For the first time in many years, the Seattle Seahawks have an abundance of resources entering the 2020 offseason — both in cap space and draft capital. If you’re wondering how Seattle suddenly came up with so much cap space, the answer is simple: they don’t employ a ton of blue-chip players at high salaries. For many years, the Seahawks had tied up significant cap dollars in franchise stars like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, and others.
At the time of writing the Seahawks have only five players making more than $10M on the 2020 books (for ease of understanding… I’m referring to cap hit, not actual cash flow): Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Duane Brown, Justin Britt, and Tyler Lockett. And two of those players in Justin Britt and Duane Brown might not be here in a few years.
For those of you that have read my articles over the years, you know the offseason is maybe my favorite time of the NFL year. Of course, the games are fun, but the offseason is full of hope. You have free agency, the draft, OTAs, training camp, and a lot more. It’s fun. It’s exciting. No one can definitively tell you your team sucks. It’s fun to play armchair GM and work out different roster construction strategies. At least it is for me. But I’m a nerd.
Free agency is my favorite time of the year. And to be quite honest, historically the Seahawks haven’t made major splashes early in free agency. Of course, they’ve made bombshell trades later on in the offseason, but they have typically avoided the early stages of free agency. But this year could be different. They have positional holes all over the roster, an abundance of cap space, and talented pieces to build around. I’m hopeful about the roster moving forward. I think John Schneider and Pete Carroll have an opportunity to rebuild this roster towards dominance. They have the cap space, the cap flexibility beyond 2020, and the draft capital.
In case you’ve never read one of my offseason guides, we’ll cover things like cap space, pending free agents, extension candidates, free agency targets, and roster construction strategies. The truth is the NFL’s salary cap is confusing as hell.. I will try to make things simple — and in case I miss the mark, feel free to leave a comment on this article. I’ll try and explain anything I miss the mark on. Before we get going, I have to give my annual shout out to Over the Cap. Jason Fitzgerald and the work his team does over there is simply phenomenal. They are the go-to resource for the NFL’s salary cap. All my numbers are pulled from them. I highly recommend signing up for their premium membership, which helps them run the site and simultaneously gives you access to a bunch of premium resources.
With that said, let’s dive in.
2020 Cap Space
At the time of writing (1/21), the Seahawks currently sit top 10 in available cap space — at $59.4M. And if they want more, they could make a couple of moves that quickly open up additional space. Below is a graph of where the Seahawks sit relative to other NFL teams, per Over the Cap.
I tried to pull my cap space data from earlier years — but was unfortunately unable to find them (purchased a new computer and forgot to back up the data). But as far as I can remember, this is the most cap space Seattle has had entering the offseason in many years — and maybe the most in the PC/JS era (don’t quote me). $59.4M is Seattle’s raw cap space, but if you want to get more granular and specific… we can do that.
If you want to account for a full 51 man roster (top 51 rule), they have about $54.7M in cap space. If you want to account for a full roster, practice squad, rookies, and injury settlements, they have about $49.7M in “true cap space”. These estimations are Seattle specific, and won’t equally translate to the cap situation of other NFL teams.
Potential Cuts & Restructures
There are really only three players I see as potential cut or restructure candidates. They are Justin Britt, KJ Wright, and Ed Dickson.
Let’s start with Justin Britt. Britt is still fairly young at 28 years old, but he is coming off an ACL tear with the 3rd highest 2020 cap hit among all centers. At the same time, Pro Football Focus graded him as the 26th highest center in 2019. The Seahawks would save somewhere between $7.75M and $8.75M by cutting him, depending on the extent of the injury settlement. Cutting him isn’t my personal preference, but a restructuring is. You could make the argument that Seattle has a ton of cap space and shouldn’t disrespect him by asking him to take a pay cut, but I don’t believe in burning money just to burn money. Maybe he’s willing to take a pay cut, maybe not. But either way, I don’t think his current production justifies his salary. The center position is painfully shallow behind him, so the Seahawks should be careful here if they decide to make a move.
KJ Wright is a player I’ve changed my mind on a lot. When he signed a two year extension as a free agent last spring, I immediately assumed the second year of the deal to be a filler year — where he wouldn’t be on the team but was solely used for cap proration purposes. That assumption was painfully wrong. KJ Wright ended up having a phenomenal 2019, and you could make an argument he was one of Seattle’s best defenders. Cutting KJ Wright would save Seattle $6M against the cap. But with the year he had, I’m not sure they should do it. He’s still incredibly productive. However, there is the question of Cody Barton — should Seattle opt to go younger and cheaper at the position? I guess we’ll find out soon.
