Announcing the Commencement of the Purge: The 2018 Seahawks Offseason is Here
If the 2017 season taught you anything, it’s that Pete Carroll is doubling down. Over the past several years, the Seattle Seahawks have strayed from their identity. The smashmouth offense, run the ball down their throats, get in their face, beat them down mentality has faded.
Players grew older. Coaching voices became stale. Hunger dissipated. A fierce identity clash grew out of control.
Who are the Seahawks? That’s a question I’ve routinely asked myself over the last two seasons. In 2012, 2013, and 2014 it was quite clear who they were. Whether we’re discussing offensive/defensive philosophies or gameplans, or their approach to the salary cap and roster construction — their identity was quite clear.
There’s always been a healthy amount of debate around whether Seattle’s offensive/defensive identities were the most schematically effective. However, there’s an even deeper, fundamental crisis at play. Seattle has changed their approach to cap management and roster construction. They’ve strayed from their identity. They used to be known as the team constructed around elite cornerstone talent. Whether that was Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, or Russell Wilson — they seemed hellbent on building around positional cornerstones and letting the middle tier talent walk. In recent seasons this trend has changed.
In the 2015 offseason, Seattle brought in Jimmy Graham via trade (considered an elite talent at the time), NT Ahtyba Rubin (a middle class player), and CB Cary Williams from the Eagles (a player who received middle class money — 3 years/$18M). In the 2016 offseason, the Seahawks brought in Bradley Sowell on a one year deal for $1.5M (the lower end of a mid-tier salary range). They also brought in J’Marcus Webb on a 2 year/$6M deal (also on the lower end of the mid-tier salary range). In the 2017 offseason, we saw Seattle bring in an unprecedented amount of high profile middle tier talent. Eddie Lacy joined the squad at $4-5M, Luke Joeckel at $7M, and Bradley McDougald at $2M.
I believe that Seattle needs to ditch the middle class like Jeff Bezos. There’s several problems that come with the middle class:
The middle class isn’t going to win you a Super Bowl. Mediocre players produce mediocre seasons.
The cost difference between a middle class player and a rookie is often significant. The talent gap is not.
Rookies don’t get an opportunity to prove themselves.
While middle tier talent is starting, you waste valuable rookie club control years by sitting them on the bench.
There’s always going to be exceptions to the “ditch the middle class” theory — one such exception is Golden Tate (however, you could make an argument that he was an upper class talent on the Seahawks). If Seattle can get back to their previous cap ideology of building around elite talent and neglecting the middle class, I believe it will lead to another Super Bowl caliber roster.
With that said, there will be three sections to this article. The first section will detail where the Seahawks currently sit in cap space. The second section will break down players pending free agency. Before I started writing this offseason guide, I spoke with both former NFL agent Joel Corry and Over the Cap owner Jason Fitzgerald to get a sense of what they’re hearing, their expectations and projections for different players, and more. Their thoughts will be interwoven throughout. The third and final section will reveal a couple under-the-radar names Seattle should consider pursuing in free agency.
The Seahawks 2018 CAP
Before we dive into potential extensions, signings, and the like — we need to know how much money Seattle is working with. Rumors are that the 2018 salary cap might hit $180M, so I’m working with that number.
Per Over the Cap, before any extensions/signings, Seattle has about $16M in cap space. If you include accounting for rookies, practice squad, injured reserves (IR), and dead money from any potential cuts, it’s probably more like $9-10M. So let’s work with $9-10M as our “true cap space” before any signings/extensions/trades/cuts — it’s just more accurate.
Cut Jeremy Lane and that $9-10M number bumps up to about $14-15M. Add Avril to that cut list and you’re looking at about $20-21M. Add Jon Ryan to the list and we’re around $22-23M. Seattle’s freedom to extend and sign players will depend on which and how veterans they decide to move on from.
Pending Free Agents
Just before the start of the season, Seattle made a bold move in trading for the star defensive tackle, sending hometown receiver Jermaine Kearse and a 2018 2nd round pick to New York. The clubs also swapped 7th round picks. In New York Sheldon was accustomed to playing in a 3-4 defense, and Seattle runs a 4-3 — so there were rumors that it was a challenging adjustment for Richardson. He even spoke of it himself:
“Still transitioning, actually,” Richardson said. “Different things every week. Just getting accustomed to playing with guys still in different situations and trying to find my groove where I can make plays. I’m just doing my job as of right now. I’m not really as productive as I’m used to being.”
