Cincy's Michael Johnson is an enticing option in free agency
Could it happen again?
Remember a year ago. We all expected a relatively quiet free agency.
Percy Harvin trade. Cliff Avril signs. Michael Bennett signs.
In the space of a few days Seattle became the talk of the NFL.
And nobody expected it.
We’re unlikely to see anything quite as headline grabbing as that when the market re-opens on March 11th.
But there’s no reason why the Seahawks can’t at least be in the discussion to make a couple of very interesting moves.
With the cap growing by $10m this year, there’s unexpected relief for a Seattle team determined to keep their own free agents.
Michael Bennett is the priority, while extending Earl Thomas’ contract is a must this off-season.
But even if they’re able to achieve both of those goals, there’s no reason why they can’t be in the hunt for at least one prize addition.
– $10m increase in the cap
– Nearly $3m rolled over from 2013
– Releasing Sidney Rice and Red Bryant saved $12.8m
– The possibility of cutting Chris Clemons and/or Zach Miller could free up as much as a further $12.5m
The Seahawks will have to pay $6.3m in dead money for 2014, plus they were already over the original projected cap before the rise.
You’re looking at the possibility of an estimated $17.8m (number courtesy of Spotrac) to spend without even touching the contracts of Clemons or Miller.
I think it’s unlikely Miller is cut — and Clemons remains safe for now. But restructuring both contracts is very possible.
Miller is a valuable player who does an excellent job for the Seahawks. But at the end of the day, he’s still a predominantly blocking tight end set to earn $7m. That’s off the back of an $11m season in 2013.
The franchise tag number for a tight end is set at $7.035m this year. Miller is earning a flat $7m, having made $4m MORE than the current tag total last season.
That’s an incredible level of investment.
It wouldn’t be unfair of the Seahawks to expect Miller to take a reduced salary, even if they were the ones who asked him to sign the deal back in 2011.
He isn’t going to get close to $7m on the open market. There’s surely a negotiation to be had between the two parties (probably ongoing). Perhaps they extend the length of the deal and spread the cap hit across three seasons?
Whether the contract is cut or restructured, the Seahawks stand to make a saving.
They’ll save $7.5m by cutting the 32-year-old Clemons, who’s owed $9.6m this year. It’s not unrealistic to think they could give all of that money, plus a little extra, to a younger pass rusher in free agency.
I also wouldn’t rule out the retention of a man who during the post season appeared somewhat back to his pre-injury best.
For the sake of this piece, let’s say Clemons is cut and Miller extends his contract by an extra season — spreading the $13m he’s owed into three chunks of $4.3m.
That would give you $28m to spend in free agency.
At this point it’s worth noting the cap is expected to rise above $150m by 2016.
So while some of that $28m could and should be used to keep Earl Thomas for the long haul — there’s no reason why there won’t be enough money in the future to also extend Richard Sherman ad Russell Wilson without worrying about rolling over a substantial sum of that free space.
Some of the money will go towards re-signing players.
Bennett is the prize asset this off-season and a must-keep. He can, quite rightly, point to the +$9m salaries of Clemons and Avril and argue he deserves the same value. The Seahawks can also argue those two players were effectively signed to two and three year contracts — while Bennett will likely be searching for at least four.
You can see why there might be some conflict, and I’m sure Seattle will be willing to walk away if needs be — however much they wish to keep him.
And yet I suspect there’s a middle ground that can be achieved, possibly for an average salary of around $8.5m.
If such a deal is signed, an estimated $28m in cap room becomes $19.5m.
Golden Tate is the next man up. He’s seen Riley Cooper sign a deal worth $22.5m. He’ll earn between $4.8-5.5m over the course of the deal after this year. His cap hit in 2014 is just $1.8m.
Tate should expect a better contract. Cooper’s production, albeit similar to Tate’s, really came in two prolific games last season. He’s also something of a one-season wonder.
Even so, he shouldn’t be expecting mega-bucks in comparison. A contract that pays him around $28m would appear fair. You can limit the year one hit and average it out between $5-7m per year beyond 2014.
Like Bennett, Tate may wish to test the market. But again there’s probably a middle ground that can be achieved before March 11th.
For the basis of this article let’s take $5m off the books — even if the 2014 cap hit for Tate would likely be lower.
That leaves £14.5m to spend.
