The NFL and the NFLPA are in the 25th hour of perhaps the league’s most important labor negotiations.
A lack of an agreement could lead to a year without a minimum or maximum salary cap, heavy restrictions on free agency, not to mention an impending 2011 labor stoppage.
So as the NFL and Seahawks alike approach an uncapped year, cap casualties will be at an all-time high. While the Seahawks have a mixture of legends and scapegoats on their roster, no player, no matter his legacy, is truly safe this offseason.
The Seahawks have a variety of questionable, spare, or otherwise in danger parts at several skill positions, and even on both sides of the trenches. Undoubtedly many of them will have high price tags.
But some players, at least right now, seem very likely to become cap casualties.
5. Deion Branch, Wide Receiver
Branch is probably the most likely to become a casualty if the uncapped year arises, and for the most obvious reasons.
After the Seahawks traded a first round pick for the receiver in 2006, he signed a six-year, $39 million contract extension with the team. Seattle traded for Branch in hopes of him helping them cross the threshold from “Super Bowl caliber” to “Super Bowl champion,” a title he’d held with the Patriots two times, once even winning the Super Bowl MVP.
But in four seasons in Seattle, Branch has missed nearly a quarter of the team’s games, and he and Nate Burleson combined to form arguably the most disappointing and overpaid duo of receivers in the NFL—both in terms of health and on-field production.
Branch would likely be a cap casualty in any season, as his 2010 cap number (roughly $6.8 million) is much greater than the remaining prorated bonus hit the team would take ($1.4 million), which can be prorated over the next two years in a normal offseason circumstance. However, taking the entire cap hit would be wise in an uncapped season, obviously.
4. Deon Grant, Safety
Yet another unsurprising candidate for release.
Grant is part of arguably the worst unit on the Seahawks defense. Even when healthy, he has only outlasted fellow 2007 signee Brian Russell because his contract was less cap-friendly for release than was Russell's.
Even still in a normal year, the team would stand to lose about $400,000 by releasing Grant this year and assuming his entire cap hit this season (or ultimately the same outcome over the course of the next two years if the penalty is spread).
Grant is a more traditional cap casualty than the remaining players on the list, as he’s significantly under-performed his contract.
3. Julius Jones, Running Back
When Jones signed in Seattle he was considered to be a great fit for the zone-blocking scheme (ZBS).
Unfortunately, many smallish backs are thrown into that category mistakenly. But even in Dallas, Jones was a far better runner in designed-cutback and misdirection plays than the read-cut-go skills necessary to effectively run a successful ZBS.
And since the emergence of Justin Forsett midway through 2009 and his understanding of the offense—played in a ZBS in college—Jones may have become expendable.
Jones isn’t nearly the pass receiver that Forsett is, and while Forsett’s significantly undersized, he exhibits much more effort in pass protection than Jones.
Ultimately, while Jones has been great for depth in the past two seasons, the knock on him from two years ago remain the same: He just isn’t a feature back, and has limited contribution left in his aging legs.
2. Patrick Kerney, Defensive End
This could all be for naught, as Kerney may have already beaten the Seahawks to the punch.
After spending large parts of the last two seasons injured, Kerney is already on the chopping block. And like many cap casualties, the $5.17 million due to Kerney in 2010 (if he remains on the roster), his total damage cannot be quantified on his 2010 salary alone.
Kerney has a $4 million remaining prorated bonus, so net savings on a Kerney release would leave the Seahawks with an extra $1.17 million of cap room. The dilemma typically becomes this: Is the expected Kerney, be it partially injured or not, replaceable with the difference in cap hit upon his release?
In an uncapped year, however, that dilemma is non-existent. In an uncapped year, Kerney’s contract (and many other players' for that matter) will be looked at simply as production vs. compensation.
The Seahawks have paid more than $1 million per Kerney sack in the past two seasons.
1. Marcus Trufant, Cornerback
Trufant spent the first six games this season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. That didn’t stop him from leading the NFL in pass interference penalties against.
Trufant has had a volatile career in Seattle. He’s a polarizing player on college choice alone, as the Seattle area seems to have had a hard time embracing the former Washington State Cougar.
But even his performance, viewed subjectively, has had peaks and valleys aplenty in terms of both fan and media perception. And while Josh Wilson and Kelly Jennings have experienced similar volatility in their respective careers, neither makes near the money that Trufant does.
Trufant is due $8.7 million (including roster bonus) in 2010, and two years into his deal that included a $10 million signing bonus, Trufant would count $6 million against the cap in 2010 if there were a cap and Trufant was released.
However, the cover two defense, which seems likely to remain the predominant scheme in the Seahawks defense, requires less-than-elite athletic ability from its corners. Much of the success of teams that run similar schemes can be credited to their ability to recognize and react to a market inefficiency at defensive skill positions.
Trufant may eventually be a good fit in a cover two defense, but chances are he’s not a good fit in a cover two budget.