Cap This! The Seahawks' Balance Sheet
Lofa: The best bargain in Seattle!
Lofa: The best bargain in Seattle!
The Hawkstorian
Posted Mar 18, 2008


As free agency begins to wind down, it's time to piece the numbers together, from sources official and unofficial, and get a handle on what the Seahawks have spent in the 2008 fiscal year, What's left in the budget? With the help of esteemed Cap Guru "The Hawkstorian", we'll get to the financial specifics.

As of now, the Seahawks have about $9.5 million in cap room. Not the $3 million or so you've heard from many sources, and that's because of a kink in the Collective Bargaining Agreement called the Rule of 51, which states that only the top 51 contracts will count against the team's salary cap. Still, a few things could change that number pretty radically (especially in early June), and that's the disclaimer we always have to use with these numbers -- they are extremely volatile, not entirely official, and subject to change. What you see today may not apply tomorrow, though we try to keep people up to date on the numbers in our Premium Forum.

Mack Strong and Shaun Alexander are still on the books and once they are released, the Seahawks could be sitting on over $14 million in available cap.  Rookie contracts will pare that down, but only by $2 million or less, meaning the Seahawks could be sitting on $10-$12 million in available dollars after free agency and the draft are complete.  All this while Marcus Trufant still holds a cap slot of over $9 million.

Conventional wisdom says that the Seahawks let free agents Josh Brown and D.J. Hackett walk away due to limited cap space -- that may not be as true as the team wants us to believe.  In reality, the Seahawks determined each player’s value regardless of the available dollars and let players they apparently didn’t feel were crucial to the team’s future success walk away.

As to the players they acquired ... let's take a look at the most-discussed Seahawks free agent contract of the 2008 offseason.

With the "$5.5 million guaranteed in the first season" number thrown around so frequently for new running back Julius Jones (and some outlets reporting that as a likely 2008 cap hit, which didn't make much sense), Seahawks.NET put together a more feasible set of numbers. Based on a $700,000 base salary, his $4 million signing bonus prorated over four seasons and possibly some other bonuses thrown in the kitty, we estimated that Jones' cap hit this season would be around $2 million. Not chump change, but fairly in line with someone who has shown average production and signs with a new team who hopes for short-term upswing. It's important to remember that what the Seahawks have said they'll put in Jones' pocket, and what they have to put on the books, can be two different things. They can pay the bonus upfront and stagger it out over the life of the deal for cap purposes.

As it turns out, Jones' 2008 cap number is $2,113, 337, and it's split between two teams -- the Seahawks will pick up $1.5 million this season, and $613,337 goes on Dallas' books. Not a bad deal, really. Since Jones' deal is incentive-laden as well (another $4 million based on performance over the life of the deal), it seems that the Seahawks have outlined a stopgap contract for a back they hope can outstrip it.

T.J. Duckett, Jones' new battery-mate, has an equally cap-friendly deal. He's on the books for $1,055,000 -- a $605,000 base salary and the rest in the proration of his signing bonus. Duckett has a $2 million roster bonus due in 2009.

Now, for the elephant in the living room -- Jones and Duckett together count for about $2.5 million against the Seahawks' cap in 2008. Right now, Shaun Alexander is on the books for $6,775,000, and if he is released with the June 1 exemption allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he'll count far less against the 2008 cap starting June 2 -- a reduction of $4.475 million which carries over into next season. The Seahawks have to wait until Alexander's wrist heals, but this seems a fait accompli. With two backs in the wings who count for less than half of Alexander's cap hit -- combined! -- and with little in the way of productivity expected from #37 based on the last two seasons, it's easy to do the math.

Speaking of value, let's take a look, Bill James-style, at a "Player X/Player Y" scenario. Here, in fact, are Player X and Player Y combined for 2007.

 

G

GS

REC

YDS

AVG

LNG

TD

2007 DPAR

2008 CAP HIT

Player X

 11

 11

49

661

13.5

65

4

10.8%

$6,760,000.00

Player Y

 16

 12

50

694

13.9

45

9

11.9%

$4,050,000.00

TOTAL

27

23

99

1,355

13.69

 

13

22.70%

$10,810,000.00

Pretty high-cost, especially when you take a look at Player Z…

 

G

GS

REC

YDS

AVG

LNG

TD

2007 DPAR

2008 CAP HIT

Player Z

 16

 13

94

1,147

12.2

49

6

32.0%

$2,140,000.00

Player X is Deion Branch, who is recovering from a torn ACL and will miss at least the start of the season, if not much, much more. Player Y is Nate Burleson, and yes, that cap hit is after the restructuring of his supposed $49 million deal that never was. He'll be Seattle's #2 receiver, and a solid option as a kick returner, but the value is questionable. Given these numbers, the idea that the Seahawks saw D.J. Hackett as overpriced at $3.5 million over two years seems a bit odd.

Player Z? Bobby Engram. The 35-year-old veteran saved his best for his 12th NFL season, proving to be one of the NFL's better bargains. He earned every penny of his two-year, $3.4 million contract in the first year alone.

If you take Engram's and Burleson's cap hits, and add the approximately $1 million in total 2008 cap dollars for Ben Obomanu, Courtney Taylor and Logan Payne, you've got the five receivers who will most likely see more action costing half a million more all told than the guy who will be sitting on the bench. Factor in that first-round draft pick, and the Deion Branch deal is the one thing Tim Ruskell's not going to want to remember about his Seattle tenure when all is said and done.

Speaking of bargains ... here are the Seahawks' Top Value Picks for 2008 (again, all numbers are approximate):

5. Leroy Hill -- $1,068,250
4. Patrick Kerney -- $3,250,000
3. Brandon Mebane -- $540,250
2. Sean Locklear -- $2,650,000
1. Lofa Tatupu -- $970,000

Gotta love those rookie contracts! Hill and Tatupu comprise two-thirds of the NFL's best 4-3 linebacker corps, and it could easily be argued that they're the better two-thirds. Peterson, a dynamic player who disappears at times, is on the other list. In Tatupu and Kerney, you have two legitimate Defensive Player of the Year nominees, perhaps the best tribute yet to Tim Ruskell's personnel acumen. Mebane was a rock in the middle of the defense as a rookie, putting up the fifth-best Stop Rate against the run among defensive tackles. The Seahawks are enjoying the best of Locklear's new five-year, $32 million deal -- less than $3 million is a sweet deal for a better-than-solid right tackle these days.

On the other hand … well, there's the nearly $5 million in cap space with Grant Wistrom's name on it, and Tom Ashworth's current cap charge of nearly $2 million without the June 1 designation. The Branch numbers are pretty self-explanatory at this point. Not good. Increased revenue or not, dead cap is dead cap. The nearly $10 million payable to Trufant as the team's franchise player might lead the Seahawks to try harder to cut a long-term deal and bring millions in relief, or they might gamble on the extremely likely scenario that they can get a better fit for that kind of money over time. We have seen, based on these numbers, that the urgency isn't quite what we thought it was. The draft will tell a great deal. 

In the short term, we know that there is still room to make moves whether Alexander's and Trufant's situations remain stable or not. In the long term, potential labor strife and the possibility of an expired CBA would lead the NFL down a perilous path. That's a story for another time, but it's good to know, after looking at all the numbers, that the Seahawks have things in hand for now.


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

The Hawkstorian, Seahawks.NET's salary cap expert, is saving up for a pocket calculator in retro Seahawks blue. Feel free to e-mail him here.



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