Former Seahawk Russell Okung will again be a free agent after the Denver Broncos declined an option on his contract on Thursday.
When the Seahawks scour the free agent market next month looking for left tackles, they will see a familiar name — Russell Okung.
Okung, who was the first pick of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime at No. 6 overall in 2010 and then played for the Seahawks through the 2015 season, will become a free agent after the Denver Broncos informed him on Thursday they will not pick up the final four years on a contract he signed with the team last year, according to several reports, including from Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.
Okung’s contract drew a lot of attention because he decided to negotiate it himself (with the help of former NFL agent Jimmy Halsell), hoping to show NFL players that they didn’t necessarily need agents, and at the least saying he wanted to illustrate the benefits of players becoming better educated about the system.
Okung ultimately signed a five-year, $56 million contract with Denver that came with a hitch — there was no guaranteed money and Broncos had to pick up an option for the final four years and (which could have earned him an additional $48 million) by March 8, 2017. Denver is not going to do that, meaning Okung — who will turn 29 in October — will again be a free agent. Okung ultimately leaves Denver having made $8 million for one seasons (he made $48 million in six years with Seattle, signing in 2010 as part of the last rookie class before the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement instituted a salary cap for rookie contracts, each one determined solely by where a player is selected).
Could Okung, who made the Pro Bowl as a Seahawk in 2012 and 2014, be an option to return to Seattle? It’s obviously too early to know for sure, but indications are that Okung’s departure last season wouldn’t be a factor — in other words, there are no apparent lingering hard feelings that would rule out a return.
Other left tackles set to be free agents include Jacksonville’s Kelvin Beachum and Ryan Clady of the New York Jets — interestingly, Okung basically took Clady’s place with the Broncos after Clady decided to sign with New York. Like Okung, Clady recently had an option on his contract declined.
That Okung lasted just one season with the Broncos will obviously lead to lots of judgments about his decision to represent himself.
Schneider at the time called it “a little odd, a little awkward” to have to talk directly to a player about a contract rather than to an agent and the Seattle view is that Okung representing himself undoubtedly changed the dynamic of the negotiations, in part in making it more likely that Okung would want to test the market and be less-inclined to sign an extension before the free agency period (rules also prevented Okung from talking to other teams before the free agent signing officially began — certified agents can talk to teams in the negotiating period prior to the signing date).
Schneider, though, said a few weeks after Okung signed with Denver that he didn’t think Okung’s decision to represent himself ultimately led to his departure.
“I don’t think it affected it,’’ Schneider said. “Russell is a very intelligent person. He has his personal beliefs. We had a good talk before the season started so we knew that he was going to be representing himself and Russell knew where we were coming from. It’s just hard — those conversations are hard to have. Russell was the first player we selected (when they took over in 2010) so that was difficult.’’
Okung also had shoulder surgery last February and was coming off a final season with Seattle in which he had missed three games due to injury.
“I think it turned out fine for him,” Carroll said last March of Okung’s signing with Denver. “He did a good job. It was a difficult challenge and I was worried about him. Seriously I was worried about how he was going to pull that together and that’s a lot of responsibility, and the fact that he had his injury to compound his whole story there. I thought it was going to be hard for him. But I’m really fired up for him that he pulled it off and got a good deal and a long-term opportunity and made a lot of money. We are just at the stage where we have got make these tough decisions. We always tell you there are tough decisions and sure enough this year the tough decisions were to watch guys leave and that’s kind of how that goes, and we have anticipated that. So there wasn’t really any surprise because we felt that people would value our players enough that they would take em off our roster.’’
(Halsell took to Twitter to defend the deal Thursday morning, noting that the $8 million Okung received in 2016 was more than other offensive linemen who had agents, such as Clady, who got $5.5 million).
Health wasn’t an issue for Okung in 2016, though, as he played all 16 games for the first time in his career and was on the field for 1,062 of 1,075 possible snaps.
Whether Okung will again be his own agent has yet to be revealed.