Seattle Seahawks 2023 Free Agency Primer


NOTE: If you haven’t checked out the previous articles in this series individually covering each position group’s free agency break down, it might be worth your time to do so. It will better explain why high-end free agents aren’t considered in this article for certain position groups, such as Edge, WR, TE, or CB. Just click on my username above and view the "posts" tab to see the list of articles.

The Seahawks have the 7th most cap space available in the NFL at $31.3M, just $6M less than the team with the 4th most and $14M more than the team with the 9th most. Some will argue that teams can manipulate the cap to make up ground with the Seahawks, but the Seahawks have the same tools as those teams to create additional space. The Seahawks are in a fantastic position to make a cannon ball sized splash in free agency. Unfortunately, with only 33 players under contract and two of them coming off of major injury in Adams and Brooks, they have to hit big in free agency to improve in 2023.

Most of what the Seahawks do in free agency depends on what happens with Geno Smith. Smith had a pro bowl season in 2022, finishing top 5 in most statistical categories with no signs of decline. He also has a style of play that should be sustainable as he ages. He’s not a playmaker who can make players around him better or make something out of nothing, but he is a play-fulfiller who can get the most out of the players around him. He’s an elite game manager, if that can be said after just one year of performance. Smith will get two years guaranteed from a team at the minimum. The hot debate is, how much money are teams willing to pay him? I covered this in an article posted at the beginning of this series titled "What Geno Smith will cost the Seahawks in 2023". To summarize, Geno’s market is in the range of $27M-$33M with $55M-$70M guaranteed over 4 to 5 years. The Seahawks may not want to risk losing him and can place the non-exclusive franchise tag on him at $32M, but this would probably cost them $2M-$4M apy in negotiation leverage on a long-term deal. Geno’s camp knows Seattle can’t spread out the cap hit if he doesn’t sign a multi-year deal. So, if tagged, $32M becomes the new base in negotiations. Any less and it would benefit Geno to return to free agency in 2024 with an increased salary cap allowing teams to pay him more. I’ll update this article if the Seahawks place the franchise tag on Smith. They have until March 7th to negotiate with Geno before having to apply the tag. For now, I assume that they won’t tag him.

Of the six teams with more cap space than Seattle three need quarterbacks, the Falcons, Giants, and Texans. The Texans and Falcons, in rebuild mode, have top 10 picks in the draft and should be looking for a young star on a rookie contract. If the Giants don’t go with a draft pick, they would likely re-sign Daniel Jones at a lower cost than Geno. The Bears will probably stick with Justin Fields, but if not, they’ll use their #1 overall pick on his replacement, not pursue soon to be 33-year-old Geno Smith. The Patriots have the 14th pick and Mac Jones on a rookie deal, they’re not likely to get in a bidding war on a QB. The Bengals have Joe Burrow. Behind the Seahawks in cap space are the Ravens with $27M, but they are going to sign Lamar Jackson long term or franchise tag him. The Colts are the first team that is legitimate competition with $28M in cap space after they release Matt Ryan. They are the team that might push Seattle to use the franchise tag. The Raiders are the second biggest threat with only $17M in cap space. The Seahawks are far and away the front runners in resources and leverage to sign Geno Smith. That being the case, for this analysis I’ve chosen a contract estimate for Geno of 4 years $120M with $56M guaranteed and a 2023 cap hit of $16M.

The Seahawks can create an additional $24M in cap space through releasing players with savings available in their contracts. This is only considering realistic cuts that have savings and available replacement options to justify their release. For example, Lewis ($3M), Nwosu ($8.2M), and Dissly ($3M) are not considered candidates because you can’t come close to replacing their output with the amount of savings. The cut candidates with the largest savings are DJ Dallas $1M, Gabe Jackson $6.5M, Shelby Harris $9M, Quinton Jefferson $4M, Al Woods $3.75M, and Bryan Mone $1.8M. Due to the depth at these positions in the draft all are likely to be released, with the possible exception of Jefferson who will be tough to replace for $4M. Remember, releasing these players does not mean they can’t be re-signed for a lower salary after the draft.

The Seahawks also have a few contracts that are good candidates for extension or restructure to increase cap space in 2023. These include the cap hits of Uchenna Nwosu $13M, Will Dissly $9.1M, and Quinton Jefferson $6.5M. Extending each of these players could free up about $8M-$15M in 2023 depending on how much Seattle wanted to push to later years. The Seahawks have all the cap flexibility a team could ask for to build a quality roster through free agency. Even better, they are starting from a foundation that made the playoffs.

For this analysis I’m using $25.3M for the effective cap space after setting aside $5M for injured reserve, practice squad, and carryover. I’m also adding $14.5M due to cap savings, which is half of the conservative estimate above: $20.5M cap casualties + $8.5M in contract restructures/extensions = $29M divided by 2 = $14.5M. Total Cap Space = $39.8M.

Considering Pete Carroll’s age and the rumors of a potential sale of the team by Jody Allen after 2025, the Seahawks are in win now mode. The Seahawks will go all in salary cap wise by backloading deals allowing them to target impact players in free agency. They’ll fill out the depth of the roster with late round picks and vet minimum deals. In this case, the free agent signings will look something like shown below.

