Time for our weekly Seahawks mailbag, with questions about the running back position, how the salary cap might look next year, and assessing the 2020 draft. Let’s get to it.
Question: chriscolbert509 asked: With so many players who need to be extended next year, who do you think will make the cut and how will we be able to accomplish this with our cap space?
Answer: My smart-alecky answer is that this is why Pete Carroll and John Schneider make the big bucks. As is the case every year, they’ll have some tough decisions to make after the season regarding some well-known and popular players.
And the cap is going to be an issue for everyone because it could be as low as $175 million due to lost revenue from COVID-19 — it was $198.2 million this year, and all teams made decisions before March assuming the cap would keep going up its usual $10 million a year or so as it did from 2019 to 2020 (which could, by the way, lead to a real glut of veteran free agents, many of whom might have to settle for deals lower than they’d been anticipating).
Seattle is listed by OvertheCap.com as having an effective cap space of just $8 million for 2021 (which it bases on a cap of $176 million — $175 million has been set as the floor).
Of that, Russell Wilson accounts for $32 million and Bobby Wagner $17.1 million.
Among Seattle’s pending free agents are running back Chris Carson, cornerback Shaquill Griffin and linebacker K.J. Wright, as well as veterans who signed one-year deals this year, such as Bruce Irvin, Benson Mayowa, Greg Olsen and Carlos Hyde.
And it’s widely believed the Seahawks will try to extend safety Jamal Adams after the season — he will enter the final year of his contract in 2021 with a cap hit of $9.86 million.
The Seahawks obviously appear to be waiting until after the season to deal with Carson and Griffin, the two young pending free agents you’d think they’d most want to keep around, though each also carries some questions about what their value might be on the open market.
But as is always the case, there are ways to create cap space, and the easiest is always cutting veteran players with big cap hits.
The three most obvious cap savings might be defensive end Carlos Dunlap ($14.1 million with no dead money), left tackle Duane Brown ($11 million savings with $2 million in dead money) and safety Quandre Diggs ($5.5 million with no dead money).
The odds would seem really against Dunlap playing next season on that contract — Seattle didn’t give up much to get him (B.J. Finney and a seventh-round choice), so there won’t be the pressure to have to re-sign him to make that deal look good. But if he plays well, maybe Seattle tries to redo that deal before free agency.
Brown will be 36 next year. He has battled injuries the past few seasons and appeared to contemplate retirement after last season as it was. But that obviously leaves the issue of who plays left tackle if he’s not around.
Diggs will be 28 next season, and I think the thought has been that Seattle sees him as part of the long-term future. But the secondary obviously has been an issue this season, and Seattle could view Marquise Blair as the heir apparent there (Blair, though, is rehabbing from an ACL injury suffered in September, which might complicate that situation some).
And my one general rule when it comes to the cap is that NFL teams always seem to find a way to keep the players they really want.
Q: JoeGQuintana1 asked: Does DeeJay Dallas stay on the roster? Carroll prefers RBs who get yards after tackle. Dallas doesn’t get many of those.
A: At the moment he does because they need every healthy running back they can get. If you’re referring to when Rashaad Penny comes back, that remains a pretty big unknown. Carroll was pretty vague about when Penny might come back on Monday saying he is making good progress but that it’s still unclear when he would return to practice.
Penny, though, intriguingly tweeted “home stretch. Thank you GOD” Tuesday morning, seeming to indicate he might be close to being cleared to practice.
Once he is designated to return, there is a three-week window for him to practice before a decision has to be made. I’d imagine Seattle would use all of that to make sure Penny is fully ready to go, unless more injuries or something happened and they needed him earlier.
If every back on the roster is healthy at that point, Seattle would have a decision to make — I don’t think they’d keep five tailbacks. But I’d be surprised if Dallas were waived — I think Seattle sees him as part of the future, which starts to matter with Carson and Hyde each free agents after this season.
Dallas is averaging 1.3 yards after contact, via Pro Football Reference, which you are right, isn’t great — Cleveland’s Nick Chubb leads the NFL at 3.4 and Carson leads Seattle at 2.4.
But I’m not sure 27 carries as a rookie (for 80 yards) is enough to really draw a definitive conclusion, either. I think he’s shown enough to still be considered part of the future.
Q: Ellis_Champagne asked: How do you grade JS (John Schneider’s) ’20 draft, knowing we’ve seen few contributions outside (right guard) Damien Lewis?
A: That might be oversimplifying the contributions of the rookie class a bit.
First-round choice Jordyn Brooks is the starting weakside linebacker now and has 95 snaps the past three games. He played only 22 snaps Sunday because Seattle was mostly in nickel, but he had a hurry and two tackles.
Dallas, as noted above, has started the past two games. Fifth-round choice Alton Robinson has become a regular member of the defensive line rotation and has two sacks — despite not being active the first two games he’s played 184 snaps, or 30% for the season, and has played 37% or more of the snaps in five of the past six games.
Freddie Swain has emerged as the fourth receiver and shown some promise, and tight end Colby Parkinson now is on the 53-player roster and might see some significant time going forward, though he was inactive Sunday.
The big negative is that second-round choice Darrell Taylor, a defensive end out of Tennessee, has not been able to practice — let alone play — while still recovering from surgery to have a rod placed in his leg to repair a stress fracture injury he played with last season.
The Seahawks were confident he’d be ready for this season, with some thought he could emerge as a starter at the LEO/rush end spot. But we’re halfway through the season and there’s no ETA on when he might be back, and at this point there’s no other way to portray that other than as one of the bigger disappointments of the season.
But, the answer that you might not like here is that it’s really too early to judge a draft class just eight games into a rookie season.
Some of these picks were made with the future in mind as much as the present, such as Brooks. As noted above, Wright is a free agent after this season and Brooks is his heir apparent to take on a full-time role at WLB next year (Wright is starting at the strongside spot in the base defense but typically stays on the field as the WLB in the nickel for now), and both Greg Olsen and Jacob Hollister are free agents at the end of the year, opening up a spot for Parkinson.
A general NFL theory is that getting three good starting-caliber players out of a draft class is a good barometer of success, especially drafting as low as Seattle did, starting with the 27th pick.
That can still happen — Lewis is an obvious keeper, Brooks still appears on track to fill the role the team hoped he would long term, it’s impossible to judge anything about Taylor’s future right now, and Robinson, in particular of the lower picks, looks like a player who will be a significant part of the future, as well.