BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 03/14/2021

Thiel: Seahawks are boxed in off-season corner

Entering free agency, Seahawks have needs but few options. Haven’t drafted well lately either. Then again, trading partners have to strip down to fit in Wilson. Hmmm . . .

GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll don’t have a lot of tools to fix the Seahawks this season. /

NFL free agency begins informally Monday, and officially at 1 p.m. Wednesday, when the Seahawks bosses will find the walls closing in, desperate for an artist to draw a cartoon door to facilitate an escape.

So far this off-season, they have just four draft picks, a bit of free cash and the stares of the sports world upon them, seeking to know what they shall do about the demands from Russell Wilson.

There is an expectation that not much resolution will come about this week, at least in free agency. It is just the first of three roster-improvement milestones in the annual NFL 0ff-season calendar. The next is the draft April 29-May 1. Then follows the post-June 1 period, which is more of an accounting feature when various rules and tenders change under the salary cap.

Among other things, prior to June 1, any player removed from a team’s roster, either by release or trade, will have all his remaining salary cap allocations accelerate into the current league year. After June 1, the dead money can be spread between two seasons.

This is important regarding Wilson’s immediate future. Until June 1, any trade must put all his $39 million in dead money against the 2021 cap; after June 1, it drops to $13 million, and the $26 million balance pushes out to 2022.

What that means is the Seahawks, with Wilson and LB Bobby Wagner two of the highest paid at their positions, have little room at the moment to maneuver after an unexpectedly abrupt playoff exit from an “all-in” season.

The face-plant was made worse by a 2021 salary cap that had an eight percent decrease to $182.5 million, thanks to minimal ticket sales in a season compromised by COVID-19.

To explain how the Seahawks are cornered, here’s a quick review of the larger off-season moves.

Two offensive starters, TE Greg Olsen and LG Mike Iupati, retired. Two unused veterans, WR Josh Gordon and OL Chance Warmack, were released.

The club couldn’t reach an agreement to extend DE Carlos Dunlap, and he was released, to save his $14 million against the cap. He can be re-signed in free agency to a more cap-friendly deal, or the Seahawks can choose from a glut of rush ends expected to hit the market. The Seahawks knew he was probably a half-season hire when they traded for him, but now, amid other needs, they have to backfill for his notable production.

They chose not to franchise-tag any player, and have yet to re-sign key pending free agents, including LB K.J. Wright, CBs Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar, and RB Chris Carson. They also appear to be letting other free agents go to market: C Ethan Pocic, DE Benson Mayowa, LB Bruce Irvin, and DTs Damontre Moore and Jonathan Bullard.

Entering the final season of their contracts are two important defensive starters: DBs Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, who are well worth extending. Another starter who is a restricted free agent, DT Poona Ford — who made Pro Football Focus’s list of 101 top NFL players at No. 101 — probably will be kept, for a one-year cost of $3.3 million.

The Seahawks re-signed RB Alex Collins to a $1 million contract, also re-signed DT Bryan Mone and CB Ryan Neal, and offered a one-year tender to C Kyle Fuller.

All of these maneuvers have left the Seahawks entering the weekend with about $17.1 million under the cap (click on Field Yates’ tweet to view the complete list).

That doesn’t leave a lot of room to spend on high-priced free agents for the offensive line Wilson has criticized, in order to roll back his pouty lower lip.

The two considered the top tier in this OL class, C Corey Linsley from Green Bay and LG Joe Thuney from New England, appear to be out of reach. When it comes to reach in free agency, the Seahawks under Pete Carroll and Schneider have almost always had T-Rex arms.

In the Jan. 9 playoff game with the Rams, Wilson was sacked five times and hit 10 times. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

According to ESPN Stats and Research (h/t Brady Henderson), since 2016, the Seahawks rank 31st in total contract value given to external free agents. The top deal was in 2019 when they spent $9 million on DE Ziggy Ansah, who turned out to be too busted up to contribute. The Seahawks haven’t brought in an unrestricted free agent for more than $20 million in overall base value since 2011, when they made two good hires, WR Sidney Rice and TE Zach Miller.

