The biggest question facing the Seahawks as their season ended was whether ownership would bring back Pete Carroll and John Schneider. That question has been answered, whether fans like it or not. That allows us to turn our attention toward the offseason and free agency. Seattle will have to be active if they are to turn this team from a fringe playoff participant to a fringe contender.
What we know
There will be a new defensive coordinator who, according to reports, will help continue the shift in defensive scheme toward Vic Fangio’s style of two-deep coverages instead of the LOB-era single-high safety looks. Carroll was also clear that they need to address pass rush.
The last time the team was that clear about pass rush as a priority was after the 2012 playoff loss in Atlanta. That was also the last time they were active in the first wave of free agency, signing Cliff Avril right away, and then swooping in for a bargain with Michael Bennett. They will not replicate the market conditions that depressed contract values that offseason, but it is still worth noting the team has shown they are willing to be aggressive in early free agency for pass rush.
Complicating things is the large number of free agents who will be entering the market from the Seahawks 2021 roster. Anywhere from 8-11 starters will be free agents, depending on how you determine who was a starter. Carroll has already said that they plan to try and bring back a lot of their players.
John Gilbert wrote a nice piece explaining why the Seahawks have less cap space (~$25M) than has been generally reported. That number takes into account things like money for draft picks and injured reserve and other items, so we can think of that as the “free agent spending cap.” That is not even enough to really resign their own guys, let alone add quality players to the mix. There will definitely be cap cuts.
Bobby Wagner owns the biggest contract that could be removed outright or restructured. Seattle would open up an additional $16.6M if they released him.
There is another group that should be at high risk for cap cuts:
Jason Myers $4M
LJ Collier $1M
Chris Carson $3.4M
Benson Mayowa $1.5M
Kerry Hyder $2M
That is an additional $11.9M that could be freed up. Gabe Jackson is less likely, but he would open up $3M if the team is ready to push Phil Haynes for the starting job.
Leaving Jackson out for now, Seattle has $28.5M they could open up by releasing the players mentioned above, bringing their total space to spend on free agents to roughly $54M.
Should the team need more, they could restructure Russell Wilson’s deal. That would be an indication the team intends to keep him now and in the future, as it would push money out and make the cap hit to trading him untenable.
My best guess is the team will not outright cut Wagner, but will push some of his money to future seasons, dropping his cap number to no higher than $8M this year. Given that they could move that 2022 cap hit up or down almost as much as they want since Wagner would still be guaranteed the $16.6M over the course of the deal, I am going to just use $50M as the nice round number Seattle should have to spend on free agents.
Free agent priorities
The Seahawks need starters at: left tackle, center, tight end one and tight end two, running back, left cornerback, right cornerback, free safety, defensive tackle, and defensive end. With the moves above, they also need a starting linebacker and placekicker.
I would solve for kicker, linebacker, and possibly one corner in the draft. There will obviously be other positions, but I am not going to focus much on free agent kickers or linebackers. I will touch briefly on corners, but that is mostly a “keep what you can” situation. I also believe they like what they’ve seen in Jake Curhan at right tackle and have Stone Forsythe who could possibly add to the competition, so I will not go deep on right tackle.
Internal Free Agent Priorities (positions where Seattle should most try to resign their own free agents):
External Free Agent Priorities(positions where Seattle should bring in new players)
Seattle will first try to sort out which of their guys they want to keep and which they think they can. These are guys they will want to pull off the market ASAP, and would rather not let them explore the market too much. I expect that to include D.J. Reed, Quandre Diggs, and Rashaad Penny. All three could choose to listen to other teams regardless of the Seahawks intentions.
Let’s go through the priorities position-by-position.
The general expectation is the Seahawks will bring back Duane Brown on a 1-2 year deal. Schneider always is looking out three years when he does his roster planning. I cannot help but think he will see Brown as a questionable investment for one year, let alone three. There are also some interesting free agents at the position who could be part of the team plans for three years or more.
Armstead is certain to hit the market as the Saints are a staggering $70M over the 2022 cap and there are rumors Sean Payton is leaving. He has injury issues, but to assume the aging Brown is not an injury concern is foolish. Armstead is only 30, six years younger than Brown. He is a three time Pro Bowler and one time All-Pro. He’s very good when healthy.
Orlando Brown is a possible franchise tag as the Chiefs traded a first round pick for him, but he is only 25-years old and would be your long-term solution at left tackle. He has not yet shown the Pro Bowl level talent of Armstead, but he’s worth the bet if you have a chance to sign him.
Trent Brown is 28-years old and has played both left and right tackle. He is a massive man, at over 360 pounds, and has battled a lot of injury issues. When healthy, he has been a quality tackle for the Patriots and the 49ers.
Fisher is 31-years old. The former #1 overall pick signed with the Colts coming off a torn Achilles, and played like a guy who was not yet back to full strength. His level of play improved late in the year, and you could have a chance to buy low on a talented left tackle with more time left than Duane.
