Analysis: Who Would Seahawks Protect For NFL Expansion Draft?

The NFL hasn't expressed interest in expansion since the Texans were awarded a franchise nearly two decades ago. But with NHL conducting an expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken on July 21, it's interesting to hypothesize who the Seahawks would protect if a new team was set to enter the league.
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After years of anticipation, the Seattle Kraken will finally take the ice for their first season as an NHL franchise during the 2021-2022 season. It's an exciting time for sports fans in the Pacific Northwest, as the organization will begin building their first roster by conducting an expansion draft on July 21.

Per NHL rules, all 30 NHL teams were granted the ability to protect up to 11 players on their current roster prior to Wednesday's draft. Those selections were submitted to the league office on July 17. The vast majority of unprotected players will be eligible to be selected by Seattle, who can pick one player off of each team except for the Las Vegas Knights, who entered the league as an expansion franchise in 2016.

The NFL hasn't expanded since the Texans were awarded a franchise before the 2002 season, but the NHL's current plans create quite the hypothetical to consider. Which 11 players would the Seahawks protect if an expansion franchise was entering the league before the 2021 season?

In the past, the NFL has used a far different expansion draft than the format the NHL currently uses. For this fictional exercise, each NFL team would be allowed to protect up to five offensive players, five defensive players, and one specialist. They would also be required to keep two offensive players and two defensive players with two or more accrued seasons and 20-plus starts available and unprotected.

As far as other players who would be off limits, going with similar rules to the NHL, no first or second year players on their respective rookie contracts will be eligible to be drafted. This means players such as Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks and guard Damien Lewis would be off limits with just one NFL season under their belts. Players with no-trade clauses built into their contracts also cannot be drafted unless they reach an agreement with their team to waive the clause.

With a fictional 33rd NFL franchise set to go on the clock, here are the 11 players on Seattle's current roster I would protect in an expansion draft:

Russell Wilson

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes against the Los Angeles Rams during the first quarter at Lumen Field

Russell Wilson drops back to pass during the Seattle Seahawks' 30-20 wild card loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Lumen Field.

Though trade rumors swirled around Wilson throughout the offseason, the eight-time Pro Bowler has reiterated several times recently he wants to remain with the Seahawks. Since he has a no-trade clause, he would have to agree to waive the clause to even be considered by an expansion team and Seattle wouldn't have interest in doing that with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL while getting nothing back in return. There's absolutely no chance he would be left unprotected.

DK Metcalf

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf (14) during the first half at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Cincinnati 21-20.

Seattle Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf (14) catches a pass during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at CenturyLink Field.

Entering his third NFL season, the 23-year old Metcalf has two accrued seasons under his belt and would thus be eligible for an expansion team to select if available. But aside from Wilson, Metcalf would be the most important player for the Seahawks to keep under this scenario after a record-setting sophomore season. A freakish athlete at 6-foot-3, 228 pounds who creates matchup problems against every cornerback he faces week in and week out, he would be one of the franchise's true untouchables.

Tyler Lockett

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field.

Seattle Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett turns upfield after making a catch against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field.

If the Seahawks were forced to choose between protecting Metcalf or Lockett, while the latter has had an outstanding career to this point and has surpassed 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, they would go with the former every single time due to his younger age, rare blend of size and athleticism, and impressive production. But thankfully in this exercise, Seattle doesn't have to worry about making such a difficult decision. They can keep both dynamic All-Pro talents without a hitch, allowing Wilson to continue throwing to arguably the best receiving duo in the NFC in 2021 and beyond.

Gabe Jackson

Gabe Jackson

Las Vegas Raiders guard Gabe Jackson looks onto the field prior to kickoff against the Denver Broncos.

Jackson turned 30 years old earlier in July, but the Seahawks clearly remain confident in his ability to continue playing at a high level for several more seasons. After acquiring the former Mississippi State standout from the Raiders in exchange for a fifth-round pick in March, the organization promptly gave him a three-year extension worth up to $22.75 million that lasts through the 2023 season. With keeping Wilson upright the top priority for Seattle moving forward and Jackson viewed as a foundational piece of the front line, it would be wise to prevent an expansion team from swooping in to steal him.

Duane Brown

Duane Brown

Seattle Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown prepares to block against Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Addison.

Set to turn 36 years old in August and entering the final year of his contract, Brown may not be the most appealing of assets for an expansion team. Nonetheless, he's still one of the best left tackles in football and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down as a pass protector or run blocker. With Damien Lewis not eligible for the expansion draft and Jackson already protected, it would be logical for the Seahawks to use their fifth and final exemption on offense to keep Wilson's blind side security blanket off limits and work to lock him up on a new deal to finish his career in the Pacific Northwest.

Jamal Adams

Jamal Adams

Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams celebrates on the field after a missed field goal by the New York Jets.

