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Seahawks have major flexibility in 2020

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have always been a team known for “roster churn” since Pete Carroll took over in 2010, it’s just the names that are getting bigger. And after losing virtually all of their stars from 2013 barring two — Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner — the question turns to how Seattle will respond after extending the former and keeping us guessing on the latter. Will they extend the 29-year-old Wagner or are they a bit more contract trigger shy following the disappointing returns on Kam Chancellor and others, which is what may have led to the departure of Earl Thomas.

Regardless of the decision on Wagner though, the team has a ton of flexibility next year not just in terms of cap space, but in who will be occupying roster spots with so many more set to be free agents again.

Among expected starters to become free agents are Bobby Wagner, Jarran Reed, Germain Ifedi, Ezekiel Ansah, and Mike Iupati. Should he remain out of jail, Mychal Kendricks could also become a free agent after playing out a new one-year deal and if he does miss the season for legal reasons, he would remain with the team in 2020. Playing roles anywhere from regular snaps to starting are Jaron Brown, Barkevious Mingo, George Fant, Nick Vannett, Quinton Jefferson, Cassius Marsh, Akeem King, and Neiko Thorpe. Of course, not all of those players are even guaranteed a spot on the 53 next season, a picture that will become more clear in the next 2-3 months. C.J. Prosise and Joey Hunt will also be free agents from the 2016 draft class should they be on the roster.

Regardless, they are not expected to be on the books for 2020 when free agency hits next March, barring improved play and an extension obviously.

As of now, the Seahawks are expected to have over $76 million in cap space for 2020, second-most in the NFL after the Houston Texans, who just fired their GM. That amount of cap space will go up or down depending on the futures of Wagner, Reed, and some of their teammates, including some potential cuts. The most obvious of which could be Justin Britt who is due over $11 million in 2020, a raise of $4 million over 2019. It’s a big price tag for a center who is not considered elite and the team has taken shots at replacements recently with Hunt, Ethan Pocic, and the recently-signed Marcus Martin.

Releasing Britt would raise Seattle’s cap space to $85 million absent any other changes to the cap.

Other considerations will include K.J. Wright, who recently signed a two-year deal and represents an $8.5 million cap hit in 2020 if the team keeps him. That will depend on his health and productivity next season and while $8.5 million might not sound like a lot, it’s considerable bank on a 31-year-old outside linebacker in a 4-3. Justin Houston, of similar age to Wright and recently traded from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in Indianapolis, is set to make $9 million with the Colts in 2020.

The team would save $6 million if it released Wright next year.

They’d save another $3.4 million if Ed Dickson was released and I’ve kept alive the conversation all year long that Dickson could be a cap casualty this fall. I’m willing to backtrack on that a little bit if only because I’m now thinking that the Seahawks could be keen to keep four tight ends again: Dickson, Vannett, Will Dissly, and Jacob Hollister. They’d also have Fant as a fifth option for three-tight end sets. Then next year they could let Vannett walk, as they did Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson, release Dickson, and move forward with Dissly, Hollister, and whoever comes in next. Finally, the team would save another $3 million if D.J. Fluker loses his job as a starting guard to Phil Haynes, Pocic, or someone else.

Theoretically, you could get the 2020 Seahawks to near $100 million in cap space with little effort, but then you have to start wondering how talented a team is with Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, Duane Brown, Bradley McDougald, and cap space. That money will be used and it’ll start to be siphoned off quickly:

  • Wagner is the NFL’s highest paid inside linebacker this season — yes, he’s making $1 million more than C.J. Mosley, who just shattered the APY value for inside linebackers. A new contract for Wagner could put him around $15 million for 2020 and that should leave the team with at least $60 million to spend for next season’s payroll. There’s also the chance that the team drafted Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven with the hope that like Frank Clark, they can avoid major deals and will instead look to franchise Wagner. That being said, Wagner is only 29 and there’s perhaps more evidence that an inside linebacker can be highly effective until his mid-30s, at least. A third contract for Wagner makes more sense than a third contract for most players, especially given the amount of money that Seattle has to spend.
  • Meanwhile, Reed presents a more apt comparison to the tag-and-trade of Clark. Reed is 26 now and teams would have more incentive to use a draft pick on him in trade than they would a 30-year-old Wagner in a year. Reed may also be way more expensive: Mosley will make $17 million as the NFL’s highest paid inside backer in 2020. The two highest paid 4-3 defensive tackles are set to make $22 million each in 2020 (the Marcell Dareus deal included, which is unlikely to actually be used), followed by $18 million in third place. If Reed puts together another 10-sack season, he’ll join the club. The Seahawks may not like the risk of signing a pass-rushing defensive tackle to a $90 million+ deal. Consider that Dareus signed a $95 million deal with the Buffalo Bills in 2015 and he just seems to be worse and worse with each successive season. Or the up-and-down perception of Kawann Short. Seattle may not want to extend Reed unless he bets against himself and takes a team-friendly deal, which I don’t expect. I could see the Seahawks tagging him and exploring trade options because the Clark trade worked out about as perfect as possible for the team, assuming that he doesn’t just rip up the league for the next four years and Seattle’s draft picks just fall flat. That being said, I couldn’t even write this article if they had extended Clark and tuned their future cap decisions to his deal.
  • Most of their other free agents are veterans and not likely to be around for long after 2019, if at all. It’s wait-and-see with Ansah, Fant, Ifedi, Vannett, and King, among others.

There’s no reason that the team can’t sign both Wagner and Reed, and I expect Wagner to be the higher priority not just in spite of his age and cost, but because of it. Reed might be younger but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s got more great years ahead of him than Wagner and in fact he could be a bigger risk since we’ve only seen that one elite year from Reed so far. Given that defensive tackles can also take up large chunks of cap and I wonder if the team will be entertaining trade offers even sooner than we think.

If they want to extend him though, the opportunity is there. There’s a lot of opportunity, and even more change, ahead.