Friday, October 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Deals

by: Michael Steffes

The Evil Dr. Gonzo posed an interesting question yesterday while I was enjoying a 36 hole (i.e. one box worth of lost balls) escapade at Pelican Hill. He asked, is it time to move on from Deion Branch? It is a valid question, and one that was answered by many with more emotion than fact.

True: Deion has been massively injury prone and is an overall disappointment since his arrival.

False: The team can just pick up and move on to their next attempt at finding a productive wideout.

As those of you who have been reading since the offseason know, I tend to follow the money when taking a look at these decisions. To date, that line of inquiry has led me to be accurate in most of my player/roster predictions. So, let's take a look at Branch, and then another big deal signed in 2006 and see if we can read the tea leaves. To continue . . .

Branch is under contract through 2011. He received a signing bonus of 7 million when he signed in '06, and another 6 million in '07. Both of these are pro-rated through the life of the deal. Essentially, it breaks down like this:

Deion Branch Contract #'s
YEAR Salary Cap Hit
2008 3.5 mil 6.76mil*
2009 4.94 Mil 7.54mil
2010 5.47mil 8.07mil
2011 5.95mil 7.15mil
* Includes 670K roster bonus

If we look at the data without allowing ourselves to get upset over the dollars being handed to a guy who hasn't lived up to his contract yet, we can see that there is still quite a bit of money that will affect any decision the Hawks make. If the Hawks were to move on from DB in the offseason, they would save themselves quite a bit in salary monies. Paul Allen would get to hand out less cash (16.36 mil to be exact), but does it really help the Hawks? No.

The Hawks would have to eat 6.4 million in cap space to make this move, essentially creating only a million dollars of space. Ask yourself this, is a million dollars in cap space enough to find yourself a WR that can replace a healthy Branch? That's very doubtful. Thus, the Hawks are likely to take their chances with Branch for at least one more year. This becomes especially true if they draft a WR high, and either fail or choose not to re-sign Bobby Engram. They will need time to develop the young guy and will hope Branch will be a threat on the opposite side of the field.

Now let's take a look at superstar linebacker Julian Peterson, who was also signed in 2006. Peterson hasn't missed a game with the Seahawks and has by all accounts lived up to the hype. He made it to the Pro Bowl while playing for the Hawks in both '06 and '07 and is widely recognized as a top linebacker. However, Peterson and Leroy Hill offer comparable talents. Unfortunately, Hill's skills seem to almost go unused (0 sacks this year). So, the team may decided to part ways with one of these two in an attempt to find more of a typical Tampa Two weakside linebacker who is stronger in coverage. Would it be possible for the Hawks to choose Hill over Peterson? Take a look:

Julian Peterson's Contract #'s
YEAR Salary Cap Hit
2008 3.5 mil 7.3mil*
2009 6.5mil 8.8 mil
2010 7.5mil 9.8mil
2011 8.0mil 8.0mil
2012 8.5mil 8.5mil
* Includes 1.5 mil roster bonus

Peterson has much less prorated money on his deal. He also has even higher base salaries. In other words, if the team chooses to move away from Peterson, Allen would save almost twice as much in actual cash to be paid over the next few years, plus the team would also create more cap space (1.9 million, to be exact).

Neither 1 million or 1.9 million is a ton of cap space, but if the team chose to make those cuts after June 1st, they could create quite a bit of room. If they did this with Branch, the cap space would be 4.9 million, and with Peterson 6.5 million. However, with Peterson the dead money the following year would only be 2.3, whereas with Branch it would be 3.8 million. And either way, using the June 1st cuts would not free up that space until June, which isn't much help if Hill is to be resigned or the team is looking to make a splash in FA.

Overall, it is harder to predict what the team will do at the linebacker position, but Peterson certainly has a contract that could allow the team to make a decision on him next year. Maybe they will simply restructure it, as linebackers tend to age well. But as for Branch, whether picking him up is a colossal mistake or not, his contract seems to give him one more year to show he was worth the Seahawks' investment.