Jonesí deal to hit cap harder than expected
MIKE SANDO; The News Tribune
Last updated: February 18th, 2005 10:54 AM

Walter Jonesí new contract with the Seattle Seahawks covers the next seven NFL seasons.

Simple, right? Not so fast.

The salary cap implications of Jonesí deal span only five years thanks to the leagueís labor agreement.

As a result, Jonesí contract will consume $914,285 more in 2005 salary cap space than reported Wednesday. The case illustrates why the Seahawks are paying a premium for allowing so many high-profile players to approach free agency this year.

The penalty stems from the absence of a salary cap for the 2007 season. The league and its players have yet to extend the collective bargaining agreement, leaving 2005 and 2006 as the last two seasons with a cap in place.

Before 2004, teams could spread the salary cap costs of signing bonuses over as many as seven seasons. If a team paid a $16 million bonus with a seven-year deal, for example, one-seventh of the bonus would count against the cap in a single year.

That fractional figure, when combined with the playerís base salary in a given year, would produce the ďcap numbersĒ familiar to anyone with the stamina to follow free agency.

As the uncapped 2007 season approaches, however, the NFLís labor agreement calls for reductions in the number of years a team can apply toward diluting the cap implications of bonuses. The number fell to six years in 2004 and five in 2005, with a four-year period allowed for contracts agreed upon in 2006.

The numbers could change if the league and players extend their agreement, but contracts signed in the meantime will count according to existing guidelines. Thatís why teams with more free agents are feeling the pinch.

The Seahawks, with 15 players still scheduled for unrestricted free agency, could be hit harder than most.

Jonesí contract is instructive.

The dealís seven-year, $52.5 million total included a $16 million signing bonus. Because the contract was signed in 2005, the bonus amount is divided by five years, producing a $3.2 million cap hit. Throw in Jonesí base salary for 2005, $1.7 million, and the contract counts $4.9 million against the cap this season.

Thatís considerably less than the $8.5 million figure tied to the franchise-player contract Jones might have signed. But had the $52.5 million deal been signed in 2003, the cap hit would have been $3.98 million this year, a savings of $914,285.

The Seahawks still have more than $20 million in salary cap space heading into the March 2 opening of free agency. That money will begin to disappear as the team re-signs more players, vanishing at a faster rate than in previous years.