Though the NFL playoffs have yet to conclude, the Seahawks and 27 other teams have now officially entered offseason mode looking to improve their teams with sights on making a run at a Lombardi Trophy next fall.
Coming off a challenging 7-10 campaign, Seattle finds itself in good position to improve its roster compared to most of the league. Per OverTheCap.com, the franchise currently has the sixth-most cap room at $42.3 million, giving general manager John Schneider ample financial flexibility to re-sign several of his own free agents and make a splash or two adding talent from other teams.
As is the case for most teams this time of year, the Seahawks have several high-priced veterans who could be on the chopping block to create even more cap space to work with. This unfortunately includes a difficult decision looming on a future Hall of Famer entering the latter stages of his career.
Which players could become cap casualties as Seattle works to overhaul its roster with the goal of returning to contention in the NFC next season? Here's a look at six potential candidates and predictions for what the team will opt to do with them:
2022 Cap Hit: $20.35 million
Statistically, Wagner put together another dominant season in 2021, finishing third in the NFL in tackles (170) despite missing the last two games with a sprained knee. In the process, he became just the sixth player in league history to hit 100 tackles in 10 seasons. He also remained effective as a blitzer in limited opportunities, generating 10 pressures, three quarterback hits, and a sack on just 50 pass rush attempts. As a result, he deservedly earned Second-Team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press and his eighth Pro Bowl selection.
But while Wagner remains a tackling machine in the middle, signs of decline have become evident in recent seasons. Diminishing athleticism has allowed teams to exploit him in coverage, as Pro Football Focus charged him with 679 yards allowed on 73 receptions and he recorded just two pass breakups. His waning range also impacted his tackling, as he missed 14 tackles, the second-highest single season total of his illustrious career. Additionally, he only made three tackles for loss, struggling to get downhill and make plays in the backfield as he has in the past.
Prediction: The Seahawks would undoubtedly be worse off without Wagner on their roster next season, as Cody Barton hasn't done enough to suggest he's the answer as a potential successor. But they can't afford to retain him at his current cap number and cutting or trading him would create $16 million in cap room. Few defensive players are worth quarterback money, and that's especially true for an aging linebacker who has exhibited clear signs of decline. While the player may not be interested in a restructured contract, both sides should be able to strike a deal to reduce his cap hit in 2022 and keep him with the team for an 11th season.
2022 Cap Hit: $6.5 million
Acquired from the Bengals in a midseason trade two years ago, Dunlap's presence galvanized the Seahawks defensive line in the second half of the 2020 season, as they finished first in the NFL in sacks during that span. But after re-signing on a two-year deal, the veteran pass rusher failed to come close to replicating such production in the first half of the 2021 season, registering only half a sack and four quarterback hits in the team's first 11 games. In three of the first five games, he didn't record a single stat, which led to significant declines in playing time.
But after meeting with Seattle's coaching staff to air frustrations about his role, Dunlap erupted in the final six games of the season. Dominating opponents with his length and sheer power as a bull rusher, he racked up an incredible 8.0 sacks and 10 quarterback hits in December and January, showing he still packed plenty of punch off the edge. During that span, he also generated pressure on nearly 16 percent of his pass rush attempts according to Pro Football Focus. As he came to life, other players followed suit and the pass rush improved from 31st in pressure percentage in the first 12 weeks to 12th overall in the final six games.
Prediction: As Pete Carroll declared after the season, improving the pass rush must be a top priority for the Seahawks heading towards 2022. Releasing Dunlap wouldn't help achieve that goal and though he's getting to be an older player, when used properly, he's still a highly disruptive asset capable of bullying blockers off the edge and swatting down passes in bunches. He shouldn't be going anywhere and if anything, he should see more extensive playing time next season as he pursues 100 career sacks.
2022 Cap Hit: $6.425 million
Since arriving in the Pacific Northwest as an unheralded seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2017, Carson has been everything Carroll desires from a running back out of the backfield. He's tough as nails running between the tackles, he exhibits outstanding vision and patience reading blocks, and he's a punisher who finishes every carry with authority. On two different occasions, he's surpassed the 1,000-yard mark and when healthy, he belongs in the discussion as one of the best backs in the league.
