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Seahawks are a year away from an interesting decision on Ryan Neal

Detroit Lions v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The initial wave of free agency has closed, and teams across the NFL, including the Seattle Seahawks, have made moves to address some of the holes on their rosters. For the Seattle, one of the key moves made by the team was to extend starting free safety Quandre Diggs on a three-year contract, which would appear to make the team set at both safety spots for the coming seasons.

Opposite Diggs, of course, is the highest paid safety in the NFL in Jamal Adams, who are now both under contract with the Hawks through the 2024 season. It is, of course, possible that the team could move on from either player or, as has been seen in the past, lose either player to a significant injury. That said, as things currently stand Diggs and Adams are both among the top ten highest paid safeties in the league, and while there is always a need for depth in the NFL, the question for the Seahawks will be how much they should be paying for that depth.

Specifically, with two of the highest paid safeties in the NFL under contract for the foreseeable future, the question becomes how to fill in the depth roles behind the pair of Pro Bowl safeties covering the secondary in Seattle. For 2022, it’s not a difficult question for the team to address, as Ryan Neal, who has played both safety spots at times during his tenure with the Hawks is set to earn just $1.035M as an exclusive rights free agent in 2022.

However, heading a year from now the discussion will be a little different, as next offseason Neal is scheduled to be a 27-year old restricted free agent. Just as was seen in the case of Phil Haynes this offseason, Neal could be more interested in a spot on another team where he could potentially have a better shot to start than being stuck behind two Pro Bowl safeties.

That said, there are two things that will make the situation for Neal materially different than the situation for Haynes. The first and most basic of these is that Neal was an undrafted free agent while Haynes was taken in the fourth round of the draft. This is important because while it appears the Seahawks will likely keep Haynes on an original round tender because any team that signs him would have to surrender a fourth round pick, whereas no such draft pick compensation would be necessary for a team to sign Neal. Secondly, while Haynes has been on the field for barely a couple hundred snaps between both playing on the offensive line and special teams, Neal has logged more than 800 defensive snaps and more than 500 special teams snaps so far during his career.

Thus, teams looking to sign Neal next offseason to a restricted free agent offer sheet would have a much better understanding of what they would be getting than a team that might sign Haynes to an offer sheet in the coming weeks. This brings the discussion back to the fact that because Neal was an undrafted free agent, a team signing him to an offer sheet next offseason would not have to send any draft compensation to the Seahawks should Seattle opt to not match the offer sheet.

That brings things back to the Doug Baldwin/Jermaine Kearse/George Fant discussion regarding whether it would be necessary to extend a second round tender to Neal in order to prevent him from departing for another team for the 2023 season. This may not seem like a huge question to address, but from a salary cap perspective it becomes interesting because of the amount of money the Hawks have already committed to the safety position for 2023.

To dig right into the details of the question, a second round tender would essentially ensure the Seahawks would have Neal back in the fold in 2023, however, that second round tender would come at a price tag of somewhere in the neighborhood of a $4M cap hit. To be certain, with the salary cap expected to be in the $225M range, a $4M cap hit is far from limiting for a team. That said, how much cap space do the Seahawks really want to tie up at the safety position, as Adams and Diggs are already set to count $18.11M and $18.1M against the cap in 2023. Thus, a second round tender for Neal would have the Seahawks spending over $40M of cap space - or somewhere around 18% of the entire salary cap on safeties.

And that $40M and 18% is without taking into account whoever will fill the role as the fourth safety on the roster, a key question for the team to address in the coming weeks. Many fans would hope Marquise Blair could finally live up to their post-draft expectations, but Blair has been on the field for just 412 defensive snaps through the first three years of his career due to a combination of factors.

So, what it comes down to is that while there is no question who the starters are at safety for the Seahawks, the depth past 2022 is either a question mark or costly as far as depth goes. That, then leads into a discussion of whether the team could look to fill that depth role a year early by adding a player in the draft in April who could potentially allow them to let Neal depart in 2023.