The 2021 NFL league year only started on March 17, but with two weeks of free agency wrapped up, rosters are starting to take shape with the upcoming draft just one month away.
To this point, the Seahawks have been able to maneuver around a tight salary cap squeeze to execute a number of key moves, including re-signing defensive end Carlos Dunlap and trading for guard Gabe Jackson. Up against the cap, contract restructures and extensions could be coming in the near future to create some much-needed financial relief and allow general manager John Schneider to continue to be active in the later waves of free agency.
Looking at where the roster stands currently, which players have been the biggest winners based on Seattle's offseason signings and trades thus far? And which players have been hurt most by these moves?
While trade rumors haven't completely dissipated since free agency opened, the Seahawks have made the necessary additions to help mend their relationship with the star quarterback in recent weeks. Despite whiffing on attempts to sign Kevin Zeitler and Joe Thuney, the team promptly dealt a fifth-round pick to the Raiders for Jackson, providing an instant upgrade in pass protection at left guard. Schneider then added a versatile tight end in Gerald Everett who should add another dimension to Seattle's passing game. It's also noteworthy that after Wilson days trying to recruit Chris Carson back to the Pacific Northwest, the Seahawks re-signed him in another move that should keep the signal caller happy.
Speaking of Carson, while he certainly would have been paid significantly more money in a normal offseason without a depressed market resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the punishing runner still managed to net a multi-year deal to stay with the Seahawks while receiving $5.5 million in guarantees. Along with receiving a lucrative raise, he will also benefit from running behind an improved offensive line now featuring the 330-pound road grader in Jackson at left guard. In a scheme coordinated by Shane Waldron that suits his diverse skill set quite well, as long as he can stay healthy, he's well-positioned to push for another 1,000-yard season and could take on an even more prominent role in the passing game in 2021.
When free agency opened, the Seahawks looked poised to take advantage of a saturated receiver group and sign a quality veteran to team up with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. But aside from Antonio Brown, the organization hasn't been linked to any receivers thus far. While this could change as free agency progresses and this year's draft is loaded with receiver talent, the decision not to make any moves to this point suggests Seattle has big plans for Swain, who caught 13 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Capable of making plays after the catch and running routes from the outside and the slot, he could be a far greater fixture in Waldron's offense entering his sophomore campaign.
After starting four games as a rookie at strongside linebacker, including two playoff contests, Barton found himself mostly relegated to special teams duty with the return of Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright transitioning to the SAM role last season. But despite seeing only 114 snaps on defense, he produced a whopping 21 tackles with those opportunities, including racking up 14 tackles in a win over the Vikings. Per Pro Football Reference, he also led the league with 13 special teams tackles. There's still a chance Wright could return to the Seahawks, which would keep Barton on the sidelines, but he's earned another shot to start and as the roster is constructed, he's set up to play a prominent role for the team's defense.
Known for his pass protection skills and hands out of the backfield, Homer will still very much be in the mix for snaps as a third-down back for Seattle. But Seattle's decision to re-sign Carson and bring back Alex Collins coupled with Rashaad Penny's return to health could put him in a perilous spot. Coming off an injury-shortened season in which he produced just 88 rushing yards, he will be competing against his former Miami teammate DeeJay Dallas for not only the third down role and special teams snaps, but potentially a spot on the 53-man roster in general. He will need an impressive training camp and preseason to solidify his standing in a crowded running back room.
By all accounts, Collier rebounded from a disastrous rookie season to emerge as a capable starter for the Seahawks at the 5-tech defensive end spot. He started all 16 games, registering 22 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and seven quarterback hits while coming up with several clutch plays, including stuffing Cam Newton at the goal line to seal a Week 2 win over the Patriots. But the arrival of former 49ers starter Kerry Hyder, who racked up 8.5 sacks in 2020, could push Collier out of the lineup next season, potentially reducing the former first-round pick's playing time after seeing 560 defensive snaps last year. If there's a silver lining, at north of 280 pounds, Collier could carve out extensive snaps reduced inside as a defensive tackle to help offset the departure of Jarran Reed.
Previously starting 30 games in his first two NFL seasons, Flowers simply can't catch a break. Last year, the Seahawks dealt a fifth-round pick to the Washington Football Team for Quinton Dunbar, who took over as the Week 1 starter across from Shaquill Griffin. Though Flowers ended up starting seven games replacing an injured Dunbar, his own hamstring allowed D.J. Reed to steal his job and now entering the final year of his rookie deal, he will have to compete against Ahkello Witherspoon to earn a starting spot. Making matters potentially worse, there's a decent chance Seattle could use one of its limited draft picks to bring another corner into the fold, casting doubt about his short and long-term future in Seattle.