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Expiring Contracts Primer: Who will be retained and who will walk among the Seahawks’ UFAs

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The Seahawks have some difficult decisions to make ahead of free agency in March—with ample cap space, who will get a new contract?

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks have some big decisions to make before the 2019 season opens. Not only does budding star Frank Clark need a new contract, but building blocks Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner will have extensions in mind. The Seahawks have a tad under $55M in cap space, so GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll should have the wiggle room to construct the roster as they see fit this offseason.

Though Wagner and Wilson are the two most important pieces on the roster, for now, the focus remains on those approaching free agency in March. There are 14 players on Seattle’s roster who are on expiring deals (per Over the Cap), and those players are: Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright, Justin Coleman, Shamar Stephen, Sebastian Janikowski, Dion Jordan, Neiko Thorpe, J.R. Sweezy, D.J. Fluker, Mike Davis, Frank Clark, Mychal Kendricks, Maurice Alexander and Brett Hundley.

There’s a trio of players who, for this exercise, will be presumed as gone or not in the Seahawks’ plans: Earl Thomas, Sebastian Janikowski and Mychal Kendricks. Thomas is self-explanatory, Janikowski is heading into his age-41 season and coming off an average year, and Kendrickssentence being delayed all but ends his hopes of playing in 2019.

A fourth player, Clark, will also be excluded from this exercise. Whether it’s the franchise tag or an extension, Clark is not going anywhere this offseason.

That leaves us with 10 players, who will be split into three groups: Likely to be retained, unlikely to be retained, and anyone’s best guess. Let’s get into it:

Likely to be retained

Justin Coleman

A preseason trade for Coleman prior to the 2017 season bailed Seattle out as Jeremy Lane devolved from bad contract to liability. Since making the nickel spot his own, Coleman has looked like the Seahawks’ best corner at times, particularly early in the 2018 season.

Coleman’s playing time went up-and-down over the final stretch of 2018, as Pete Carroll and Seattle experimented with big nickel looks, giving Delano Hill some of Coleman’s snaps. Nickel corners are starters in the modern NFL, and need to be valued as such. Carroll has identified his two cornerstones on the outside, and should make sure the trio is rounded out with Coleman.

Approximate deal: In October, I wrote about an extension for Coleman in regards to the bar being set for a nickel corner by Bobby McCain’s new contract at $6.75M per year, with $13M guaranteed. Since then, the Dolphins deployed McCain as an outside corner, perhaps why he set such a high standard prior to the season. A deal in the $4.5M-$6M range for Coleman seem right.

Neiko Thorpe

The Seahawks’ special teams captain battled injuries all season, but made his biggest play of the season—while injured—in the Wild Card round.

Carroll and Seattle give special teams as much respect as any franchise outside of the Patriots, and without much of a market for Thorpe, he should be retained.

Approximate deal: After establishing himself as a core special teamer with the Seahawks, Thorpe signed a two-year, $3.5M deal during the 2017 offseason. Unlikely to ever establish himself on defense, Thorpe should earn close to that on a new deal.

D.J. Fluker

For a while, it seemed as though Fluker was going to price himself out of Seattle’s future, as he began the season playing great football. Then, injuries and strong play from Jordan Simmons in relief made it seem as though Fluker wouldn’t be in their plans for a completely different reason.

By season’s end, it seemed as though Fluker’s stock had settled about where it was prior to the season—aided by the way in which Carroll spoke of his fit within the culture. A favorite of Mike Solari’s, and a proper Seahawk, Fluker should be brought back.

Approximate deal: Fluker played in 2018 on a one-year deal with a cap hit just over $1.3M. With his fit and value more clear, Fluker should see a bump in average per year, and contract length. Three years—taking him to age 30—with an APY in the $2.5M-$4M range would be a good deal for player and team.

J.R. Sweezy

Brought back in training camp following his release from the Buccaneers, Sweezy not only made the team despite being injured throughout August, but started 15 games. Sweezy has already received his big payday in the NFL, and is back in a place where he’s comfortable. I would imagine he’s eager to stay put.

Approximate deal: Assuming both player and team are happy to run it back another season, Sweezy could return on a deal similar to the one he played under in 2018: $1.5M with incentives that could push it to $2M.

Brett Hundley

Seattle dealt a sixth-round selection for the former Packers backup, after both Austin Davis and Alex McGough failed to impress in preseason. Hundley didn’t do anything to create a market for himself in free agency, and having dealt a pick for him, one would imagine the Seahawks would like to bring him back—at least to compete with Paxton Lynch and give themselves a couple options behind Russell Wilson.

Approximate deal: Hundley was paid a modest $705,000 last season as Wilson’s backup. If Hundley returns in 2019, it will be at a cap charge below $1M, and it will be without guarantees.

Unlikely to be retained

Shamar Stephen

When covering Seattle’s UDFA class last spring, I expressed my expectation for Stephen to be beaten out by Poona Ford for a roster spot. Both ended up on the roster, with Tom Johnson the (eventual) odd man out. Stephen was serviceable and Carroll spoke highly of him, but the sentiment from last spring remains: Stephen was a stop-gap solution, and Ford is more than capable of filling that role now.

It’s certainly possible Stephen returns to provide depth at defensive tackle, but the Seahawks should look elsewhere for that depth. Stephen was paid a hair over $2M last season—Seattle can find his contributions for cheaper in the draft or rookie free agency.

Dion Jordan

The Seahawks were counting on Jordan to repeat his pleasantly surprising 2017 in 2018, and he was unable to do so. Injuries once again reared their ugly head, with Jordan missing all of preseason and four regular season games. In 12 games, Jordan collected just 1.5 sacks. Like Stephen, it’s possible Jordan is brought back for depth—or as a camp body—but I would expect for his roster spot to go to a legitimate contributor.

Mike Davis

Credit where credit is due: Davis rose above a crowded backfield to be an asset to Seattle in 2018, filling the 3rd down role and as a reliever on early downs. However, with Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson firmly in the team’s plans, Davis would be returning to the Seahawks as the clear third choice—after his best season to date, would he accept that, or would he look for an expanded role elsewhere? I would imagine the latter.

Maurice Alexander

Following an injury riddled August, Alexander was brought back to Seattle in October after being released during final cuts. Alexander never really carved out a place on the roster, with fellow safety Shalom Luani arriving via trade following Alexander’s release. (Alexander dressed for nine games; Luani 12). Luani, an exclusive rights free agent, will likely be brought back at a lower cost. Alexander may be brought back as a camp body with no guarantees on his deal, but not before he’s allowed to test free agency.

Anyone’s best guess

K.J. Wright

Bobby Wagner has made it clear he wants his running mate to return to the Seahawks in 2019. Wright made it clear with his play from Week 16 onwards, he has something left in the tank. Whether that leads to Seattle’s longest tenured player being given a third contract remains to be seen.

Wright is entering his age-30 season and coming off a deal which paid him $6.75M APY. While there is no clear successor on the roster, the Seahawks should continue to search for one this offseason, and have expressed to Shaquem Griffin an expanded role is on the horizon. That could mean Wright isn’t in the team’s plans at all, or that he could be, at the right price for a year or two.

If Wright were to return, he would surely need to take a pay cut from his previous deal. A one- or two-year deal around $5M per year, with guarantees only in the first year, would be a good deal for Seattle. It would afford them more time to find Wright’s eventual replacement, and give Wright a chance to put a healthy season together as he pushes for a final sizable contract.

The biggest priority for the Seahawks this offseason is finalizing an extension for Clark, and that will surely get wrapped up before free agency opens. After that, Seattle will have some challenging decisions to make, but more than enough cap space to make them.