On Friday, the Washington Mystics announced that they signed Ariel Atkins to a two-year extension through the 2023 WNBA season. In addition, Rachel Galligan of Winsidr reported that the contract is guaranteed for two years where her 2022 salary is $170,000 and her 2023 salary is at $175,000.
Sources inform @Winsidr Ariel Atkins's contract has been extended to 2023 with the Washington Mystics. Is $170k in 2022, and $175k in 2023, fully protected.— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) February 26, 2021
Atkins is entering the final year of her rookie contract in 2021, where she will earn a salary of $70,040 according to Her Hoops Stats.
What does the re-signing mean for Washington? Was it unexpected for this to come out so early?
Atkins’ re-signing ensures that they keep her for her second contract when she will hit her prime. It also takes her off the restricted free agency market for 2023. If Atkins were a restricted free agent, she could sign an offer sheet which Washington can match, but it’s possible that that salary could be higher than they would otherwise like.
In the end, this announcement isn’t unexpected, because Atkins is a three-time All-Defensive Second Team member and has been an efficient shooter throughout her career.
Is Atkins earning the maximum or the “supermax?”
No. Atkins could sign a contract up to the supermax level of $228,094 for the first year, If the Mystics didn’t extend her, and she signed with another team next year, she could have signed a contract up to the regular maximum level of $196,267. Note that these figures are for the 2022 season.
That said, she is earning a salary that is close to the standard maximum. It’s also in line with Alysha Clark’s $183,000 salary that she will reportedly earn both this season and in 2022. Like Atkins, Clark is an All-WNBA Defensive Team player herself.
How could this affect the team’s salary cap situation longer term?
Currently, the Mystics have about $822,159 in cap space for the 2022 season before Atkins’ contract. Once her salary is taken into account, Washington will have about $652,000 left. For 2023, Elena Delle Donne is the only player under contract with a $234,350 salary and they have nearly $1.2 million in cap space.
What this means is that the Mystics must manage their cap carefully, especially for 2022. The remaining $652,000 isn’t just for potential future signings like Natasha Cloud and/or Myisha Hines-Allen who is also in the last year of her rookie contract. They have to save that space for future rookies and other veterans like Tina Charles and Leilani Mitchell if they wish to return.
Given that many veteran contract extensions throughout the league are $150,000 or more, it’s going to be difficult for the Mystics to keep all of these players, especially their veterans in 2022. That said, it’s the right call to sign Atkins early since she will be a key part of the Mystics’ success for the next three seasons.