The NFL free-agent signing period officially begins March 17, though you can expect news of signings to begin trickling out a few days prior when the legal tampering period opens March 15.
Teams can also re-sign their own free agents at any time, as well as sign so-called “street’’ free agents who have already been released by their teams, as opposed to players who become unrestricted free agents when their contracts expire on March 17.
And as Free Agent Frenzy (we don’t think the NFL is charging us to use that phrase) approaches, there figures to be an increasing number of players who are released from their teams, especially this year with the salary cap going down from last year’s $198.2 million (likely to the $182-183 million range) due to COVID-19-related revenue losses.
It promises to be a wild ride.
So, as it starts to really get going in earnest, it’s time for our annual position-by-position preview review of the Seahawks as they enter one of the major periods of the offseason.
We’ll start with a position that has already elicited its fair share of conversation — quarterback.
Players under contract
Russell Wilson: Wilson has three years left on his contract at an average of $35 million through 2023, with a guaranteed base salary in 2021 of $19 million that is already guaranteed. Before Wilson and his camp’s seemingly well-orchestrated national media blitz to make clear his unhappiness with the team, the last thing the Seahawks were thinking about was his future. But as the NFL Network’s Michael Silver stated Wednesday in noting that the Seahawks continue to get trade calls about Wilson, the Seahawks at this point would be doing “malpractice’’ not to listen. Wilson trade rumors likely aren’t going away anytime soon, especially as free agency approaches.
Alex McGough: A seventh-round pick of Seattle in 2018, he has since been with both Houston and Jacksonville before returning to the Seahawks late last season on the practice squad and then re-signed on a futures deal after the season. McGough, who has not played in an NFL game, figures to compete for the backup job, or at the least again being on the practice squad as a third/emergency QB option.
Danny Etling: Claimed off waivers from Atlanta during training camp, Etling spent the entire 2020 season on the practice squad and then was signed to a futures deal after the season. Put him in the same category as McGough of competing for the backup job, but maybe more likely a practice-squad spot as the third QB.
Impending free agents
Geno Smith: Smith will again be an unrestricted free agent after spending the last two years with Seattle on one-year deals — he had a veteran minimum cap hit of $887,500 in 2020. Smith played just 18 snaps last year, all coming in the blowout of the Jets. But the former second-round pick is still just 30 years old and seems as if he’d again be an attractive option to return, assuming he’s interested in remaining a backup.
Possible free-agent targets
As we note every year when talking about the QB spot, that Wilson takes up as much of the salary cap as he does — a projected 17.7% in 2021, the most of his career — means Seattle can’t really spend much on a backup.
That’s made Smith the perfect sort of backup to have the last few seasons — someone who has some experience (in his case, 31 NFL starts) but also someone who is taking up as little cap space as possible.
But two players who have ties to new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron might also make sense — Sean Mannion and Blake Bortles.
Each spent time with the Rams during the Sean McVay era, and as such have ready-made knowledge of the Rams’ parts of the offense that Waldron figures to implement with the Seahawks.
Mannion, a former Oregon State standout, was with the Rams in 2017 and 2018 and spent the last two seasons with the Vikings, making the same veteran minimum salary in 2020 as Smith did with Seattle.
Bortles, the third overall pick of the 2014 draft, has thrown just two passes the last two seasons after his career with Jacksonville flamed out. But he spent all of the 2019 season with the Rams and then re-signed with Los Angeles late last year after Jared Goff’s thumb injury.
Assuming Wilson isn’t traded, then Seattle’s only objective at quarterback this offseason will again be looking for an inexpensive vet to compete as a backup.
What kind of offseason program teams think they’ll have could play into decisions. The conventional wisdom is the offseason will again probably be all virtual. That could again put more value in having players experienced in the system already.
But as noted, Seattle is probably going to mostly want a backup who will cost the minimum.
Next: Running backs.