Last year the Seattle Seahawks made waves during a lockout-shortened, free agency period right before training camp started, signing players like Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Zach Miller and Robert Gallery.
The Seahawks could make even more of a splash once this year’s NFL free agency kicks off at 1 p.m. Pacific time.
Seattle already jumped head first into the deep end of the free agency pool with the vigorous pursuit of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, although it appears they will be left on the outside looking in.
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 in 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 like 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.”
Like his overall philosophy, head coach Pete Carroll said free agency will be about competition.
“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: Seahawks general manager John Schneider is familiar with Diggs, who spent his first six seasons in the league in Green Bay. With the potential of losing both Hawthorne and Hill in free agency, Diggs, 33, would give the Seahawks some veteran leadership in a backup role for a green linebackers’ unit.
Matt Flynn, QB, Green Bay Packers: Schneider was with Green Bay when the Packers drafted the LSU product 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, but teams could be leery of playing 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, including a forced fumble on a Tarvaris Jackson scramble 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’ performance during his rookie season, Leinart could be a fallback option for Seattle if they lose out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn. Leinart, 28, took over for Matt Schaub after he 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 cost-cutting move earlier this month, Omiyale, 29, already visited Seattle’s headquarters, and would serve as a veteran backup should Paul McQuistan not return in free agency. Omiyale is familiar 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 on the edge of the 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 5-9, 245 pounds, Tolbert, 26, is a punishing rusher who would give the Seahawks a similar presence in the run game to Lynch. And Tolbert’s also versatile, with the ability to play fullback and special teams.
DE 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 a defensive end in a 4-3 defensive front to an outside linebacker in a 3-4, but likely fits better as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, which is what he’d do in Seattle. Williams, 27, is also coming off a torn pectoral muscle injury that forced him to miss 11 games last year