Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin is hitting free agency at the right time.
In case you haven’t heard — or live under a rock — the NFL salary cap went down this year for the first time in a decade. The cap decreased from close to $198 million per team to $182.5 million for the 2021 league year, because of revenue losses stemming from the pandemic.
As a result, this year’s free agency is going to be a little bit different. The league year technically begins on Wednesday Mar. 17, but we’ll start to hear rumors on Monday when the official league tampering period begins.
From speaking with a number with league sources – both in the front office and on the agent side – and as well as compiling my own personal research, I wanted to share my findings & prepare you for this unique class of free agents.
THE UPPER CLASS WILL STILL GET PAID
One thing that has been consistent, both on the team and agent side – is that the top-tier free agents will not be impacted much by the cap drop. They will still get top dollar.
Who’s in that class?
Shaq Barrett, EDGE — Barrett is the top pass rusher available, and is coming off a monster playoff.
Trent Williams, LT — Elite left tackles rarely hit the market, and he could get close to $20 million per year.
Kenny Golladay, WR– Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin getting franchised was a massive win for Golladay. A lot of the teams with money to spend have a big needs at wideout.
Yannick Ngakoue/Bud Dupree/Matt Judon, EDGE – Barrett is the top dog, but this tier of edge rushers has the right combination of age and upside to still strike it rich.
Aaron Jones, RB– There is great risk in giving big money to a running back, but Jones still will have a big market. Green Bay wants to bring him back, and Miami and the Jets are lingering.
Joe Thuney, G/Corey Linsley, C – Similar to Golladay, Thuney benefited huge from Brandon Scherff being removed from the market. Thuney is now far-and-away the top guard available. Linsley is in a similar boat as the top center available.
Hunter Henry, TE — Henry got franchised last year, when many teams were prioritizing him as a free agent target, so now that he’s openly available, he will make up for it with a longer contract.
WHO WILL GET MORE THAN YOU THINK
We usually don’t see the amount of upper-echelon talent available we had in the tier above. In free agency, typically what happens is second-or-third tier talent are the ones who cash in because of lack of supply, and as a result, they got paid like first-tier players.
Even though the middle class is expected to be squeezed in the cap drop, we’re still expecting some big deals for these type of aforementioned players, based on a combination of age, weak options in the draft at certain positions. Here are the names I’m expecting to fall into that group.
Shaquill Griffin/William Jackson, CB- There isn’t a ton of young outside cornerbacks to spend on at the top of the corner market, so Jackson and Griffin will be rewarded for their timing. On top of that, the two teams with the most cash flow available – Jacksonville and the New York Jets – have clear needs at outside corner, so these guys could surpass $14 million a year. I don’t expect Seattle to retain Griffin.
Carl Lawson, EDGE – Lawson is 25 years old and ascending pass rusher that hasn’t generated too much hype to the casual fan. Because of all the other pass rushers available and the fact he played for an irrelevant Bengals team, Lawson’s eventual contract will shock some people. My league sources are expecting him to do very well in this market. Another name for this category is Trey Hendrickson of the New Orleans Saints.
Jonnu Smith, TE – Smith’s counting stats are relatively pedestrian, but the league is very high on him as a player. He is a rare all-around tight end at age 25 that has good speed, blocking ability, and red zone appeal. He could get close to $9 million per year. There’s been rumblings that Seattle has done homework on Smith, but I think he will be priced out of their range.
Curtis Samuel, WR – I told our Real Hawk Talk chat the other day that Samuel will get a good deal in this market, and one of our team members was totally stunned. So, I included him in here. Samuel offers appeal because of his age and potential, and it doesn’t hurt that two teams with WR needs have direct ties to the player. New Jags coach Urban Meyer recruited Samuel to play at Ohio State, while Samuel played for Ron Rivera and a number of the Washington Football Team’s coaches with the Panthers.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT – Now that Leonard Williams got franchised, his teammate will be the one to benefit in a lack-of-supply situation. This is a terrible DT group in the upcoming draft, and Tomlinson is now the top player available in free agency at the position. He is not a natural pass rusher, but is a very good point-of-attack player and is at coming off his best pro season.
THERE IS VALUE TO BE FOUND
As I mentioned above, the combination of the cap going down by close to $16 million, and the market being saturated at certain positions with veteran players means there will be a number contracts that look much cheaper than usual and as one personnel executive put it, a “8-million-dollar player might get closer to 4 or 4.5 once the big names start to go”, so teams like Seattle, that typically prefer to search for value might focus on this group.
Defensive end – If you couldn’t tell from above, this is a very atypical free agent group of pass rushers available. Usually you get a few No. 2 rushers available and that’s it, but this year, the position is loaded with names , making it more of a buyers market for the middle class of players. This will undoubtedly hurt the market for older players, which is why many around the league were dumbfounded by what J.J. Watt got from Arizona. Due to the quantity of players available, there will be opportunities here.
Guard – The cap squeeze impacted the guard position as much as any. Over the past week, quality players such as Trai Turner, Kevin Zeitler, Gabe Jackson (and maybe Andrew Norwell) were added to the free agent market, and now there’s more opportunity to find a veteran ready-to-play guard that will come in almost half the price of Thuney.
Wide Receiver –Like defensive end, this group is loaded with numbers and more veterans were squeezed out this week (John Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, etc.). You could make a case that all of those players could fit the Seahawks, and they won’t cost all that much. There is a lot of opportunity to find value at the WR3 on short-term commitments once the highly-paid players come off the board.
Cornerback – I mentioned a lack of quality at the top, but conversely there are huge numbers in terms of veteran corners available. Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Jason Verrett, A.J. Bouye, Janoris Jenkins, Xavier Rhodes are all free agents, as well as buy-low opportunities on younger players (Kevin King, Akkello Witherspoon, Chidobe Awuzie), and you can even make a case for Quinton Dunbar in that category as well.
WHICH SEAHAWKS (or former) ARE AVAILABLE?
Chris Carson – It’s hard to get a feel on Carson’s market. He really to wants to cash in.
K.J. Wright — Wright’s camp will absolutely be using the recent Lavonte David contract as a comp.
Carlos Dunlap — Dunlap will have suitors, but won’t surpass $14 million that Seattle walked from.
Richard Sherman — Sherman won’t cost a prohibitive amount. He’ll choose wisely where he goes.
Quinton Jefferson –Jefferson shouldn’t surpass $6 million in this market. He was shocked he got cut.
Justin Coleman — Seahawks have bodies at slot corner, so I don’t see a return too likely.
Ethan Pocic — Pocic’s second-half dropoff will really limit his market value. Seattle needs an upgrade.
Golden Tate — Tate is a WR3 at this point in his career. He won’t have a huge price tag.