Ed Dickson is my last candidate for a move. In the final year of a 3 year/$10.7M signed in early 2018, he’s essentially been a very, very expensive insurance policy — who hasn’t even been healthy most of the time. A combination of both injuries and age, the Seahawks should probably move on from him. Cutting him, as long as he’s healthy, would save the Seahawks $3.25M. And they should probably do it. They could gain better value from allocating the roster spot somewhere else.
Pending Free Agents
In terms of unrestricted free agents, the Seahawks quietly have some key contributors — both starters and depth talent — about to hit the open market. This list includes names such as Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, Mychal Kendricks, George Fant, Mike Iupati, Al Woods, Germain Ifedi, Quinton Jefferson, Jarran Reed, Akeem King, Neiko Thorpe, and CJ Prosise.
David Moore and Jacob Hollisters are both RFAs, which I expect Seattle to retain. 2020 RFA tenders range from $2.1M to $4.67M, depending on the round they apply to each. There are three different types of tenders:
First-round tender: ~$4.67M cap hit. The agent can negotiate with other teams and if the home team refuses to match an offer, the new team must send over a first-round pick as compensation.
Second round tender: ~$3.2M cap hit. The agent can negotiate with other teams and if the home team refuses to match an offer, the new team must send over a second-round pick as compensation.
Original round tender: ~$2.1M cap hit. The agent can negotiate with other teams and the home team can match offers, but if they choose not to — they receive no compensation.
I expect the Seahawks to apply an original round tender to each, which would cost them $2.14M per player against the 2020 cap. If you’d like to read more about the intricacies of NFL tenders, I recommend doing so here.
Seattle has a dynamic range of players entering free agency — some exceptionally talented, others not so much! I’ll highlight a few of them with contract projections — and simply provide commentary on the others.
Let’s start with Germain Ifedi. Here’s how Germain has ranked in both pass protection as well as run blocking over the last three years of his career, among all eligible tackle (20% min snaps — PFF):
These are bad grades. The good news for Germain Ifedi is that the right tackle market is insanely bloated. Lane Johnson just signed a 4 year/$72M deal with the Eagles, setting the bar at $18M APY. Ja’Wuan James, RT for the Broncos, is a very mediocre player and recently signed a 4 year/ $51M deal. Being both fairly young and carrying a first-round draft status, I could see an OL-needy team paying Ifedi something in the $11-14M APY range. I hope that team isn’t Seattle. Here’s a contract projection for Ifedi:
Moving on to the DL, Jadeveon Clowney is easily my #1 extension hope for the Seahawks. It’s hard to accurately judge his full 2019 season, as he was battling a very painful hernia injury incurred in week 10. From weeks 1-10, Clowney was tied for PFF’s 4th best edge defender. Let me put this very simply: Extend. Jadeveon. Clowney. Not only is he exceptionally talented and one of the best defenders in the NFL, but Seattle’s defensive line is also easily the worst in the NFL without him. But he won’t come cheap. I think he’s significantly better than Frank Clark and will beat his deal.
Of course, Clowney has mentioned many times that he wants to play for a contender — but at the end of the day, money talks. If Seattle wants to keep Clowney in the fold, here’s what a potential deal could look like. I think $22.75M APY over four years with 50% guaranteed gets it done.
Jarran Reed is the final candidate I’d like to project. With 10 sacks in 2018, hopes were high for his 2019 season. However, those hopes were quickly derailed when the NFL suspended Reed 6 games for violating the personal conduct policy for allegedly physically assaulting a woman. Charges were dropped by the Bellevue police, but I recommend reading through the allegations. I’m not in the business of being judge and jury, so I’ll let you decide your own opinion of the situation. Regardless, I intend to evaluate the football side of it.
Per PFF, Reed was the NFL’s 90th best DL. He ranked 72nd in run defense and 93rd in pass rush. Quite a long way from his 2018 season. Whether or not the deal comes from the Seahawks, I think Reed is a prime candidate for a one year/prove-it type of deal.
With those three major free agents out of the way, let’s move onto Seattle’s smaller name candidates:
Ezekiel Ansah: let him walk. He was a non-factor in 2019 and I wouldn’t be surprised if he retired. Only retain if he’s willing to come back for the veteran minimum.
Mychal Kendricks: his situation is shaky, considering the off the field issues. I’d let him walk — not because of the off the field stuff, but because I’m so excited about Cody Barton (who also played well in the playoffs).
