Matt Flynn is Affordable for the Seattle Seahawks, Though Keeping Him may not be Their Best Option

The biggest storyline of the Seahawks 2012 season, and with good reason, was the battle between Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn, and eventually the victory of Wilson in that battle. Wilson winning the starting job, and the success he had after that was basically unprecedented. What started as a controversial decision by Pete Carroll has become one of the biggest offseason stories that we’ll have this offseason.

It has been said that in the NFL a team must carry two quarterbacks because success is fleeting, and injuries are common. Quarterbacks are under fire a lot, and it takes a lot to play the position.

However, Matt Flynn was signed to a contract that is larger than that of most backup quarterbacks in terms of average salary. He’s played a year under Darrell Bevell, and the front office has maintained that they really like Flynn’s skills. But he’s expensive, especially for the place he has on the depth chart.

There is some thought that Wilson will has become resentful of the team of his backup is making more than 10 times his salary. That may be true, though the team cannot extend Wilson for two more seasons, and Wilson seems like a guy that’s pretty comfortable in his own skin, and unaware of the peripheral controversy that surrounds him.

This isn’t an exercise on whether or not the Seahawks will keep Flynn, or really even about whether they should keep him. Rather, this is about whether or not they can afford to keep him, and what the financial implications of keeping him, trading him, and cutting him are.

The following chart is salary of the two highest paid quarterbacks on each team in the NFL. This isn’t necessarily broken down by starter/backup, though that’s mostly the case. However, in Tennessee for example, Matt Hasselbeck was the highest paid quarterback on the roster, but Jake Locker was the starter. Also worth noting, Buffalo paid Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen, and Tarvaris Jackson to play quarterback for their team. Jackson was the lowest paid, and made $2 million, but since he’s the third guy his numbers aren’t included on this chart.

(Salaries in millions)

Team 1st 2nd Total
ARI

4.9

0.5

5.4

ATL

13

0.8

13.8

BAL

8

0.5

8.5

BUF

6

2.5

8.5

CAR

5

0.8

5.8

CHI

9.6

3.5

13.1

CIN

2

1.2

3.2

CLE

1.5

1.4

2.9

DAL

8.5

2.6

11.1

DEN

18

1

19

DET

9.8

2.3

12.1

GB

9

0.5

9.5

HOU

11.7

1

12.7

IND

4

1.2

5.2

JAX

2.7

2.6

5.3

KC

7.6

1.5

9.1

MIA

2.8

2.3

5.1

MIN

2.3

0.5

2.8

NE

8

0.7

8.7

NO

10.4

1

11.4

NYG

9.6

1

10.6

NYJ

7.9

4.1

12

OAK

4.7

0.7

5.4

PHI

13.9

0.5

14.4

PIT

9.9

0.6

10.5

SD

15.3

1.3

16.6

SF

9.5

1.2

10.7

SEA

4

0.5

4.5

STL

15.6

0.5

16.1

TB

7.9

1

8.9

TEN

7.5

2.9

10.4

WAS

3.8

1.3

5.1

Avg.

7.95

1.375

9.33

Matt Flynn is due to make a $5.25 million base salary next year. $2 million of that is guaranteed, and he signed a $6 million signing bonus last offseason. Because of that, if he is cut or gets traded the Seahawks will have to absorb a $4 million cap hit for the remaining prorated bonus on Flynn’s contract. If he’s traded the team that acquires him will pay the $2 million in guaranteed base salary, but if the Seahawks cut him, they’ll be on the hook for it.

Russell Wilson is set to make a base salary of $480K, he has a signing bonus of $620K in addition to that, of which the cap hit for the bonus is divided evenly across the four years of the contract. Wilson’s total cap hit comes in about $635K.

We don’t know exactly what the average salary for first and second quarterbacks will be next year, but there’s a good chance it will go down as a result of the new upper-draft salary slotting in the collective bargaining agreement and perhaps a sub-standard draft class of quarterbacks.

If the Seahawks kept Matt Flynn they’d have a total quarterback salary for their top two quarterbacks of $7.89 million, $1.44 million less than the league average salary for a team’s top two quarterbacks.

If the Seahawks cut Matt Flynn they’d lose a total of $6 million in cap space (guaranteed base plus remaining prorated bonus) to save $7.25 million. A net savings of $1.25 million.

If they traded Flynn they’d be off the hook for the $2 million guaranteed base salary, meaning they’d save a total of $3.25 million.

Flynn certainly makes more than an average backup, and he went into last offseason without a ton of interest in his services. He received an offer from the Dolphins, but what was expected to be considerable interest was significantly less than expected. Flynn’s trade market is inherently murky, though a price tag of basically two years, $11.5 million with no guarantees at the liability of the team trading for Flynn, his market may be increased.

The Seahawks cost/benefit analysis basically works under this equation:

Cost Savings + Compensation in a Flynn Trade – Flynn’s value – Cost of his replacement = Net loss/gain

It’s pretty silly to speak in absolutes about what the front office is looking to do with the backup quarterback. If they opt to take a mid-round draft pick, the cost of both quarterbacks will basically be rookie minimum multiplied by two. But if they sign a veteran backup they’ll significantly marginalize their savings.

Last year Chad Henne signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars essentially to be their backup for two years, $6.75 million with a $3 million signing bonus.

Last year Tyler Thigpen made $2.5 million.

In order to find an equivalent backup for Flynn the Seahawks will probably have to spend the entirety of the savings they’d earned by trading Flynn. If they draft a quarterback there’s a good chance that they’ll have a significant downgrade at the backup quarterback position.

This is where draft pick compensation comes in. If the Seahawks can trade Flynn away and sign an equivalent veteran, they’d remain basically whole, but with the marginal gain of a draft pick. Of course, there is no guarantee that a veteran will be as good as Flynn, and no guarantee that the Seahawks won’t just pocket the savings, or allocate them elsewhere, and draft a rookie.

Either way the draft pick truly defines the value here, and becomes a question of what the backup quarterback carousel circus is worth. It’s conceivable that that headache isn’t worth a sixth or seventh rounder, but the higher the draft pick, the more willing the Seahawks will be to listen.

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