Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham has one year left on his contract. Will Seattle look to extend him in the off-season to keep him long-term?
The Seahawks enter the off-season with relatively few contractual issues regarding their own roster.
The only full-time starters set to become unrestricted free agents this off-season are kicker Steven Hauschka and strongside linebacker Mike Morgan (another of note is tight end Luke Willson).
So when it comes to their own roster, the biggest questions concern three prominent players who can become unrestricted free agents following the 2017 season — safety Kam Chancellor, tight end Jimmy Graham and center Justin Britt.
Seattle has typically tried to prevent players it considers as part of its core from going into the final year of their contract without an extension, such as the new four-year deal the team signed last month with defensive lineman Michael Bennett.
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Coach Pete Carroll gave every indication when he met with the media Monday that the team will continue with that philosophy.
“I think we have a really cool formula going and I think we’ve demonstrated that,’’ Carroll said. “It’s demonstrated a consistency over the years that is pretty obvious.’’
So will the Seahawks sign new contracts with Graham, Chancellor and Britt this off-season?
We’re going to take a quick look at each case over the next day or so, beginning with Graham, and with some help from Jason Fitzgerald, who analyzes NFL financial issues for OvertheCap.com.
Current contract: Graham’s deal calls for him to receive $10 million in 2017 in salary ($.7.9 million) and bonuses ($2.1 million). Graham will receive a $2 million bonus if he is on Seattle’s roster on the third day of the new league year (meaning, March 12). Graham has no dead money, meaning if Seattle were to release him it would save $10 million against the cap. The roster bonus deadline means if Seattle was to release him it would almost certainly do it by March 12. But with an estimated $35 million in salary cap space already for 2017, Seattle doesn’t appear in a situation where there is urgency to clear cap room.
Burning question: Does the team consider Graham part of its long-term future? And does Graham want to stay in Seattle?
While how good of a fit Graham has been in Seattle has been hotly debated — his 65 receptions and 923 yards were franchise records for a tight end and he was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, but were also the lowest of his career in any full season other than his rookie year of 2010 — Carroll indicated Monday the team wants to keep him around.
“I thought Jimmy had a terrific year,’’ Carroll said. “I’m excited for him to come back. Imagine how much better he’ll feel (a reference to him having to rehab a significant knee injury in the 2016 off-season). Look what he had to undergo this off-season to get back and be in the phenomenal shape that he was. This will allow him to come back again. He should be stronger this year and more fit this year. I think nothing but really cool stuff for us as we go forward.”
The team also made a significant investment in Graham in trading center Max Unger and a first-round pick to get him in March 2015 while also acquiring a fourth-rounder in return (the pick was one of three Seattle used to trade with Washington to move up to draft Tyler Lockett).
And general manager John Schneider has talked several times of Graham’s unique attributes and game-changing ability as the kind of things that are simply hard to easily acquire.
How excited Graham is to stay with the Seahawks could be another matter.Unlike most other players Seattle has re-signed to big deals, he wasn’t around for the Super Bowl glory years and may not necessarily feel too emotionally invested in the franchise.
He’ll also be 31 at the end of next season and might be excited to try the free agent market one more time and choose the kind of offense he gets to play in.
Asked if Graham was content Carroll avoided specifics. “I don’t think any of our receivers were,’’ Carroll said. “Ask Doug (Baldwin), he isn’t content, they want the ball more. That’s exactly where you expect them to be. I don’t want them ever to be content.”
What kind of contract could Graham get?
Fitzgerald assess it this way: “Graham is now over 30 (birthday was Nov. 24) and has never been as productive in Seattle as he was in New Orleans so I don’t think you are looking at a top-of-the-market contract. The comparables here should be Carolina’s Greg Olsen and Tennessee’s Delanie Walker who make $7.5 million and $7.2 million. So my assumption is anywhere from $7.6 to $8 million per year on a four-year extension gets a deal done. I’d think guarantees would be around $13 million.’’
Will that be enough?
Adding some intrigue is the situation of Luke Willson, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Carroll said Monday the team “tried to get something done’’ with him earlier and “weren’t able to.’’ If the Seahawks didn’t keep Graham and lost Willson then they’d be basically starting over at tight end (Brandon Williams is also a tight end and rookie Nick Vannett played sparingly this season).
Another thing to consider is that the Seahawks don’t necessarily have to do anything — if Graham were to play out his contract and leave as a free agent a year from now, Seattle could potentially get as high as a third-round pick as compensation, assets the team values greatly.
Things should become clearer in March, but signs point to Graham being a Seahawk through at least 2017.