The Seahawks are 5-1. The last time they sported a record that shiny was back in 2013 when they went on to win the Super Bowl. That team dominated with defense, and benefitted from having a great young quarterback on his rookie contract. This team is led by their offense, and their MVP-so-far quarterback on one of the richest contracts in football. A hard salary cap in the NFL means teams must shift their money around. No team can have top-shelf veteran talent across the board. Looking at the Seahawks cap spend across positions tells an interesting story about how the front office is trying to adapt to their newfound strengths.
It was not that long ago that Pete Carroll was talking about how he generally opposes the notion of a quarterback-centric approach to roster building. He talked about the vulnerability of having too much reliance on any one player on the roster. The QB could be a “point guard” who distributes the ball, but it was the run game and the defense that were the foundations on which winning teams were built.
Fast forward to 2019 and Carroll has embraced his signal caller as the fulcrum of his team. He still emphasizes the run more than most in the league, but Russell Wilson is the centerpiece. What might surprise fans is that the percentage of the salary cap spent on the offense is just now starting to reach similar levels to where the team was in 2013.
The Seahawks spent 57% of the cap in 2013 on offense, but had not been over 50% since until they hit 51.7% last year and now sit at 55.7% this season.
The increased spend on offense is not just at the QB position. Many fans forget that the 2013 offensive line was one of the costliest in football. Guys like Russell Okung, Max Unger, Breno Giacomini, and even Paul McQuistan all made $3M or more. The team tried to go cheap with the OL after 2014. They went from spending 22.9% of their cap on the OL in 2013 to a scant 4.8% in 2016. That was the fateful J’Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell season when Webb was the highest paid linemen on the squad.
You can see how the money has shifted away from the RB spot with Marshawn Lynch leaving, which has some implications on how the team might handle Chris Carson’s impending free agency after next season.
Wide receiver has bounced around between 6% and 14% of cap spend. The team has locked in Tyler Lockett for a while and has to be hoping they can get by with rookie contracts for David Moore, D.K. Metcalf, and even guys like John Ursua and Gary Jennings. That helps explain why they are holding onto 7 receivers this season as they try to plan for next year when Jaron Brown will exit.
Tight end is another area they are trying to save money with the departure of Jimmy Graham. Things were looking good with Will Dissly before his second season-ending injury. Fans hoping the team trades for a replacement should expect the team to either grab a guy on his rookie deal or someone who is on an expiring contract. I don’t believe this team wants to spend big on the tight end spot.
It does not seem like a coincidence that the OL spending has recovered to 2013 rates while the offensive performance has improved. We can complain about the talent of these players, but they are night and day when compared to the likes of Webb and Sowell.
The front office may have believed that Wilson was less reliant on a good line given his tendency to bail on protection. They seem to have learned the error of their ways.
Defensive spending has had to recede in order to make room for the increased spend on offense. The team is trying to win with younger and cheaper talent on defense. That is not news, but where they are distributing those defensive dollars has some interesting implications.
The vaunted defensive line of the Super Bowl championship teams were not cheap. The team has been cutting spending at that position pretty much every year since. This season represents the first real uptick, and it’s not a huge number. They went from 7.4% of cap spent on the DL last season to 12.4% this year. The lowest spending there before last year was 17.5% in 2016.
This looms large with the impending free agency decisions around Jarran Reed, Jadeveon Clowney, and Ezekiel Ansah. The team seems primed to invest in at least one, and probably two pillars on the line.
Meanwhile, their spending on linebackers has climbed steadily. Bobby Wagner’s big extension will have him around for a while, but this could be K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks last season before they turn to youngsters in Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven. That saved money could shift to other places like the DL.
Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Rams, and we know the Seahawks at least explored a deal. Adding him would have completely flipped the trend around cornerback spend. This team has not spent higher than a third round pick on a corner, and is spending just 2.9% of their cap on the position overall. That matches what they were spending in 2013.
So much was made of winning the Super Bowl with a rookie QB. Having corners who were arguably the best in the league and cost 2.9% of the cap was a major coup as well.
Safeties account for just 6.4% of the cap this season. That is similar to the 7.0% they spend in 2013. The team has generally been spending over 13% on that position.
Put together, the whole secondary is counting as just 9.3% of the total cap spend, the lowest of this timeframe. Every year from 2014 through 2018, the team spend 20% or more of their cap on their secondary.
In general, the team is getting what they paid for on defense. Very few young players are outperforming their rookie deals. Shaquill Griffin is the exception. That is why a guy like Marquise Blair is so important to the team’s future.
Take a look at how spending on offense and defense has correlated with offensive and defensive DVOA rankings:
There’s a pretty decent correlation on offense. As the team spends more, the ranking tends to get better (green line going down is good). When they spend less, the ranking falls.
The defense has less of a correlation. It’s just getting worse. The steep drop the past two seasons does appear to somewhat mirror the continuing slide in defensive spending. The team will probably need to spend more on that side of the ball if they want to change their fortunes, but spending good money there is almost always on the second contracts of drafted players who have earned it. There just are not many folks who are on that list as of now. Dropping money on free agents is not a recipe for success in most cases.
Huge contracts for Reed and Clowney could be in the future, and would dramatically change this picture. Players like Germain Ifedi, Mike Iupati and D.J. Fluker could move on after this season as younger players step forward, which would clear some room.
Overall, this team is built to excel on offense and is in the developing phases on defense. While we all scream at the frustrating moments on defense, it is worth remembering the greatness we are getting on offense for the money being spent there.