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Seahawks Mailbag: Free agency, The NFL's Salary Cap Crunch & More

You had Seahawks questions; we have answers. 

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The NFL's new league year starts in one week, which means the start of free agency. And with that in mind, it's time once again to answer questions from you, the fans. As always, thank you to everyone who asked questions this week, and apologies if I couldn't get to yours this time around.

Karen Gilmore from Logan Lake, British Columbia asks, "With so many players becoming unrestricted free agents, why do the Seahawks still not have much salary cap space? I can't imagine it's all because of COVID-19 and the reduced salary cap."

A: In general, the Seahawks have been a team that uses most if not all of their cap space every year—good teams tend to spend their money to stay competitive, especially teams with top-tier quarterbacks who (deservedly) take up a lot of the salary cap—so that's a good place to start in this conversation. The Seahawks just haven't been a team with a ton of money to throw around in free agency most years, especially once they started paying second and third contracts to players who earned them with their play early in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era. 

This year in particular, however, the Seahawks are up against it when it comes to the cap—a big factor in releasing Carlos Dunlap II earlier this week—but they're hardly alone. Because teams were playing in empty or partly full stadiums all year, revenue was down league-wide, and as a result, the salary cap dropped from more than $198 million in 2020 to $182.5 million for this coming season. A drop of nearly $16 million would be significant on its own, but it's worth remembering that when teams are signing players to multi-year deals, they're projecting several years ahead, meaning the Seahawks and other teams were thinking, prior to COVID-19, that the cap would have gone up in 2021 (the cap has gone up $10 million or so a year, give or take a couple million, for almost a decade since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement). So as teams, the Seahawks included, were structuring contracts and making roster decisions in 2018 and 2019, they were likely thinking the 2021 cap would likely fall somewhere in the $210 million range, but instead it's nearly $30 million below that, meaning a ton of teams, not just the Seahawks are tight on money heading into free agency unless they make moves to free up space. 

And that brings us to...

Justin Fleming from Vancouver, B.C. asks, "Why have we seen zero action in the Emerald City? Why aren't the Seahawks actively restructuring contracts like other teams are doing?" @King_Khan206 also asks about the Seahawks not having made any moves to extend or restructure players' contracts.

A: The short answer is, because they don't have to yet. Yes, the Seahawks can and very likely will free up some cap space either by extending players who are heading into the final year of their contracts, or by restructuring deals, but there's still some time to do that, and for all we know they're working on it now and those deals will happen at some point. And it's also worth noting that restructures, unlike free agent signings, cuts, trades, etc. don't show up on the league transaction notices that are made public, so if a front office is good and keeping things in house, which Seattle's is, news of restructures doesn't always come out right away. There have been at least a few occasions over the years where Seattle players have quietly redone their deals to free up a little cap room, and news of those restructures has only come out weeks or months after the fact. I don't know anything—all of that is way above my paygrade—but just because you haven't heard about restructures being done, that doesn't mean any haven't.

And as for contract extensions, every year is different and this one is certainly unique, but in most cases the Seahawks have waited to do those until later in the spring or even into the summer. Yes, Russell Wilson's last extension came in April after he and his camp set a deadline to get it done, but more often than not, the Seahawks have waited until later so their focus could be on free agency and the draft before moving on to players who still had a year left on their deals.

On a related note…

@DairyLifesavers asks, "Do the Seahawks have enough cap space to really make any significant moves in free agency?"

A: Releasing Dunlap freed up some space, but it also weakened the Seahawks' pass rush so that's now a position they very well could look to address in free agency. If you're talking about making a bunch of moves and/or one or two big splashy signings on the first day or two of free agency, they'll likely need to free up more space via the aforementioned restructures/extensions, or by releasing other players. 

Under Carroll and Schneider, The Seahawks generally have not been a team to get into bidding wars and spend a bunch early in free agency, but should they identify a player or two they just have to have, then no, they probably aren't done creating cap space. 

And while the Seahawks will likely still have to create more cap space at some point, it's also worth noting that teams might not have to spend big to sign multiple impact players this offseason. With the cap going down, teams around the league have had to release quality players over the past couple weeks, and will continue to do so. That's going to lead to a somewhat saturated market, and there could be some real bargains out there, particularly on one-year deals for players who are looking to get back into free agency next year when the cap should go back up.