Unfortunately, staying healthy has been a huge problem for Carson, and his latest setback could put his career in jeopardy. The bruising runner only lasted four games in 2021 before a neck injury ultimately knocked him out for the season and he needed disc fusion surgery in December. It marked the third time in five seasons that he landed on injured reserve with a significant season-ending injury, as he suffered a fractured ankle in his rookie season and cracked his hip late in the 2019 season.
Prediction: Carroll has expressed confidence publicly that Carson will be able to return to the field without a hitch and expects he will back with the Seahawks. Until he has participated in football-related activities and taken a hit, it's anyone's guess how his surgically-repaired neck will respond. Cutting him would save nearly $3.5 million and depending on how he progresses, it's not out of the question he could be cut before June 1, but this one is impossible to predict at this point and could also hinge on whether Rashaad Penny re-signs or not.
2022 Cap Hit: $3.76 million
Like Dunlap, Mayowa gave the Seahawks a shot in the arm rushing the passer late in the 2020 season with 4.0 sacks in the final six games, earning himself a new two-year deal. But after a stellar debut against the Colts in Week 1 in which he produced a sack and two tackles for loss, he was a non-factor this past season, producing no quarterback hits or sacks in the final 16 games.
On one hand, Mayowa offers positional flexibility with prior experience playing defensive end as well as strongside linebacker. He's also a favorite of the coaching staff and provides a valuable mentor presence for younger players like Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson. But he's also now on the wrong side of 30 and cutting him would save $1.5 million that could be used elsewhere.
Prediction: Mayowa has had a fantastic career after entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Idaho who wasn't even signed initially as a priority free agent. But while he may still offer value as a situational pass rusher, if the Seahawks truly want to upgrade their pass rush, they would be best served moving on from him at this point and will likely opt to go in a different direction this spring.
2022 Cap Hit: $3.7 million
Coming off a career year where he produced 8.5 sacks for the 49ers in 2020, the Seahawks thought Hyder would add bite to their pass rush while also bringing positional versatility as a player who can line up in multiple alignments up front. In training camp, he impressed enough to earn a starting job at the base defensive end position and also saw snaps reduced inside as a 3-tech rusher.
But as has been the case throughout his career, Hyder's pass rushing production has been hit and miss and unfortunately for Seattle, he didn't provide much bang for the buck in that regard last season. Suiting up for 14 games, he only recorded 1.5 sacks and 23 total pressures, failing to make the impact the team thought he would.
Prediction: Considering how erratic Hyder's sack numbers have been over the years and his ability to rush from inside on passing downs, the Seahawks might consider retaining him with hopes he bounces back from a disappointing first season. But like Mayowa, with him being on the wrong side of 30, it seems likely they will set him free to save $2 million and hit the market looking at other options.
2022 Cap Hit: $5 million
After a challenging first season in Seattle, Myers emerged as one of the NFL's best place kickers in 2020, going a perfect 24 for 24 on field goal attempts, including making all 15 of his kicks of 40-plus yards. In the process, he set a new Seahawks franchise record for most consecutive field goals made and carried that record into the new season.
But maintaining consistency year to year can be problematic for kickers and Myers was bit by the regression bug hard in 2021. Once his streak of consecutive field goals made ended in a Week 3 loss to the Vikings, he missed three of his next seven field goal attempts, including a pair of costly misses in a three-point loss to the Saints. In the final 10 games, he only missed two out of 11 attempts, but one of those misses came in a one-point loss to the Bears in Week 16. He also missed three extra points, continuing to inexplicably struggle with those chip shots.
Prediction: With the ninth-highest cap hit currently on the roster for 2022, cutting Myers would free up $4 million in cap space. While the Seahawks may explore such a move, good luck finding a better replacement on the free agent market or through the draft. It's more likely they will try to extend their kicker for a year to lower his cap hit than jettison him with hopes he will rediscover his 2020 form next season.