The doors to Seahawks headquarters are operating only one way to begin the free agency period.
Seattle lost three starters in the first two hours of the NFL’s official open-market period for veterans with expired contracts on Wednesday.
Bruce Irvin confirmed via his Instagram account -- the 2016 way of saying “goodbye” -- that he is signing with Oakland and thanked the Seahawks for giving him his start on his road to $37 million from the Raiders.
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The San Diego Chargers announced about an hour into free agency they had signed nose tackle Brandon Mebane, a Seahawk since 2007 when Mike Holmgren was the team’s coach, away from Seattle on a three-year deal.
“The Chargers were the team that was most aggressive as far as wanting me,” the Los Angeles native and longest-tenured Seahawk until Wednesday afternoon told San Diego’s 1090 AM radio.
It’s a good thing for the Seahawks they preemptively agreed to their own three-year contract with fellow free-agent defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who is two years younger than Mebane and was the other half of Seattle’s foundation to the NFL’s top-ranked run defense last season.
Tampa Bay then signed Seahawks right guard J.R. Sweezy to replace retired Buccaneer Logan Mankins, according to a report by Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. Sweezy’s deal with Tampa Bay was for $32.5 million and five years, according to Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo.
That was the biggest and least-expected loss of the three for the Seahawks. Big, in the sense Russell Okung is also an unrestricted free agent and perhaps the most highly regarded left tackle available even a few weeks after shoulder surgery. Typically left tackles cost more than right guards in the NFL. Even at his $6.5 million per year from the Bucs, it was likely to be cheaper for Seattle to re-sign Sweezy, the former college defensive tackle Seahawks line coach Tom Cable coverted into a nasty run blocker with pass-protection issues, than Okung.
So the Seahawks are making a big financial push to keep general manager John Schneider’s and coach Pete Carroll’s first draft choice of their regime in 2010, sixth overall. If they don’t re-sign Okung, Seattle would lose 40 percent of its already starting iffy offensive line almost overnight.
Mark Glowinski is currently in line to replace Sweezy at right guard. Coaches raved about the rookie draft choice last season from West Virginia, who got his first career start in January’s regular-season finale win at Arizona when Sweezy was out with a concussion.
This exodus early in the free-agency period is not entirely unexpected. Irvin and Mebane weren’t expected back, Mebane especially not given Rubin’s new deal. And the Seahawks don’t have the available salary-cap space -- believed to be around $15 million, if the team ever gets around to putting Marshawn Lynch on the reserve-retired list; not doing so yet means he still counts for all his $11.5 million cap number for this year even if he won’t play -- or the recent precedent of being spending early in free agency when the price tags are largest.
Seattle has three more starters still available as unrestricted free agents: wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, cornerback Jeremy Lane and punter Jon Ryan.
Given the events of the first few hours of free agency, Lane and Ryan join Okung as the Seahawks’ top priorities to retain.
A secondary silver lining to Wednesday’s developements: The Seahawks stand to get at least three compensatory draft choices in 2017 from their free-agent departures. Irvin’s exit could net a middle-round choice while Mebane’s and Sweezy’s could be later-round picks. Schneider values those -- though not as much as veteran, proven starters, of course. And those comp picks just gained in value; in December NFL owners voted to allow teams for the first time to trade compensatory picks, beginning in 2017.