Less than two weeks remain until the start of the new NFL league year on March 17 at 4:00 PM New York Time, which also marks the official start of free agency and the time by which teams must gain compliance with the 2021 salary cap. For weeks teams have been making moves in preparation for coming into compliance with the salary cap, but the pace of transactions has accelerated in recent days.
Specifically, on Wednesday several bigger names were either released, or reports emerged that they had been informed of their impending release. Among the list were New York Giants receiver Golden Tate, Gabe Jackson of the Las Vegas Raiders, Weston Richburg of the San Francisco 49ers and several other less recognizable names. In addition, never afraid of turnover on the line, the Raiders and offensive line coach Tom Cable are not only looking to replace Jackson, reports have the team also shopping Trent Brown, which could lead to replacing the entire right side of the line.
However, amidst all the activity of releases and reports on impending releases, the Seattle Seahawks have so far remained quiet. This is quite the opposite of what many had expected, with many fans anticipating the announcement of contract extensions for any of a number of players in order to reduce the 2021 cap hit for those players. The names on the list that are likely extension candidates include Tyler Lockett, Carlos Dunlap, Jarran Reed, Duane Brown, Jamal Adams and even possibly Quandre Diggs.
Thus, the question for many has become why the apparent holdup from Seattle when it comes to announcing these extensions. The answers to that question are multiple, but at the end of the day the simplest explanation comes down to the fact that the logical order for executing these extensions from a fan perspective is not necessarily the same order as would be dictated by operational needs from a team vantage point. Jumping right in to the heart of just a piece of what is possibly at issue is the need to extend more recent acquisitions while at the same time not alienating those who have been in the system for multiple seasons. What it boils down to is the message that is sent to players on the roster by the team if Dunlap or Adams are extended prior to extending Lockett, Brown or any other player who has been in the system for several years.
During the 2018 offseason Seahawks fans were able to enjoy the offseason saga of the would the would they or won’t they extend Earl Thomas for training camp to finally open without Thomas present. That led into the three year contract extension for Brown under which he is set to play this season, with remarks from the team that they want players who want to be there. The message, obviously, at that point was that the team was open to extending players, but that the players who would be given extensions would be those who buy into the system and demonstrate their commitment to the team.
In short, from a roster and salary cap management standpoint, extending Dunlap and Adams makes the most sense, but would making those moves risk alienating Lockett, Brown or possibly Reed? Dunlap and Adams combined have just a season and a half in Seattle, while Reed and Lockett have five and six years with the team, respectively. Even Brown has three and a half years in the system, but even after being a full participant in offseason workouts after being acquired midseason from the Houston Texans, Brown did not receive his extension until training camp opened. So, how would Brown react to Adams or Dunlap earning an extension early in the offseason after he had to wait until August the offseason after he was acquired in trade?
Obviously, the decreasing cap and the unique situation of an ongoing pandemic this offseason make this something that should be somewhat easily able to be explained, but at the end of the day the team doesn’t just have to manage the roster and the cap, it also has to manage the players who make up the roster. That means taking the steps necessary to ensure that when moves are made, the impact of those specific moves are made while keeping in mind the needs of the rest of the roster, not only from football and financial perspectives, but also from a personnel management perspective.
So, while Brady Henderson of ESPN has suggested the Seahawks could release Dunlap to free up cap space, and fans on social media are looking around asking where the extensions are, the team is doing what it typically does this time of year, patiently waiting. John Schneider and Pete Carroll are no strangers to negotiations, and they are likely all to familiar with the idea that he who speaks first loses in negotiations. With everyone under the sun expecting contract extensions for members of the team like Lockett, Dunlap, Adams and the others, that gives the players significant leverage to begin with.
Putting it together means the delicate balance the team must walk in order to create cap space while not rocking the boat makes the situation such that it won’t be a surprise to see the team not actually make any moves in the coming days. If past history is any indication, any moves or announcements the team might make would be far more likely to come late next week or possibly even months from now, rather than this week. That may be frustrating for fans who are starving for news or action, but it’s the simple reality of the situation.