So unless the Seahawks dump more players from a 12-4 team, it’s hard to see how they extend a few of their own and then add an expensive lineman — unless, as Gregg Bell of the News Tribune explained Saturday, they restructure Wilson’s contract to create more cap room.

They don’t even need Wilson’s permission.

Bell wrote that Wilson’s contract has a provision that permits the Seahawks to restructure it without his approval. That allows the team to convert some of Wilson’s base salary into bonus money to create cap room in 2021.

The device was used, with Wilson’s permission, in 2017 when the Seahawks traded for LT Duane Brown. In the last week, Tampa Bay did the same with Tom Brady’s contract, and Kansas City did the same with Patrick Mahomes’ contract.

There is a kick-the-can-down-the-road quality to the strategy, but if vaccinations prevail against COVID-19 by Labor Day, tickets again will be sold and  some revenues will be regained to boost the 2022 cap.

And Wilson could be made happier by sincere investment in the O-line.

Here’s another incentive to go bigger in free agency: Avoiding much reliance on the draft for roster upgrades.

An honest evaluation of recent drafts shows the Seahawks have not done well. Including pending free agents, the Seahawks in 2020 had only nine regular starters from the past five drafts:

2016 — DT Jarran Reed

2017 — Pocic, Griffin, Carson

2018 — TE Will Dissly, P Michael Dickson

2019 — DE L.J. Collier, WR DK Metcalf

2020 — RG Damien Lewis

They’ve drafted others who have been occasional starters: RB Rashaad Penny, WR David Moore, DE Rasheem Green, LB Jordyn Brooks, and DBs Tre Flowers, Ugo Amadi, Lano Hill and Marquise Blair. But nine regular starters from the five most recent drafts is not a show of acumen.

In those five seasons, the Seahawks have won two playoff games, both over mediocre teams: In 2016 season, 26-6 over 9-7 Detroit, and in 2019, 17-9 over 9-7 and much-injured Philadelphia.

Besides the freakish 10-9 win in sub-zero Minneapolis in 2015 on a missed chip shot field goal by Blair Walsh, the last big-deal playoff win remains the 2014 NFC Championship, a 28-22 overtime howler over the Packers that overcame four Wilson interceptions.

There is no direct correlation between mediocre drafts and playoff losses. Contributing causes are many and varied. But the current snapshot of draft mediocrity helps explain  how a 12-4 team that won the NFL’s toughest division can be boxed in, with no easy outs. And why Wilson is volunteering his help on player evaluation, just as are most of the folks reading this sentence.

Now that the Cowboys have extended QB Dak Prescott at four years and $160 million, the salary cap pressure is on the remaining teams on Wilson’s passive aggressive, I’m-not-asking-for-a-trade-but-just-in-case list to try to make room.

The three are among the 11 with the least cap room, including two of the three in the worst shape — the Saints ($33 million over) and the Bears ($25 million over). The Raiders are $12.2 million to the good, but now they have an unstable offensive line after trading free-agent bust RT Trent Brown last week to New England.

Team cap numbers will change some this week, but Wilson won’t be eager to go to a team that has to strip down to make cap room for his massive contract, because he wouldn’t be advancing his crusade to succeed Brady as the GOAT. He might discover that lots of teams have O-line problems, and all of them will be forced to make cuts and changes because of the shrunken cap.

The Seahawks’ spotty recent history in free agency in the draft is sufficient for Wilson to call out his bosses. But he’s had a part, too, in winning just two playoff games in the past five seasons.

The walls are closing in on Wilson as well as the Seahawks. A case can be made that they are each better off finding a way out together.


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  • 3 Lions

    Spot on.
    They have mismanaged there way into this situation. Win now trades and poor drafts have left them trending down in the division. They are gonna have to get creative to keep pace & become more than a perennial first/second round playoff loss team. Wilson will never get near the GOAT playing in Pete’s offense.

    • art thiel

      Since every team makes personnel mistakes, I would describe the Seahawks as having covered their mistakes longer and better than most. Much of that is a credit to Wilson. The new year is the most unknowable in NFL free agent history because the lowered cap is going to scramble every team’s roster in unprecedented ways.

