It’s time for NFL free agency again.
More accurately, it’s time for Seahawks Test Followers’ Patience and Faith As They Wait Out Free Agency’s First Waves again.
Seattle has $21 million more in salary-cap space now than it had this time last year, on the eve of the league’s free-agent market opening. The Seahawks’ $33.1 million in cap space before the market opens Wednesday is 13th-most in the league, per overthecap.com. That is after they gave Frank Clark the franchise tag Monday, ensuring their top pass rusher with an expiring contract did not enter the chaotic and often reckless bidding in the first days of free agency.
This time last year Seattle had $12 million in cap space. That was barely enough to shop using coupons.
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In actuality, the Seahawks have less than $33.1 million to spend this year. That figure is based on the 48 players they have under contract for 2019. It will take another couple million to fill out the 53-man roster (the top 51 salaries count against any year’s cap). Then there’s another $2 million or so to sign the team’s picks after next month’s draft.
Plus, Seattle has nine restricted free agents, including tackle George Fant and running back J.D. McKissic, plus six exclusive-rights free agents such as linebacker Austin Calitro, long snapper Tyler Ott and guard Jordan Simmons. It appears all those and more will get tendered offers to return, which will cost another $4 million to $5 million against this year’s cap.
One of those restricted free agents, cornerback Akeem King, reportedly is coming back on a one-year, $1.4 million tender.
Counting a few million more for players on injured reserve, the Seahawks really have about $22 million or so of cap space to spend in free agency starting next week.
Still, the Seahawks have more buying power this year. But that doesn’t mean they are about to purchase the bigger-ticket items on 2019’s market, such as three-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins.
And, yes, Earl Thomas is long gone, perhaps to join Richard Sherman with San Francisco. Thomas effectively departed Seattle when he broke is leg Sept. 30, 5 1/2 months before free agency.
“He’s a free agent,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said last week at the NFL scouting combine, “and he’s going to test free agency.”
The words to watch for Seahawks in this free-agency period are the same as they’ve been for almost all of the past nine years under Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
Patience and prudence.
Their history leading this team say Carroll and Schneider are going to wait out the first wave of free-agent signings, much to the frustration of fans who see other teams signing big names for bigger bucks, Those first guys potentially have the highest reward. Think how Andrew Whitworth and Ndamukong Suh helped the Rams’ offensive and defensive lines on their way to the most recent Super Bowl. They also have the most risk, because they are usually older and cost the most.
If they are younger, like the 25-year-old Collins, they cost even more.
The Seahawks are more likely to be bargain shoppers in the later waves. And you are likely to be screaming that all the fun of this annual free-agency frenzy is passing Seattle by. Again.
If precedence holds for the Seahawks, don’t think so much Collins. Think tight end Ed Dickson. He signed last spring for a mere $1.9 million cap hit in 2018.
Think D.J. Fluker. He signed last year after the market had been open for a week, for one year, a rock-bottom salary of $800,000 and a cap hit of just $1.4 million. The signing generated less buzz than Tang.
Fluker then became the starting right guard. He was one of the most influential and important players on the team last season. He was and still is a perfect fit for new line coach Mike Solari’s change to man-on, maul-the-man-in-front-of-you blocking schemes. Largely—and I do mean largely—because of the massive Fluker, Seattle led the NFL in rushing offense in 2018, after being one of the worst running teams in many NFL seasons in 2017.
Fluker is about to be a free agent again. He’s one of Seattle’s 13 pending free agents.
The Seahawks’ first priority over the next week is not seeing what it might take to sign huge wide receiver Devin Funchess, defensive end/Patriots sack man Trey Flowers or the now-free-again Suh.
It’s to re-sign Fluker.
It may take $3 million to $4 million per year for a couple years to do that. From $800,000 to $3 million; that’s how much he improved his status around the league with his performance in 2018 for the Seahawks.
Including this pancaking of Suh in a game in October:
Will Fluker return to the Seahawks?
“I’m counting on him,” Carroll said last week at the combine. “Yeah, I’m counting on him.
“He did a great job last year he had a big impact, as did (fellow starting guard J.R. Sweezy). We want both those guys back.”
Even after shopping, Fluker may not price himself out of Seattle, simply because no one in the NFL may value him more than the Seahawks do. Run blocking is what Fluker does best. He has proven in his career with the Chargers and Giants to be less adept at pass blocking, which is what most of the rest of the league does most. Pass blocking is why Fluker is an ex-Charger and an ex-Giant.
“He fit us just right,” Carroll said.