Per FO/SIS, Sheldon had 16 pressures on the season (4th highest on the Seahawks). Out of all the NFL’s defensive line players with at least .5 pressures, Sheldon ranked #70 out of 276 in pressures. When the Seahawks traded for Sheldon, I think fans expected Richardson to assume a dominant interior role — as close to Aaron Donald as possible without actually being Aaron Donald. Now, listen to me here — I don’t think Sheldon was bad this year. He was definitely good. However, relative to his trade cost and salary, I don’t think he lived up to expectations. He had huge games against the Rams, Eagles, and a few others — but I don’t think he caused the consistent soul wrecking havoc that fans and the front office maybe expected.
The issue with Sheldon’s contract is tricky: it was obviously preempted by the Malik McDowell injury, as Seattle was expecting large year one contributions from the rookie. It seemed like a desperate move in reaction to Malik’s accident. Sheldon is still young at 27. Do you bet on his talent and hope his production improves with more experience in the system?
My Prediction: If I were Seattle, I would consider spending money elsewhere. I think he’ll ask for a contract somewhere in the $13-14M range. The position he plays is pricey — and I wouldn’t be surprised if a team with an abundance of cap space (Raiders, 49ers, etc) threw serious cash at him. Depending on his next contract, the Seahawks would likely receive a 3rd round comp pick in 2019 for letting him walk.
Jason’s Prediction: “I think he’ll turn it off completely the minute he gets paid and quite honestly he’s living off his early career. I think in free agency he won’t get more than a 1 year $8 or $9M contract offer. He just doesn’t stand out enough and the guys like him last year all got those 1 year deals.”
Joel’s Prediction: “Targeting Muhammad Wilkerson money wouldn’t surprise me ($17M per year neighborhood with over $50M in guarantees where at least $35M is fully guaranteed at signing). I don’t see a long term deal getting done near there. If Timmy Jernigan money is all that’s available ($12M per year/$25M in guarantees), he might bet on himself like Bennie Logan & Dontari Poe.”
Per Pro Football Reference, of all wide receivers with at least 400 receiving yards in 2017, Paul Richardson ranked 11th in yards per reception (15.98 yards) and 60th in catch percentage (55%). Football Outsiders has him ranked 23rd in DYAR (total value as a WR) and ranked 20th in DVOA (value per play).
I think ranking Paul as a top 20-25 wide receiver is appropriate. He’s definitely not top 10, but I think it’s reasonable to say top 20ish. Coming off two ACL tears early in his NFL career, the young receiver seems to have finally found a footing in the league. Russ and Paul established a clear connection in 2017. Assuming Jimmy Graham walks, Wilson’s receivers in 2018 would be the following pre-draft/free agency: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Amara Darboh, Tanner McEvoy (please release him God), and David Moore.
…..that’s not a super talented receiving core.
Right now the 20th ranked WR (by APY) is making $8.5M a year. And that’s before the Mike Evans/Jarvis Landry deals. Doug Baldwin is current sitting at $11.5M a year. I expect Paul to ask for something in the $9-10M range and end up just shy of it. I don’t think Seattle will go for that. I wouldn’t be surprised if John offered him $5.5M APY in a take it or leave it type of offer.
My Prediction: At the end of the day, I view Paul as a middle tier receiver. He had some really exciting moments in 2017, and maybe I’ll come to regret this, but if we’re wisely allocating our limited cap dollars — I’m throwing money at the offensive line instead. I’d rather buy a brand new, shiny Andrew Norwell. If Russell Wilson is the generational talent we believe him to be, he will elevate his receivers. Unfortunately, he can’t elevate the play of his offensive line. It’s definitely a risk — but I’d walk on Prich.
Jason’s Prediction: “Baldwin is going to be 30 and Richardson is only 26. I don’t think you can let him walk the way they did Tate off his one year wonder season. I still think they should have gambled an extended him before the year if they could have. He’s probably looking at 4 years at $7M a year though wideouts in free agency sometimes get more if they can get two teams bullish on them.”
