A few unknowns make it hard to definitively determine the financial cost of Seattle's apparent decision to cut ties with the player it picked first in the NFL draft last season.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, a report that the Seahawks would soon waive defensive lineman Malik McDowell remained just that — a report — with McDowell remaining on the team’s roster.
But that could change at any minute, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network — the league’s official media arm — who stated Monday Seattle is expected to soon part ways with McDowell.
That leads to the obvious question of what the financial ramifications of his waiving could be for Seattle.
For some help on this I talked to former NFL agent Joel Corry, who now writes about salary cap issues for CBSSports.com.
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The one problem is that, as Corry states, there are a few different possible answers based on when McDowell is waived and also based on what might have been written into his contract about possible guarantees, neither of which are things anyone knows at the moment.
But in general, the differing amounts of dollars are not overly significant by NFL standards, and a review of his situation also makes clear that Seattle isn’t waiving McDowell now for any real financial reason.
“Seems like it’s more just to get rid of him than anything else,’’ Corry said.
To briefly recap, McDowell was taken by Seattle with the 35th overall pick of the draft last April after the Seahawks traded down three times from 26 to acquire four additional picks, which according to the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement means McDowell received a four-year contract worth up to $6.9 million guaranteed with a $3.19 million signing bonus.
That includes a guaranteed salary of $781,155 in 2018 and then a partially guaranteed salary in 2019 of $471,843. Seattle would be off the hook for any future payments to McDowell if a team were to claim him off of waivers. But no one expects that to happen given that McDowell is being waived because he cannot pass a physical and get cleared to play due to a head injury suffered in a ATV accident last July.
If McDowell is cut prior to June 1 then Seattle would take a $3.65 million salary cap hit in dead money for the 2018 season and roughly $2 million for the 2019 season.
But as Corry notes, Seattle could deem him a post-June 1 cut even if the move is made now, which would decrease the cap hit to $2.05 million for 2018 and $1.2 million in 2019. Teams can only use a post-June 1 cut designation for a player waived earlier than June 1 twice a year – Seattle has yet to use one this year so it could be in play for McDowell.
But Corry says further complicating figuring out exactly how much this could hit Seattle’s cap is that “I don’t know what the exact language in the contract is in terms of guarantees.’’
Corry says it’s possible there were clauses in the contract that could void some of the future guarantees, including that he was initially listed as not reporting last season (recall that McDowell rather hurriedly decided to report two days after camp began) and that he was arrested in December on a disorderly conduct charge in Atlanta.
Corry says “if the guarantees are intact and they still have to pay him his guaranteed salary this year and partial next year, it makes sense to do him as a post-June 1 designation.’’
And as Corry also noted, if McDowell is cut prior to June 2, then Seattle doesn’t have any salary cap charges for him in 2019. All of the bonus proration and next year’s $471,843 base salary guarantee will accelerate and go on the 2018 cap regardless of when he is released.
While Seattle would get some cap relief with the post-June 1 designation, the downside is that the money does not come off the cap until June 1. But given that we’re now past the major part of free agency that probably isn’t a big deal to Seattle at this point.
Seattle could also go after some of McDowell’s bonus money, which is listed at $799,619 for each of the four seasons of his contract for cap purposes.
But Corry said trying to guess what the Seahawks could do is also somewhat tricky without knowing if McDowell has gotten all of his bonus money already.
Corry assumes he has, saying bonus money is typically paid out in installments over the course of the calendar year in which a player is drafted.
But Corry says it’s possible Seattle withheld a payment and that could be a factor in the decision to waive him now.
“It’s much easier to withhold money than try to recoup money later on,’’ Corry said.
Teams have at times gotten some bonus money back — in a recent scenario that might be the most applicable to McDowell’s, former 49ers linebacker Chris Borland paid back three-fourths of his signing bonus when he retired after just one season in 2015.
Seattle would get cap relief for any bonus money returned.
The Seahawks, though, have not typically played hardball on bonus money — they could have gone after some of the $7.5 million signing bonus spread over three years that Marshawn Lynch received in 2015 before retiring the following year, but did not pursue it. But as Corry notes, how they treated a player with the stature of Lynch could be different than how they would approach McDowell’s situation.
Corry says the apparent timing of the waiving McDowell is “why I wonder if there is some additional (cap) relief we don’t know about.’’
Regardless, while every dollar matters, none of this will make or break the Seahawks’ budget in 2018.
As Corry notes, Seattle “has been a team to admit mistakes sooner than others,’’ such as dumping Matt Flynn after one season of a three-year deal that guaranteed him $10 million and Percy Harvin shortly into his second season of a six-year deal that included a $12 million signing bonus, and this may simply be another case of the Seahawks getting rid of a problem quickly.
“And this is a drop in the bucket compared to those two,’’ Corry said.
But the opportunity cost of losing a player the Seahawks thought could anchor the defensive line for a decade or so before he plays a single down is harder to put a price tag on.