Russell Okung is squarely on the Seahawks’ radar for free agency.
Adrian Peterson is not. Sorry if you got excited.
A league source with direct knowledge told The News Tribune the Seahawks are “sure” to talk to Okung once free agency begins. That will have to wait, if all play by the NFL rules, until Thursday to begin exploring whether there will be a reunion of the 29-year-old left tackle and the team that drafted him in the first round in 2010. Okung was coach Pete Carroll’s and general manager John Schneider’s first draft choice for Seattle.
As reader Jason Campbell wrote to me Wednesday night, the Seahawks “would be replacing a basketball player with a football player” by signing Okung over incumbent left tackle George Fant.
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That is undeniably true.
Because he is representing himself for the second consecutive year, Okung cannot directly negotiate with teams and vice versa until the market opens at 1 p.m. Thursday. The so-called "legal tampering period" that began Tuesday is a pre-market period of 48 hours in which teams and representatives of free agents can talk, but not sign contracts until Thursday afternoon.
The Seahawks enter the free-agent market $24.6 million under the 2017 salary cap of $167 million per team, according to overthecap.com. That includes the $1,797,000 they are committing to starting right tackle Garry Gilliam for this year, after deciding this week to offer the restricted free agent the lowest-level tender worth that amount. That does not include any money toward starting cornerback DeShawn Shead – because Seattle decided not to tender that restricted free agent. Shead is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The $24.6 million isn’t a ton of cap space; it’s 20th-most in the NFL. But it’s $10 million more in buying power than the Seahawks had when the 2016 market opened.
Last week at the combine Carroll said his of his team in free agency “we have a chance to do some things there. We’ll see what’s available to us — very aggressively and very actively.”
But Schneider said the Seahawks won’t be throwing money around starting Thursday.
“You’re just trying to constantly make smart decisions,” the GM said last week. “We have to look out for not just 2017, but 2018 and 2019. I know you guys get tired of me talking about it, but we want to be a consistent championship-caliber team. We don’t want to just cruise on for it, like, ‘Hey, they’re gonna take a run.’ We want to be there every single year, and having our fans be like, ‘These guys are busting their tails to get us back to the Super Bowl and be world champions.’”
The Seahawks’ pattern since Schneider and Carroll arrived in 2010 to run the team is to wait out the first wave of big-bucks signings on the opening day of free agency, let the market set itself at targeted positions, then go after more cost-effective signings in the subsequent days or weeks of free agency.
So if form holds the league’s biggest free-agent splashes won’t be from coming out of Seattle.
The biggest free agent of their own to try to re-sign, besides the recuperating Shead, is Luke Willson. The No. 2 tight end wants to see what his market bears before weighing whether to re-sign as second behind Jimmy Graham in Seattle.
Rumors, as prevalent in early March as shamrocks, had the Seahawks in the running with Oakland to sign Peterson. But that makes zero sense for Seattle. The 32-year old is a 2014 season-long league suspension and injuries removed from being a 2,000-yard rusher and 2012 NFL most valuable player for Minnesota.
This time of year, many such rumors come from agents, family members or friends who are trying to portray multiple teams are interested in their players, for leverage in free agency.
USA Today’s Tom Pelissaro wrote Wednesday what’s been known around the team for weeks.
The Seahawks are waiting for C.J. Prosise, their tantalizing rookie from 2016, and Thomas Rawls to stay healthy long enough to have a full season as their young (combined NFL experience: three seasons) and inexpensive rushers. That leaves money for them to buy the more-needed offensive linemen, defensive backs and defensive tackles.
"Guys have made statements about who they are and then they have to come back and reestablish that and take it as far as they can," Carroll said last week at the combine. "There is nothing in the way of C.J.
"Thomas Rawls is a terrific player on our team, too, who had a very difficult season. He was banged up all year. So those two guys come back to camp really raring to go, and we are looking forward to that.’’
That doesn’t mean the Seahawks won’t seek insurance against more injuries from Prosise and Rawls, who has yet to finish a full season since high school in Flint, Michigan.
That does mean it’s unlikely they will break their bank for it.
Okung won’t be Seattle’s only target to improve the offensive line and meet Schneider’s goal he stated last week in Indianapolis of getting more experienced there. Carroll was spotted in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday attending Alabama’s Pro Day workouts.
Safe to say the coach had an eye or three on Crimson Tide left tackle Cam Robinson and man-coverage cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Robinson was the Outland Trophy winner as college football’s top interior offensive lineman in 2016. He got the attention of the Seahawks -- and every other team -- last week at the combine. Seattle picks 26th in April’s first round. Offensive tackles are considered a weak position both in free agency and this draft, so Robinson and Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, considered the other top college tackle, may not be available when the Seahawks pick in round one.
Hence their interest in Humphrey.
Shead could re-sign as an unrestricted free agent for a minimum salary, which would be more than $1 million less than the cost of that lowest tender the Seahawks didn’t offer him, while he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he got in the playoff loss at Atlanta Jan. 14. The Seahawks signed veteran Perrish Cox early this offseason to a non-guaranteed, one-year contract worth just $775,000 in base pay as a fall-back option at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.
But their experience signing Cary Williams in free agency two seasons ago, handing him the starting job, then benching him and cutting him in the middle of that 2015 season could make Seattle hesistant to import a more costly cornerback to start. That, plus Shead’s injury and now free agency, makes cornerback a high Seahawks priority in next month’s draft.
“Yeah, it pushes it up,” Schneider said. “We have to…but not at the combine (for the draft). We are watching everyone.
“It’s just a matter of how free agency goes.”