Who's Next on Cutting Board for Seahawks?
Initiating the less glorious side of free agency, the Seahawks started cleaning house earlier this week as a means to create needed cap room, releasing safety Tedric Thompson and tight end Ed Dickson.
As the Jadeveon Clowney saga continues to unfold without a resolution in sight, Seattle remains in the hunt to keep the star defensive end. But per OverTheCap.com, after signing Benson Mayowa on Wednesday, cap space has quickly dwindled to an estimated $11.825 million. And that's without reported deals for Bruce Irvin and Luke Willson included.
With minimal financial flexibility at the moment, if the Seahawks still intend to re-sign Clowney or pursue defensive end Everson Griffen instead, general manager John Schneider will need to open up additional cap space.
Looking at Schneider's options, there's little doubt center Justin Britt remains the most logical for quickly addressing Seattle's salary cap dilemma. Coming off a torn ACL, he's due a base salary of $8.25 million and carries a cap hit exceeding $11 million in 2020.
Though Britt has developed into a reliable starter in six NFL seasons and will only turn 29 in May, that's a hefty price tag for a player rehabbing from a significant knee injury who has never been voted to the Pro Bowl or earned All-Pro distinction.
As an organization, the Seahawks hold Britt in high regard and he's a well-respected leader in the locker room. But the NFL is a business first and foremost, and if the former second-round pick isn't willing to restructure his deal and an extension isn't in the cards, the team may need to make the difficult choice of moving on from him.
Examining the depth chart at center, Seattle has amassed a strong group with four players boasting prior NFL starting experience. Behind Britt, Joey Hunt received an original round tender as a restricted free agent, B.J. Finney just signed a two-year, $8 million deal, and Ethan Pocic will be back for the final year of his rookie deal.
FILM BREAKDOWN: Veteran lineman B.J. Finney provides Seattle tremendous flexibility.
Of those three, Finney may have the most upside after starting a handful of games at center for the Steelers over the past four years. While he isn't the same powerful run blocker as Britt, he's a superior pass protector at less than half the cost.
The undersized Hunt started Seattle's final 10 games, including two playoff contests, gutting out a fractured fibula in the process. He's probably not a full-time NFL starter, but he can still be effective for a few games when called upon.
Considering the quality depth the Seahawks have at the position, Britt's status still remains a tenuous one at best. But if the franchise wants to keep him, there are other less desirable alternatives for creating cap space to sign Clowney or Griffen.
An outright release seems improbable, but Schneider could approach linebacker K.J. Wright about a restructured deal or extend him through 2021. Both moves would lower his cap hit from $10 million to a far more suitable number while keeping a franchise icon on the roster.
Safety Bradley McDougald has been a glue guy for Seattle's secondary over the past three seasons. But he also has just one year left on his current deal and with Marquise Blair waiting in the wings, and though it's highly unlikely to happen, the front office could create $4 million in cap space with a surprise cut.
Veteran such as guard D.J. Fluker, defensive end Branden Jackson, and receiver David Moore could also be options to open up $2 million or more in cap room. Restricted free agent tenders for Jackson and/or Moore could be rescinded if necessary.
If only a few million are needed to facilitate the signing of a big-name pass rusher and Schneider doesn't want to cut anyone else, he could also explore converting base salary into a signing bonus for players such as Russell Wilson or Bobby Wagner. This would lower their cap hits for 2020, but create additional cap burden in future seasons as a trade off.
There's a chance that, if the player continues to waffle while trying to make a decision about his future, Seattle could bow out of the Clowney sweepstakes. In that case, they'll likely turn to plan B pursuing Griffen and it's not out of the question they could re-consider opening up trade discussions for Yannick Ngakoue or Matt Judon.
But in any of those scenarios, the Seahawks don't have the cap room currently to make a move. No matter what, several more tough choices remain as Schneider works to build a championship-caliber roster while also gearing up for this month's NFL draft.