Free agency officially doesn't get underway until Wednesday, March 17, but teams around the NFL can start negotiating with impending unrestricted free agents beginning at 1:00 p.m. PST tomorrow, March 15. This is what's known as the "legal tampering period" of the offseason, allowing teams to get a jumpstart on their offseason plans and get a feel for the market before anything can be set in stone.
Plenty of names will start to fly off the boards over the next two days, "agreeing to terms" with their new home for 2021. The Seahawks have typically never been a big mover during this period, often standing pat as the first big wave of free agency rushes by. We may, however, get some clarity as to where a few of their own impending free agents will land, and how the market as a whole has perhaps changed with a league-wide salary cap decrease.
Keep in mind that things can greatly change between Monday and Wednesday; a player could be reported to have agreed with one team then wind up somewhere else within the next day or two. Because teams can't officially sign players and submit transactions to the league office until Wednesday, others have the ability to swoop in to try and convince a particular free agent to forego their initial agreement and change course. This doesn't necessarily happen often, but it's certainly not a rarity either. Bottom line: Don't take anything for granted until a player shows up on the NFL transaction wire.
On the eve of the madness that is sure to ensue, let's reassess where the Seahawks stand by asking a few simple questions: What is their salary cap situation, what can they do to create more financial flexibility, what are their needs, and who could they lose?
The Seahawks' Salary Cap Situation
Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL has dropped its salary cap from $198.2 million to $182.5 million for the 2021 season. Per OverTheCap.com, the Seahawks currently boast $16.4 million in effective cap space. This comes off the heels of defensive end Carlos Dunlap's release, which immediately freed up $14.1 million.
Though their situation may be rough in appearance, the Seahawks are in a better financial spot than 15 other teams. They also have ways to create more flexibility for themselves, which will need to be done to allow them the opportunity to make an impact in the market over the coming weeks.
Ways the Seahawks Can Create More Space
To date, cutting Dunlap has been their only move to free up more salary cap space. With the cap expected to go back up starting next offseason, Seattle could easily move some of its bigger cap hits to future years to give themselves more wiggle room for the present.
That can be accomplished through extensions of safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, as well as receiver Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks can also convert some of the base salaries of quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner into signing bonuses, eliminating a bit of the financial burden caused by their two highest-paid players.
Trading defensive tackle Jarran Reed would open up nearly $9 million in cap space. Lockett could also be a prime candidate to be dealt, given his expiring contract. It would not only give Seattle $12.7 million in immediate cap relief but also help them recuperate some legitimate draft capital.
What the Seahawks Need
Talks centered on the discourse between Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' organization have died down over the last few days, but it could all pick up traction once again depending on what the team does - or doesn't do - this week.
Wilson's biggest gripe throughout this saga has been the lack of protection he's received from his offensive line, which has allowed a whopping 393 sacks over his first nine years in the NFL. It just so happens their two weakest spots along the line, left guard and center, now have holes to fill following the retirement of veteran guard Mike Iupati, the non-tendering of restricted free agent guard Jordan Simmons, and the impending free agency of center Ethan Pocic.
They've also been linked to some of the most notable tight ends on the trade and free agency markets, such as Zach Ertz, Jonnu Smith, and Gerald Everett. They could continue their search to add more weapons to Wilson's arsenal by diving into a saturated receiver market, especially with wideouts David Moore, Josh Gordon, and Phillip Dorsett all no longer under contract.
But appeasing their star quarterback, as important as diffusing the apparent tension may be, will unlikely be their only focus.
Their defense struggled at a historic rate in the first half of 2020, mostly due to a lack of consistent pass rush and injuries in the secondary. With the release of Dunlap and two of their starting corners from last year now hitting free agency, they could be heading for a similar fate if they don't do enough to address these spots. They also may need more depth at defensive tackle, as well as a new strongside linebacker.
Who the Seahawks May Lose
It's hard to imagine the Seahawks retaining any of their major free agents when you look at their current situation from both a financial and roster construction standpoint. Running back Chris Carson appears all but gone at this point unless his market completely crashes; cornerback Shaquill Griffin may also be in a similar position; and longtime starting linebacker K.J. Wright, despite putting up one of the best seasons of his 10-year career in 2020, is less of a fit in Seattle now with the rise of Jordyn Brooks and the dollar figure he's expected to command.
They may also be left on the outside looking in on Carlos Dunlap's market. Despite cutting him last week, the Seahawks were initially hoping to extend him and have a desire to bring him back in free agency. But Dunlap is going to be an attractive commodity on the open market as an effective pass rusher who won't count against the compensatory pick formula because he was cut, so it's possible he'll be able to get a better deal than some expect and put Seattle well out of reach. This would also make re-signing Benson Mayowa an even bigger priority.
Tight end Jacob Hollister, who often served as Wilson's tertiary receiving option over the past two seasons, no longer appears to be a fit in new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's scheme. Much like the receiving trio of Moore, Gordon, and Dorsett, Hollister could very well be on his way out, leaving the Seahawks with little depth in their receiving corps.
At cornerback, if the Seahawks lose Griffin, they could look to reunite with Quinton Dunbar to start opposite 2020 breakout D.J. Reed. After acquiring Dunbar in a trade with Washington, they didn't get a great look at him. Dealing with off-the-field issues in the offseason, Dunbar got off to a late start to the season and never looked fully comfortable in his new home. He then injured his knee, tried to play through it, and eventually wound up on injured reserve for the entire second half of the season. For those reasons, the Seahawks may either want to bring him back on a short-term deal to truly see what they have, or not even entertain the idea and move on entirely.
In addition to the aforementioned names, the Seahawks have 14 unrestricted free agents: quarterback Geno Smith, running back Carlos Hyde, fullback Nick Bellore, tight end Luke Willson, offensive linemen Ethan Pocic, Chance Warmack, Cedric Ogbuehi, defensive ends Damontre Moore, Jonathan Bullard, Branden Jackson, linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Neiko Thorpe, and safeties Lano Hill and Damarious Randall.
It may take them some time to get going, but the Seahawks have an incredibly busy and important offseason ahead of them. They'll have to find a way to balance their uncertain quarterback situation along with the needs of a defense that went from league-worst to league-average in a matter of weeks last year.
But given their financial limitations, it's hard to see how they can properly address each and every need of theirs. They'll have to pick and choose their spots, making it impossible to predict which path they'll take over the coming weeks.