Early developments during the NFL franchise tag period may only increase the odds that Seattle receiver Paul Richardson will move on.
One day into the NFL’s franchise tag period, only one tag has so far been used — by the Miami Dolphins on receiver Jarvis Landry.
But that move — and a couple of others that are rumored to potentially happen soon — may impact Seattle’s ability to keep free agent receiver Paul Richardson, as well as what the Seahawks could do to replace him if he does depart.
Landry was regarded as the top receiver who could potentially become a free agent before getting tagged on Tuesday, which would pay him $16.2 million in 2018.
That the tag was placed on Landry on the first day has led to speculation that the Dolphins may just be trying to trade Landry.
Regardless of Miami’s motives, the tag makes Landry the third-highest paid receiver in the NFL next year, according to OvertheCap.com, behind Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant and further sets the receiver market while taking one of the top free agents out of the mix.
Also, it is generally expected that Jacksonville will tag receiver Allen Robinson and that the Rams could tag Sammy Watkins, further depleting what has generally been considered an underwhelming class of free agent receivers.
And all of which could make it that much more difficult for the Seahawks to retain Richardson, generally considered among the top 10 or so free-agent receivers available and moving up the ladder as others get tagged.
Richardson, Seattle’s first pick in the 2014 draft at No. 45 overall, is coming off his best season, with 44 receptions and six touchdowns, but maybe most importantly for him — and teams assessing what he might add — an average of 16.0 yards per catch.
Pro Football Focus has rated Richardson as the third-best deep threat available in free agency (behind Buffalo’s Deonte Thompson and Baltimore’s Mike Wallace) stating “catching all eight of his catchable deep targets, Richardson ranked 18th in deep passing yards (300) among wide receivers with at least four deep targets last season.’’
Conversely, Richardson ranked last in PFF’s ratings of the top 21 receivers available in free agency in catch rate, dropping eight of what PFF assessed were 52 catchable passes, 15.4 percent.
Still, in a thin receiver market Richardson’s big-play ability and age — he turns 26 in April — will prove intriguing, with Spotrac.com judging his market value at $6.3 million for four seasons.
While there can be a danger in reading salary cap space too literally — space can always be created and the Seahawks will likely make some moves soon to open some up — Seattle by any measure doesn’t figure to have a whole lot as it enters free agency, at the moment assessed as having just $14.1 million available for 2018, more than just seven other teams.
And as may hardly need to be stated, the Seahawks have lots of other questions heading into the offseason, such as the futures of Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Sheldon Richardson, etc.
Paying $25 million or so over four years to a receiver who has had some durability concerns — playing just one game in 2015 due to knee and hamstring injuries, for instance — along with really having produced consistently in just one of his four seasons might be too rich for the Seahawks.
But the question then is what Seattle does at receiver.
Tight end Jimmy Graham is also regarded as almost certainly not returning and number two tight end Luke Willson is also a free agent.
Doug Baldwin is under contract through 2020 and Tyler Lockett through 2018 but otherwise the Seahawks are looking at a largely unproven core of receivers returning if Graham and Richardson get away.
The only other two receivers to really play much last season (if you consider J.D. McKissic as a running back) were rookie Amara Darboh, who had just eight receptions last season and Tanner McEvoy, who had just five along with one critical drop and a fumble.
The Seahawks appeared to indicate their concern over long-term depth when they promoted rookie David Moore off the practice squad to the 53-man roster late in the year (recall that Moore at the time took the spot of Dwight Freeney on the 53-man) a move made to prevent Moore from going to an active roster elsewhere. Moore played in only one game last year, the season finale, but promoting him was aimed more at the future than 2017.
Seattle, of course, could look for cheaper free agents to help fill the void (Atlanta’s Taylor Gabriel or Dallas’ Brice Butler, maybe?), and to the draft. But having just one pick in the first three rounds (at the moment, anyway) obviously limits what Seattle may be able to do the first two days.
As for Richardson, his injury history (two ACLs, one in college and another as a rookie) and coming off his best season in the NFL seem to make it a given he will test the market and see what is out there for him. He may find more than he or the Seahawks expected.