Joel’s Prediction: “He’ll view himself as a stretch the field/deep threat #2 WR. Kenny Stills was more accomplished prior to signing but his deal ($8M-avg/$20M in guarantees) could be an important data point to Richardson. The #2 WR market has been $6M-$8M per year recently, I expect somebody to pay Richardson like he is one of those guys.”
Ahhhhh, Jimmy Graham. Maybe one of the most divisive players on the Seahawks from a fan perspective. I think most fans would agree that Jimmy hasn’t lived up to his expectations as a Seahawk. Jimmy was known for being a touchdown machine in New Orleans, as he record 46 touchdowns in the previous four seasons before being traded to Seattle. When he was traded many fans expected him to continue his red zone dominance with the Seahawks. He did not meet those expectations.
Graham couldn’t finish the 2015 season due to a gruesome patellar tendon injury. However, he made a remarkable recovery and put together a decent 2016 season: racking up 923 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 14.2 yards per catch. In 2017, Jimmy and Russ finally established a strong red zone relationship, connecting for 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Graham seemed to struggle outside of the red zone, logging only 520 receiving yards and a 9.1 yards per catch (both career lows). Per Football Outsiders, in 2017 Graham ranked #9 in DYAR and #28 in DVOA out of all tight ends.
Per Pro Football Reference, of the 26 tight ends in the NFL with at least 300 receiving yards, Jimmy ranked #26 in catch percentage at 59.4%. Outside of the red zone, he struggled mightily. It’s ironic that many fans, including myself, were upset with his red zone production in 2016 — and then he proceeded to trade struggles in 2017. On top of this, throughout his entire career in Seattle, Jimmy was asked to make key blocks for runningbacks and chip blocks in pass pro. It’s maddening because Jimmy has never been good at blocking, both in the run and pass pro. This was a utilization failure by the offensive coaching staff.
When considering extensions for players, you have to look at a number of factors including age, injury history, prior production, leadership abilities, replacement value, etc. Age is a big factor with Jimmy. He’ll be turning 32 in the middle of the 2018 season. Knowing the offense that Pete wants to run, Seattle should look to replace Jimmy with an all-purpose blocking tight end (someone like a Zach Miller).
When Graham signed his deal with the Saints in 2014, he set the top of the tight end market. Since that deal, no other tight end has eclipsed it. The closest deal, in terms of APY, is Travis Kelce of the Chiefs at $9.35M APY. Gronk is making $9M APY. Both those players are far better and more productive than Jimmy.
My Prediction: I don’t expect Jimmy to be willing to take a big pay-cut to stay in Seattle. He does not possess the ideal skill set for a tight end in the offense Pete wants to run. He’ll be expensive and I would be surprised if he looks for something in the $8-10M range. For a soon to be 32 year old tight end, I’ll take a hard pass. Even if he’s willing to take a big pay-cut, this team needs to get younger, hungrier, and more competitive. Jimmy is not that.
Jason’s Prediction: “His best days are behind him and he isn’t worth the investment. A team may fall in love with the name which will drive his price but I don’t think he’ll get more than $7.6M over 3 or 4 years from a team. They can use a younger player at the position.”
Joel’s Prediction: “The goal will probably be similar money to his current expiring contract ($10M per year). That should limit suitors. TE deals haven’t increased since Graham. He still sets the market by average salary. 2017 TE free agent market didn’t produce blockbuster deals but some overpayments (Jermaine Gresham, Dion Sims). Market was softer than expected for Martellus Bennett. Somebody should be willing to pay Graham more than Gresham ($7M per year/$13M fully guaranteed at signing).”
Joeckel was such an odd signing. I understand that good offensive lineman are rare, and that any player who has a pulse will command even a decent amount of money. I mean, the Panthers signed Matt Kalil to a 5 year/$55M contract. Matt Kalil….$11M APY. I can’t believe we’re even saying those words. When Tom Cable claimed him to be the best left guard in the NFL, I knew this wouldn’t end well. Per Pro Football Focus, Joeckel allow 28 total pressures on 422 pass block snaps, which resulted in a 94.7 pass blocking efficiency. He ranked 55th out of 61 guards in the NFL. And fun fact: guess who was 61? Ethan Pocic.
