OK, so I’m not Joe Salary Cap Guy over here, so a lot of this stuff is going to be pretty general, based off of numbers I’m pulling from Over The Cap. Anecdotally, the 2016 salary cap figures to be closer to $154 million, so that’s the number I’m going to play with when discussing the Seahawks.
Per Over The Cap, including all Dead Money, the Seahawks have $123 million already on the books for 2016, leaving around $31 million to play with. This is a pretty decent amount of money, but as we looked into yesterday, there are a lot of contracts coming off the books, and a lot of decisions to make regarding our own free agents. If we just take, for example, a few core starters who are free agents: Okung, Sweezy, Kearse, Mebane, Irvin, Rubin, and Lane, you could see that $31 million disappear pretty damn quick.
Okung was already a high salary guy to begin with, earning around $8 million a year; in spite of his injury concerns, he’s proven to be a pretty talented left tackle in a league DESPERATE for left tackles. He’s also got a pretty good amount of leverage against the Seahawks because he’s easily the best offensive lineman on this roster, and with the Seahawks drafting in the mid-20s, it’s not likely there will be a left tackle in the draft who’s as capable, who would fall to them. So, the Seahawks would either need to meet his demands, or probably risk losing him to another team. Believe you me, there ARE teams out there who will drive up the bidding for a guy like Okung. There are LOTS of teams in the NFL with offensive line issues, and a short supply of proven left tackles. So, if you were thinking the Seahawks would force Okung into less money because of all his maladies, think again.
At this point, I’d let Okung walk, and I’ll tell you why. I think Garry Gilliam is a more natural left tackle than he is a right tackle. He may not be Walter Jones either, but at this point, with the way we run our offense, and ESPECIALLY with the way other teams try to defend Russell Wilson, I think our primary objective for 2016 needs to be boosting our talent level at the interior spots of the line. Call it the Aaron Donald Conundrum. When Russell Wilson struggles most is when he’s got interior linemen pushing the pocket straight back into him (or, of course, when guys just flat out run past Justin Britt without him even touching them). I would MUCH rather have three beasts at the guard & center positions, while sacrificing a little bit at our tackle spots, than the other way around. Why? Because more and more, teams are looking to keep Wilson in the pocket. So, their outside rushers aren’t doing much more than trying to contain Wilson and prevent him from spinning outside the pocket and making plays with his legs out in space. If they’re going to just give us a pocket to play with, then why not take advantage of that by making damn sure our interior linemen don’t continually fuck it up by allowing pressure straight up the middle every God damn other play?! He’s not Peyton Manning. This isn’t the movie The Blind Side. The left tackle is kind of overrated in this type of offense, with this type of mobile quarterback. And, as we’ve talked about a lot these last couple months, as Wilson improves as a pocket passer, he’s going to be running less as a result.
So, my first wish: let Okung walk, spend the money we’re saving on interior linemen.
Next on the list of core starting free agents: J.R. Sweezy. He’s a 4-year starter and has held up pretty well for the most part. No injury concerns here. He’s generally better than he gets credit for, but he’s also not without his faults. He was a net asset for this team because he was a 7th round pick, so he was earning next to nothing. Only in 2015 did he FINALLY get over the million dollar hump in salary, at $1.5 million, so obviously he’s due for a pretty significant raise (respective to what he’d been earning, of course). Again, I’m not Joe Salary Cap Guy, so I don’t necessarily have a good idea of what a guy like him would be worth on the open market, and I’m really grasping at straws when I throw out numbers. I’d say YES to bringing him back, with the caveat that it’s under a reasonable deal. What’s reasonable? Again, I have no idea. $4-$5 million per year? That feels right, but what do I know? I’ll say this: it would probably be foolish to blow up the entire offensive line; I don’t think you can find 4 other guys to come in here and dominate for you, without spending your entire cap space and/or trading away a bunch of draft picks. For the right price, Sweezy is worth keeping around. He knows the system, so if nothing else, he’d be an asset if the team moves on from Okung and moves Gilliam to the other side.
Second wish: bring Sweezy back on a friendly deal.
Let’s stick with the O-Line theme, since it’s the biggest issue facing this team in 2016. We need a new left guard, full stop. Justin Britt isn’t the man for the job. In an ideal world, the second coming of Steve Hutchinson will be out there as an unrestricted free agent for us to poach away from some unsuspecting team, but I don’t know who all the other free agents are. Obviously, you like building through the draft, but that doesn’t happen until the last week of April, and probably all the good free agents will be gone by then. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to spend whatever it takes: $8 million per year or more, if there’s an absolute superstar out there, to really lock down this spot.
