Our countdown of Seahawks players who can become free agents on Wednesday continues with linebacker Bruce Irvin, the team's first-round pick in 2012.
Left tackle Russell Okung and linebacker Bruce Irvin are considered the two Seahawks’ free agents-to-be likely to command the most interest— and hence, money — on the open market.
They also hold what has become an increasingly rare distinction on the Seahawks’ roster of being a first-round pick by Seattle who remains on the team.
Seattle, which has not used its own first-round pick since taking Irvin 15th overall in 2012, had just three of its own first-round picks on its roster in 2015 — Irvin, Okung (sixth overall in 2010) and safety Earl Thomas (14th in 2010).
Conventional wisdom is that Irvin and Okung are likely headed elsewhere once the free agent signing period begins Wednesday, which would leave only Thomas as an original first-round pick of the team remaining on the roster.
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Let’s take a closer look at Irvin’s situation as free agency nears.
Linebacker Bruce Irvin
2015 salary: Irvin made a base salary of $1.663 million last season on what was the final year of his original four-year rookie contract that paid him $9.3 million overall.
Role with Seahawks in 2015: Irvin again played a hybrid role, starting at strongside linebacker and playing there on run downs and then moving up to the line as an edge rusher on passing downs. He played in all but one game (he was inactive for a home game against the 49ers with a knee injury) and had 5.5 sacks and 38 tackles. Irvin, though, didn’t have quite as many game-changing plays in 2015 as in 2014, when he had two interception returns for touchdowns which each proved pivotal in Seattle wins. Irvin also had a half sack in two playoff games, but didn’t have a stat of any kind in the divisional playoff loss against Carolina.
Free agent outlook: The Seahawks could have secured Irvin’s services for 2016 by exercising an option on his contract last May for roughly $7.8 million (teams have a fifth-year option on first-round draft picks).
Seattle didn’t do it, with the Seahawks saying at the time they hoped to work out a longer-term deal with Irvin — presumably, paying less per season than the $7.8 million of the option.
That didn’t happen either, and now Irvin is a few days away from becoming an unrestricted free agent with the general thought that it will likely take more than $7.8 million to sign him.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com recently Tweeted:”NFL execs I know would do cartwheels to land Bruce Irvin anywhere near $9M/year some suggesting FWIW. price will be significantly higher.’’ Some, in fact, think Irvin could get close to $10 million.
Irvin has said a few times he’d like to stay in Seattle if the money is close. But if the Seahawks didn’t want to pay him $7.8 million for one season a year it seems hard to figure they’d go much above that on a longer-term deal now.
A year ago, Seattle seemed to have a clear succession plan behind Irvin with Kevin Pierre-Louis being groomed to become a third starting linebacker (and either moving in as the direct replacement for Irvin or maybe playing weakside with K.J. Wright moving to the strongside). That plan seems murkier now with Pierre-Louis doing little last season (recall that when Irvin sat out against the 49ers the Seahawks started Mike Morgan in his place).
Still, the general feeling around the league is that the Seahawks are not likely to get into much of a bidding war for Irvin, who turns 29 on Nov. 1.
How they replace Irvin, if that happens, will be interesting to watch. Pierre-Louis will remain an option as will Eric Pinkins, a 2014 draft pick who was moved to strongside linebacker last year (the Seahawks tendered Pinkins a few days ago keeping him in the fold for 2016). Cassius Marsh has been tried a little in some of those roles in the past and it’s interesting to wonder if they would experiment with him more there is Irvin departs. Morgan, also an unrestricted free agent, may also be back. And then there’s the draft and free agency to try to land younger and/or cheaper options.
As for where Irvin lands, two teams have been mentioned as favorites for months — Atlanta and Jacksonville. Each is coached by a former Seahawks defensive coordinator who has worked with Irvin – Gus Bradley in Jacksonville and Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Each also has a need for pass rushers. And the Jags have almost more cap space than they know what to do with (an estimated $80 million as of Sunday).
Irvin is also from Atlanta and has indicated in the past he’d like to play there. Given the Jags’ cap situation, though, it’s been thought that if Jacksonville decides it really wants Irvin then that’s where he will probably end up.
Two other teams thought possibly set to make a run at Irvin are Oakland ($60 million in cap space and where former Seattle linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. is now the defensive coordinator) and Carolina (which has a need for some pass rushers and has been thought potentially enamored with Irvin due in part to his success against the Panthers — seven of his career 25.5 sacks have come against Carolina).
Even if Irvin departs, his Seattle legacy will be secure as the first pick in what was one of the best drafts in team history. All 10 players ended up making an NFL roster, with Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson becoming all-pros for the Seahawks. Also part of that draft were CB Jeremy Lane (sixth round) and OL J.R. Sweezy (seventh round), as well as defensive tackle Jaye Howard, who became a standout for the Chiefs last season and is now an unrestricted free agent likely to get a big payday of his own in the coming days.