Luke is not worth a deal more than $3-4M APY, if that. If you’re feeling generous, you could call him middle tier talent — but he is anything but that. He is a bad football player and the Seahawks should not rely on him in 2018.
My Prediction: An OL needy team might be willing to throw $4-5M at him. But it shouldn’t be Seattle. I would let him walk in favor of almost anyone else.
Jason’s Prediction: “No idea what they saw in him. 1 year $3M as a free agent unless they find another sucker.” (But Jason, Joeckel was the best left guard in the NFL!)
Joel’s Prediction: “$8M on a one year deal was awfully generous given his history. It’s probably a one deal again for at least a couple of million less.”
Nope, nah, hell no, I’ll pass, thanks, bye. See ya.
My Prediction: No.
Jason’s President: “No. I think he’s down to a minimum salary player now at least in base value. He’s nothing more than a name. Didn’t fit at all in Seattle and not sure hell fit anywhere else.”
Joel’s Prediction: “It’s probably wishful thinking to get another one year deal like the one he played under this year. He should be a prime candidate for a minimum salary benefit contract ($90,000-max in additional money). He might find a $1.5M-$2M on a one with incentives.”
McDougald is an interesting name for 2018. When Kam went down, he was fairly impressive when stepping into the vacant role. A versatile player who can play both safety spots, he was a solid contributor for Seattle. There’s no doubt the kid can ball. However, I don’t think I’d classify him as an “elite” level contributor — maybe more of an “above average” player. With Chancellor considering retirement, most fans might opt for an extension with Bradley — and frankly, I wouldn’t blame them.
However, there’s a name many aren’t considering in this equation. And I know it’s risky: Delano. Hill. From his very limited action in pre-season, we saw encouraging play from rookie. If this team is going to get hungrier, younger, and more competitive, they’re going to have to take some risks. Delano is a player I’m willing to hedge my bets on. Under the mentorship of Kam, I’d provide him will an opportunity to seize the role. At some point we need to start trusting our rookies and giving them a chance. Now is that time.
My Prediction: Based on his 2017 play, I expect Bradley to ask for a contract somewhere in the $5-6M range. And I think he’ll get it. He’s a solid, middle class contributor and a starter on almost all teams. However, considering what Seattle might have in Delano, I’m willing to bet on the rookie. I know it’s a risk — but it’s a risk that might pay multiple dividends.
Jason’s Prediction: “Solid player that could have a big role. He’s only 28 so he could have 3 good year in him. I have a hard time with a contract here because I don’t understand why he had no interest in free agency last year. If I had to guess 3 years around $3.5-$4M a year but at the same time I don’t think he did anything to get more noticed this year unless a new GM sees him differently than the others did in 2017.”
Joel’s Prediction: “The Barry Church, Johnathan Cyprien, Micah Hyde range ($6M-$6.5M per year) may have gotten McDougald’s attention. It could end up in the DJ Swearinger/Quintin Demps territory ($4.5M per year) but no lower Jordan Poyer ($3.25M per year), who was been a tremendous value in Buffalo.”
Luke Willson is another interesting name not being discussed much. Overshadowed by the presence of Graham, he’s has been a solid contributor on offense in the past. When you consider his role, his value is primarily in his blocking abilities. His receiving high was 362 yards in 2014 and he’s never caught more than 4 touchdowns in a single season.
If you can get him for a really low cost, Luke is a middle tier player I might make an exception for. This really depends on if Seattle believes Nick Vannett will ever be a consistent contributor. In the first two years of his rookie deal Vannett has had minimal impact. Maybe the Seahawks believe Nick is the tight end of the future and they let Willson walk.
My Prediction: If I were Seattle, I’d try and keep Luke if you can get him for $1.5-2M a year. At that cost, I think I’d be okay with it. Anything more and I’d let him walk.
Jason’s Prediction: “Could be a little upside there. 1 or 2 year deal around $2M a season.”
Joel’s Prediction: “It shouldn’t be worse than his current one deal but trying to get something like Levine Toilolo ($4M per year with upside) for a couple of years wouldn’t be outlandish as a 2nd TE.”
