A source has confirmed that Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung is nearing a deal with the Denver Broncos that will pay him at least $10.6 million per season.
The question of what will happen to the last of the Seahawks’ major unrestricted free agents — left tackle Russell Okung — has an answer as he agreed to a five-year contract on Thursday with the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos confirmed the agreement Thursday afternoon and Okung later signed it.
While the contract can be worth as much as $56 million overall it was confirmed that the deal comes with a unique two-part structure that could see Okung become a free agent again following the 2016 season.
The contract calls for Okung to get as much as $8 million in 2016, with $5 million guaranteed. Denver then has an option to pick up a four-year contract worth $12 million a year and $20.5 million guaranteed, which means Okung could become a free agent again next year. Denver would reportedly have to make that decision before the beginning of the 2017 new league year, at which point the $20.5 million would become guaranteed. But in essence, Denver can get out of the deal in a year having paid Okung as little as $5 million.
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Shortly after singing his contract, Okung told the media in Denver: “I thought it was the best deal for me. Denver is the place I want to be for the long haul” and that “I got the deal that I wanted.”
The contract structure is undoubtedly a hedge on Okung’s health as he had surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder last month and also missed 24 of a possible 96 regular season games during his Seattle career.
Okung, 27, became an unrestricted free agent after finishing a six-year, $48.5 million deal he signed with the Seahawks after being the No. 6 overall pick in 2010. While Seattle had initially been interested in re-signing, the Seahawks did not have an offer on the table at the end of his negotiations, a league source said, with one thought being how comfortable it would be for Okung to come back on a contract that would pay him potentially significantly less than what he had made previously.
Okung has been Seattle’s starting left tackle since then, starting 72 games, though missing at least one game in every season and 13 over the past three seasons (though he had made all 12 post-season starts the Seahawks had in his six years).
Okung’s apparent departure means Seattle will have lost two of its starting offensive linemen in free agency, with guard J.R. Sweezy signing last week with Tampa Bay. Seattle also lost backup swingman Alvin Bailey.
The Seahawks have added tackle J’Marcus Webb from the Raiders and guard/tackle Bradley Sowell from Arizona but now face the question of who will fill in at left tackle for Okung. One option could be Garry Gilliam, the right tackle last season, who could change sides with Webb on the right side. Webb could also be a candidate to play left tackle, and Seattle could also look to the draft— the Seahawks will pick 26th in the first round and have each of their own selections in the first four rounds and nine overall.
Okung made the rare move of deciding to represent himself, which was thought to have delayed his signing a bit since he could not negotiate with teams until a week ago Wednesday when the free agent signing period began.
Okung visited the Giants, Lions and Steelers over the weekend and was then said to be taking a few days to mull over his offers.
The Seahawks had been thought to still have a legitimate chance to re-sign Okung until he took the visit to Denver. Okung landed in Denver on Wednesday night and met with the Broncos and worked out the deal.
The Broncos were in the market for a left tackle with starter Ryan Clady having missed the season with a knee ligament injury (ACL) and his replacement, Ryan Harris, signing earlier this week as a free agent with the Steelers. That signing also meant that the Steelers were no longer in the running for Okung.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said at the NFL combine that the fact that Okung was representing himself would not impact negotiations with the team, though he said he thought it would be a “challenge” for Okung to handle that responsibility.
Okung hired former NFL agent Jimmy Halsell to help him with the process.
Okung said in an interview during training camp last year that he considered representing himself to be as important as anything he would ever do.
“But I do want that if you remember anything, remember that Seattle won a Super Bowl (while he was playing) and that I did this, that I wanted to take the reins of my life and make the decisions, as well,” he said.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Broncos may now look to trade Clady, who could become an option for the Seahawks. Clady has two years left on a contract that has salary cap hits of $10.1 million in 2016 and $10.6 million in 2017. The high cap numbers have led to speculation that the Broncos may have to eventually release Clady — the Broncos have been said working on a new deal to keep Clady, but that may be out the window now with the signing of Okung.
The departure of Okung, who made the Pro Bowl following the 2012 and 2014 seasons, means that the Seahawks no longer have any of the five offensive linemen who started in the Super Bowl XLVIII win over the Broncos.
Okung and Sweezy departed this year as free agents. Center Max Unger was traded to New Orleans a year ago in the deal that brought Jimmy Graham to Seattle, left guard James Carpenter signed after the 2014 season with the New York Jets, and right tackle Breno Giacomini signed after the 2013 season with the Jets.
Seattle’s highest-paid offensive linemen at the moment is Webb, who signed a two-year deal worth $6 million two days ago.
The Seahawks will presumably get a compensatory pick in the 2017 draft for losing Okung, which would likely give them two, as things stand now.
Okung becomes the fourth starter from Seattle’s 2015 lineup to leave via free agency, the others being Sweezy, linebacker Bruce Irvin (Raiders) and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (Chargers).
The Seahawks re-signed cornerback Jeremy Lane, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and receiver Jermaine Kearse as well as punter Jon Ryan.
Okung’s departure also means Seattle has just one of its own first-round picks on the roster — safety Earl Thomas, taken with the second first-round pick Seattle had in 2010 after Okung.
Carpenter was Seattle’s first pick in 2011 and Irvin in 2012 and the Seahawks have not had a first-round selection the last three seasons. The now-retired Marshawn Lynch was also a first-round pick of Buffalo in 2007.
Okung suffered a dislocated left shoulder in the final game he played with the Seahawks, the divisional playoff loss at Carolina on Jan. 17, and has surgery in February. But while many wondered how the injury might impact the deal Okung was able to get, he had said publicly and told teams that he will be ready in June.