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Could Seahawks Use Franchise or Transition Tag in 2021?

Compared to other NFL teams, Seattle has rarely used franchise or transition tags to prevent a star player from hitting the free agent market. Considering the team has 23 players set to become free agents, could John Schneider use either one before March 9?

Since taking over as the Seahawks general manager back in 2010, John Schneider hasn't been keen on using the NFL's franchise and transition tag designations.

Over the past 11 offseasons, Schneider has only used the exclusive tag twice to prevent a player from becoming an unrestricted free agent, most recently applying the tag to defensive end Frank Clark in March 2019. Nearly one month later, he traded Clark to the Chiefs in exchange for a first-round pick and future second-round selection, setting the table for the team to turn four picks into 11 new players in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Prior to Clark, Schneider had gone nine years without placing a franchise tag on a player, with kicker Olindo Mare being the last example in 2010 during the renowned executive's first year with the franchise.

As for the transition tag, which comes at a cheaper price tag while allowing teams the chance to match any offer the player may make with another team, the Seahawks haven't used one since the infamous "Poison Pill" debacle with future Hall of Fame guard Steve Hutchinson in 2006.

With 23 players set to become unrestricted free agents for Seattle when the new league year opens in March, there's been some speculation Schneider could buck prior trends and use the franchise tag for the third time or maybe even use the transition tag. But looking closely at those set to hit the market, making such a decision seems unwise based on positional value, the cost of applying either tag, and the lack of suitors for a potential trade.

Among the Seahawks' biggest names scheduled to become free agents, cornerback Shaquill Griffin and Chris Carson aren't coming off their best seasons. Both players missed at least four games due to injury in 2020 and consequently, their overall production dipped compared to their standout seasons in 2019.

Though he intercepted a career-best three passes last season, Griffin followed up his first Pro Bowl selection by enduring a roller coaster campaign riddled with inconsistent play, which shouldn't be surprising given his career trajectory to this point. He's never allowed a passer rating under 94.4 in his four-year career and he missed a whopping 35 tackles over the past three seasons per Pro Football Reference. In some regards, he took a big step back in 2020, including surrendering a career-worst seven touchdowns in coverage.

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While he will turn only 26 years old in July and still offers plenty of upside, Griffin's lack of perceived progress may scare off other teams seeking upgrades to their secondary in free agency. If the Seahawks were to use the franchise tag on him, estimates he would earn $14.855 million fully-guaranteed for 2021. Even a transition tag would approach $13 million. Either way, that's a big payout for a cornerback who has been good, but not great, in four NFL seasons.

If Seattle hoped to pull a Clark-type maneuver, such a contract wouldn't be desirable for other teams to acquire a player who hasn't evolved into a shutdown cornerback and Griffin would likely only fetch a day three selection at best. That wouldn't be anywhere close to a good return on investment, though with only four draft picks currently, Schneider might be willing to consider such an offer.

As for Carson, his lengthy injury history playing a position with a short shelf life will most certainly impact interest on the open market from other teams. Like Griffin, he's also coming off a "down" season with only 681 rushing yards, though much of this was a result of the Seahawks running the ball less rather than the running back performing poorly. He did average a career-best 4.8 yards per carry and scored nine total touchdowns, including four as a receiver.

Placing the franchise tag on Carson would create a $10.835 million cap charge for 2021, which is quite expensive for a running back in today's NFL. Trying to move him for draft compensation would be near-impossible given the relative devaluation of the position league-wide coupled with his sticker price and placing the tag on him would be a signal of Seattle's intentions of keeping him more than anything.

From a financial standpoint, a transition tag would make more sense with the 26-year old Carson, as he would earn $8.719 million for 2021. For a talented back who has eclipsed 1,000 yards twice in the past three years, that may fit better into the Seahawks budget.

Looking at the rest of Seattle's impending free agents, there isn't another player worthy of placing the tag on. Benson Mayowa produced 6.0 sacks in 2020, but he certainly isn't worth anything close to $17.309 million. K.J. Wright has been a fantastic player for a decade, but there's no way the team would tag him at $15.266 million. Veteran guard Mike Iupati would only make $14.145 million in his dreams.

Keeping that in mind, while Schneider will surely be exploring different avenues to acquire additional draft capital and create cap flexibility for the Seahawks, as had been the case throughout his tenure, it's a near-guarantee equipping the franchise or transition tag won't be part of the equation.