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@tompage asks, "With the starting cornerbacks hitting free agency next week, how does the cornerback position sort itself out?"

A: As this question references, both Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar are set to become unrestricted free agents in a week, making cornerback a big question mark for the Seahawks. While Carroll has said he'd like to have both players back, re-signing both could be tricky for a team with limited cap resources, especially Griffin, a one-time Pro-Bowler who is one of the top free agent corners on the market. 

The good news for Seattle is that they'll have D.J. Reed and Tre Flowers back, so that's two players with starting experience before they've added anyone in free agency or the draft. Reed played very well after taking over a starting role last season, and it's worth remembering that Flowers was playing some of the best football of his career midway through the season before a hamstring injury sidelined him for several weeks, so the Seahawks have two candidates for starting roles regardless of what happens in free agency. But if Griffin or Dunbar sign elsewhere, it's safe bet that the Seahawks will look to add a player or two who can compete with Reed and Flowers for starting jobs.

@HolliWinters asks, "Do you think the Seahawks trade someone to add draft picks?"

A: The Seahawks have only four picks heading into this year's draft, a number Schneider and company would love to see increase, so I don't think we can rule anything out, trades included. That doesn't necessarily mean a big deal such as the 2019 trade that sent Frank Clark to Kansas City for multiple picks, including a first-rounder, but the possibility always exists that the Seahawks like their depth at a particular position enough to move a player if the price is right.

@mr_gohawks asks, "Are we going to get us some offensive linemen or running backs?"

A: If you're asking will the Seahawks add any linemen or running backs between now and the start of the season, then the answer is almost 100 percent that they will, be it through free agency, the draft or undrafted rookie free-agent signings. Now, if you're asking will they be adding players who will be starting for them next year, that could very well depend on what happens with some of their own free agents.

The Seahawks are at the very least in the market for a new left guard since Mike Iupati is retiring—though they have several in-house candidates who can compete for that spot, including Jordan Simmons, who started six games there last year—but could need a new center as well with Ethan Pocic headed towards free agency.

Carroll said in his end-of-season press conference that he wants to bolster the interior line, so that very well could be a position they attack in free agency and/or the draft, but that will become an even more pressing goal should Pocic sign elsewhere.

At running back, a lot will hinge on what happens with Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde in free agency. If one or both leave, the Seahawks very well could look for Rashaad Penny to take over the starting role, but they'd still need to add more depth there to go along with DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer and Alex Collins, given the physical nature of the position. Again, I think it's safe to assume depth will be added in some capacity no matter what happens, but should Carson and/or Hyde leave, it will become that much more important that the Seahawks get deeper there.

Don Cassady of Sallisaw, Oklahoma asks, "Damien Lewis played one game at center and did well. If Ethan Pocic signs elsewhere, is there a chance they move Lewis to center full time?"

A: Lewis filling in at a position he had never played was certainly admirable and spoke to the rookie's football intelligence, but I think the Seahawks see his future at guard. Lewis played very well at right guard in 2020, making the Pro Football Writers of America's All-Rookie team, so my hunch is the Seahawks will look to add to the competition at center and leave Lewis where he thrived in 2020.

@Chad_Whyte asks, "What are the plans for reinforcing the O-line to protect the franchise?"

A: As mentioned earlier, Carroll referenced the interior line in his end-of-season comments, so even if Pocic were to re-sign, I'd imagine the Seahawks will want to add competition at center and find a quality option or two to compete at left guard with players currently on the roster. And while the Seahawks got really strong tackle play out of Duane Brown and Brandon Shell last season, they'll need to add depth there as well, particularly if Cedric Ogbuehi were to sign elsewhere in free agency. We'll have to see if the Seahawks sign players in free agency next week or use draft picks there in April, but my hunch is it will be a combination of both when it comes to bolstering the line.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf caught 10 touchdown passes, along with two in the playoffs, as part of a historic season that saw him set the franchise mark for receiving yards with 1,303. Here is one photo from each of those 12 touchdown catches.

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