Even if Russell Wilson doesn’t go anywhere this offseason, the Seattle Seahawks have several tough decisions on their plate. With nine starters set to leave in NFL Free Agency and no first-round pick after the trade for Jamal Adams, improving the roster may seem like a tall order. They enter the offseason with only about $4 million in cap space, based on the projected $182-$183 million salary cap. That number is deceptive, however, as the Seahawks have a simple method to increase that number: contract extensions.
Extending a player allows the team to convert a portion of their base salary into a signing bonus. That bonus can then be spread out to count against the cap in future seasons instead of the current year.
While that can hurt a team down the road, Seattle lacks the resources necessary to start a rebuild. They need to go all-in on 2021 and put together a team that can make a Super Bowl run. But who should stay and who should go?
Seahawks Extension Candidates
It won’t be clear who won the Jamal Adams trade until the Jets use the picks they received in return. What is clear is how well Adams fits into the Seahawks defense. He led the team with 9.5 sacks and 26 QB pressures while trailing only Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright in tackles with 83. Those numbers are especially impressive considering Adams played through multiple injuries that caused him to miss four games.
Given his talent and how much Seattle gave up to get him, an extension for Adams seems like an inevitability. It would take a reasonable $15 million annually to make him the league’s highest-paid safety. Doing so could save the Seahawks about $5 million in cap space, but the two sides are unlikely to come to an agreement anytime soon.
Adams is reportedly asking to be paid like a top edge rusher, given his pass-rushing prowess. That seems like a fair argument, but it conveniently ignores the fact that Adams struggled immensely in coverage last season. He allowed a completion percentage of 77.8%, 9.1 yards per target and an opposing QB rating of 104.7, good for worst, second-worst and fourth-worst on the team, respectively. Injuries certainly played a role, but those aren’t the kind of numbers you’d expect from an average safety, much less an elite one. If Adams is to be rewarded for his versatility, he also has to be penalized for his shortcomings.
Negotiations could last well into the offseason, but Seattle will want to settle before training camp to avoid a holdout. Still, a deal likely won’t come until after the draft, limiting the usefulness of those cap savings.
Russell Wilson might prefer a new lineman or two (or 10), but ensuring one of his favorite targets sticks around a few more years would be a nice first step toward repairing his relationship with the front office. Lockett is entering the final year of his deal with a cap hit of $14.95 million. Extending him could save around $7 million and would reward a player with over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns the last three seasons. It would only take a small raise of a couple million dollars (all things in perspective, dear reader) to get him from his current cap hit to his $17 million market value.
Lockett’s status as one of the Seahawks’ most appealing trade chips may stand in the way of this extension, as shedding his contract would instantly free up $12.7 million in cap space and could return a Day 2 draft pick. While that may be tempting, there isn’t an obvious candidate to replace Lockett already on the roster. They would have to use one of their few picks or go after an expensive free agent to address the position. The benefits wouldn’t outweigh the cost of crippling their offensive arsenal and further angering Wilson.
When the Seahawks handed Brown a three-year, $34.5 million contract extension following his trade from Houston in 2018, it made him just the 12th-highest paid offensive tackle in the league. He has since dropped to 17th while maintaining and even improving upon his elite level of play. He had as many accepted penalties last season (one) as emphatically spiked footballs.
As the only consistent producer on a much-maligned offensive line, Brown is due for a raise. Seattle may be hesitant to give him one, as he’ll turn 36 in August, but he hasn’t lost a step and has no heir apparent waiting in the wings. They could save $11.35 million by trading him, but a market may not materialize considering his age and salary. Doing so would also fly directly in the face of Wilson’s request for better protection. The Seahawks should give Brown another three-year extension, with no guaranteed money after the first year. They could then move on easily if his play drops off or he chooses to retire.
Carlos Dunlap injected new life into a floundering Seahawks defense after coming over in a midseason trade with Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he may be too pricey to keep around another year, at $14 million. An extension could clear about $6 million, but cutting or trading him would clear the whole figure with no dead cap hit. But is there enough talent left on the roster to fill the hole he’d leave behind?
The answer is a resounding maybe. L.J. Collier hasn’t yet justified his first-round selection, but did enough in his sophomore campaign to shed the “bust” label. Rookie fifth rounder Alton Robinson looked promising, racking up 4.0 sacks despite playing just 29% of the team’s defensive snaps. Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin are free agents, but could return on much cheaper contracts than Dunlap’s. All offer value, but none can be relied upon to replace Dunlap’s production on their own.
The name to watch is Darrell Taylor, last year’s second round pick. The organization is optimistic about his potential, but he missed his entire rookie season with a shin injury. When healthy, he can play the same LEO position as Dunlap at a fraction of the cost. If Taylor is ready to contribute right away, the team can consider moving Dunlap. If not, a contract extension similar to Brown’s makes the most sense for the Seahawks.
Jarran Reed broke out in 2018 with 50 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 24 QB hits from his defensive tackle position. The Seahawks rewarded him with a $23 million contract extension, which he hasn’t quite lived up to since. He served a six-game suspension in 2019 for a domestic violence incident and struggled upon his return. Though he bounced back in 2020, delivering fair value on his $9.35 million cap hit, that number will rise to almost $14 million in 2021.
While the Seahawks could save about $4 million with an extension, doing so would mean continuing to pay Reed based on a one-year sample he hasn’t proven capable of matching. If Poona Ford returns on a restricted free agent tender as expected, Seattle can live with losing Reed. Finding a trade partner may be difficult due to his contract, but it would save the Seahawks $9 million.
Others of note
Safety Quandre Diggs and punter Michael Dickson are also entering their final contract years after Pro Bowl seasons. Neither’s 2021 salary is large enough to make much difference, as extending both would clear only $3 million at most. Diggs could also be a trade candidate, as he’d free up $6.1 million and a starting role for Marquise Blair.
Less than a month remains until the start of free agency on March 17th. The Seahawks need to create cap space before then to have any chance of bringing back key free agents like K.J. Wright or Shaquill Griffin, much less make a run at any of the top offensive linemen. Unless a blockbuster trade is in the works, it’s time to get to work on some extensions.