Third wish: superstar free agent left guard.
Fourth wish: failing that, draft a superstar-in-waiting with our first round draft pick.
At center, I’m content to go with Patrick Lewis for another year. I can’t imagine his stock is all that high, and even so, he’s a restricted free agent, so odds are we’ll at least get him back on a 1-year deal. As I mentioned in a prior post this week, let’s bring Lewis back, make him our starter from Day 1 (assuming, of course, that he comes into camp healthy and in shape), but at the same time, draft the center of the future in one of the first four rounds (I hear this is a great draft class for centers, so we could be in good shape waiting a few rounds if need be).
Fifth wish: bring back Lewis on a 1-year deal, draft our center of the future & have him learn under Lewis.
At right tackle, if we’re moving Gilliam over to left, then I suppose I could be okay with moving Justin Britt back over to right, and having him compete with whoever. Low-end draft pick, guys on the practice squad, whatever. Again, I’m not too picky on who our tackles are, as long as we shore up the interior.
Sixth wish: Britt or whoever at right tackle; no need to work too hard to replace this spot.
With the O-Line set, let’s look at the rest of the offense. The biggest story, from a national perspective, is obviously: will Marshawn Lynch be back? I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this subject, as it’ll be a sad day when he’s finally out of here, but for now the question isn’t “will Marshawn Lynch be back”, but rather “WHEN will Marshawn Lynch be GONE?”
His release pushes $5 million into our Dead Money column, but as he was going to count $11.5 million against our cap, that’s a net savings of $6.5 million (if the Seahawks cut him after June 1st, which for the record, I doubt they’d do, we’d be able to spread that $5 million in dead money over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, meaning we’d have an extra $2.5 million – or $9 million total – to play around with for 2016 … something to keep in mind with him or any potential cuts). Let’s just say, we decide to pay homage to all the great service he’s done for us while in a Seahawks uniform, and we cut him sooner rather than later, to give him the biggest opportunity to maximize his contract with another team; that still gives us the $6.5 million I mentioned, pushing our over all cap room up to around $37.5 million or so. That’s not nothing.
While we’re talking about potential roster cuts, I’d just like to put my two cents in that I believe Lynch will be the only major casualty. Of our big money contracts in 2016 (besides Lynch), we’re looking at Wilson, Sherm, Earl, Graham, Bennett, Avril, Wright, Kam, Bobby, and Doug. In other words, our core guys. If you really wanted to grasp at straws, you could look at Graham and Kam. Graham is coming off of an injury, and poses no Dead Money issues if we let him go, so he’d save us a cool $9 million. But, I just don’t see it. We only had slightly more than half a season with him, he seemed to be getting more and more comfortable with the offense as the season progressed, and assuming he makes a full recovery, he’s still one of the best weapons we have and one of the top tight ends in the league. The only way I see us dropping Graham is if there’s another free agent receiver out there we want to try to overpay for, but I kinda doubt that’s going to happen.
As for Kam, the only way I see us cutting him is if we don’t want to deal with the potential headache of him holding out again, and/or he demands too much money in re-working his deal. For what it’s worth, I think the team will try to do a little something to juice his deal (maybe a million or two), but I could just as easily see the team dropping the hammer. Letting Kam go would free up $4.1 million, which is nice, but if it were up to me, I’d rather have Bam Bam back and happy again.
So, getting back to Lynch, with him gone we’re looking at $37.5 million in free money, some of which would ideally go towards re-signing Sweezy and bringing in a stud free agent left guard (among many other moves).
That leaves us with Thomas Rawls and his penny contract starting for us at running back. I wouldn’t mind the Seahawks using one of their later-round picks on a 3rd down, shifty scat-back in the Darren Sproles mold to pair with him. As for our #2 running back, I think it’d be awfully cool to bring Christine Michael back and let him get those old Robert Turbin carries (or, shit, if Turbin’s a free agent, maybe we look into bringing him back on a low-end deal, although I think that’s highly unlikely).
Seventh wish: cut Lynch (frowny face), make Rawls the starter, draft the next Sproles, re-sign Michael to be the #2.
