Welcome to an NFL free agent season that figures to be like few others since free agency became a real thing in the 1990s.
Well, maybe everywhere outside of Seattle, anyway, unless the Seahawks really do make a move of some sort regarding quarterback Russell Wilson.
The rumors surrounding Wilson’s future hover over Seattle’s offseason, and likely will continue until there is some sort of resolution one way or the other.
However, a report Sunday from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network — the league’s official arm — appeared to throw a lot of cold water on what has been all the heat surrounding Wilson of late.
Rapoport said that while the Seahawks have taken calls from teams about Wilson — including the Chicago Bears, a team on Wilson’s list of approved destinations and thought to be seriously pursuing a deal — Seattle has not “reciprocated” or engaged in any negotiations.
“No one I’ve spoken with has said that Seattle has actually engaged in any of these talks,” Rapoport said.
Noting that Wilson has a no-trade clause and that any trade would come with a lot of complications such as his $39 million dead cap hit for the Seahawks in 2021, Rapoport said of a trade that it “is a long way from anything happening here.”
He also said a team such as the Bears may want to know within the next day or so if the Seahawks would actually engage in talks for Wilson. If the answer is no, they would want to move on and begin building their team without him.
So in that sense, the next 48 hours could speak volumes about Wilson’s future, though Rapoport’s report indicates not to expect anything to happen.
Any move involving Wilson would obviously overshadow anything else Seattle might do when free agency begins this week with the legal tampering period — when teams can begin talking to agents of players — on Monday at 9 a.m. Seattle time.
Wednesday then marks the start of the new league year, and at 1 p.m. Seattle time hundreds of NFL players will officially become unrestricted free agents and can begin signing with new teams.
That includes at least 23 Seahawks. That number could change depending on whether a few players who are exclusive rights or restricted free agents get tenders, the most notable of which is starting defensive tackle Poona Ford, who might also be signed to a regular contract instead of being given an RFA tender. It could also change if Seattle signs any players to extensions by Wednesday.
The Seahawks were listed by the NFL on Saturday as having $17,105,986 in available cap space for 2021, based on the limit of $182.5 million set for all teams last week by the league, more than only 12 other teams (Jacksonville has the most at $71.5 million followed by the Colts at $70.1 million.)
That cap number is down from the $198.2 million of 2020 due to COVID-19-related revenue losses, and that has led to thought that many players may not get the kind of offers they are hoping for, with teams unexpectedly strapped for money, with many likely having to concede to take one-year deals and hit the market again in 2022 when the cap may be at a more expected number.
“I think for players at the top of the food chain in free agency nothing is going to change,” said Jason Fitzgerald of OvertheCap.com. “Teams want those top players and will do whatever they can to sign them. As you move into those second- and third-contract tiers, I do think that we may see lower costs or more players taking one-year contracts in hopes of hitting free agency again in 2022 when the money should be higher. I would also expect the typical value of most of the one-year deals to be down from years past.”
Seattle’s number doesn’t include a possible $3.3 million tender to Ford.
The Seahawks cut defensive end Carlos Dunlap last week to open $14 million in cap space. Whether the Seahawks plan any other such moves to create additional space is unclear.
Cap space, of course, can be created in other ways, such as contract extensions and restructures. As was revealed last month, the Seahawks have automatic salary conversion rights with Wilson and could create almost $17.9 million in cap space by converting all but the minimum league salary of his $19 million base salary for 2021 into bonus money Wilson would receive immediately. But that merely moves those cap hits to the 2022 and 2023 seasons, a kick-the-can-down-the-road approach the Seahawks have resisted during the John Schneider/Pete Carroll era.
The Seahawks have twice made such a move in recent years with Doug Baldwin’s contract and Wilson’s, but only when they were opening up cap space for a specific move (trades in 2017 for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown, respectively).
If the Seahawks stay at around $17 million it could go fast if Seattle decides to try to re-sign some of its own key free agents, such as linebacker K.J. Wright, running back Chris Carson and cornerback Shaquill Griffin, all regarded as among the top available players at their positions.
As had been expected, the Seahawks did not use their franchise tag by last week’s deadline, meaning both Carson and Griffin — the two most logical players for Seattle to have thought about using the tag on — are set to become UFAs.
An ESPN report Sunday stated that Seattle hopes it can retain Griffin but “won’t break the bank” to try to get it done, which has been the presumption all along, especially with the Seahawks possibly thinking they can fill out their cornerback corps by re-signing Quinton Dunbar to pair with D.J. Reed.
The Seahawks are also thought to want to re-sign Dunlap but to a lesser deal, which would go a long way toward filling out their pass rush.
Aside from what happens to their own players, the other big focus for Seattle is the offensive line, especially after Wilson’s uncharacteristic comments about being frustrated he has been hit so much during his nine years in Seattle.
Seattle has openings at center (where Ethan Pocic is a free agent) and left guard (where Mike Iupati has announced he is retiring).
But Seattle would have to break from form to go after one of the top offensive linemen available, such as Green Bay center Corey Linsley, with the Seahawks having a reputation with spending carefully in free agency, usually preferring to spend its money keeping its own players.
NFL analysts say Seattle could keep to its usual approach again in 2021.
“Seattle may not be in the league’s best salary-cap situation, but you don’t finish with a winning record nine seasons in a row by being cheap,’’ said Brad Spielberger, a salary-cap analyst for Pro Football Focus. “Considering that context, things could certainly be a lot worse. The Seahawks have done a good job of balancing short-term success with long-term salary-cap health. They do have some work to do in finding a consistent presence off the edge, as well as returning/replacing both outside cornerbacks in Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar. But every roster has its holes, and Seattle is no different.’’
Seahawks pending free agents
Here is a list of Seahawks who can become unrestricted free agents Wednesday:
Linebacker K.J. Wright
Running back Chris Carson
Defensive end Benson Mayowa
Cornerback Shaquill Griffin
Center Ethan Pocic
Cornerback Quinton Dunbar
Receiver Phillip Dorsett
Running back Carlos Hyde
Tight end Jacob Hollister
Receiver David Moore
Linebacker Bruce Irvin
Fullback Nick Bellore
Offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi
Defensive end Damontre Moore
Safety Damarious Randall
Safety Lano Hill
Quarterback Geno Smith
Defensive end Jonathan Bullard
Guard Mike Iupati
Cornerback Neiko Thorpe
Tight end Luke Willson
Defensive end Branden Jackson
Offensive lineman Jordan Simmons
Notes: Iupati has said he plans to retire. Simmons is officially a restricted free agent but will not be tendered an offer by Seattle by Wednesday and will become an unrestricted free agent. DT Poona Ford and LB Shaquem Griffin are also RFAs and can become UFAs on Wednesday if not tendered.