The Seahawks did take a chunk of Malik McDowell's salary last season, but recouping any bonus money could prove difficult.
My question-and-answer post about Malik McDowell’s contract earlier this week brought a couple of more questions from readers.
So I figured I’d answer them here in a separate post and maybe try to address everything all at once.
The question the other day asked if the Seahawks had any recourse in terms of McDowell’s contract since he spent all of last season on the Non-Football Injury list for injuries incurred in an ATV accident last July, the most specific injury cited by the team as being a “really bad concussion” in the words of coach Pete Carroll last October.
As noted in the earlier post, McDowell signed a four-year contract worth up to $6.95 million after being taken as Seattle’s first pick in the draft last April out of Michigan State, which was the contract slotted by the league’s CBA for being the 35th overall pick in the draft.
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That contract included a $3.19 million signing bonus. His bonus is pro-rated at $799,619 for each year of his contract for salary cap purposes, 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 if the team determines this year that he can never play again.
But trying to get some of the bonus back would likely mean going before an arbitrator, which is one reason — if not the biggest reason — you haven’t heard a whole lot of specifics of what happened (and haven’t heard McDowell say anything).
NFL teams, though, have not had a lot of luck getting bonus money back (most recently, the Packers lost their attempt to get some bonus money back last year from Martellus Bennett when Green Bay argued he concealed the extent of an injury before signing a contract that included a $6.3 million signing bonus) and Seattle would likely try that only as a last resort if McDowell is at some point ruled to never have a chance to play again.
In that regard, it’s worth remembering Seattle’s end goal here is still that McDowell could play at some point and going scorched earth to take all of his money at this point doesn’t necessarily foster a positive relationship.
But Seattle did take a significant chunk of McDowell’s salary last season.
NFL rules allow for teams to not pay players any weekly salary (players get paid in 17 installments during the regular season for each game and the bye week) when they are on NFI. Seattle instead decided to pay McDowell $5,000 per seek — or $85,000 for the season — compared to the $465,000 salary he had been due (or $27,352 per week).
NFL rules also punish McDowell in another way.
Since he was on the NFI all of last season he did not get an accrued season toward free agency. That means that when his contract runs out in 2020 he would become a restricted free agent instead of unrestricted.
But one reader wondered if that meant that since McDowell did not get credit for the season if his contract tolls, meaning it basically starts over at the beginning this season.
Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who now writes about salary cap issues for CBSSports.com, confirmed that McDowell’s contract does not toll and he will be due a salary of $781,155 this season — his normal second-year salary — or $45,950 per week.
Corry, though, also noted that the Seahawks don’t have to pay any of that salary as long as McDowell is on the NFI if they don’t want to — how much of a salary to pay a player on NFI is at a team’s discretion (Dallas paid all of Jaylon Smith’s salary a few years ago). But that’s not a decision the Seahawks would have to make until the season begins and it’s clear what McDowell’s status is.
For now, all of McDowell’s salary counts toward the 2018 salary cap since it can’t be assumed he will be on NFI. McDowell has a cap number of $1.580 million, which includes the salary and the pro-rated share of the signing bonus.
But if he does not play and Seattle docks him any of his salary then the cap number would be adjusted by however much the Seahawks do not pay him (meaning, the Seahawks got $380,000 in cap relief for 2017 in the weekly salary it did not pay McDowell).
What remains unclear is how much any of this will come into play.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said at the NFL league meetings in Orlando last month that he had no update on McDowell, and the fact that he had no update would seem ominous for McDowell playing anytime soon, if ever.
“No, sorry,” Carroll said when asked if there was anything new on McDowell. “I haven’t had a good response for you in a long time on that one, sorry.”
But with no real options at the moment, the Seahawks are likely to just let this play out for now and see what happens come training camp and then the season.