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Seahawks nickel back Justin Coleman set to cash in

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

With Tuesday having been the fifth of March, the offseason of the Seattle Seahawks has reached two months of age. To this point the majority of the discussion regarding impending free agents has been centered on many of the big name players set to test the free agent market when it opens next Wednesday. With big name defensive starters like Frank Clark, Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright hogging the headlines, one member of the Seahawks has slipped largely under the radar, and that’s nickel corner Justin Coleman.

Coleman, of course, was acquired on the eve of the 2017 season as the New England Patriots were looking to make sure they could retain their younger defensive backs, while the Seahawks have a habit of acquiring defensive backs at the end of training camp. Coleman joined end of training camp defensive backfield acquisitions like Kelcie McCray and Marcus Burley, but has enjoyed a level of success far beyond any other defensive back added just prior to the start of the season.

For the last two seasons Coleman has kept the nickel defensive back role on lockdown, playing over 1,300 defensive snaps and adding another 453 special teams snaps. He did that while making a combined $3.529M during those seasons combined, and he now stands to make far, far more than that when the market opens next week. Just as I’ve looked at what the market could be for players like George Fant or what Germain Ifedi might command going forward, the market for competent nickel cornerbacks has been set in recent weeks.

This is important for Coleman, who NFL.com lists as the number 56 most attractive free agent (excluding players who have been franchised tagged). In addition, as NFL.com notes in their list of the top 100 free agents, because nickel defense is the base defense for most NFL teams, nickel corners are effectively starters.

It was just two weeks ago Wednesday, and three weeks prior to the start of free agency, that the Baltimore Ravens set the nickel corner market when they signed Tavon Young to a three year contract extension worth $25.8M. That’s an APY of $8.6M, and Coleman has the potential to earn more for a couple of reasons.

The first reason that Coleman could earn more than Young’s $8.6M APY is that Young still had a year remaining on his contract. Thus, Young potentially accepted a deal that was for a lower amount than what he might have earned on the open market in exchange for the ability to forego the risk of getting injured during the 2019 season and not hitting the market with full force next spring.

That is a very real risk for players, as DeShawn Shead unfortunately learned with less than thirty minutes of playing time standing between himself and restricted free agency in the 2016 playoffs. Any dreams of a huge payday, however, were dashed by a torn ACL in the third quarter of the divisional round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Add in the fact that Young knows this risk firsthand following his own ACL tear during OTAs in June 2017, and it’s understandable why he’d take $13M in full guarantees in exchange rather than risk staying healthy and hitting the market next spring.

The second reason that Coleman may stand to make far more than Young is the fact that he should have the ability to get teams involved in a bidding war. Doing that can lead to overpays in free agency, as the incremental steps a team takes in the bidding process feels like small steps, but winds up being far above what many may have expected. We’ve heard reports this is what led in part to the amount for which the Seahawks signed Luke Joeckel two offseasons ago, and the same concept is what allowed T.J. Lang to squeeze a little bit more out of the Detroit Lions during the same offseason.

Thus with the legal tampering period quickly approaching on Monday, it seems likely that Coleman’s price tag could easily reach $9M to $10M for a three year contract. Whether the Hawks would be involved in the bidding at those levels is anyone’s guess, however, there is always the possibility that the team could prevent him from hitting the open market by reaching agreement with him on an extension before next week arrives.

Where Coleman stands on the list of priorities for the Seahawks is anyone’s guess, but what we do know is that he has earned a payday, and that should be coming for him very soon.