Based on recent reports, the NFL salary cap is expected to be between $180 million and $185 million in 2021. The actual number is not expected to be set until just before the league year begins March 17, but the ceiling apparently will be at least $5 million more than the floor the NFL and NFLPA had set last year.
The Seahawks and the rest of the NFL would happily take an extra $5 million, if Tom Pelissero’s report is more accurate than Adam Schefter’s tweet. (Here’s an easy explanation of how the league arrives at the salary cap.)
Assuming the number is Schefter’s reported $180 million, the Seahawks still would need to create room just to tender Poona Ford (about $3.4 million on the second-round offer) and a few ERFAs, let alone sign needed starters at center, running back, linebacker and cornerback.
Seattle would need to make two money-saving moves just to “break even” with the roster. Here are the top cap-room moves they can make:
$12M – Wilson restructure
$9M – Reed trade
$8M – Dunlap extension
$7M – Lockett extension
$6M – Wagner restructure
$4M – Adams extension
$4M – Diggs trade
$2.5M – Diggs extension
Some think the team will need to convert Russell Wilson’s salary into a prorated bonus — a move that could add about $12 million in space. The club likely would do that only if its other options were not tenable – because it would mean beefing up Wilson’s future cap hits by $6 million each.
Among extensions, Carlos Dunlap and Tyler Lockett would offer the biggest savings, but the Hawks would have to be comfortable probably paying them each $14 million to $15 million in 2022 and 2023. (We’re in favor of both being extended.) Cutting Dunlap would save $14 million, but it would be stupid. Trading Lockett would net about $12 million, but that also would be dumb.
Trading Jarran Reed might not be, however. Seattle could save around $9 million by moving Reed, who should have pretty good value after 6.5 sacks in 2020 (second on the team to Jamal Adams’ 9.5).
It’s a thin class of D-tackles in free agency – led by Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Ndamukong Suh and Tyrone Crawford. Reed could tempt a team to give up a third-rounder and something else. Anything less and Seattle should just keep him for 2021, knowing he will play hard for the big deal he wants in 2022. That’s why the Hawks won’t extend him: They don’t want to pay him $18 million or something crazy.
Speaking of crazy $18 million players, Bobby Wagner could restructure to give $6 million in space. A trade would bring back $9.65 million, but there is no way the Hawks are going to move their still-productive All-Pro defensive leader – even if he is overpaid and a bunch of fans want the franchise to move on from him.
An extension for Adams should be a priority for John Schneider, but it could be problematic if Adams and his agent try to get pass rusher money ($18 million plus) instead of taking top safety money ($16 million). If they get a deal at “their price,” the Hawks should be able to claim $3 million or $4 million in 2021 space. (For those who don’t want to pay Adams and think he should be traded, that very unlikely move would net his full salary, $9.86 million.)
The last option for space would be Quandre Diggs, who could be traded for $4 million in space or extended for around $2.5 million in space (on a deal averaging perhaps $10 million). Like Reed, a trade would make sense only if the Hawks were not planning to pay him in 2022 and were able to get a third and something else from a team.
As you can see, the Seahawks have a number of ways to create cap space. We expect them to try to get some extensions and/or trades done first, before potentially restructuring Wilson’s deal. But they will find the money they need to keep Ford and perhaps K.J. Wright and secure a center, running back and corner. We previously suggested a few deals for Wright and other potential returnees.
Some think the Seahawks would consider using the franchise tag on Chris Carson, but the Hawks have no reason to pay him $8 million. That’s the top value for the best free-agent running backs these days, and Carson will be hard-pressed to find anyone this year willing to pay him that. He will be lucky to get $6 million – and it might be as low as $4 million. Pete Carroll already has said the Seahawks will let Carson test free agency – a hint that they are not going to offer him much to stay.
Seattle could just bring back Carlos Hyde for a couple million or perhaps reach into their recent past to sign Mike Davis, who had a nice stint with Carolina last season (642 rushing yards, 59 catches, eight TDs).
Whatever the Seahawks plan to do, it all has to start with creating some cap space. And they have plenty of options for doing that.