McDowell has been out all season, and Chancellor and Avril's futures are also murky with injuries. Here's how the Seahawks may handle a trio of big-name injured defensive players going forward.
The Seahawks confirmed earlier this week that three big-name players — safety Kam Chancellor, defensive end Cliff Avril and rookie defensive tackle Malik McDowell — will not play again this season (or in McDowell’s case, won’t play at all).
But while for each player 2017 is now determined, their Seahawk futures remain murky.
Here’s an attempt to make some sense of what could happen with each player, with some help from Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who now writes about salary cap issues for CBSSports.com and FootballPost.com.
Chancellor, like Avril, will be sidelined for the year with a neck issue that has resulted in stingers. Unlike Avril, he is not having surgery — Avril’s was performed Tuesday. But like Avril, the team has not ruled out that he may never play again.
And that means that Chancellor now presents, as Corry put it, “a tricky case.’’
Chancellor is one of the more iconic players in team history and as important to Seattle’s recent run of success as anyone, so management is likely to tread carefully.
If Chancellor, who turns 30 next April, can’t play again then what would help the team the most would be for him to retire.
“That would solve a lot of problems for them,’’ Corry said.
But as Corry notes, Chancellor would leave a lot of money on the team by doing so, which means “I can’t imagine he is just going to walk away or retire.’’
Chancellor, recall, signed a contract extension during training camp that runs through the 2020 season. It includes base salaries the next three seasons of $6.8 million, $10 million and $10 million.
Most relevant is the $6.8 million for 2018, which will become fully guaranteed if he is on the roster Feb. 10, 2018 (there’s a similar scenario for 2019, when $5.2 million would become fully guaranteed).
Chancellor would walk away from that money if he retires, which would seem unlikely. But if he can’t play, then the Seahawks would take a significant salary cap hit for an inactive player (one possibility is that he could go on the Physically Unable to Perform list so he wouldn’t count against the roster limits. But his salary still would count against the cap).
Seattle, of course, could release Chancellor. But that might be difficult to envision the Seahawks doing with a player who has meant what Chancellor has to the organization, especially if he is still intent on attempting to keep playing.
Corry figures the Seahawks may just wait things out with Chancellor and see if he can play in 2018.
“It seems like it may be better just to let them take their chances because after Feb. 10 they have to pay him $6.8 million anyway, and then just delay the decision until 2019,’’ Corry said.
The way Chancellor’s contract is structured further leads to the idea that the team wouldn’t likely force the issue next season — he counts for $7.5 million in dead money meaning the most Seattle could save against the cap is $2.3 million.
But the dead money decreases markedly and the potential savings increase greatly the following two years ($5 million, $8 million in 2019 and $2.5 million and $12 million in 2020).
The Seahawks could have had little risk with Chancellor had they not signed him to the extension last July, which was the result of months of negotiations and came in the wake of his 2015 holdout.
The extension was also done to essentially put Chancellor on par salary wise with Miami’s Reshad Jones, who had signed a five-year, $60 million deal in March. Chancellor’s average per year matches the $12 million of Jones and makes each tied for the third-highest paid safety in the NFL, according to OvertheCap.com.
As Corry notes, at the time the deal raised some eyebrows in part because it set a bar that Seattle will have to top to re-up Earl Thomas, who makes $10 million a year, when his deal expires after the 2018 season.
In fact, if Seattle follows its usual course, expect Seattle to try to get something done with Thomas this off-season to avoid him going into his final year with his future unsettled.
Cornerback Richard Sherman also will enter the final year of his contract in 2018. But Corry says his Achilles injury likely means Seattle will choose Thomas and possibly bypass Sherman for now.
“I was surprised they did (the Chancellor extension),’’ Corry said. “Because once they started drafting all those DBs (Seattle drafted two safeties and two cornerbacks last April) I figured they probably let him (Chancellor) play it out and then go from there because whatever they did was going to set a floor for Earl Thomas because they are not going to be able to keep all those guys in the secondary.
“But it’s kind of sorted itself out because they definitely won’t extend Sherman now coming off an Achilles. He’s going to play out his deal. So if you are going to extend anybody it’ll be Thomas.’’
Chancellor remains on the team’s 53-man active roster for now. But that also is likely due to some salary cap juggling. Chancellor’s salary for the rest of this season will count against the cap regardless of whether he is on the 53-man or IR, but adding a player to the 53-man to take his place would add that salary to the team’s cap.
Seattle is so tight against the cap at the moment that the Seahawks were officially listed as being $62,511 above the allowed limit as of Thursday morning (though presumably some finagling is being done to get Seattle back to at least even).
Avril’s situation is far less complicated than Chancellor’s.
Avril, who turns 32 in April, has one more year remaining on his contract with just $500,000 due to the count against the cap with Seattle possibly saving $7.5 million if he were to retire or be released.
However, Corry notes Seattle would also be on the hook for an additional $1.15 million against the salary cap for an injury protection payout Avril is due.
“That would be the only financial cash obligation if he can’t play,’’ Corry said.
That a retirement or a release of Avril would clear up significant cap space has led to the conclusion that he won’t be back in 2018.
But Corry says there is one way the team could bring Avril back assuming his surgery fixed his issues and he were cleared to play, and minimize its financial risk in he event of a re-injury — turning his base salary into per-game roster bonuses.
“So he could still make the same $7.5 million he was going to make but he’d just have to be active every game to seriously cash out,’’ Corry said.
Avril has already made $21 million of the $28.5 million total on a four-year deal he signed in Dec., 2014, so that might be something he’d agree to if it made sense health-wise to try to keep playing.
For being the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft, McDowell received a four-year deal worth up to $6.9 million that included a $3.1 million signing bonus.
That he will now apparently spend the entire season on the Non-Football Injury List after suffering a severe concussion in an ATV accident in July means a couple of things.
While this season will count as year one of McDowell’s contract — meaning he will still have three years left beginning in 2018 — it does not count as an accrued season for free agency.
So if McDowell can come back and play next season — which Carroll said this week remains unclear — and the years beyond that, then he would not become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season but rather a restricted free agent, meaning Seattle could more easily retain him.
Being on NFI also means Seattle doesn’t have to pay McDowell his base salary this year of $465,000 — or $27,352 per week — but instead just $5,000 per week, Corry said.
McDowell’s base increases to $788,155 for the 2018 season and if he remains on the NFI the same scenario would be in place, though if he can’t play again next year something more concrete will likely occur.
His bonus is pro-rated at $799,619 for each year of his contract and should he never play again the Seahawks could do some finagling and potentially get some of it back, or accelerate the cap hit into taking all of it in 2018.
But given that the obvious hope remains that McDowell — who turned 21 in June — may still have a lengthy career, Corry doubts the Seahawks will make any moves regarding McDowell anytime soon.
“I would think they would just let that one play out,’’ Corry said.