During his 11 seasons at the helm for the Seahawks, extending star players with one year remaining on their current contract has been a common practice for general manager John Schneider.
Back in April 2019, with negotiations going down to the final hour, Seattle locked up quarterback Russell Wilson with a record-setting four-year, $140 million extension. Months later, perennial All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner signed a three-year, $54 million extension of his own. These two lucrative signings came less than a year after tackle Duane Brown inked his own three-year extension worth $36.5 million.
While Schneider clearly isn't a stranger to conducting these types of deals, the NFL's current financial circumstances amid a pandemic may cause him to be even more proactive pursuing such extensions as a means to create much-needed cap relief. Currently, per OverTheCap.com, the organization has less than $5 million in cap space available with the cap expected to plummet to $175 million league-wide for 2021.
Luckily for Schneider, unlike some other teams such as the Saints and Eagles that find themselves in salary cap hell, the Seahawks have several notable veterans with one year left under contract who could be prime candidates for extensions that would quickly create instant cap flexibility heading into the new league year.
Here's a look at five deserving extension candidates on Seattle's roster, their current cap hits for 2021, and how a new contract would help facilitate other offseason moves for Schneider and the front office:
2021 Cap Hit: $13.35 million
Staying healthy and starting all 17 games for the Seahawks, Brown enjoyed a spectacular bounce-back season protecting Russell Wilson's blind side. Per Pro Football Focus, the 13-year veteran allowed only two sacks and five quarterback hits on 693 pass blocking snaps, earning an 84.1 grade. Continuing to display elite athleticism for the position even at his advancing age, he also received a stellar 81.7 run blocking grade and finished sixth among qualified tackles with an 87.3 overall grade.
Though he's set to turn 36 years old in August, Andrew Whitworth is still going strong at 39 years old for the Rams and Brown looks to have plenty of great football left in him. Seattle doesn't have his heir apparent on the roster currently either, so a new contract should be a top priority. Extending him through 2022 or 2023 should shave at least $3-4 million off his cap hit for next season and provide a bit more security at one of the most important positions in the game while allowing him the chance to potentially end his career in the Pacific Northwest.
2021 Cap Hit: $14.95 million
Calling Lockett's 2020 season a bizarre one would be a bit of an understatement. He finished with a franchise record 100 receptions, tying for the sixth-most in the NFL, while also eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards for the second straight season and scoring 10 touchdowns. But interestingly, a large chunk of that production came in two games in Arizona, as he produced 27 receptions for 290 yards and five touchdowns at State Farm Stadium. The rest of the season? In 14 games, he produced 764 yards on 73 receptions with five touchdowns. In eight of those games, he was held under 50 receiving yards, and he only scored two touchdowns in the last two months.
Still, even considering a series of minor injuries he has played through the past few years, Lockett remains one of the NFL's best all-around receivers and will turn 29 years old in September. A strong argument can be made he's been underpaid under the terms of his current contract and the Seahawks should reward him with a lucrative extension that makes him one of the top 10-15 highest-paid receivers in the sport. In the process, a new contract would substantially lower his expensive cap hit for next season.
2021 Cap Hit: $13.975 million
After returning on a two-year deal last March, Reed came to life as an interior pass rushing force in the second half of the 2020 season following the arrival of Carlos Dunlap. While he didn't quite replicate his breakout 2018 campaign when he amassed 10.5 sacks and 24 quarterback hits, he still finished with 6.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss. The fifth-year defensive tackle wrapped up the season on a strong note, battling through an oblique injury to register a pair of sacks and three quarterback hits in a 30-20 playoff loss to the Rams.
Though Pro Football Focus has never seemed to fully appreciate Reed's talents and gave him an inexplicable 56.3 overall grade in 2020, the Seahawks should be able to see where his true value lies coming off a nice rebound season. Since he's not elite at his position, it's tough to justify keeping him on the books with a cap hit close to $14 million. But he did more than enough last year to earn an extension and the organization would be wise to lock him and Poona Ford up as defensive cornerstones along the front line moving forward.
2021 Cap Hit: $14.1 million
As touched on with Reed's second half surge, the addition of Dunlap via midseason trade proved to be the ultimate game-changer for Seattle's defense. He immediately registered his first sack in his team debut against Buffalo and came through in the clutch on numerous occasions, including sacking Kyler Murray on fourth down to send the Cardinals home with a 28-21 loss in Week 11. In eight regular season games after the trade, he produced 5.0 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and two pass deflections on his own accord, while the Seahawks led the entire NFL in sacks during the second half as a team.
Set to turn 32 years old in February, Dunlap isn't necessarily a spring chicken for an NFL defensive end and despite how well he played after being acquired from the Bengals, the Seahawks may not be able to afford to keep him at his current cap number. But he clearly was rejuvenated getting out of Cincinnati, he fit the LEO position in Pete Carroll's scheme to perfection, and his presence brought out the best in his line mates, so Schneider should be doing everything in his power to keep him in Seattle beyond 2021 while lowering his upcoming cap hit in the process.
2021 Cap Hit: $5.5 million
During the early stages of the season, the Seahawks were consistently torched by opponents via explosive pass plays. But aside from a few missed tackles, those issues weren't really Diggs' fault, at least in coverage. Once the rest of the secondary got healthier around him, the former Texas standout found his groove in the final eight games, producing three interceptions, 31 tackles, and seven passes defensed as the team went 6-2 during that span. Deservedly earning his first career Pro Bowl nod, he wrapped up his first full season in Seattle with 64 tackles, a team-best five interceptions, and 10 passes defensed, solidifying the back half of the defense.
Unlike the other four players on this list, extending Diggs may have minimal effects on Seattle's current salary cap situation. But his value to the team has been undeniable since coming over in a midseason trade two years ago, as they have gone 17-7 with him in the starting lineup and he's generated eight interceptions in those games. Given the importance of the free safety position in Carroll's Cover 3-heavy scheme and the fact Diggs will only turn 28 later this month, locking him up along with strong safety Jamal Adams for the foreseeable future should be at the top of Schneider's agenda.