“Attitude-wise you couldn’t imagine a guy having more of an impact. His aggressiveness, his toughness his desire to keep getting better and pushing it and fighting through the hard things and the difficulties. He was banged up some during the year, and then he was just a monster playing.
“I think he played better than he did the year before for Mike with the Giants. He was more consistent and more effective I think because we ran the ball much more, you could see his style come to life. He was a big part of it.”
Makes it sound like Fluker is coming back, doesn’t it?
The Seahawks also have a K.J. Wright issue to settle over the next week. The Pro Bowl veteran outside linebacker has his contract expiring. His All-Pro linebacker partner Bobby Wagner has publicly stated, multiple times, the team should take care of Wright.
“I want to be here,” Wright said at the end of last season.
But he said the Seahawks didn’t approach him with an offer of an extension at any point last season. He’s reached the point of wanting to see what he commands on the open market for the first time since Seattle drafted him in 2011.
Schneider said last week Wright was likely to have a good idea of his market by the end of last week, after his agent talked with other teams in Indianapolis (the league’s “legal” tampering period for free agents is supposed to begin Monday, but it really begins at the combine).
Some believe his exquisite performance in the playoff loss at Dallas Jan. 5, after a season full of setbacks and delays following knee surgery in August, will net him $6 million or more per year. That would be too much for the Seahawks to keep, though Carroll has repeatedly said he wants to.
“Hoping we can keep him,” Carroll said last week. “We will try to.”
If Wright, who turns 30 in July, would be OK with $3 million to $4 million on a short-term, one-or-two-year deal, Seattle might retain him. But once he goes shopping, his price could get too rich for the Seahawks.
That’s because they also have Sweezy and key nickel defensive back Justin Coleman about to enter free agency.
Sweezy, whose career was stalled after two lost, injured years with Tampa Bay through 2017, would seem to be less expensive than Fluker to re-sign.
If the Seahawks can’t re-sign Sweezy or Fluker, or both, a possible contingency option became available Friday. The Detroit Lions released former Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang two years after he chose his hometown Lions over Seattle in free agency.
Schneider was Green Bay’s director of football operations in 2009 when the Packers drafted Lang in the fourth round, nine months before Schneider became the Seahawks’ GM.
Lang sustained the sixth documented concussion of his career last season, then consulted multiple doctors to answer whether playing more was a smart idea. He told the Detroit Free Press in October that “most of them said yeah. And that gave me a lot of comfort...”
Coleman has been one of the Seahawks’ most consistent performers playing about two-thirds of the defensive snaps the last two seasons. His skill defending passes and covering receivers in this pass-happy league could command more than $5 million per year, which again may be too expensive for Seattle to keep.
If Coleman departs, don’t expect the Seahawks to make a big splash on a cornerback—not that this free-agent market is big with cornerbacks. It’s not. Carroll and Schneider remain scarred by the $7 million they wasted on free-agent cornerback Cary Williams in 2015, whom they had signed that spring from Philadelphia.
He lasted half a season. They paid $7 million for 10 games from him.
Williams failed to learn Carroll’s unique step-kick technique the veteran coach demands his corners play against receivers at the line of scrimmage. Seattle released Williams in December of that first season, two weeks after he was starting for them.
Seattle would rather grow their own cornerbacks in Carroll’s technique early in their pro careers, rather than importing a free agent that has learned other NFL systems first.
One seemingly low-cost free agent who may intrigue Seattle: Pierre Desir. That’s because Carroll and the Seahawks had Desir, from November 2016 until they waived him among their final preseason cuts in Sept. 2017. He signed with the Colts off waivers, and was starting for them by that November.
Outside linebacker Anthony Barr could intrest Seattle. The departing Minnesota Viking is only 26 years old. He’s been the strongside linebacker in Minnesota’s 4-3 defense, the same scheme Seattle uses in its base defense. Barr is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, so he may be in the first wave and expensive.
The Seahawks need defensive tackles who can stop the run; they allowed 4.9 yards per rush last season, perhaps the most galling of all their defensive numbers. Danny Shelton from Auburn High School and the University of Washington is a former first-round pick by Cleveland who is available. And he is likely to be relatively inexpensive while still just 25.
Seattle’s kicking situation remains unsettled. It does not appear Sebastian Janikowski will return after his one-year contract ended. Matt Bryant has been a Pro Bowl and Super Bowl kicker for Atlanta and is available. But he’s 43, two years older than Janikowski, who showed his age at the end of last season.
There will be others.
Just don’t get too disappointed if they aren’t among the league’s frenzied signings in the first day or two of free agency.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Carroll said.