I studied the all-22 of the free agent class and the players listed are good scheme fits in my humble opinion. I also estimated their market value by comparing their film to the other free agents and current contracts at their position. For the large signings I went with a smaller first year cap hit considering backloaded deals. This means that a team gives a low salary in the 1st year of the contract, such as $1M, with a large cash signing bonus that can be spread over the life of the contract. The 1st year has a small cap hit but there are large salary and dead money amounts at the back end of the contract. The Seahawks ability to spend big and backload comes from their large number of high draft picks this year and last year. They are banking on drafting at least a dozen starters between the two classes, which would allow them to carry some overvalued contracts from free agency.

Both free agency scenarios are covered, signing Geno and letting Geno walk. There are a handful of must-haves from the Seahawks current free agent list and they are the same in both scenarios, they are listed without alternate options. Godwin Igwebuike is our starting kick returner, special teamer, and running back depth. Mike Jackson will be in competition for the starting left cornerback spot and play special teams. Ryan Neal is our starting safety until Adams can prove he’s back and our dime and big nickel safety when Adams does, as well as a solid special teamer.

To show the true cost of signing Geno Smith to a market value contract, I’ve started with the scenario of letting Geno sign elsewhere. This is not to say I believe it’s the better option, just showing how many quality players a team misses out on with a large QB contract.

Without Geno Smith – $39.8M Total Cap Space = Effective cap space $25.3M + $14.5M cuts/extensions

I chose these players based on my analysis of the draft class and where to best spend salary cap resources in free agency. That analysis can be found in the position specific articles in this series. I included a list of alternate options below that you can interchange as you see fit.

· Drew Lock, QB - $5M – other options: Jacoby Brissett, Mike White

· Rashaad Penny, RB – $3M – other options: D’Onta Foreman, Jeff Wilson

· Travis Homer, RB – $1M – other options: Devin Singletary, David Montgomery

· Godwin Igwebuike, RB $750K

· Marquise Goodwin, WR – $1M – other options: Jarvis Landry, TY Hilton

· Isaac Seumalo, G – $5M – other options: Ben Powers, Evan Brown, Daulton Risner

· DaRon Payne, 3T/DE – $7M – other much cheaper options: A’Shawn Robinson, Matt Ioannidis

· Justin Ellis, DT – $3M – other options: Jonathan Hankins, Greg Gaines

· Germaine Pratt, ILB – $5M – other options: TJ Edwards, Dru Tranquill

· Alex Anzelone, ILB – $2.75M – other options: Cody Barton, Alex Singleton

· Mike Jackson, CB – $2M (ERFA)

· Ryan Neal, SS – $4M (ERFA)

With Geno Smith – $23.8M Total Cap Space = Effective cap space $9.3M + $14.5M cuts/extensions

Signing Geno Smith to a market value contract will be extremely limiting to roster building through free agency. It will also show that Pete Carroll and John Schneider believe they can win a Super Bowl with Geno and the current team as it’s constructed, including the new draft picks and a couple free agent signings.

In this case the free agent signings would look something like the following:

· Rashaad Penny, RB – $3M – other options: D’Onta Foreman, Jeff Wilson

· Godwin Igwebuike, RB – $750K

· Marquise Goodwin, WR – $1M – other options: Jarvis Landry, TY Hilton

· DaRon Payne $7M – 3T/DE – other options: A’Shawn Robinson, Matt Ioannidis

· Germaine Pratt, ILB – $5M – other options: TJ Edwards, Dru Tranquill

· Mike Jackson $2M (ERFA) – CB

· Ryan Neal $4M (ERFA) - SS

Some other options to consider are listed below. These can be interchanged with any of the players above, however you like to build the roster.

· Lorenzo Carter, OLB/Edge – $4M – other options: Anthony Nelson, Kyle Van Noy

· Yannick Ngakoue, OLB/Edge – $7M – other options: Brandon Graham, Robert Quinn

· Nik Needham, CB – $4M – other options: Greedy Williams, Trayvon Mullen, Sean Murphy-Bunting

· Sterling Shepard, WR – $4M – other options: Nelson Agholor, Randall Cobb

· Evan Brown, C – $3M – other options: Bradley Bozeman, Garrett Bradbury

· Javan Hargrave, DT/3T – $7M – other options: Fletcher Cox, Dalvin Tomlinson

· Leighton Vander Esch, ILB – $7M – other options: Lavonte David, Tremaine Edmunds

As you can see a top QB contract is limits the amount of quality free agents and depth a team can acquire. If the Seahawks are limited to a couple impact players, I believe they will be going for the defensive front 7, which is why I picked Payne and Pratt. This will still leave holes at G, C, DT, and ILB. Fortunately, this draft has outstanding talent in the early rounds at DT, G, and C and NFL ready ILBs that can be had in the 3rd and 4th rounds. The stars might be aligning for the Seahawks and Geno Smith to put together a contender in 2023.

After the combine and first two waves of free agency, I'll put out my draft preview explaining how the Seahawks will fill the remaining holes in their roster and add high ceiling depth pieces.