Compared to the incomprehensible — irresponsible? — cash already thrown around the league after one day of NFL free agency, what the Seahawks apparently paid to keep Jeremy Lane looks like a good deal for both sides.
In fact, if Lane does what the only NFL team he’s known expects him to do — start at cornerback and be a trusted option as nickel back inside on third downs -- this deal could be a steal.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Thursday morning Lane’s contract to return is worth $23 million for four years, with $11 million guaranteed.
That average of $5.75 million per year would be the 29th-highest average pay for a cornerback in the league, based on overthecap.com’s list of the top-paid corners.
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Wait, 29th-best for a homegrown, long-armed cover man who can play inside and outside? Who picked off Tom Brady in the end zone early in Super Bowl 49, and whose broken arm and torn knee ligaments at the end of the return of that interception helped tilt the game in New England’s favor in Seattle’s title-game loss two seasons ago?
In today’s mind-boggling market in which quarterback Brock Osweiler just got $18 million per year from Houston despite having just seven career starts, Lane’s deal is true value.
USA Today’s Tom Pelissaro reported Lane is getting $7 million fully guaranteed this year, and will have his 2017 salary of $4 million guarateed next February. With a $5 million signing bonus, that would be a charge of $3.25 million against Seattle’s 2016 salary cap, not extravagant for a starting cornerback in the NFL.
That would mean the final two years of Lane’s contract has no guaranteed money, with base salaries of $6 million in 2018 and ’19 according to multiple reports. That’s the same arrangement the Seahawks have in strong safety Kam Chancellor’s deal that has two years remaining on it, so the team is following its pattern of contracts with front-loaded guarantees and open back ends.
Contracts like this one apparently is for Lane are how general manager John Schneider keeps Seattle’s young core intact. They are how the Seahawks can have three-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection Richard Sherman carry a 2016 salary-cap charge of $14,769,000 to start at the opposite cornerback spot. These deals are how the team balances their mega contracts -- committing $131 million combined to quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner in just over 24 hours last summer -- with relatively middling ones.
These deals are how the Seahawks can have nine of their 11 starters under contract for 2016 on a defense that just led the NFL in points allowed for the fourth consecutive year, despite being in the bottom-third of the league in available cap space for this year. The exceptions are the two that left this week in free agency: linebacker Bruce Irvin priced himself out of Seattle to Oakland and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane signed with San Diego.
Lane’s return means the entire secondary from the end of last season is under contract -- or, in the cases of Marcus Burley and DeShawn Shead, have been tendered as an exclusive-right free agent. If Burley and Shead do not sign their tenders as expected, they can’t play for anyone in 2016. So they will sign.
And, yes, continuity matters. Especially for Seattle’s DBs.
The Seahawks learned the hard way last season that replacing a departed free-agent cornerback (Byron Maxwell) by signing another free agent (Cary Williams, for three years and $18 million with $7 million guaranteed to him in his lost 2015) risks a bad fit with the specific requirements of Seattle’s vaunted secondary. In that regard, Lane is the anti-Williams. Seattle’s sixth-round draft choice from 2012 knows the team’s step-kick technique better than Williams ever could grasp before Seattle cut its starter in September and October in the middle of last season.
Lane’s ability to start at corner and slide inside to nickel as the fifth defensive back on passing downs is valuable more to Seattle than any other team. The Seahawks also benefited from a suppressed market for Lane. Lane broke his arm and tore knee ligaments on his interception play in Super Bowl 49 in February 2015. He didn’t return until last November, missing more than half of the 2015 season recovering. That dropped Lane’s market value around the league -- but not Lane’s value to the Seahawks.
What’s attractive in this reported deal for Lane? The guaranteed money. The $11 million guaranteed would mean almost 50 percent (47.8, to be exact) of his contract’s total value is guaranteed. Aside from the franchise tag on the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson that will guarantee him all of his $13.9 million for 2106, only six of overthecap.com’s top-30 paid cornerbacks have at least 50 percent of their total values guaranteed.
In the NFL, it’s not the total contract money that talks loudest; that just looks shiny from the outside. It’s the guaranteed cash.
Yes, this appears to be a win-win for Lane and the Seahawks, especially in today’s cash-crazy league market.
For the team, it could prove to be a huge coup.