I really like Duane Brown, but his body seems to be degrading rapidly. I would rather the team go after one of these others guys, even with their various question marks, to allow the offensive line to have more stability over the coming seasons versus being almost certain you will be back in the market for a left tackle in 2023.
This is a fascinating part of free agency. There are absolute game-changing, blue chip, players who can be had. There are also a number of additional guys who could become available via cap cuts that I will add to the list with asterisks (*). There are also guys I see as “alpha” rushers who command double teams and can take over games, and more complimentary guys. I will put the alpha rushers in bold.
Chandler Jones (Expected price per year: $17M, Expected guaranteed money: $24M)
Von Miller ($17M, $25M)
Randy Gregory ($12.5M, $15M)
Jerry Hughes ($6.5M)
Jason Pierre-Paul ($7M)
Jadaveon Clowney ($15M, $12M)
Haason Reddick ($12M, $18M)
I am not going to talk about each one, but here are my general thoughts. Miller could be the best fit given his experience playing in the Fangio defense. He is 32-years-old, but still is showing he has the bend and burst to be a top-tier rusher. I give the very slight lean to preferring Jones because he is a year younger and has shown a more recent ability to take over a game than Miller. Get either one, and Seahawks fans will be thrilled.
The Packers are $40M over the cap, and almost definitely will cut either Za’Darius or Preston or both. Za’Darius is coming off an injury, but did play in the playoffs and recorded a sack. Preston had one of his best seasons. Za’Darius can be a top-shelf pass rusher when he is right, and could be had for less money or on a shorter deal coming off the injury. He is only 29-years old. I see Preston as more of a complimentary rusher.
The Vikings are $13M over the cap, fired their coach, and are going through some stuff. Hunter has battled injuries, and the team could save $15M on the cap by letting him go. When healthy, he has been one of the most dominant pass rushers in football.
It may not matter, but the guys with asterisks would not count against the comp pick formula.
I see Gregory as a guy who has some alpha upside, but is also a bit of a knucklehead. The priority for Seattle here has to be getting one of the alpha rushers.
Less likely, but a wild card could be Cam Jordan with the Saints. His contract would not make a lot of sense to move before June 1st, but the team could look at trading him after that, and he would be a clear addition to the alpha rusher list.
The general expectation is the Seahawks will bring back Ethan Pocic. I see that as a major mistake as there are some clear upgrades available. A scenario exists where the team slides Phil Haynes or Damien Lewis over to center so Haynes, Lewis and Jackson can all start. I like that move, but am not going to assume the Seahawks do it.
Brian Allen ($7M, $10.5M)
Ben Jones ($6.5M, $12M)
Ryan Jensen ($10M, $15M)
Ethan Pocic ($3M)
Allen is 26-years old and starts for the Rams. He has familiarity with Shane Waldron and Andy Dickerson. He played against Aaron Donald every day in practice. I think he should be one of the Seahawks top free agent priorities. He is a better pass blocker and run blocker than Pocic. He knows the line calls. He is young. Make it happen.
Jones is older (32), but has been a consistent performer for years, and should have plenty of years left in the tank. He played in a physical offense and has plenty of experience diagnosing defensive fronts and adjusting line calls.
Jensen is seen as the cream of the crop, but he just got his butt whooped by Aaron Donald like everyone else. I might have felt differently if he held up better against the Rams defensive line, but he didn’t. I just don’t think he is worth the extra money it would cost to get him over Jones or Allen when the Seahawks have needs elsewhere.
There are some intriguing names here as well. My real hope is the Seahawks follow their inside/outside formula that worked with Avril and Bennett, by getting an edge rusher and an interior rusher. I do not believe there are any true alpha interior rushers available, but there is a divide that I will call out with bold letters again, and some possible cap cuts that will feature an asterisk.
Akiem Hicks ($8.5M, $12.5M)
Calais Campbell ($8M)
DJ Jones ($9M, $15.5M)
Sebastian Joseph-Day ($10M, $17.5M)
Linval Joseph ($7M)
Hicks is 32 and coming off a year he only played 9 games due to injury. He has experience in Fangio’s defense, and has some connections with Clint Hurtt and Sean Desai, should either be on the defensive staff. Pairing Hicks with Miller could give the team a major pass rush boost and do it in the context of the scheme the team is moving toward.
Jarrett is only 29, but is on the last year of his deal and coming off arguably his worst season. The Falcons are $5M over the cap, clearly rebuilding and would save $16.5M if they traded or cut him. I could see Seattle trading for the last year of his deal. He is a game-wrecking interior defender who has been an All-Pro as recently as 2019.
Onyemata is less well known, but is a whirling dervish of an interior rusher for the Saints. He is 29, and with the Saints cap situation, he could be cut to save them $4M.
Carroll and Schneider have long admired Campbell. He is in the tail end of his career, but is still a handful in the middle of the line. Pair him with an alpha edge rusher, and offenses will struggle to pick their double teams.
