Now two weeks removed from surgery to repair a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle suffered in a Week 18 win over the Cardinals, impending free agent safety Quandre Diggs wants to return to the Seahawks in 2022 and beyond.
But as the two-time Pro Bowl defender insinuated to Seahawks.com reporter John Boyle, Diggs understandably won't be taking a home town discount to stay in the Pacific Northwest either. After leading the team in interceptions for a second straight season, receiving a trio of All-Pro votes, and earning All-NFC honors from the Pro Football Writers Association, he expects to be paid what he's earned, whether from Seattle or another suitor.
"No question [I want to be back]," Diggs told Boyle. "If we can make it work and it works out for both sides, and I feel fairly compensated knowing that I'm a two-time Pro-Bowler, [received] All-Pro votes, and one of the best, if not the best free safety in the NFL - I have to be compensated as well, and I feel like I did everything the right way to be compensated as well. If it works out and they say they want to do it, let's get it done."
After being named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl team, even after suffering his injuries in the season finale, the 29-year old Diggs will likely push for top-10 safety money in free agency. This would mean Seattle or any other team pursuing him should expect a price tag of at least $11.25 million annually on a three or four-year contract.
Herein lies the issue for the Seahawks, who certainly would love to bring Diggs back. The organization already has committed big bucks to fellow safety Jamal Adams, who signed a record-setting four-year, $70 million extension last August. Though they have an estimated $43 million in cap space available per OverTheCap.com, investing another long-term deal at the position would make it tougher to address other needs on the roster.
If Diggs receives a new contract averaging north of $11 million per season annually, Seattle would have close to $30 million tied up in the safety position alone. With quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner already carrying top-three contracts at their respective positions, more than 30 percent of their total salary cap would be allocated to just four players.
But while that's a significant chunk of change to pay a free safety, the Seahawks shouldn't blink twice when it comes to deciding whether or not to pay the toll for one of the NFL's most underrated stars. In fact, general manager John Schneider shouldn't bat an eye at using the franchise tag for just the third time in his tenure if the two sides aren't able to strike a deal before the new league year starts. While the tag would create an estimated $13.5 million cap charge for 2022, making the move would allow additional time for both parties to agree to a long-term extension.
In some defensive schemes, teams can get away with going the cheap route at the safety position. That's not the case in coach Pete Carroll's system, however, where the center fielder at the back of the defense remains one of the most invaluable positions to ensure the scheme functions.
Fans may recall how poorly things played out after disgruntled All-Pro safety Earl Thomas departed in free agency to join the Ravens prior to the 2019 season. The Tedric Thompson experience as his replacement in waiting proved to be an unmitigated disaster as opponents found great success throwing the football over his head, which led to the Seahawks acquiring Diggs from the Lions in a midseason trade in the first place.
Although this year's upcoming draft has been pegged as a strong one at the safety position, Seattle has just six picks and no first-round selection thanks to the trade to land Adams from the New York Jets two years ago. Keeping Thompson's struggles into consideration, putting faith in a rookie safety to come in and come close to replicating Diggs' production would be one hell of a roll of the dice for a front office and coaching staff that could be entering next season on the hot seat.
As for internal options on the Seahawks current roster, Marquise Blair has suffered two significant knee injuries in the past two years and doesn't look like the long-term answer at free safety. Neither does Ugo Amadi, who mostly has played slot cornerback and special teams in his first three NFL seasons.
Stating the obvious, losing a playmaker of Diggs' caliber would be a massive blow to Seattle's defense. Few safeties have been more productive over the past three seasons, as only Broncos star Justin Simmons has more interceptions during that span. Dating back to 2017, he has the third-most picks (19) and second-most pick-sixes (2) by a safety in a five-season period, exhibiting his reliability and consistency as a ball hawk capable of putting points on the board.
Diggs did everything the right way playing out the final year of his contract. While he sat out a couple practices in camp as the team and player agreed to a restructured deal for 2021, he didn't create a scene seeking a new deal. On the field, he played his heart out putting together a career year with 94 tackles and five interceptions. In the locker room, he remained one of the team's most respected leaders, further evidenced by how teammates and players around the league reacted with such strong emotion to his injury.
"It's big being able to know you have the respect around the league from your peers, those guys look at you as one of the best in the world and they respect you for just being a real guy, being who I am every day," Diggs told Boyle. "That's the dope part for me, that's all I've ever wanted in this league is just to be respected by my peers and be respected by my coaches. I've never cared about the accomplishments and all of that, but being respected, that's all you can ask for in your career."
Though he avoided ligament damage and expects to be fully recovered in time for training camp, it's possible the timing of Diggs' injury could impact his free agency outlook to an extent. The aforementioned incoming safety class may also have a negative impact on what teams are willing to pay established veterans.
But the Seahawks shouldn't hold their breath and pray the market unfolds in their favor in such a way to bring back Diggs at a cheaper rate. He's been far too valuable to the franchise and there's not a player on the team who has earned a lucrative multi-year deal more than he has. After questionably choosing not to extend him earlier, they need to do the player right and at minimum, he should be franchise tagged to prolong the negotiating window to keep him around for the foreseeable future.