In this modern era of free agency and the salary cap, there has never been a more tenuous time in labor relations. The players and league need to agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before the 2006 off-season officially begins in early March. 2006 is the year the players are supposed to experience the most “pain” under the current CBA, with bonuses only allowed to amortize over 4 years (as opposed to 7 years in 2002 and 2003). Shorter years on bonuses means that up-front money is limited and contracts will have to contain more guaranteed dollars in later seasons to satiate the league’s premier free agents.
Despite the ability of all sides to make contracts as creative and flexible as possible, there’s no doubt that many players will find less dollars available in 2006 if the CBA remains un-extended.
And what if 2006 does happen this way? If the players are forced to negotiate contracts under these rules, they have vowed to let 2007 happen in a way where things REALLY go berserk. In 2007, there is no salary cap. The dreaded “un-capped” year. It’s impossible to really tell what would happen in 2007 but I’ll give one possible scenario.
Safety Ken Hamlin signed a 4-year contract as a rookie in 2003. Under normal rules, he would be scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007. Former Seahawk Ken Lucas used a similar scenario to land a six-year contract with Carolina that included $14,000,000 in bonus money. Ken Hamlin would become a free agent in an uncapped year, so he could theoretically be paid without any consideration of a salary cap.
The uncapped year comes with the caveat that 4th and 5th year players can only become restricted free agents, meaning teams can give a relatively cheap tender offer and match any other offers. Hamlin could see his negotiating stance evaporate if he could only negotiate with the Seahawks.
If Hamlin remains a true star player, the Seahawks would be foolish not to use the un-capped year as an opportunity to lock up their starting safety for the long-term. They could pay him a huge up-front bonus that wouldn’t have to be spread into future years. They could essentially pay whatever they felt necessary to keep Hamlin from testing the free agency market in future years.
And what of the future years? In 2008 there is no more CBA. The players have continually stated that if the uncapped year of 2007 occurs, they will never agree to a salary cap again. Yours truly will be out of a job. Owners in the three other major sports have been unafraid to lock out players to impose their will. We haven’t seen a labor stoppage in the NFL since Bruce Mathison was firing passes to Jimmy Teal in 1987.
I don’t believe we’ll see one again, but the urgency to strike a deal is right now, not two years from now when the CBA officially expires. Cooler heads will prevail, and soon, because everyone understands that the NFL is as successful as it is largely because of its stability.
Unfortunately, it’s hard for anyone to project the 2006 off-season not knowing what the labor situation will be like. We’re hearing reports the cap could reach $100,000,000 per team if the players are able to carve out a bigger piece out of what is becoming an even bigger pie. New TV money kicks in for 2006. Shaun Alexander is going to be a very rich man.
Alexander is clearly the marquee Seahawk free agent in 2006. He signed his one-year franchise tender with a slight modification - the Seahawks agreed not to re-franchise him next off-season. Right behind Alexander is guard Steve Hutchinson, who becomes the next logical choice to receive the franchise tag, a step the Seahawks have never hesitated to use to keep a pro-bowl caliber player.
After those two offensive stars, the list drops off quite a bit. The third guy on the list is probably Rocky Bernard, who has flashed some great moments but has never developed into a regular starter. Mack Strong will also be a free agent, but he’ll either retire or take a one-year deal. The rest of the list is a mish-mash of backups and quick-fix guys. WR Peter Warrick is looking to resurrect his career here so he can cash in next year. RB Maurice Morris has never quite developed into a consistent threat. WR Joe Jurevicius is a one-year-at-a-time reserve. The rest of the list: TE Ryan Hannam, S Marquand Manuel, LB Kevin Bentley, S John Howell, DE Joe Tafoya, DL Rodney Bailey, DB Jimmy Williams, and P Tom Rouen will all be happy to compete for backup jobs (or one-year deals in Rouen’s case) next year and don’t figure to make more than minimum deals.
Fortunately, the Seahawks should have enough money to address their pressing needs in 2006. My latest projection has them with just under $18M in cap room in 2006. This assumes a league-wide cap of $90M, which could easily grow. I’m also assuming the team gives tender offers to all their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents. My calculation has enough “what-ifs” involved that it should be taken with a very considerable grain of salt. There are several issues that will resolve themselves between now and March of 2006, making a final figure variable by many millions of dollars.
Keep in mind, the team is already carrying over $6,000,000 in dead-cap into 2006. DT Cedric Woodard is the biggest culprit on this list, counting $2.4M in ’06. After Woodard comes Bobby Taylor ($1.5M), Koren Robinson ($1.16M), Antonio Cochran ($750K) and Jerome Pathon ($200K). The team finished 2005 with over $15.6M in dead-money, easily a team record that should stand for several years.
If you have any specific questions I haven’t covered, feel free to post them on our free message-boards, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll have another report when major news happens on the labor front.
"The Hawkstorian" writes about Seahawks history, the salary cap, and many other things for Seahawks.NET on an alarmingly regular basis. You can reach him at email@example.com.