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  • Kevin Lynch

    Wilson is a first ballot HOFer. But no one will catch Brady as the man with the greatest results at his position. Arguably, Manning had the best chance, playing on a team with mediocre defenses (until his final year) that had him throwing a great deal in a catch-up position. If Peyton had Montana’s running game and those 49er defenses his passing numbers would be way down.

    • art thiel

      Brady is a unicorn. Wilson needs to focus on being his best, and let the awards fall where they may.

    • eyeroq

      Manning was thought of as a master of the regular season and playoff choke artist his first 7 seasons so IMO he was never really in the conversation to catch Brady. But the league liked to play up their rivalry; Manning himself seemed to be obsessed with catching Tom even though he never came close.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Manning had a poor rookie season and followed that up by losing his first three playoff games. Some decided he was a choker. When proven otherwise, they didn’t wish to change their initial impression. Manning passed Brady in a series of important accomplishments, chief among them 4th quarter comebacks, still the NFL record. MVP’s? 5 to 3, favor of Manning. AFC title matchups with Tom? 2-1 in favor of Manning. They played 6 times against each other in the post-season and finished 3-3. The visiting QB never won. Since Peyton never had New England’s stout defenses or Belichik’s coaching a comparison between the two is probably onerous. But Tom is clearly the greatest champion.

  • jafabian

    Every team has a year where they have little to work with. It’s the economics of the NFL. If that team wants to avoid it they’ll need to do something drastic which the Rams did. Both Wilson and Wagner might be willing to restructure their contracts for the right player. But I don’t see how they can let Griffin and Pocic walk. The pass defense game became much improved when Griffin returned from injury along with Adams. They might be able to let Pocic go depending on the development of Damien Lewis and Phil Haynes but they need quantity as well as quality.

    Based on what they have to work with I’m wondering if Schneider and Carroll are willing to sacrifice the 2021 season for a hopefully successful 2022 where they currently have 7 draft picks but no first rounder due to the Adams trade. I’d like to see them bring back Justin Coleman though who is available.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think they will sacrifice 2021. It’s not in Carroll’s DNA. It was OK early in his tenure, not now.

      Lots of fans in lots of markets are going to be shocked at the quality of players that will be let go.

    • eyeroq

      If not Griffin and Pocic then who?

      Pocic was PFFs 27th ranked center last year. I don’t think he’s as good as you seem to think. Is Griffin really worth the fat contract extension that he’ll be expecting? I can’t see how the team can afford it.

      • jafabian

        If they let both walk they’ll most likely be replaced with a journeyman player or promoted from within. I haven’t seen anyone show that they’re ready and for a FA it will take a season to become familiar with their schemes. The Hawks have been spotty in their free agent evaluations so IMHO they should consider brining them back if the economics allow it. I’m betting they’ll let Wright walk because of players Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven.

      • Husky73

        I’ll bet that come opening game 2021, the Seahawks will have all 22 positions manned, with backups.

        • eyeroq

          Vegas would never take that bet.

          • Husky73

            It’s a sure thing.

          • eyeroq

            That’s why they’d never take it. The House doesn’t do losing bets unless it’s in their favor.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art – One thing for certain about Schneider is that he’s good at surprising everyone and is one of the best in making the most out of very little.

    I heard an interview with Cliff Avril on AM 710 this week (always great), and he’s convinced that the front office & Russell are in communication. That’s good, and also fine that Seahawks/Russell aren’t adding further comment, but public perception, gone rampid with the lack of sports news according to Avril, needs to be turned if the Seahawks have any hopes of landing a decent free agent. Who knows, maybe that’s not part of the big plan that Schneider & Coach Carroll are working on. You know they are aware of every option.

    • art thiel

      Avril probably is a good source. I suspect, but don’t know, that the Seahawks demanded silence from Wilson and his agent if anything is to get done. Going public really frosted the Seahawks.

  • woofer

    Restructuring Wilson’s contract now to create immediate improvement obviously comes at the cost of deferring salary into future years. Given the situation, that looks like a good idea to me. First, the Hawks are built to win now — the question is whether they can actually get over the hump. The commitment already has been made and future will need to take care of itself. Second, the cap reduction means that good free agents will cost less this year than in a normal year; a genuine limited time opportunity to maximize resources is there.

