One week into NFL free agency for 2019, the Seahawks are doing better than meets the eye.
And if form holds from their recent offseasons, they are far from done signing veteran imports.
The league’s free-agent frenzy is over. Teams have heaped hundreds of millions of dollars into a rich, first wave of veteran players who may, or history shows likely will not, be worth the risky, steep investments.
The NFL’s biggest bucks have been spent, and once again not by Seattle. Now the Seahawks are entering the more overlooked but to them recently more-beneficial, secondary stages of free agency. They are back to seeking at bargains after waiting through the bonanza.
Tuesday, they will host 33-year-old free-agent wide receiver Jordy Nelson. That’s according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Raiders released Nelson last week after he had 63 receptions for 739 yards in his only season with Oakland. Before Nelson signed with Oakland, Seahawks general manager John Schneider considered signing him. Schneider was Green Bay’s director of football operations in 2008 and ‘09. Those were Nelson’s first two years in the NFL with the Packers. Schneider was part of the Packers decision-making group that drafted Nelson in the second round in 2008.
Nelson is 6-feet-3 and 217 pounds. The Seahawks in the last year have tried Brandon Marshall and David Moore as the big receiver coach Pete Carroll wants to complement smaller top wide outs Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett.
They are still looking for that guy.
Marshall, the six-time Pro Bowl selection, dropped four passes in five quarters over two games in September and got released the following month. Moore, whom the Seahawks drafted in the seventh round in 2017, had a strong start to last season with four touchdowns in three games in October. He had just one touchdown and 12 catches in the last two months of the season.
Three years ago with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers Nelson had 97 catches for more than 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns. But that was three years ago.
The Seahawks are also continuing their search for inexpensive pass rusher. They are hosting former San Francisco and Chicago rush linebacker Aaron Lynch. That was according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Monday.
Lynch, still only 26 years old, has 18 sacks in five NFL seasons. His first four years were with the 49ers; last year he had three sacks for the Bears.
It’s easy to see the empirical evidence from one week of free agency, but that wouldn’t be the accurate way to measure the Seahawks’ shopping and buying so far. They are getting done what they set out to do.
In terms of net of gains and losses of unrestricted free agents, the Seahawks are minus four.
They’ve lost All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, as assured, to Baltimore. Nickel defensive back Justin Coleman went to Detroit (at $9 million per year, the richest deal ever for a nickel DB). Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen signed with Minnesota. Running back Mike Davis went to Chicago. Guard J.R. Sweezy and backup quarterback Brett Hundley signed with Arizona.
They Seahawks have gained guard Mike Iupati from the Cardinals and Pro Bowl kicker Jason Myers from the New York Jets.
This past week has been a bigger success than that for the Seahawks..
Their first priorities were getting three of their own pending free agents to return.
The biggest one was Frank Clark. The Seahawks kept their top free agent from free agency by using the franchise tag for the first time in nine years, at a cost of $17 million guaranteed for 2019. They are still working on a long-term extension with the 25-year-old defensive end before a July 15 league deadline to get one done.
If they don’t by then he can only play this year on the one-year tag tender for Seattle--unless the team trades its top pick from 2015 who has developed into a coveted star. The Seahawks will move to Portland before they will trade Clark this year.
After keeping Clark from leaving, the top task was to retain starting guard D.J. Fluker. The massive, nasty-streaked Fluker fits, almost perfectly, what the Seahawks now want to do with its offensive line and running game: maul the man in front of you with straight-ahead, drive blocking. His value to Seattle was higher than perhaps he would be to any other team in the pass-gaga NFL.
That value ended up being $6 million, with a a $1 million signing bonus and a possible $3 million more in playing-time bonuses. That’s what Fluker got in the two-year deal he signed last week to stay with the Seahawks.
Then the Seahawks brought back Pro Bowl veteran linebacker K.J. Wright. That was after he didn’t find another deal better than his two years and up to $15 million he ultimately got to stay in Seattle.
The Seahawks signed nine-year veteran Iupati to potentially replace the departed Sweezy, essentially a swap of free-agent left guards. Because Iupati will turn 32 in May and because he’s played in just 11 games the last two seasons in Arizona because of injuries, the Seahawks are believed to be paying him around the league minimum of roughly $1 million on his one-year contract.
The second of the two free-agent imports is Seattle’s new kicker for 2019. Myers was a Pro Bowl selection for the Jets last season, after Seattle released him in August without really giving him a chance to beat out 40-year-old Sebastian Janikowski to the be Seahawks’ kicker in 2018. Myers is 13 years younger.
The Seahawks have used just over $33 million of its remaining salary-cap space on these adds and re-signings in the last week-plus. Clark is taking up more than half that chunk. That leaves Seattle $15 million under the cap entering this week, per the league’s official numbers to its teams. Teams had to have their top 51 player salaries fit under the league’s cap of $188.2 million, not including any carry-over money from last year.
That $15 million in cap space likely isn’t enough to sign draft picks and have contingency funds for injured-reserve and practice-squad players by the beginning of the season in September.
The Seahawks have three, prime targets to consider releasing to free up needed cap space. They can save $9.15 million by releasing wide receiver Jaron Brown, linebacker Barkevious Mingo and essentially-retired safety Kam Chancellor.
Brown has a scheduled cap charge of $3,725,000 for this year after catching just 14 passes last season in his Seattle debut, though five were for touchdowns. He signed a two-year deal as a free agent from Arizona last offseason. The Seahawks can save $2.75 million by releasing Brown before June 1.
They can save a substantial $4.1 million against the cap by releasing Mingo. He played only about one-third of the defense’s snaps at strongside linebacker last season, the first of a two-year deal for the 28-year-old former first-round pick by Cleveland. That was because the Seahawks were more in nickel defense with five defensive backs and just two linebackers, middle man Bobby Wagner and the weakside backer, against passing foes.
Hours before Wright’s agreement on his new deal, the Seahawks agreed to re-sign Kendricks for one year with a $2 million salary and incentives that could make it his total $4.5 million. Kendricks signed his new contract on Monday.
Kendricks played weakside linebacker last season for parts of the time Wright was out following knee surgery. He has a sentencing hearing April 4 in Pennsylvania for insider trading. If the hearing goes his and the Seahawks’ way and he can play in 2019, it’s conceivable Seattle will be in base defense more and nickel less this fall and winter, especially with Coleman now gone to the Lions.
Seattle could use Kendricks more in a strongside role as a rush linebacker, similar to how Bruce Irvin played the position for the team during its Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and ‘14. Kendricks is skilled at rushing off the edge as well as dropping into coverage, which is what Wright does more because Seattle asks that more of its weakside linebackers in base defense.
Wright has also played some strongside linebacker in Carroll’s defense in the past.
It’s likely Seahawks coaches are already scheming ways to employ Wright, Wagner and Kendricks (pending that sentencing verdict) three across the middle line of its defense on many if not the majority of snaps in 2019.
The Seahawks can save an additional $2.3 million against this year’s cap by finally and officially releasing Chancellor. The Pro Bowl strong safety and franchise soul isn’t going to play again following a career-ending neck injury he got in November 2017. Seattle has kept him on the roster and he has not yet officially retired so he can collect $22 million in guarantees the last two years. Now that he’s got that money from the extension he signed three months before his injury, Chancellor and the Seahawks are working through settling and him officially retiring. That could happen in the next two months.