With one big hurdle cleared Sunday — the passage of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — the NFL decided to stay on course with the beginning of a new league year and free agency Wednesday.
There had been conjecture that once the fate of the CBA was known, the league might delay the start of the league year and the free-agent signing period because of the novel coronavirus crisis.
After consulting with the players union, the league kept with its schedule, which also means the beginning of the “legal tampering” period — when teams can begin negotiating with the representatives of free agents — Monday at 9 a.m.
The Seahawks have 18 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents led by key defensive players such as ends Jadeveon Clowey and Quinton Jefferson and tackle Jarran Reed, and offensive linemen Germain Ifedi, George Fant and Mike Iupati.
Pro Football Talk reported one reason for keeping to the previous schedule is the unknown over when the crisis will subside. The players in particular were likely desiring to sign contracts now and have some certainty about their futures.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter further reported that the players union did not want the league to move free agency back, citing the same concern about the uncertainty over when the coronavirus crisis will end. That narrative, though, also got some push back from some on social media who characterized it as more of a mutual decision.
The passing of the CBA, meanwhile, gave the Seahawks and every other team a better understanding of how to head into free agency.
Teams will be allowed to use only one franchise or transition tag (the deadline is Monday morning). The Seahawks are not expected to use one, having agreed not to tag Clowney as a condition of his contract following his trade from Houston last fall. But eliminating the use of two tags will likely free up a few more players to hit free agency.
The passing of the CBA also eliminated a couple of obscure but potentially meaningful impediments to getting some deals done this year.
Specifically, teams can spread out the cap hit of any released players over two seasons. It would have been capped at one year had the CBA not passed and the 2020 season been the last year of the existing deal. There will be no “30 percent rule’’ for 2020, meaning teams can raise or lower base salaries by more than 30 percent from one year to the next (which also wouldn’t have been allowed in the final year of the CBA).
The upshot could be a few more contract extensions and teams having more creativity to clear up cap room for this year.
The passing of the CBA allowed the league to officially set its salary cap number for the 2020 season at $198.2 million per team.
That was a little bit lower than some observers had figured it would be, with the conventional wisdom that it would be set at $200 million. One thought is that the players may have opted to put a little more of their 47 percent of the revenue (which will increase to at least 48 percent by 2021 under the new CBA) into benefits instead of salary.
But that, combined with the fact that the minimum salaries for players was raised by at least $90,000 under the new CBA (which is effective immediately), actually decreased the cap room that the Seahawks had as of Sunday afternoon.
The Seahawks were estimated to have about $43.6 million in effective cap space on Saturday afternoon, via OvertheCap.com. But with the new numbers now in effect (and accounting for the raise in minimum salaries), their cap space dipped to roughly $38.5 million.
Since every team had to deal with the same change, the Seahawks remain as having the 17th-most cap space in the NFL.
But the alteration of some of the rules and the lessening of cap space undoubtedly had teams doing some scrambling Sunday to adjust.
Several Seahawks had spoken out against the proposal before it was passed, including quarterback Russell Wilson, and several took to Twitter to voice disapproval that it had passed.
Safety Quandre Diggs tweeted: “Y’all really let these people add another game and playoff game… with no extra bye week. bamboozled.’’ (The new CBA will mean one additional playoff team and one additional playoff game per conference beginning with the 2020 season).
To which middle linebacker Bobby Wagner responded: “They voted out of fear. That’s it. Just fear.’’
Wilson, who tweeted last month that he would vote no, did not make a comment on social media about the passage of the CBA.
Once the passage was announced Sunday morning, speculation grew anew whether the league might push back the free-agent signing period, in part because players typically must pass physicals before contracts are completed.
But all the other work of free agency can be done remotely, and private planes can be set up for flights for physicals.
While some teams made some significant deals Sunday, such as Tennessee re-signing quarterback Ryan Tannehill, there was little reported about any moves involving the Seahawks, with most speculation continuing that Clowney, Reed and Ifedi, among others, figure to each test the market.
And with the league deciding to keep to its schedule, Seahawks fans could know in a matter of a day or two if players such as Clowney and Reed will remain in Seattle or move on.