We already knew the Seahawks were serious about ditching all distractions this year, and they apparently are poised to drop another.
Malik McDowell is the biggest draft bust of John Schneider’s tenure, and the GM apparently is ready to admit it a year after he made the defensive tackle Seattle’s top pick. McDowell, whose rookie year was smashed to pieces in an ATV accident last July, still is not ready to play football, so Seattle reportedly is going to release him. Pete Carroll and Schneider apparently don’t want to go through another year of answering questions about a guy who might never play in the NFL.
This offseason, they have been cutting bait with anyone who has not followed Carroll’s cardinal rules (protect the team, no complaining) the last couple of years: Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, now McDowell.
Schneider might not pursue McDowell’s signing bonus, but he should. Simply cutting him would cost about $2 million extra against the 2018 salary cap, thanks to guaranteed salaries the next two years. That would leave Seattle with just about $6 million in cap space this year — enough only for rookies, practice squad and injury replacements. (Of course, Cliff Avril’s expected release would add $6 million or $7 million.)
Schneider should go after McDowell’s bonus and the guaranteed salary though, since McDowell was injured away from work doing the kind of dangerous activity prohibited by the standard NFL player contract.
And, no, cutting McDowell would not mean the Seahawks surrender the right to recover bonus money. From the CBA: The assignment and/or termination of a player’s contract after events triggering the forfeiture shall not result in any waiver of the assigning or terminating Club’s right to seek to recover the full amount of any forfeiture.
McDowell was paid a $3.2 million signing bonus and is still not ready to play. If that continues to be the case, the Hawks should get that bonus back, plus the salary cap proration.
If McDowell refused to repay the bonus and took it to arbitration, it would be hard to see him winning. The player contract includes a clause that explicitly states: Player will not … engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury.
Riding an ATV clearly qualifies as an activity with “significant risk of person injury” — as McDowell proved last July.
The CBA also says: Any player who … is unavailable to the team due to a nonfootball injury that resulted from a material breach of Paragraph 3 of his NFL Player Contract … may be required to forfeit signing bonus, roster bonus, option bonus and/or reporting bonus, and no other Salary, for each League Year in which a Forfeitable Breach occurs.
That indicates Seattle would be entitled to last year’s prorated bonus, around $800,000. The team also should get that cap space back as a credit this year. Based on the wording of the CBA, if McDowell remained unable to play football or simply retired, he would owe the remaining $2.4 million.
But, if he somehow could return to play this year (at least passing an NFL-administered physical), the Seahawks would be entitled only to the 2017 prorated bonus and he then would count the full amount for being released (a total of $3.65 million in dead money, or $2.85 million once the 2017 rebate were applied).
With that in mind, any arbitration hearing probably wouldn’t convene until the sides knew whether he was healthy for 2018. So, the Hawks would have to carry the extra $2 million cap hit in 2018 and hope to get credit in 2019, assuming arbitration ended up going their way.
If they are smart, the Seahawks are working on an agreement in which McDowell pays back most of the signing bonus and forgoes the guaranteed salaries, so the sides avoid arbitration. Throw him a bone — maybe letting him keep the $800,000 from 2017. That would allow Schneider to keep his “nice guy” reputation while also bringing Seattle most of the financial credit it is due from McDowell.