The Seattle Seahawks have salary cap problems. They are currently significantly over the salary cap, and are living in "rolled-over" cap room borrowed from previous seasons. If they don't make changes before rosters are set, the 2014 offseason will likely be very ugly.
How ugly? How about only having about $1.6 million in cap space with the likes of Brandon Browner, Antoine Winfield, Michael Bennett, Michael Robinson, Breno Giacomini, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Walter Thurmond, Paul McQuistan, and a few others who need to be re-signed or replaced?
That sounds ugly to me. Oh, and that is before the team extends the contracts for Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, both of which will be entering the last year of their rookie deals.
Now, before panic sets in, let me tell you that there's hope. The Seahawks need to take steps now to help out the 2014 team. Unfortunately, it may include an unexpected player or two ending up on the chopping block.
According to Spotrac, the Seahawks have $4.6 million in cap space, after rolling over $13.2 million from last season. This only includes the top 51 players, though, and the top-51 rule only applies to the offseason. Starting on the Thursday before the first game, all players, including those on the practice squad, count toward a team's salary cap.
Adjusting for the final two players and the practice-squad players puts the Seahawks at approximately $3.1 million in cap space that will be rolled over to 2014.
In 2014, the Seahawks have $127.5 million in salary cap spending already on the books, according to overthecap.com. We won't know what the 2014 salary cap will be until next March, but it's safe to assume it won't increase more than it did this past season. If it goes up by $3 million, that will put the cap at $126 million.
If the Seahawks roll over the $3.1 million, as I've described, that gives the team an allowable spending limit of $129.1 million, with $127.5 million already spent. This is where I got the $1.6 million in spending room I mentioned earlier.
In this scenario, the Seahawks would need to keep their 53 most expensive contracts in 2013 to make this happen. What this represents is a somewhat of worse-case scenario in terms of the cap situation.
Fixing the Problem
The only solution to this problem is to decrease spending for the 2013 season. Due to the salary cap rollover rule added in the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), every dollar not spent this year can be applied to next season's salary cap.
Unfortunately, not all cap savings are equal in this regard. For example, one move that I've seen suggested a few times is replacing starting FB Michael Robinson with Derrick Coleman. Doing so saves the Seahawks $2 million in cap room in 2013, which in turn raises the spending limit by that amount in 2014.
It helps, but not as much as it could. The issue here is that Robinson has an expiring contract. Cutting Robinson only changes the spending limit. It doesn't change the amount currently allocated toward the 2014 season.
Another possible move, and one I expect the Seahawks to make, is cutting backup MLB Heath Farwell, and keeping Allen Bradford in his place. This move adjusts the 2013 spending by $823,000. Also, Farwell's contract has another year on it, so this move also decreases the salary on the books for 2014 by $1.33 million. The net result on the 2014 cap is an increase in $2.16 million spending room.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the team can convince certain players to take pay cuts in order to stay with the team. This is essentially what happened earlier this week with Clint Gresham, a deal reported by Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports, via a report by Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk.
Be careful suggesting this idea, though. Players who are asked to take a pay cut and say "no," are almost always cut afterward, just like what happened to TE Kellen Winslow last year. A team must be willing to proceed without a player before attempting to go down this road.
One of the problems the Seahawks are facing is that there aren't many players on the roster who fit the criteria needed to provide help in this area. A player must offer both a reasonable amount of cap relief and must not be a starter who is expected to make a large contribution.
Cap savings listed are approximate, as it depends on the player who takes the roster spot. For the purpose of this chart, I assumed that replacing player will make at or very near the league minimum.
|Player||2013 Cap Savings||2014 salary reduction|
|Brandon Mebane||$4.1 million||$5.3 million|
|Breno Giacomini||$3 million||none|
|Paul McQuistan||$2.5 million||none|
|Michael Robinson||$2 million||none|
|Antoine Winfield||$1 million||none|
|Heath Farwell||$823k||$1.33 million|
The first three on that list are unlikely to be going anywhere. All three are key starters at this time, and the roster battles haven't fallen in a way where any of them can be let go of right now. Cutting any of them would have made a major difference in the cap situation for next season, but I'll be quite surprised to see any of those names not on the 53-man roster.
The rest of the players listed all have some probability of not making the roster. If all don't, the team gains approximately $6 million in spending room for the 2014 season. That's probably more than what is needed at this stage, though a team can never have too much cap room. Ultimately though, the team likely needs to drop at least four of those five unless they can get someone else to take a pay cut.
The Tough Decisions
I know there will be a certain percentage of fans reading this who will read the beginning of this article and then jump straight to the comments section to say something like, "This is the Seahawks' year! They're going to go for it by keeping everyone and let 2014 take care of itself." To that, I'm going to respectfully disagree.
When the Seahawks hired Matt Thomas to replace John Idzik as the team's "cap guy," Pete Carroll mentioned they sat down and developed a three-year plan. I simply do not believe that the plan would be to go for it this year and then clean up the mess next year. Carroll has talked frequently about building a sustained winner. The "go for it" mentality just doesn't mesh with his "Win Forever" ideals.
Managing the cap situation while also trying to win big is a delicate balance. The better organizations do it and avoid the need to "rebuild" every six to eight years.
Making these choices won't be easy for the Seahawks. Each of these players has proven value, but the team simply cannot keep everyone. This will be the first such major test for John Schneider and the Seahawks in this regard.
Note: All salary figures were taken from Spotrac, unless noted otherwise.