At receiver, we’ve got Doug Baldwin going into the last year of his deal. I would be SUPER stoked if the Seahawks took this opportunity to lock him up to a long-term deal. His last deal was 3 years, $13 million, which I felt was great, but obviously he’s due a raise. Co-leading the league in touchdown receptions will automatically raise your stock (weird!). If I had to guess, I’d put him in the range of $6+ million per year, but under $8 million, or the Eric Decker range ($7.25 million per year). MAYBE you talk Baldwin into a bit of a discount, as he’s still got a year left under his current deal (set to earn $4 million in base salary), but I’d venture a guess that he gets Decker money regardless.
Eighth wish: extend Doug Baldwin for another 4-5 years.
Beyond that, we’re in good shape with cheap deals on Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett, Kevin Smith, and Kasen Williams. The only other decision is: do we re-sign Jermaine Kearse? Oddly enough, a good comp for him is that time we re-signed Doug Baldwin. Would you pay 3 years, $13 million for more Kearse? I think I would.
Ninth wish: bring back Kearse on a smallish deal.
No need to do anything fancy with the tight ends. Keep Graham, Willson, and whoever as our third guy.
Now, let’s look at the defense. Recall, the major defensive free agents are Mebane, Rubin, Irvin, and Lane. Mebane has made a healthy $4-$5.5 million per year over the last few years. While his 2014 was cut short by injury, he played in every game in 2015, and showed no signs of slowing down (albeit to my semi-untrained eye). He’s 31 years old, so odds are we’re not talking about a long term deal. I’d be okay with something in the range of 2 years and $10 million, with maybe a $5 million base salary in 2016 and a $2 million signing bonus (something like that, where his cap hit reduces as we go forward, in hopes of keeping him until he decides to retire). Rubin, meanwhile, is coming off of a year that saw him count less than $3 million against our cap, so he’ll be due a raise. How big remains to be seen. All the talk that I’ve heard is that we can’t afford to bring them both back, so if I can only have one, I choose Bane.
Tenth wish: re-sign Mebane, let Rubin go, replace Rubin with another cheap free agent, draft another run-stuffing defensive tackle in the early or middle rounds.
Next up is Bruce Irvin, and I honestly have no idea. He accounted for a little over $9 million total over the four years of his contract as a first round draft pick in the new CBA era. Given his production, he’s due a big, fat raise too. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what a guy like him earns on the open market. He’s not Von Miller (yet), so you’d be hard pressed to see him get top-of-the-line money. Nevertheless, pass rusher is a premium position in this league, and he’s accounted for 22 sacks over 4 years. But, he had 8 sacks in his rookie year, when he was exclusively a pass-rushing defensive end. Obviously, his skill set limits him in run defense, which limits his overall value, but it’s only natural to look at those 8 sacks in somewhat limited duty as a rookie, and start to drool at the potential of him as an every-down pass rusher. I’m generally in favor of keeping Irvin, as I’ve said repeatedly, I think his best days as a pass rusher are still in front of him, but I’m not in favor of keeping him at any price. Not when we’re paying Bobby Wagner among the top middle linebackers in the game, while at the same time paying K.J. Wright a good chunk of change too (he’ll be accounting for over $6 million in cap space going forward for the next three seasons).
Eleventh wish: re-sign Irvin, at a somewhat cost-effective price. Otherwise, replace him with someone like Mike Morgan, or a draft pick.
Then, there’s Jeremy Lane. So, let’s take this opportunity to talk about the secondary in general. We’ve got most of it locked down in Sherm, Earl, and Kam. Obviously, if the team parts with Kam (who didn’t do himself or the team any favors with his semi-down year in 2015; I can’t imagine his trade value has gone up all that much, if the team felt that to be an option), we need to replace him. Is that Kelcie McCray? Probably, but I’d also look to draft at that position just in case. As for Lane, I think he’ll be looking for starter’s money. And, to be quite honest, I think he’s earned it. That injury in the Super Bowl was the flukiest thing I’ve ever heard of. I mean, how do you do so much damage to so many body parts all on the same play? The fact that he recovered, returned in 2015, and played as well as he did, shows that he’s capable and ready to be an everyday player. Hopefully, what the Seahawks have figured out – in the wake of the Cary Williams debacle – is that we CAN’T just bring in any guy from the street and expect him to play like the Legion of Boom. Speaking of the devil, Williams signed a 3-year, $18 million deal to come to Seattle, with $7 million guaranteed ($3.5 million as a signing bonus, $3.5 million in base salary in 2015). Of our current dead money, he’s the primary reason for what we’re dealing with in 2016. Would 3 years and $18 million be enough to retain Jeremy Lane? Probably not. But, he’s also not going to command 4 years and $56 million like what Richard Sherman got; he’s obviously somewhere in the middle. What about 4 years and $30 million? Is Jeremy Lane worth $7.5 million per year?
