Thoughts on the Richard Sherman Extension and the Seahawks

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Today Richard Sherman himself reported that he signed a new contract with the Seattle Seahawks that would keep him in Seattle through 2018. It’s a huge contract, worth $14 million a season, with up to $40 million in guaranteed salary. Thanks to former agent and terrific cap columnist Joel Corry we have the breakdown of the cash flows of the contract which gives us the ability to look at how good a deal this is.

For Sherman this is a great contract. Sherman had little leverage this year to gain an extension and was scheduled to earn just $1.431 million. To make matters worse the cornerback market completely shrunk over the last two seasons with the $16 million Darrelle Revis contract quickly evaporating after just one season and no new players being signed for $10 million a season. Many teams would play hardball in that situation with a non-QB, even if a great player, but Seattle did everything they could to keep their corner happy.

The most recent real contracts at the position that we can compare Sherman’s contract are the Darrelle Revis 2010 contract with the New York Jets and Nnamdi Asomugha 2011 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Asomugha signed as a pure free agent while Revis had his rookie contract in essence torn up to make the numbers work such that he would accept the contract. Just for kicks I’ll throw in the crazy three year deal that was signed by Asomugha with the Oakland Raiders in 2009. Here are the cash flows of the contracts:

Sherman cash flows 1

As you can see this is quite the accomplishment for Sherman. Over a three year period he will be able to nearly match, in terms of new money, the over the top figure the Raiders threw at Asomugha back in 2009. It was a complete head scratcher of a contract and for Sherman to reach to that level is quite impressive, especially if $40 million is truly guaranteed.

For Seattle we can take a slightly different approach to the contract. They knew they were going to do everything they could to keep Sherman in the fold next season. They could have franchised him to limit cash flows but sometimes that can be counter-productive to negotiations. While the $14 million a year new money figure is big to everyone, for Seattle they can view this as a five year contract that they can work in any manner they wish.  For this we can also look at Brandon Carr, the highest long term contract currently on the books.

Sherman Cash Flows 2

When looked at from the team perspective it’s a bit different. Sherman’s real cash flows trail Revis through three years and he essentially equals Revis’ four year take home salary. Sherman never surpasses Asomugha in this manner and actually trails Carr through two years and is only $2 million above after three. Essentially they can account for Sherman as an $11.5 million a year player by signing him to an extension now rather than playing the market next year when things could change if Patrick Peterson receives a huge extension from the Cardinals.

By making this move now Seattle is also doing some behind the scenes maneuvering which I think is very smart for how they run their organization. Many times the relationship between player representative and team can be very contentious. This was certainly the case in 2010 with Revis when Revis was prepared to sit out a season and was not in the best of shape when he returned. Not surprisingly Revis was dealt away in 2013. You always need to worry about those situations with players especially when the off the field contract talks work their way into on the field performance.

By locking up Sherman and, recently, Safety Earl Thomas to market setting extensions they are diffusing any situations that may arise with good players in the future such as Russell Wilson. Sherman is the first real big extension of the 2011 draft class. Peterson did not get a new deal from the Cardinals. Von Miller can’t get one with Denver. Colin Kaepernick hasn’t signed yet with the 49ers. Thomas is only the second of his draft class to get a big extension. Demaryius Thomas hasn’t received one yet. Jason Pierre-Paul doesn’t seem close to one. Seattle had no problems getting the deals done.

That goes a long way towards a player believing that as long as he maintains a high level of play he will be rewarded at any time with a new contract. It helps keep rookies motivated for their entire four year contract rather than picking and choosing when to make their marks. The team has been very generous with their own talent (in addition to those two they have signed C Max Unger and S Kam Chancellor to nice deals) and has made marks with outside players as well. Both Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett received solid deals from the team in recent years after showing good results on what might be termed bargain contracts prior to their new deals. They also paid quite a ransom for Percy Harvin.These moves can make Seattle a choice organization for many free agents.  It is not always about top dollar today with Seattle but the potential top dollar that may await tomorrow.

It is no surprise they are sending agents pamphlets about the benefits of undrafted free agents signing with the Seahawks. Seattle needs those players to now balance out these big contracts they are signing, but those players can benefit from playing in Seattle. The Cincinnati Bengals could have extended star LB Vontaze Burfict this year. Maybe they still will but as of now they have not. Burfict was a great UDFA find and the team controls his rights for almost no money in 2014, the high RFA tender in 2015, and a potential franchise tag in 2016. Who knows if that is the route they go, but based on what we have seen in Seattle they would throw their leverage out the window in order to get a deal done that makes both sides happy.  UDFA’s will take notice of the way Seattle does business and it may be better to sign there for $1,000 guaranteed than elsewhere for $10,000 guaranteed.

Is this model sustainable for Seattle.  Provided they draft well and attract the best UDFA’s it will be. If they whiff badly on a draft class they will begin to feel pressure from their cap. Currently our estimates have Seattle with about $109 million in cap charges committed to 2015 as we enter the draft. They will lose about $5 million to draft picks next year leaving them with $114 million in cap charges for the full roster. That should be enough room to get things done with QB Russell Wilson, who stands to make a fortune from the Seahawks if they continue to be a playoff team, and LT Russell Okung provided that the cap jumps to the $140 million range.

However that is not going to leave the team with a great deal of wiggle room to bring in more expensive outside talent, so they have to draft extremely well and fill the voids with the low cost talent until they recycle out the new veterans in 4 or 5 years and replace them with the players drafted or signed in 2014 through 2017. They should be able to continue to attract reasonably priced free agents as well to try to fit in for a year or two, with those players knowing that they could make a contractual splash in Seattle or elsewhere once their time is up in Seattle. But the draft is critical for the team.

It is definitely an interesting team to watch and to see if the model can lead to sustained success or leads to a crowded salary cap that gets old 3 or 4 years down the line with no reinforcements to keep any window open. But for now Seattle should be doing more than enough to keep most of their talent motivated to repeat and hopefully avoid the Super Bowl hangover that hits many teams.

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Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC