The weakside linebacker spot remains uncertain with K.J. Wright hitting free agency, and there also is no guarantee Barkevious Mingo returns at strongside.
Seattle has one sure thing in its linebacking corps heading into the offseason, and maybe the surest thing among linebackers in the NFL — Bobby Wagner manning the middle.
But the years when the Seahawks went into seasons assured they had maybe the best inside linebacking tandem in the NFL may be over with veteran K.J. Wright headed to free agency — and if he receives the kind of offers some think he could get, $8-10 million a year or so, likely gone.
It also may not be a given that last year’s starting strongside linebacker, Barkevious Mingo, returns. The Seahawks could save $4.8 million against the cap,, while taking a $1.1 million dead cap hit, if Mingo is released either before or after June 1 (contract details from OvertheCap.com and Spotrac.com), which has had Mingo often mentioned in the lists of “players who could be released’’ that help make up much of the NFL offseason media machine.
And while Wagner has one year left on his contract, like Russell Wilson he might like it if the Seahawks took care of him sooner rather than later.
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So a potentially busy offseason awaits.
The Seahawks took a few steps last season to try to prepare for possible turnover at linebacker in the future, most notably drafting Shaquem Griffin and moving him to weakside linebacker, Wright’s spot. But Griffin proved not quite ready yet to assume a significant role at WLB when given a start in the season opener with Wright sidelined with a knee injury that would require surgery and bother him most of the season.
That compelled Seattle to sign free agent Mychal Kendricks, who had been released by Cleveland after pleading guilty to insider trading.
But Kendricks was then suspended by the NFL and later suffered his own knee injury, creating a revolving door at the WLB spot that saw four players (Wright, Griffin, Kendricks, Austin Calitro) get starts, none more than five — Mingo also spent large portions of some games essentially playing WLB.
The merry-go-round beside him put even more of an onus on Wagner to steady things in the middle of the defense and by any objective measure he was as good, if not better, than ever — Pro Football Focus graded Wagner number one among all linebackers in the NFL.
Mingo played every game and showed a lot of versatility and was also a special teams standout. But Seattle might have liked a little more impact in pass rushing, one thing the Seahawks figure to look for there if they make a change at SLB.
Key stat: Wagner missed only one tackle all year, according to Pro Football Focus, converting 137 of 138 attempts.
Contract status: Wagner has one year left on his contract, due to make a base salary of $10.5 million in 2019.
Key stat: 23 tackles in five regular season starts and then nine and an interception in the playoff loss to Dallas.
Contract status: Will become an unrestricted free agent on March 13.
Key stat: Had 36 tackles for the season but just 12 tackles in the last 10 regular season games, and only one sack overall, that coming in the third game.
Contract status: Mingo has one year left on his two-year deal, due to make a base salary of $3.4 million in 2019. As noted earlier, that Seattle could save $4.8 million against the cap if he is released has led to discussion he could be in danger of being cut. Worth remembering, though, that Mingo was one of the team’s most dependable and reliable special teamers, playing 373 special teams snaps, 94 more than any other Seahawk.
BACKUPS/OTHERS ON ROSTER
Key stat: After playing 41 snaps in the regular season opener at Denver, played just nine on defense the rest of the season.
Contract status: Entering second of four-year rookie deal with a base salary of $570,000 in 2019.
Key stat: Finished ninth on the team with 41 tackles.
Contract status: An Exclusive Rights Free Agent and assumption is Seahawks will give him a qualifying offer to keep him.
Key stat: Saw action in four games on special teams.
Contract status: Like Calitro, also now an ERFA.
Key stat: Finished last season on practice squad and signed a futures deal last month.
Contract status: Has a one-year contract with a base salary of $570,000.
Key stat: Had 19 tackles and two sacks in four games, three starts.
Contract status: Will be an unrestricted free agent March 13.
Key stat: Spent season on Injured Reserve.
Contract status: Entering second year of three-year UDFA deal with a base salary of $495,000.
It’s sort of looked all along like the Seahawks didn’t intend to re-sign Wright, who was making $6.75 million per season on the deal he signed in 2014 that has now run out. But the succession plans have gone somewhat awry with Griffin’s obvious need for more time to adjust to a new role and Kendricks having his sentencing moved back to April. Carroll spoke several times of wanting to keep Kendricks with the Seahawks and he appeared to be a somewhat younger and likely much cheaper alternative to Wright.
But Seattle now apparently won’t know until at least April if Kendricks will be available in 2019.
That could mean the Seahawks re-signing Calitro — a formality as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent — and waiting to see on Kendricks.
As noted, the Seahawks might also have to work on an extension for Wagner.
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS
Look at just about any rating of potential free agent linebackers (players who are actually linebackers, anyway, and not just edge rushers) and the name at the top is, well, usually K.J. Wright.
Generally somewhere in the top 10 is Kendricks.
What the Seahawks do in free agency with the WLB spot will be as intriguing as any issue facing the team.
If Seattle keeps Mingo, though, and knowing it has to pay Wagner, the Seahawks figure to go pretty inexpensively (if they wanted to pay a WLB a lot of money you figure they’d just have re-signed Wright).
The kind of players who might be available and would fit the budget include Josh Martin of the Jets, who ended last season on IR but in 2017 was one of the more underrated linebackers in the league and also has been a consistent special teams standout, and Mark Nzeocha, who had three starts last season for the 49ers.
Somewhat lost in the attention given to Griffin’s drafting last year was that he was the first linebacker Seattle had selected since 2014 (Kevin Pierre-Louis) and only the second since Wagner in 2012.
The presence of Wagner and Wright had for years made linebacker one of the team’s least urgent needs.
What happens in free agency will greatly dictate what Seattle needs to do in the draft – the Seahawks will hope to know Kendricks’ situation by then (not that it’s a given he returns if he is eligible to play but it had seemed a high possibility).
This is regarded as a good year for linebackers. Devin White of LSU might be the top inside linebacker available, but he probably won’t be there at 21. If Seattle trades down, as is likely, two possible fits in the second round include Devin Bush of Michigan and Tre Lamar of Clemson.