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Should Seahawks extend Justin Britt now or wait until 2018?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks drafted Justin Britt in the second round out of Missouri back in 2014. He signed a four-year, $3.5 million rookie contract and is entering his final season of that deal. Over the past three years, we've seen him play three different positions on the offensive line: right tackle, left guard, and center. His change in positions was questioned by many and some speculated that he might even be cut during the preseason if he continued to play poorly.

Well finally all of his hard work has paid off and out of those three positions, his best season came this year at center. Trusting ProFootballFocus, Britt was the 11th-best center in the NFL this year. His performance ranked him just slightly ahead of former Seahawks center Max Unger.

John Schneider and Pete Carroll have an important question to answer: Should they re-sign him this offseason or wait until his rookie deal is over to ink him to a long-term deal?

In my opinion, I think both parties would benefit in waiting until next offseason to negotiate a new contract. If Britt repeats his success from this season, the Seahawks should be more than happy to pay him as a top-10 player at the position.

According to OverTheCap, Seattle has just under $33 million in cap space this year and $47 million next year. They already locked up Michael Bennett during the season and out of their free agents, the only major ones are cornerback DeShawn Shead and tight end Luke Willson. Neither should command top free agent contracts based on their inconsistencies.

Going back to centers, the best two in the game are Dallas Cowboys' Travis Frederick and Atlanta Falcons' Alex Mack. Frederick makes $9.4 million/year, while Alex Mack makes $9 million/year. Both of their contracts are about 40% guaranteed. Obviously, Britt would need to dominate next season in order to earn anywhere near this type of contract, but I wanted to point them out to set an absolute maximum value. Max Unger, for example, makes $7.4 million/year, but has been much more consistent for both the Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints over his career.

With how inconsistent he has played throughout his career so far, I can't see them making him an offer more than $4 million/year. A recent contract that was signed on March 9th, 2016 was Tennessee Titans' Ben Jones. He makes $4.3 million/year over four years with about 40% guaranteed.

Signing something similar, or even slightly less, would place Britt at the top 12 paid centers in the NFL. While this low contract is appealing, it comes with the risk of him reverting back to his poor performances of his first two years in the NFL. If that happens, Seattle would be on the hook for another two seasons of guaranteed pay.

Say Schneider and Britt wait until next season to negotiate. There are two realistic scenarios I foresee: (1) He plays well again and earns a $6-7 million/year; or (2) he reverts and the Seahawks can let him walk in free agency or pay him minimally to retain his services.

Looking at these two situations more closely, I think if he plays well the team must re-sign him as an example of homegrown talent. This has been something Pete Carroll has stressed since he became the head coach.

If he plays poorly, Seattle can look for his replacement or they can sign him cheaply for veteran presence. From my perspective, since his cap hit is only $1.1 million next season, I am not in any rush to sign him long-term. Sure, you could save $2 million/year over the next four years (or $8 million total), but you could also be on the hook for $5 million plus in guaranteed money if he plays poorly.

Overall I don’t think the center position classifies as high priority over the offseason. As far as the rest of the offensive line, I will be mystified if the team continues to play both Garry Gilliam (impending free agent) and George Fant at the tackle positions. They signed J'Marcus Webb to a two-year, $5.75 million contract last offseason and then cut him before the season ended. This should not be surprising to anyone since he was never good with the Oakland Raiders either.

If Seattle wants to keep Germain Ifedi at right guard, and not move him to tackle, then a fix must come from free agency or the draft. If they decide to move him outside, they must consider looking for his replacement from outside of the organization because Rees Odhiambo did not play well in his first game at right guard.

In the meantime, Mark Glowinski may continue to benefit from there simply not being any better options on the roster or available in free agency without a very high price tag that may not justify the price difference/value difference. If they have to choose a position to pay an outside free agent for, it probably wouldn’t be a left guard, and if it was a guard, it might have to be someone who replaces Ifedi so he can push Gilliam for right tackle.

But one thing I don’t think they should do, is extend Britt. It’s too soon for that, and too risky.