Re-signing Thomas doesn’t have to come with a major cap hike in 2014. His salary could remain at the $5.4m he’s already due via his rookie contract.
If they do end up with $14.5m to spend — why wouldn’t you at least consider a splash in free agency?
The Seahawks have never been more popular within the NFL world. All we’ve heard since the Super Bowl is how much players want to play for Pete Carroll and this franchise.
And while I appreciate they also enjoy being paid even more than playing for a particular team, it’s not like the Seahawks won’t have money to spend.
So who could they go after?
Brian Orakpo (DE, Redskins)
Jason La Canfora reported today that the Redskins are unlikely to slap the franchise tag on Orakpo. The tag number for a defensive end is $13.116 million, and $11.455 million for a linebacker.
He’ll turn 28 at the end of July so theoretically he’s hitting his prime. He had 10 sacks in 15 games last season, with 39.5 in total during his five years in Washington. He’s a three time Pro-Bowler.
There’s no doubting he’s a quality pass rusher and he rebounded statistically after missing most of the 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Why it wouldn’t happen
Orakpo would command interest from any team in the league with money to burn. His price should sky rocket quickly, and the Seahawks would need to be willing to spend big. It could cost them as much as $10-12m a year.
You’re not going to get Orakpo on a shorter term 1-3 year contract. So would you really want to commit major money and years to a player who turns 30 before the 2016 season?
Michael Johnson (DE, Bengals)
His sack totals were down in 2013 (3.5 in total) — but don’t let that fool you. Johnson had a terrific year, displaying the usual fire and brimstone we’ve come to expect from him.
He slipped in the draft five years ago due to question marks about his effort. Those questions have since been answered. Johnson has been one of the tone-setters on Cincy’s highly rated defense. He’s also a fantastic run defender, listed at 6-7 and 270lbs.
The Bengals used the franchise tag to keep him last season, after an 11.5 sack campaign in 2012.
Why it wouldn’t happen
Again, the competition for his signature could be fierce. It wouldn’t be a total shock if someone like the Atlanta Falcons made a big push, freeing up the #6 pick in the draft to spend on a left tackle.
Mike Zimmer — now in Minnesota — could go back for his former project. Especially if Jared Allen walks.
Johnson’s run defense would likely appeal to the Seahawks after releasing Red Bryant. It could allow them to start Bennett and Johnson at end in four man fronts on early downs.
Jared Allen (DE, Vikings)
I don’t buy all this talk of a decline with Allen. If there’s one player in the league who’s going to keep going for a few more years yet — it’s this guy.
He’ll turn 32 in April, so any contract is likely to be short term. It’s also unlikely to be financially motivated, considering he earned every penny of a $73m contract in Minnesota.
This is exactly the kind of move I could envisage the Seahawks making. Allen plays a ton of snaps and always brings an intensity to the field. He’s a terrific character, familiar with some of the people in Seattle’s locker room (Darrell Bevell, Percy Harvin).
He had 11.5 sacks in 2013 on a bad Vikings outfit. He had 12 sacks the year before, and 22 sacks in 2011. Even at 32, imagine what he could do playing opposite Bennett and Avril.
Why it wouldn’t happen
The Seahawks are mostly a youth movement. They want to have a young roster. Just because I think Allen has at least another couple of years to go, doesn’t mean Seattle’s front office feels the same way.
I just wonder if the Vikings might make a push to keep him. They’ve appointed a defensive minded coach in Mike Zimmer and he’ll be keen to keep his best pass rusher. They have enough holes to fill without adding another. They’re projected to have $37m in cap room so could re-sign Allen and go after Michael Johnson.
Whether he has any interest in staying remains to be seen. They’re likely to be a team going through a minor rebuild. His window of opportunity is dwindling if he wants to win a Championship. Signing a two-year deal in Seattle or with another contender gives him a better shot at that elusive ring.
Arthur Jones (DE, Baltimore)
Excellent run-stuffing defensive lineman who played end in Baltimore but could play in multiple spots for the Seahawks. He’s also capable of making plays in the passing game, recording 8.5 sacks in the last two seasons.
Seattle’s run defense took a hit with Red Bryant’s departure and even if they don’t bring in another 320lbs monster, they’re likely to address the situation one way or another. Jones is 6-3 and 315lbs and could play the five technique in Seattle.