    If the pandemic recedes, the cap will increase again and salaries will soar. So I would squeeze as much cap space out Wilson’s contract as possible and conspicuously spend some of it on an offensive line upgrade that Wilson can appreciate. Whatever is left goes to the defensive line and maybe a tight end.

    • art thiel

      There’s a growing NFL trend to play to win now, and worry about cap consequences later. It’s also part of our national culture twisted by the pandemic.

      Regarding use of funds, they have two O-line vacancies that demand attention regardless of Wilson’s views. That allows the Seahawks to say without if/when Wilson returns, that they didn’t alter course because or his demands.

  • BB46

    We have been able to trade down in the draft to get more quantity but that was at the cost of quality. You can find good football players lower in the draft but far fewer “Difference makers”. Looks like this year we have neither quantity or quality high draft choices.
    The best athletes make the best football players and by the time we pick those top athletes will be heading to other teams. No real $$$ available to coax top free agents plus adding the R Wilson questions and that makes it even harder.

    I personally believe Both R Wilson and Hawks will talk and smooth everything out. At least good enough. Wilson will still want a better O line but probably not at the expense of his own top contract. Wilson knows the system. Knows the handy cap the Hawks are dealing with called the salary cap. He also knows his time gets shorter every year of service in the NFL and as said NFL stands for Not For Long.

    Schneider usually pulls off something that at times is amazing. If he finds some diamonds in the rough I believe Hawks coaching staff will get them productive as good or better than most. GO HAWKS

    • art thiel

      I’ve maintained that they will resolve matters for this season, but the creative tension will remain. The problem that’s been created is that most every loss or mistake, right or wrong, is going to be seen through the Wilson-Carroll filter. For those two, that’s going to get old — unless they go 12-4 again.

  • 1coolguy

    9 starters from the past 5 drafts – Maybe JS should punt, put aside all the stacks of analysis and go to the dart board – it would be a sure improvement.

    • art thiel

      Malik McDowell is the malady that lingers on.

  • Bruce McDermott

    Personally, I’m not convinced that Jamal Adams is “well worth extending,” given the price he will be demanding for that extension. It’s not clear to me how he fits in Pete’s defense, and specifically whether the rest of the secondary will be good enough to compensate for the way Pete was trying to use him last season. But he may be well worth trading, given the Hawks’ very poor draft position.

    • eyeroq

      It’s very clear to me what his role on the team is seeing as how he had a team high 9.5 sacks last year despite missing 4 games. With Dunlap gone where would you expect the pass rush to come from otherwise? Reed had three less sacks despite playing in every game.

      • Bruce McDermott

        He is not a good cover safety, at least so far. But he’s very good around the line of scrimmage. If you are going to scheme so that your SS is in the box a lot of the time, or at least blitzing from the backfield, the rest of your backfield has to be a well-oiled machine of very good players. That is not currently the case. Diggs is good, Reed looks like he might pan out on limited data. Flowers is not good. Blair we have to wait and see on. Amadi came on later in the season in the slot. Adams wants too much to be anything other than a do-everything-great safety. That’s one of the reasons he is careful to characterize himself as a “more than a safety.” He is much stronger than most safeties in some areas, definitely weaker in others.

  • Mark Stratton

    If I was Pete I’d be looking at a 2-3 year window for another title. That would indicate keeping Wilson and going all-all-all-in for the next 2-3 years. There’s a serious rebuild coming no matter what, and I doubt Pete will stick around for that. 2023-2025 could be miserable years for the Hawks

    • art thiel

      To borrow a cliche from another meaning, Carroll doesn’t do windows, That’s how the Seahawks have had so many winning seasons. This isn’t baseball, with those gawdawful 4-6 year buildups.

      • Husky73

        Interesting how the Cardinals, Dodgers and Yankees don’t seem to rebuild.

        • jafabian

          They do. But for them a .500 season is .400 or worse for everyone else.

  • Husky73

    The Seahawks are in the Stephen Stills position…..Love the one(s) your with.