Left tackle Russell Okung is No. 1 on our list of Seahawks players who can become unrestricted free agents beginning Wednesday. But what it will mean that Okung has decided to represent himself?
The player regarded as the biggest-name Seahawk set to hit unrestricted free agency Wednesday — left tackle Russell Okung — also represents one of the more interesting test cases in recent NFL history.
Okung is representing himself as he negotiates a new contract.
Last summer he fired agent Peter Schaffer, saying he’d rather save the usual three percent agent’s fee and handle negotiations on his own. Okung has referred to the decision as his NFL “legacy,’’ hoping to convince other players to follow suit (he recently took to Facebook to reiterate his desire to represent himself).
Former NFL agent Joel Corry said with a laugh that one group hopes it doesn’t work — “the whole agent community.’’
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider also said at the NFL combine last month that it was unique dealing with the player in negotiations. Carroll also noted what a “challenge’’ he thought it would be for Okung.
Among the speed bumps Okung has faced in his unique road to a new contract is that he could not attend the NFL combine in February and get an early feel for his market.
Most agents attend the combine. Though officially there is no negotiating allowed, the reality is that lots of discussions are held that help each side get a sense of what the market will be.
“That’s where agents start to get some sort of a feel for who might be interested and whether the target price they have initially set is in people’s ballparks,’’ Corry said.
Okung also has been unable to talk directly with teams during the two-day “legal tampering’’ period that began at 1 p.m. Monday and lasts until Wednesday at 1 p.m. Seattle time, when unrestricted free agents can sign with other teams.
Okung, though, did recently retain former NFL agent Jimmy “J.I.’’ Halsell as a consultant during negotiations.
Having Halsell help him might go a long way toward mitigating the risk of Okung representing himself, some think.
“I would imagine any counteroffer is being drafted or suggested by J.I. and then communicated by Okung,’’ said Jason Fitzgerald of the website OvertheCap.com, which analyzes NFL salary-cap issues. “With that in mind, I think it comes down to what happens when that direct communication occurs and someone tells him this is the best they can do. If he can keep removed from the emotion/fear of losing out and go back to J.I., I personally don’t think it will make a huge difference once really in a negotiation.
“I think where it becomes trickier for him is if he has to proactively go out and find teams to sign him. That can be more difficult, because now you are trying to sell yourself to someone you don’ know, have them look at you like an agent and initiate the process. That’s a different ballgame in my opinion.’’
It’s known that the Seahawks have told Okung they would like him back at the right price, and they likely have told Okung where they see him fitting in financially.
Okung, though, appears intent on seeing what his worth is on the open market.
What that might be, though, could be muddied by a shoulder dislocation Okung suffered in the Seahawks’ divisional playoff loss to Carolina. Okung has since had surgery and has said he should be should be fully healed by this summer.
Still, Corry said concerns about Okung’s injury might be more of a factor in his negotiations than the fact he is representing himself.
“The bigger issues may be how the whole injury affects how teams want to make a long-term deal for him,’’ Corry said. “That could actually benefit Seattle, because if he doesn’t find the type of deal that he wants, he might be receptive to coming back on a one-year contract.’’
Observers believe the Seahawks likely will try to re-sign one of the offensive-line starters who can be unrestricted free agents — Okung and guard J.R. Sweezy.
If the health is not an issue, some think Okung could get around $10 million a year. Though he has battled injuries throughout his career — missing 22 of a possible 96 games played — he also made the 2012 Pro Bowl and was the left-tackle anchor on a team that has played in two of the past three Super Bowls. He’s also just 27.
If the shoulder is not a big worry, Okung could receive a significant deal. Because he wants to make a point about the ability of a player to represent himself, Okung is unlikely to take the first offer he gets or settle quickly with the Seahawks.
Okung had a $7.2 million salary-cap hit last season, which was the last on a six-year $48.5 million contract he signed in 2010, when he was part of the last rookie class not to have slotted contracts.
If Okung gets away, then the big question for the Seahawks would be how to replace him. For now, the NFL world waits to see what kind of deal Okung can get, and whether it will compel more players to represent themselves.