Clayton: How could NFL’s salary cap impact Seahawks and their players?

Feb 4, 2021, 3:09 PM

Seahawks Carlos Dunlap...

The NFL's shrinking salary cap could force Seattle to cut Carlos Dunlap. (Getty)


Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith held their annual press conferences at the Super Bowl on Thursday.

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This was the first time they went back to back on the same stage. In the final 10 minutes of Goodell’s press conference, Smith went to the podium and both answered reporters’ questions.

Naturally, one of the most important questions didn’t have an answer. Neither could say what the 2021 salary cap would be. That still has to be negotiated after auditors finalize what the revenue was in this pandemic-affected season.

On Tuesday, the league held a salary cap seminar that usually happens in December. No answers there. Smith said he knows that the salary cap floor will be $175 million, but he thinks the final number will be higher. He said the league and the NFLPA can borrow cap money from future years.

Talking to people around the league, the number might be as high as $185 million, $13.2 million less than 2020.

So where does that put the Seahawks? They are currently around the $177 million mark, roughly $8 million under the possible $185 million cap for about 48 players. Until the start of the regular season, the cap only includes the top 51 cap numbers. Restricted free-agent tenders would put the Seahawks closer to the $185 million projection, but the Seahawks really won’t be in bad shape.

Ten teams are over the cap and some are in really rough shape. The New Orleans Saints are $90 million over. The Philadelphia Eagles are $44 million over. Dead money from the Jared Goff trade and the $20 million salary for Matthew Stafford has the Rams around $35 million. Green Bay and Atlanta are $23 million to $25 million over.

Since the Seahawks’ playoff loss to the Rams, plenty of fans have suggested making cuts to clear cap room. Some have gone as far as to suggest trading Russell Wilson. Wrong. He’s one of the biggest reasons the Seahawks are playoff contenders and possible Super Bowl contenders. Others suggest cutting Bobby Wagner, who has a $17.5 million cap on his $18 million a year contract. Wrong. He is still considered the best middle linebacker in the game. He might do a restructured contract that replaces base salary with signing bonus money.

Remember a year ago when a lot of people were suggesting the Seahawks free up cap room by cutting K.J. Wright? The Seahawks might not have won the NFC West if Wright wasn’t on the team. He had arguably his best season. What the Seahawks have to figure out is if they can re-sign him as he’s entering free agency. Wright and Wagner are great players and great leaders.

The Seahawks didn’t have a single player fail the COVID-19 test in 2020. Much of that can be credited by the leadership Wagner, Wright, Wilson, Duane Brown and others provided to make sure young players didn’t expose the team to the virus.

Because of the lower salary cap around the league, most players aren’t going to get their true value. Many players will come in getting an average of $2-3 million under what they expect. I went back and looked at unrestricted free agency in 2020 and there were 29 players who changed teams and received $10 million a year or more. I was going through this year’s free agent class and counted about the same players at that level, but many of my projections had big drops.

Many teams don’t have the room to buy high-priced free agents. In 2011, there was a flat salary cap. Franchise tags at most positions dropped by 20 percent. Taking a $13.2 million drop in the cap could lower the franchise tags by 30 percent.

If the cap was able to rise, Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin might be able to ask for around $14 million a year in free agency. It wouldn’t surprise me that he might have to take $10 million on a short deal.

One key player who could provide cap room for the Seahawks is defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Clearly Seattle wants him back, but his cap number is $14,037,500. Dunlap liked it here but he might have to take a big pay cut. He’s on a $13.5 million a year contract. At 32 years old, he won’t command that kind of negotiating clout. Something can be worked out.

Teams are waiting for the cap number but they have to prepare for the tough market.

Follow John Clayton on Twitter.

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