The Seahawks have yet to sign Adams to a new contract, but all signs point towards the two sides eventually striking a deal before the start of the 2021 season and negotiations remain ongoing. Boasting a skill set unlike any other safety in the league, he broke an NFL record for sacks by a defensive back in just 12 games in his first year in Seattle and after giving up multiple first-round picks to acquire him last July, there's no way the organization would risk potentially losing him. As one of the team's foundational building blocks, he would surely be the first defensive player granted protection.

Bobby Wagner

Bobby Wagner

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner takes the field before the start of a Week 2 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Like Brown and Jackson, Wagner now finds himself on the wrong side of 30 and recently turned 31 years old. Entering his 10th NFL season, he could start showing signs of decline at any time. But the future Hall of Fame linebacker still earned First-Team All-Pro in 2020 after stuffing the stat sheet by producing 138 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and eight passes defensed. Even considering his hefty contract and advancing age, given his immense value on and off the field, the Seahawks wouldn't think twice about ensuring he remains on the team as a protected asset.

Poona Ford

Poona Ford

Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Poona Ford celebrates after recording a tackle for loss against the Los Angeles Rams at Sofi Stadium.

Ford may not have an All-Pro or Pro Bowl selection on his resume like Adams and Wagner do, but he's arguably Seattle's third-most important defensive player heading into the 2021 season. Only 25 years old, the Seahawks rewarded him with a two-year extension after he generated a career-high 28 quarterback pressures along with 40 tackles and eight tackles for loss in 2020. Known for his elite quickness, the former undrafted signee out of Texas has quietly evolved into one of the NFC's best young interior defenders and with Jarran Reed now in Kansas City, protecting him would be an absolute must.

Quandre Diggs

Seattle Seahawks free safety Quandre Diggs (37) celebrates after an interception during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Seattle Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs celebrates an interception with teammate Jamal Adams in the end zone against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Similar to Brown and Adams, Diggs will report to training camp later this month with only one year left on his current contract and wants a new deal. The Seahawks may have a difficult time paying both of their Pro Bowl safeties with other expensive contracts already on the books, but coming off the best season of his career with five interceptions, the 28-year old Diggs has proven himself invaluable manning center field in coach Pete Carroll's defense due to his instincts, ball skills, and propensity for creating turnovers. Fans have seen what Seattle's scheme looks like without a standout free safety and for that reason alone, protecting him should be a priority in this simulation.

D.J. Reed

D.J. Reed

Seattle Seahawks cornerback D.J. Reed wraps up San Francisco 49ers receiver Kendrick Bourne at State Farm Stadium.

In terms of a surprise selection, some may scoff at the idea of protecting a cornerback with only 10 NFL starts under his belt as Reed does. But even if it was a small sample size, the ex-Kansas State star provided the Seahawks a major lift when he stepped into the lineup, generating 62 tackles, two interceptions, and seven passes defensed after a remarkable return from a torn pectoral muscle. While he lacks the height and arm length Seattle typically covets at the position, he checks off every other box, offering toughness, physicality, tackling ability, and ball skills. In addition, he's also a capable return threat on special teams, which makes protecting him all the more enticing.

Michael Dickson

Michael Dickson

Seattle Seahawks punter Michael Dickson warms up prior to kickoff against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium.

Seattle would have a very difficult choice to make between Dickson and kicker Jason Myers, who both played at All-Pro levels in 2020. But while Myers didn't miss a single field goal last season, Dickson has been one of the NFL's premier punters since entering the league as a fifth-round pick in 2018. He's an expert at the coffin corner kick and when he launches punts downfield, he turns into a special teams sorcerer, making the ball do things no one else in the game can. His ability to influence field position and the fact he just signed a four-year extension make him the right choice for the Seahawks to protect.

Best Players Unprotected: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Will Dissly, Gerald Everett, Ethan Pocic, Brandon Shell, Jamarco Jones, Carlos Dunlap, L.J. Collier, Kerry Hyder, Cody Barton, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Flowers, Marquise Blair, Ugo Amadi, Ryan Neal

Out of the players who weren't protected, Dunlap would offer the most star power, but he recently turned 32 years old and expansion teams tend to stay away from aging veterans. Carson has rushed for over 1,000 yards twice, but running backs aren't valued as they used to be and his injury history may scare away an expansion squad. Under 30 years old, Shell turned in a strong 2020 season and might be viewed as a better long-term alternative than other tackle options, while Pocic remains only 25 years old and has enough upside to warrant an expansion selection. If not for his injury history, Dissly might be an intriguing alternative at tight end, while Everett's athletic upside could justify a selection. Young defenders such as Barton, Blair, and Amadi would become immediate starters for an expansion team and could be long-term building blocks for the future. If starting experience is valued, the 26-year old Flowers has started more than 30 games in the NFL and could help out in the secondary right away.