DJ Jones is a lesser-known player, but at 27, he has potential to be part of the line for a while. He is an explosive pass rusher at times, and might have more upside in a defense where he was featured instead of playing off others.
Joseph-Day is similar, and also 27. He’s less proven, but has some upside.
Pierce would save the Vikings $6.5M in cap space, and is more known as a run stuffer, but had a strong year pass rushing.
It would be ideal if the Seahawks could resign both DJ Reed and Sidney Jones. They both know the system and technique. They have proven they can be effective in it. They are both only 25-years old. We have seen players come here from other systems and struggle. It really is a matter of cost and their preferences. I do question whether the Seahawks will try to bring back both or lean into Tre Brown, who will be coming off a serious injury. The draft is also strong in corners.
DJ Reed ($9M, $15M)
Sidney Jones ($5M, $8M)
Darious Williams ($13M, $23M)
Robert Alford ($5M)
JC Jackson ($18M, $56M)
Slot corner: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson*
It won’t surprise me if Reed bolts for a different system, more money, or just another locale. If that happens, I get more interested in Williams. If Seattle can bring back Reed and Jones, their corner position will be set for years. I just have a feeling the team will not want to invest in both of them.
Gardner-Johnson would save the Saints $2.5M, and he is a quality slot corner. Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair were both bad this season. Finding an upgrade there would be important.
The plan would be to resign Quandre Diggs. That feels pretty likely. Should that not happen for any number of reasons, there are a ton of quality safeties in free agency and it is a strong position in the draft.
Quandre Diggs ($8M, $13.5M)
Jessie Bates III (Franchise tag?)
Tyrann Mathieu ($16M, $31M)
Devin McCourty ($6M, $8M)
Marcus Williams ($16M, $35M)
As much as we all love Diggs, most/all of these guys are better safeties. Bates is fantastic and only 24-years old. Amos would save the Packers $5M in cap space, and is an intriguing option if he becomes available. Knowing what the team already spent on Jamal Adams, they cannot afford to go top-shelf for both starting safeties. McCourty would be an interesting fallback if Diggs does not work out. I expect Diggs to work out.
There are some quality tight ends hitting the market. Seattle could do a lot worse than bringing back their two free agents in Gerald Everett and Will Dissly, but I would guess they will only go after one, and look to Colby Parkinson to step forward.
Will Dissly ($2M)
Gerald Everett ($7.5M, $12.5M)
Dalton Schultz ($11M, $25M)
Zach Ertz ($11M, $12.5M)
Evan Engram ($9M, $10M)
Given the money the team will need to spend elsewhere, I would prioritize bringing back Dissly at a small deal and rolling the dice on Parkinson. I think Everett has a lot more to offer and would be happy to see him or another established receiving threat back, but not if it costs the team any of the priorities listed before this position. For example, I would rather have Brian Allen and Dissly/Parkinson than Ethan Pocic and Everett/Parkinson.
I think Schultz, Ertz, and Engram all would be great options if the team can afford them.
I’m not really going to go deep here. I think the team should bring back Penny at no more than $4M per year. If he commands a deal over $5M, you have to let him walk. The draft has some quality backs. James Conner is another decent back who will be available.
If you signed the top choice for every group above at the expected price, and you signed Sidney Jones at his price, that would total $79M. We talked about the Seahawks having around $50M to spend on free agents. There are always ways to manipulate contracts to push money into future years, but it is pretty unlikely the team will land my top choice in all these areas.
It really starts at the top. If you can get Miller or Jones, I think you have to fall back to Duane Brown or maybe Trent Brown at left tackle. That is already a (projected) $10M difference. Similarly, if you somehow can land Armstead or Orlando Brown, you would likely have to drop out of the alpha pass rusher derby.
We can all have our preferences, including Carroll and Schneider, but there are countless variables, including which players are willing and interested in coming to Seattle. Fans get wrapped up in, “we could have had this player for this price,” when that actually was never an option.
As I look at the free agents out there, it is very clear to me that the Seahawks need to either let Wagner go or reduce his salary to $4M or less in 2022. I also could stomach letting Diggs walk if it meant bolstering left tackle, edge, interior rush and center.
Seattle has too much money invested in the safety and linebacker position. They do not have enough invested in either offensive or defensive line. The best teams have difference makers there, and Seattle needs to shift money there.
I believe it is realistic that Schneider and Carroll will prioritize the alpha edge rush market. I also believe they could go after a dynamic interior rusher as well.
As much as I hate the idea of defaulting to Pocic at center, I could stomach it if the team gets some of these other holes filled with dynamic players and they show some willingness to let Haynes and/or Lewis compete for the center position.
Those are some of the trade-offs the team will have to make to maximize their improvement this offseason. There is no shortage of paths to making this team better. With Aaron Rodgers and possibly Tom Brady leaving the NFL or just the NFC, the conference could be more wide open than ever. Schneider and Carroll need to be their best, but a huge turnaround is within reach.