George Fant: I wouldn’t be surprised if he was Seattle’s starting right tackle come 2020. He’ll test the waters in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Seattle match an offer to get him his return.
Mike Iupati: he was a capable LG for the Seahawks. Wonder if Seattle could get him back on a Fluker like deal from 2018.
Al Woods: an underrated cog in Seattle’s run defense, I would love to see Woods back. I was disappointed by his suspension for PEDs, but he’s a player I hope returns for 2020.
Quinton Jefferson: outside of Clowney, QJeff is my #1 hope for a Seattle reunion. Each year he’s steadily progressed into a better player — and if Seattle can lock him down for several years, I could see him becoming a key contributor for the Seahawks.
Free Agency Targets
For the first time in a while, I’m really excited about this free agency class. More often than not, most free agency years feature overrated talent being paid astronomical deals. This year is different — there is both legit defensive and offensive talent available come March. I’ll focus on talent outside of the Seahawks.
In regards to the defensive side of the ball, here are a few names that stick out to me:
Chris Jones (DL): had 48 pressures for the Chiefs in 2019. Graded as a top-five interior DL. At 25 years old, I expect him to land a deal in the $19-21M APY range.
Byron Jones (CB): a top 20 corner with a limitless ceiling, he’ll be a hot name on the market. If the Seahawks are looking for a legit CB2 upgrade over Tre Flowers, Jones is it. Able to excel in both man and zone coverage, he could be a perfect fit for a Pete Carroll project. But it will come at a cost. I expect him to land somewhere in the mid-teens for APY.
Shaquill Barrett (DL): logged an 82.0 PFF pass-rush grade in 2019. Seattle is desperate for pass rush — and Shaquill could be a worthy contributor to a revived 2020 unit.
Yannick Ngakoue (Edge): maybe my favorite outside free agent candidate. A good, but not excellent recent two years could suppress his market a bit. But at age 25, his ceiling is insane. A top pass rusher but mediocre run defending skills could limit Seattle’s interest, but I hope they sniff around this deal. Would love to see Seattle pair Clowney with him.
Arik Armstead: a first-round pick who began his career a little slow, Arik burst onto the scene in 2019 as one of the league’s premier pass rushers. The 49ers likely won’t be able to extend him, making him a top name on the market. I expect something in the mid to high teens for APY.
The defensive side of the ball has hot candidate, but there’s some really interesting offensive names in free agency:
AJ Green (WR): the legendary Bengals receiver has never experienced real playoff success. At age 31, he might be willing to prioritize playoff hopes over a paycheck. If he’s willing to, Seattle could be an ideal landing spot. Despite the dominance of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, the Seahawks will be looking to add a viable #3 receiver to the mix. If he’s willing to sign for a reasonable deal, this could be an excellent depth + playmaker signing. Maybe he’s willing to sign a deal in the $7-10M range, in which case I would advocate Seattle pursuing.
Hunter Henry (TE): yes, yes — I know what you’re going to say. Will Dissly will be healthy and the #1 TE. As much as I love Dissly, Russell Wilson is dramatically better with a healthy and dynamic tight end on the field. Commonly used as the offense’s safety outlet, filling legit depth behind Will Dissly is critical. After experiencing two major injuries early in his NFL career, there’s no guarantee Dissly comes back the same.
Jack Conklin (RT): with Germain Ifedi likely leaving in free agency, there’s going to be a massive hole at right tackle. A mediocre pass blocker but an absolute mauler in the run game, his skills might attract Seattle’s attention. PFF graded him as the 12th best tackle in 2019, which would be a major upgrade over Ifedi. I’d be more than happy to have Seattle pay out something in the $12-14M APY range for him.
Brandon Scherff (G): RG was another liability for Seattle in 2019. After extending Fluker to a reasonable short-term deal, he quickly fell on his face — ranking as PFF’s 79th best guard in 2019. Scherff is injury prone and has missed 15+ games in the past three years. But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the NFL’s best. I’m willing to take that risk to make a sizable upgrade at RG.
Joe Thuney (G): Thuney ended 2019 as PFF’s third-best guard. Insanely talented in pass protection, Russell should be begging John Schneider to make this upgrade. Go. Get. Thuney. And pay him whatever he wants.
It’s going to be a fun offseason. John Schneider, one of the most ballsy general managers in the National Football League, has a new credit card with a very high spending limit. Let’s see what he can purchase.