After being released by the Dolphins, Byron was a player that came in and had an unexpectedly large impact on the secondary. After Sherman went down, he immediately assumed the #2 spot next to Shaq Griffin. With Shead still working to return from his 2016 ACL injury, he provided some much needed depth at a very cheap rate. After some not-so-successful stints in both Philly and Miami, he and his agent know that Seattle’s system is where he thrives. Turning 30 this February, I doubt many teams around the league will be interested in him. For his sake I hope he retires in Seattle.
My Prediction: I would offer him a 1 year/$1.5-2M deal. Reward him for his 2017 contributions & let him compete for a starting position in 2018. With Sherman’s injury and the uncertainty around Shead’s future, the cornerback position is a group where you can never have enough competition. He has proven production in Seattle’s system. He’s worth at least a depth position in 2018.
Jason’s Prediction: “No. I don’t think they should sink the money into a 30 year old corner who is probably going to look for $6M a year.”
Joel’s Prediction: “His 2018-2020 contract years when cut had $29.75M remaining. Players sometimes try to be made whole. Seattle shouldn’t have a problem giving him Jeremy’s Lane money ($12M over 2 years), which is consistent with Brandon Carr’s Ravens deal.”
Free Agents to Target
For the most part I’d prefer Seattle to remain inactive in free agency. I think it’s critical that Seattle strays away from free agency and primarily builds their roster via the draft. The draft has an unlimited supply of young and hungry players (with easy club control!). Often time free agency is exactly the opposite. However, I believe there are a few players worth taking a look at.
Assuming the Seahawks let Luke Joeckel walk (please god), they should seriously consider putting in a bid for Norwell, the All-Pro left guard from the Carolina Panthers. Carolina has very little cap space to work with and it would be challenging for them to extend him to a long term extension. I’ve spoken about this on Twitter and quite a bit on the Real Hawk Talk Podcast — I would much rather sign an All-Pro guard than Sheldon Richardson or Jimmy Graham.
With a new offensive line coach, the Seahawks have a unique opportunity to add a shiny piece to protect their franchise quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Norwell didn’t allow a single sack or hit to Cam Newton in all of 2017. Oh, how I wish that for Russell. One option is letting Joeckel walk, signing Norwell at LG, moving Pocic to RG, and having Fant/Ifedi compete for RT. On paper that’s not a bad offensive line.
Let’s go get a shiny Norwell.
If the Seahawks are going to let Richardson and Graham walk, they may want to sign a cheap draft/injury hedge with upside in free agency. One player that might fit the bill is Donte Moncrief. He’s incredibly young at 24 years of age. After an electric 2015, Donte fell victim to the injury bug over the past two seasons. It was initially believed in Indy (and around the league) that he and TY Hilton would eventually be one of the best combo receivers in the NFL. Oh, how things have changed in Indy.
If Seattle can lure him to play with a true franchise quarterback, and at a bargain rate, then that’d be a win. I would be content entering the season with Baldwin, Lockett, Darboh, Moncrief, Moore, and a draft WR.
If the Seahawks are moving on from Jimmy Graham (and maybe Luke Willson), Tyler Eifert might be a name to look at. He’s only 27 years old and is definitely a high upside player. After struggling with injuries over the past couple of years, the hype around him has died down.
What’s appealing about Tyler is not just his abilities as a receiver, but what he brings to the run game. In Cincy he was known for being a formidable run blocker. If Seattle can get him at a reasonable cost, I might take a flyer on him. Again, it really depends on what the Seahawks decide to do with Graham and Willson. But if you’re moving on from both of them, Eifert is a guy they should take a look into.
This is, without a doubt, Seattle’s most challenging offseason yet. With incredible turnover already occurring on the coaching staff, I envision an even higher turnover rate on the roster..and we might be in store for a few big surprises. You never know what John Schneider and the ballsiest front office in the NFL will do.
With a finite amount of cap room and aging veterans, the Seahawks will have to nail the draft if they wish to continue the dominance the Pete Carroll era has accustomed us to. I only wish for four things:
Avoid the middle class.
If the right offer is there for a veteran, take it.