The NFL offseason has yet to officially start, but with the regular season now seventeen games, there is almost no time to breathe between the end of the season and the core parts of the offseason. For the Seattle Seahawks, that means that even though their season ended exactly a month ago Wednesday, as sit at home preparing to watch the division rival Los Angeles Rams play in the Super Bowl this weekend, free agency is just five weeks away.
The Hawks, of course, under Pete Carroll and John Schneider have not been big players in free agency since making splashes early in their tenure with the signings of Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Fans know the team will likely sit out the first round of expensive signings, and are far more likely to work to retain their own free agents while sifting through the bargains that remain in later waves.
Before free agency even arrives, however, the team will need to make a decision on one of its restricted free agents, 2019 fourth round pick Phil Haynes. A big, mauler of the body type offensive line coach Mike Solari likes, Haynes hasn’t had much of a chance to see the field. Between a combination of injuries, the selection of Damien Lewis in the third round of the 2020 draft and veterans like D.J. Fluker, Mike Iupati and Gabe Jackson, Haynes has only been on the field for less than 200 offensive snaps through his first four seasons. In addition, because Haynes was waived at final roster cuts and spent the first eleven weeks on the practice squad, his original four year rookie contract was terminated.
The result of having been waived and then promoted from the practice squad means that rather than having a year remaining on his rookie contract like fellow 2019 rookie class members L.J. Collier, Marquise Blair, DK Metcalf, Ugo Amadi, Ben Burr-Kirven and Travis Homer, Haynes is a restricted free agent.
For readers unfamiliar with restricted free agents, teams have to make two decisions. The first of those decisions is whether or not to extend a tender offer to the player, and the second is that if a tender offer is to be extended, which level of tender to extend. There are three different types of tender offers, each with a different salary attached, and they are:
- First round tender: $5,562,000
- Second round tender: $3,986,000
- Original round tender: $2,433,000
Now, the way the tenders work is that if a team extends a tender offer to a player, it is an offer for a contract to play the 2022 season on a one year contract for the amount of the tender. The player to whom the tender is extended can shop around in free agency, looking for a contract from another team that would provide a better offer, and if they sign an offer sheet with another team, the old team then has a week to decide if they would like to match the offer sheet. Now, as the names of the tenders imply, if the player is given a first round tender, any team that signs that player to an offer sheet must send their first round pick to the player’s old team. A team signing a player who receives a second round tender to an offer sheet would send it’s second round pick and so on.
In Haynes’ case, a new team would be required to send along its fourth round pick, since Haynes was originally a fourth round pick when he entered the league. It seems unlikely that any team would be looking to use a fourth round pick on an offensive lineman who will turn 27 in October and who has barely played during his three years in the NFL, meaning an original round tender likely guarantees Haynes’ return to Seattle in 2022.
That, however, leads to the question of whether that is enough of a value for Seattle to spend $2,433,000 on an offensive lineman who is, at least for the moment, slated to be a backup in 2022. Specifically, with Lewis and Jackson both under contract not just for the upcoming season, but for 2023 as well, is it a backup interior offensive lineman a good use of $2,433,000 of the team’s limited cap space? It would not be a surprise if that answer is yes, as the team has used RFA tenders to prevent depth players like Jermain Kearse and George Fant from leaving in the past, however, with so many holes on the roster and with just $33.7M of cap space left, it’s not hard to imagine the front office opting not to tender Haynes.
Which is where things could get interesting.
Should the Seahawks opt to non-tender Haynes, he would become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team in the league. Now, having spent the majority of the 2021 season on the practice squad from which he was not poached by any of the other 31 teams, it’s unlikely that any significant market would form for Haynes as a free agent. However, for a soon-to-be 27 year old who could very easily be looking for a spot on a team where he might have a better opportunity to compete for a starting spot, the grass could very well be a whole lot greener on the other side of the fence.
That moves the decision making back to the team. If Haynes is likely to bolt for a better shot at a starting job if he is non-tendered, the team could decide $2,433,000 is a small price to pay to force his return.
Putting it all together, at the end of the day, both sides have decisions to make, and the decisions that are made - on both sides - are likely to weigh several factors in the process, factors that extend into the future far beyond just the 2022 season.