Last year the Seattle Seahawks made waves during a lockout-shortened, free agency period right before training camp, signing such players as Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Zach Miller and Robert Gallery.
The Seahawks could make even more of a splash when this year’s NFL free agency kicks off at 1 p.m. (PDT) today.
Seattle already jumped headfirst into the deep end of the free agency pool with its vigorous pursuit of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, although it appears the Seahawks’ ardor will be ignored.
But armed with at least $30 million in cap space after the league announced the salary cap for the new league year will be $120.6 million, the Seahawks have other, big-name targets in mind, including Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn and Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai.
Seattle got a head start by signing two of the team’s own free agents – running back Marshawn Lynch and offensive tackle Breno Giacomini – to multi-year deals. But the Seahawks will have to see how the market develops for their soon-to-be free agents – defensive end Red Bryant, tight end John Carlson, fullback Michael Robinson and linebackers David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill.
The Seahawks have 16 unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents and two exclusive rights free agents heading into the opening of free agency this afternoon.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said he will use a similar system in dealing with free agency that his personnel staff implemented for the faster pace of last offseason.
“We actually had our meetings earlier, and it ended up being a pretty good plan,” Schneider said. “We did it earlier than we had previously. So we decided to do that again.”
Coach Pete Carroll said free agency will be about competition, matching his overall philosophy.
“Every opportunity that is presented to us, we try to compete, take it as far as we can and as deep as we can at all opportunities,” Carroll said. “And that’s what we try and exercise in every opportunity that comes along. So whether it’s free agency or whether it’s the draft or trade possibilities – any aspect of it – we’re just digging in and going for it.”
Here’s a look at some free agent prospects the Seahawks could target:
• Na’il Diggs, LB, San Diego Chargers: Schneider is familiar with Diggs, who spent his first six seasons with Green Bay. With the potential loss of both Hawthorne and Hill in free agency, Diggs, 33, would give the Seahawks some veteran leadership in a backup role for a green unit of linebackers.
• Matt Flynn, QB, Green Bay Packers: Schneider was with Green Bay when the Packers drafted the LSU player in the seventh round of the 2008 draft, although his boss Ted Thompson did most of the leg work in Flynn’s draft evaluation. Flynn, 26, was spectacular in two starts for Green Bay late last season, but teams could be leery of paying a premium price for a quarterback with limited experience. Other suitors could include Cleveland and Miami.
• Larry Grant, LB, San Francisco 49ers: Grant, 27, started three games for San Francisco while Patrick Willis was nursing a hamstring injury and played well, including a 12-tackle performance at CenturyLink Field against Seattle. He forced scrambling Tarvaris Jackson into a fumble to end the game. The Niners placed a seventh-round tender on the restricted free agent, so he could be worth the low-round draft pick.
• Matt Leinart, QB, Houston Texans: Released by Houston because of North Carolina product T.J. Yates’ encouraging performance during his rookie season, Leinart could be a fallback option for Seattle if the Seahawks lose out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn. Leinart, 28, took over after Matt Schaub was lost for the season with a Lisfranc foot injury, but promptly broke his collarbone a week later. Leinart almost wound up in Seattle as the backup last season before accepting a more lucrative deal in Houston, and now could be brought in to challenge Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.
• Frank Omiyale, OL, Chicago Bears: Released by the Bears in a cost-cutting move earlier this month, Omiyale, 29, already visited Seattle’s headquarters, and could serve as a veteran backup should Paul McQuistan not return in free agency. Omiyale is familiar with Tom Cable’s zone blocking scheme, having played for the offensive line coach while with the Falcons in 2006.
• Paul Soliai, DT, Miami Dolphins: If the Seahawks lose Red Bryant in free agency, they could target someone like Soliai, 28 – a stout run-stuffer who could play defensive tackle and edge defense for Seattle. The Dolphins placed the franchise tag on the Pro Bowl defensive tackle last year, but they did not have room to keep him under the team’s salary cap this season.
• Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers: The free agent running back could be the complement to Marshawn Lynch Seattle has been looking for. At 5-foot-9, 245 pounds, Tolbert, 26, is a punishing rusher who would give the Seahawks a similar presence in the run game to Lynch. And Tolbert is versatile, able to play fullback and special teams.
• Mario Williams, DT, Houston Texans: Houston did not have enough salary cap space to franchise Williams and had to let him go. Besides Peyton Manning, Williams will be the most sought-after player in free agency and could command a salary north of Julius Peppers’ six-year, $91 million deal he signed with Chicago two years ago. Seattle could use an elite pass rusher to pair with Chris Clemons, but so could several other teams. Williams made a smooth transition from defensive end in a 4-3 defensive front to an outside linebacker in a 3-4, but he likely fits better as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, which is what he’d do in Seattle. Williams, 27, is coming off a torn pectoral muscle injury that caused him to miss 11 games last season.
Catch up on all the latest news on free agency at blog.thenewtribune.com/seahawks