I’m KINDA leaning towards Yes on this one. Let’s look at it this way: we don’t want another Cary Williams situation, so pretty much eliminate any big name (or semi-big name) on the free agent market. But, if Lane walks, we’re tangling with another pretty big hole in our secondary for the second straight year. We can assume DeShawn Shead returns, and would be the likely starter opposite Sherman, but then you gotta take a look at who’s behind Shead. Tharold Simon is an interesting name. He’s going into the final season of his rookie deal. Obviously, you like that, because you know he’s going to be super motivated. But, he’s proven in his first three years in the league, that he absolutely cannot stay healthy, at all. IDEALLY, if the team opts to let Lane walk, you’d start Shead, but then bump Shead inside to the slot receiver and have Simon play outside when we’re in our nickel defense. In this world, you have to feel pretty confident in Simon’s ability – when healthy – to give us the type of production we’ve come to expect out of the Legion of Boom.
When you go from there to look at our backups, you’re talking about guys like Burley, Terrell, and Seisay, who are all restricted free agents, and who all will most likely be back (at least through training camp and the pre-season). But, none of them are all that impressive, and none of them project to be starters. Then, there’s our rookie from 2015, Tye Smith, who the Seahawks managed to stash on the 53-man roster for the full year (because we didn’t want to risk losing him by putting him on the practice squad), but who essentially red shirted as a professional. So, obviously, the team likes him A LOT. I mean, to not even put him on the IR feels like a pretty rare thing for a championship-calibre team like the Seahawks, with as many issues as we had with injuries this season (at times, just BARELY filling out our 46-man gameday roster with healthy guys). Tye Smith figures to be a slot corner (with his size, at 6’0), but if he’s as talented as I think he MIGHT be, the sky could be the limit for him. It’s still unrealistic to see him starting in Game 1 of the 2016 season. But, if he pans out, that mitigates the damage of letting Jeremy Lane go. It also helps us going forward, if we happen to lose Shead and/or Simon going into the 2017 season.
BUT, if the Seahawks can find it in their budget to re-sign Lane (even at the seemingly excessive deal of $30 million over 4 years), just imagine what that does for us, depth-wise. We’d have the greatest collection of secondary depth since the 2013 season, for starters. Sherm, Lane, and Shead are all starting-quality players. Simon is too, when healthy, and if Tye pans out, you’re talking about five guys we can throw out there at any given point (giving us plenty of wiggle room for when Simon inevitably has to sit out).
So, I’m going to make my twelfth (!) wish: re-sign Jeremy Lane for a deal that’s considerably more than Cary Williams’, but considerably less than what Byron Maxwell got from the fuckin’ Eagles.
The cool thing about this Seahawks team is that it feels more set than ever, so there’s no need to do a lot of crazy things in free agency or trades. Our biggest need is offensive line, so a high-priced free agent at guard should be our top priority. Beyond that, it’s a matter of paying our own guys who deserve to return (Lane, Mebane, Kearse, Sweezy, maybe Irvin), letting the guys go who probably don’t deserve huge salaries (Okung, Lynch, Rubin, maybe Irvin), and locking down Baldwin a year early to make him a Seahawk for life. Again, to reiterate my wishlist:
- Let Okung go, move Gilliam to left tackle
- Bring back Sweezy
- Sign a stud free agent left guard
- Or, draft a stud left guard with the first round pick (or, shit, why not both?)
- Bring back Lewis, while also drafting a center of the future in the middle rounds
- Move Britt back to right tackle, make him compete with other cheap guys
- Cut Lynch, make Rawls the starter, bring back Michael for #2, draft a quick, pass-catching 3rd down back
- Extend Doug Baldwin on a 4-5 year deal
- Re-sign Kearse to a 3-year, $13 million deal
- Re-sign Mebane, let Rubin go, replace him with another cheap DT, draft a DT in the early-to-middle rounds
- Re-sign Irvin for a reasonable amount, or don’t and spread his savings elsewhere
- Re-sign Lane, 4 years, $30 million-ish range
I don’t know if all of this is possible, under salary cap structures in place, so feel free to pick it apart all you want. While you’re at it, pick apart all my other hare-brained ideas, what do I care?