Departures outstripped arrivals in the first day of NFL free agency, but the Seahawks’ long-term strategy pivots on keeping Earl Thomas signed and happy.
Most of us in these parts can cope with sprinkles, showers and steady rain. But the deluges that accompany thunderstorms elsewhere? No. Too much nature all at once. Old Testament-style weather doesn’t fit a tech city that naively assumes it’s in control of some things.
At least, that’s my analogy to explain how it seems at the moment to be a 12 after watching nine Seahawks shown the door over the past 10 days, including two longtime stalwarts for little to nothing in return: A dreary deluge.
The water level seems to have reached the collective lower lip, which trembles.
But until the list includes FS Earl Thomas, nobody’s drowning here. Having said that, feel free to indulge a rib-rattling cough.
CB Richard Sherman was cut for no compensation and signed with the 49ers. DE Michael Bennett was traded to the Eagles for little. TE Jimmy Graham (Packers) and WR Paul Richardson (Redskins) were free agents that the Seahawks chose not to afford. The Seahawks wanted to keep CB Deshawn Shead (Lions), but he escaped for a more lucrative deal. Two running backs, Thomas Rawls and Mike Davis, were restricted free agents released into free agency because they had no trade value.
DT Sheldon Richardson remains a free agent, as is CB Jeremy Lane, although news came Wednesday that he was signed up by King County Superior Court — for a March 26 date to discuss a DUI.
The commencement of NFL free agency Wednesday offered little immediate rescue for a constituency soaked with disappointing news.
The Seahawks did break a pattern of not making first-day additions by agreeing to a two-year deal with one the best names in sports, DE Barkevious Mingo. He will join his fourth team in four seasons (he started six times for the Colts in 2017) to add defensive line depth, or maybe he’ll stand up and be a linebacker.
The Seahawks did re-sign three of their own free agents whose contributions were somewhat under the radar but still valuable: Defensive backs Bradley McDougald and Justin Coleman — both were part-time starters who were new last season — and DE Dion Jordan, who was a bit of a revelation as a pass rusher in the final five games.
Looming over this bewilderment of comings and mostly goings was Thomas, the last Legionnaire standing from the Boom days.
He’s not a free agent. But he is the pivot point.
After the departure of Sherman and perhaps a career-ending injury to Kam Chancellor, Thomas looms as the guy holding together the back end of the defense, the most important element of a Pete Carroll team.
He is upon his final contract year, making $10.4 million. He’ll be 29, remains healthy and still at the top of the list of premier safeties in the NFL. He has said during and after the season he wants to be paid like it in a multi-year extension. At the moment, Kansas City’s Eric Berry is the highest-paid safety at $13 million annually.
A report Wednesday from a Dallas media outlet said the Cowboys, whom Thomas told in December to “come get me,” made an inquiry. The Seahawks reportedly wanted the Cowboys’ first-round draft pick, 19th overall. But that’s not going to happen with a single year remaining before Thomas can be a free agent.
If the Seahawks don’t change their minds, logic says that much of the shedding of Seattle salaries going on right now is to help create room under the salary cap to attempt to extend Thomas’s deal, then do the same for a key player on the offense, LT Duane Brown. There’s speculation that a commitment was made to Brown, who gets $9.75 million in his final contract year, as part of the deal that brought him in trade from Houston in exchange for a second-round pick (2019) and a third-round pick (2018).
If the savings from the current purge goes largely to pay Thomas and Brown, the remaining amount available under the cap isn’t likely to allow the Seahawks to be big players in the free agent market. And they’ve already nibbled at that with $6.8 million to Mingo.
But the virtue here is that Thomas and Brown are healthy, premier talents known to the Seahawks, which seems at this point a better outcome than investing in another round of cheaper, damaged goods such as Eddie Lacy and Luke Joeckel from a year ago.
Regarding the lack of return on the departing talent, it is a fact of NFL life that the Seahawks have largely postponed in the Carroll era. Some fans may be new to this thrilling walk along the cliff’s edge, but the cruelty of the NFL’s hard salary cap often leaves no better route.
A quick glance around the NFL lately discloses a number of familiar names who, as with Sherman, were jettisoned for no return: DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Danny Amendola, WR Jeremy Maclin, CB Tyrann Mathieu, TE Eric Ebron, TE Julius Thomas, WR Jordy Nelson, RB Jonathan Stewart, RB DeMarco Murray, for starters.
The retort of “everybody else does it” will not satisfy the battalions of Sherman fans any more than it does a parent when her kid breaks a window with a rock. But Sherman’s contract and injuries pushed him toward the door, and the Seahawks would have been foolish long-term to do anything but bid him farewell.
Still, the departure put an additional premium on the value of Thomas. So if the next few days, you see Thomas pulling on another team’s jersey, feel free to pull on a life preserver and keep track of the shoreline.