawks can serve to save some cash. The very structure of Wilson’s deal—front-loaded, to be sure, but not too drastically (his dead money for 2019, the final year of his contract, is just under $8.3 million)—is just begging for an extension, and getting that done prior to the new league year can free up enough cash in the short term.
The only thing to keep in mind is that the Seahawks would have to break their own self-imposed rule of holding off contract negotiations until a player is in the final year of his deal. For a franchise quarterback, however, Seattle may be willing to make an exception to that rule, especially if it means being able to retain both Thomas and Sherman.