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NFL Free Agency: A 'stingy season for one of the best free agent classes ever'

Mike Ehrmann

I have been really meaning to do a complete, in-depth write up on the available free agents out there this offseason - a fairly talented and young group that hits the market on March 12 - but I just honestly haven't been able to muster the motivation at this point because, frankly, I don't see Seattle becoming a major player this year. I am still going to write one this week, I hope, but I don't see the Seahawks making a big splash, certainly not at the wide receiver position, and I've all but come to the conclusion that zero big-name skill players will be added on offense. There's simply too much money on that side of the ball right now, even if Matt Flynn and his contract are traded.

Granted, I could see one 'splashy' pick-up on defense if the markets for Henry Melton, Michael Johnson, Randy Starks, Desmond Bryant or Paul Kruger all but dry up and offer better-than-expected value (like what happened with Matt Flynn), but I could also see Melton, Johnson, and Starks get franchised or re-signed, leaving Bryant and/or Kruger as the top DL talent, creating a bidding war that gets out of hand.

More realistically, and this is what I plan on scouting this week, I could see Seattle addressing the depth issues on the defensive line with a lower-level signing or two - maybe a Richard Seymour, a Sedrick Ellis, Fili Moala, Ricky Jean Francois, Glen Dorsey, or maybe an Osi Umenyiora, Frosty Rucker, Matt Shaunessey or Dwight Freeney, but only if the price is low and the situation conducive to value - i.e., incentive laden team-friendly deals for a guy or two that want to come to Seattle and win.

One player that I find super intriguing to take the place of a likely-departing Alan Branch is former Detroit Lion Sammie Lee Hill, who at 26 hits the free agent market looking for a starting job after sitting behind Ndomukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and that ridiculously talented Detroit DL for the past couple of seasons. Hill could come in, compete with and push Jaye Howard and any upcoming DT Draft picks for that starting 3-tech job, and provide some insurance in case Howard and said picks aren't yet ready. He'll probably be fairly affordable.

I also like the idea of possibly re-signing Jason Jones to a more affordable contract, assuming he's not likely to get a big offer, and there are a few free agent linebackers out there (Keith Rivers, Kaluka Maiava) that I would sign to affordable contracts to come in and compete for depth and/or that starting position at WLB. I'll get to all this, but the bottom line is that I don't really expect any big name acquisitions, only role-playing, cheap vets.

Backing up my gut on all this, today, was a quote from Peter King that somewhat soothes my lackadaisical approach to this free agent market. King is a relatively close acquaintance to John Schneider (they went to a U2 concert together and it was magical) and wrote this afternoon that he expects "this to be a stingy season for one of the best free agent classes ever." He gave three reasons, the first of which was:

1. The new young class of general managers are far more interested in building through the draft than with their checkbooks. Consider this point from one such young-turk general manager of a team that in the past has spent generously in the March free-agent market: "I'm more concerned with keeping our own team intact than spending money on players we could use, but who would create problems of their own." Although this team needs a wide receiver and pass rusher, this general manager fears the impact of high-priced imports on his locker room at a time when he's not going to be able to pay everyone big money.

Now. It's possible King is not talking about John Schneider. He could be talking about someone else (that's totally John Schneider, off the cuff in his southern twang and affable disposition). Maybe it's not him, but the thinly-veiled clues and quote pretty much perfectly describe and sound like the Seahawks' 'young-turk' GM and his team's 'needs' situation.

Schneider has been on record since the day he started in Seattle that he'd be working toward a point several years in where the Seahawks could 'keep everything in-house' when it comes to personnel, and build and replenish through the Draft. Free agents are risky, can have negative effects on the locker room, and most importantly, are expensive.

King's second point is a pertinent one as well:

2. The flat cap is dictating many decisions. NFL teams have been told to expect a cap of around $121 to $122 million over the next two years, with marginal increases after that, beginning in 2015. And so smart teams snug to the cap -- Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta, the Giants -- will lead the way by not jumping out in the early days of the market for any player other than a reasonably priced one. "More than anything this year, I believe you will see teams saying, 'patience is a virtue,'" one general manager said over the weekend. That means that the secondary market, which usually occurs about two weeks after free agency begins in mid-March, will be a busier time than the early days of free agency.

King's third point is that Washington and Dallas, two teams that typically get involved in the free agency market, are not likely able to do so this year, due to their huge cap penalties from last year.

Now, maybe this is all smoke and mirrors. Maybe ole' JS is just hoping people recognize him as the guy saying he's not going to spend this year in order to give Seattle some sort of competitive advantage (ok, maybe it's not Scheider, that's a possibility too).

It's possible we'll see Seattle active in the market, but with a flat cap, a bevy of budding superstars that will need to get paid in the upcoming years, and an already super-competitive roster, I just don't think Seattle needs to do anything drastic. Definitely not before the Draft, and probably not before training camp roster cut downs begin. If Seattle, at that point, still doesn't like their depth on the defensive line, you could see secondary market free agents brought in, cap and roster cuts brought in, and quite possibly, a trade or two conducted. That's just my gut, but it will be fun to see everything play out. That's why the NFL offseason is so interesting.