At the core of his roster-building principles, John Schneider has never been a fan of running up funds on the Seahawks' franchise credit card.
Compared to most teams across the NFL landscape, Seattle hasn't restructured contracts often under Schneider's watch. There have been a few exceptions, of course, as the team turned nearly $7 million of receiver Doug Baldwin's base salary into a signing bonus before the start of the 2017 season, creating $5.2 million in cap space to help facilitate a trade for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
To avoid cap charges down the road, Schneider has also preferred signing affordable veterans to one-year deals rather than multi-year contracts in free agency. During the 2020 offseason alone, he signed Greg Olsen, Benson Mayowa, Bruce Irvin, Phillip Dorsett, Carlos Hyde, and several other players to one-year pacts that carried slightly larger cap hits but no future commitments.
Given Schneider's lack of inclination to push salary cap hits into future seasons, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Seahawks had never handed out a contract that included "voided" seasons in his first 11 seasons at the helm. Adding voided years allows teams to spread out a player's signing bonus for salary cap purposes, but it also creates dead cap charges down the road, which the Seahawks have typically tried to avoid at all costs.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing fans from attending games last season and the NFL losing millions of dollars in revenue as a result, the league's salary cap plummeted from nearly $200 million in 2020 to $182.5 million this offseason. This left nearly every franchise in a bind and Seattle was no exception, as the team entered free agency with less than $10 million in effective cap space to spend and a plethora of holes to fill on the roster.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and with the Seahawks dealing with an unhappy Russell Wilson amid the cap crunch, Schneider knew he would have to employ different tactics to improve the roster to the star quarterback's satisfaction.
At the center of this philosophical shift, contrary to their past dealings, Schneider and cap guru Matt Thomas began to embrace the aforementioned voided years, which have been all the rage across the league during free agency. Over the past two weeks, Seattle has reportedly included voided years in contracts for seven players, most recently tacking on three voided years to defensive end Carlos Dunlap's two-year, $16.6 million deal.
The Seahawks also attempted to sign Jarran Reed to a similar restructured deal adding a voided year to lower his salary cap hit, but the sixth-year defensive tackle wanted a long-term extension and refused to accept the deal. He was subsequently released to create close to $9 million in cap space and signed with the Chiefs days later.
Why the change of heart? For one, like most teams in the league, the Seahawks have been making these types of deals out of necessity. Already up against the cap, Schneider would not have been able to build a roster with traditional contract structures unless the team traded away or cut several players. In the midst of a championship window, he wasn't going to do either of those things.
Looking at several of Seattle's recent signings, this strategy has allowed the team to retain key contributors such as Dunlap, Mayowa, and Chris Carson with cap charges of less than $3 million in 2021. Void years were also included for ex-49ers defensive end Kerry Hyder, who signed a two-year contract and carries a cap hit of just $1.95 million next year, as well as reserve tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.
Secondly, Schneider seemed to adjust his approach once news broke that the NFL had struck a new television agreement. With the league expected to earn $113 billion dollars in revenue during the 11-year deal, the salary cap will rise exponentially as a result. This will undoubtedly make absorbing small dead cap hits such as Mayowa's $1.5 million and Carson's $1.5 million in 2023 far easier to absorb.
This expected financial windfall has also influenced a pair of recent extensions for guard Gabe Jackson and receiver Tyler Lockett, who each carried cap hits north of $9.6 million for 2021. Using more conventional tactics, Schneider gave both players new deals with large signing bonuses and increased guaranteed money, helping lower their cap hits substantially for this season and "backloading" the contract for when the cap is anticipated to rise.
In Jackson's case, after acquiring him from the Raiders for a fifth-round pick, the Seahawks ripped up his old deal and replaced it with a three-year, $22.575 million contract. He received a $9 million signing bonus and will have an affordable $1.075 million base salary in 2021, lowering his cap hit to $4.075 million.
As for Lockett, the Seahawks rewarded the star receiver with a four-year, $69.2 extension and $37 million in guarantees. Though specifics of the deal have yet to be revealed, ESPN's Brady Henderson reported his cap hit could drop down as low as $7 million after originally being scheduled to have a $14.95 cap charge.
Considering those two extensions, the bevy of unconventional contracts featuring voided years handed out by Schneider, and the recent release of Reed, Seattle should be well-positioned to continue filling out the roster in coming weeks. Linebacker K.J. Wright remains unsigned and could still return, while this extra financial flexibility could also open the door for a reunion with cornerback Richard Sherman or Quinton Dunbar.
It's just another example of shrewd business dealings by Schneider, Thomas, and the Seahawks front office. While they will have to brace for larger cap hits in the future by deploying methods they normally avoid, a brighter financial situation awaits, which should allow them to navigate such challenges.