He’s the type of player this team likes — big, with length. He has 35 and 1/4 inch arms. He wouldn’t just make up for the loss of Bryant, he could be even more disruptive.
Why it wouldn’t happen
It’s hard to judge Jones’ true worth. On the one hand, he could end up being an absolute bargain. If his market is relatively cold to begin with, it works to the advantage of a team like Seattle if they have interest.
On the other hand, there’s just as much chance he gets overpaid. Bryant received a big old contract in 2011 — and teams might be wiling to pay Jones $7-8m a year to do a similar job.
In that scenario, the Seahawks might be better off walking away.
Lamarr Houston (DE, Oakland)
I’ve always liked Houston, right back to his Texas days. He was a deserved early second round pick in 2010 and he hasn’t disappointed with the Raiders.
He notched 10 sacks in the last two seasons playing for a miserable team. He’s a ball of energy with decent size (6-3, 300lbs). He’s not as long as Seattle likes (33 inch arms), but he is a solid pass rusher.
If another former Raider in Desmond Bryant is worth a $34m contract, Houston’s going to get paid this off-season.
Why it wouldn’t happen
Oakland are slated to have more cap room than any other team in the league (close to $70m). Even a franchise known for titanic gaffe’s over the years is unlikely to let this one slip through the net.
Houston doesn’t have to accept the contract, of course, but the Raiders need to make sure they don’t lose any existing talent. He’s one of their best players and they can’t afford to let him walk.
The Seahawks found effective interior players in Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel without spending big money. Houston projects as a three technique in Seattle, and I’m not convinced that’s an area they’ll want to spend big.
B.J. Raji (DE, Green Bay)
Originally drafted as a nose tackle, Raji eventually moved to end in Green Bay. He’s had a couple of slow years, failing to pick up a single sack since 2011. He had 9.5 between 2010-11.
At one point he threatened to become one of the top big men in the league, yet for whatever reason he’s failed to deliver on that promise. The Packers aren’t huge spenders unless you’re Aaron Rodgers and they’ve let other free agents walk in the past.
Raji can expect a decent pay day on name-reputation alone, probably more than the Packers are willing to cough up.
Why it wouldn’t happen
He’ll probably get overpaid. Teams trying to establish a 3-4 defense will consider moving him back to the nose. He’s still a genuinely rare player with enormous size (337lbs) and quick feet.
I don’t anticipate the Seahawks paying big for a player with this size. Splashing out on an edge rusher just seems more likely.
Henry Melton (DT, Chicago)
Before a torn ACL cut short his 2013 season, Melton had established himself as one of the top interior pass rushers in the league.
A former running back at Texas, the 27-year-old excelled after switching to defense. He recorded 13 sacks between 2011-12, but only played in three games last season.
Without Melton the Bears defense collapsed. It wasn’t all down to his absence of course — the secondary was poor and Julius Peppers is starting to decline. It had a major impact though — and there’s a reason Chicago tagged him a year ago.
Why it wouldn’t happen
First of all, you need to do a medical check. Is he going to be an injury risk in the future?
Secondly, will the injury have any negative impact on his speed and is he expecting a contract to go with his 2013 status? He expressed interest in staying with the Bears last year, and it’d make some sense if they were to re-sign him. They know the extent of the injury, they also don’t need to do anything to weaken that defense further.
For me this signing would be more likely if Bennett departed Seattle. Melton might be able to play a similar role as a hybrid DE/DT.
What? You only picked defensive linemen!
It’s pretty simple really.
I hate the options on offense.
I’ve no interest in Hakeem Nicks or any of the receivers not named Golden Tate. The draft is too good at wide-out to even warrant considering a low-ball offer to any of these guys.
I’m talking about a big splash here. Would you want to pay any of these receivers £8m in free agency?
Plus the defensive options will be limited at #32 in the draft, so it just makes sense to invest any free money on the D-line. It allows you to go after the O-line and receiver in the draft.
Out of all the names listed, I think the most likely player they’re willing to spend $7-8m on will be Michael Johnson.
I think the player they’re most likely to add is Jared Allen. But then I can also see them deciding just to keep Clemons instead.
Alternatively, they could save the money and reward Richard Sherman with a nice new contract this year. It’s worth considering.
Yet there’s something tantalising about the prospect of this Seahawks roster — and in particular the defense — being even better next year.
Think about what that might look like, and tell me you wouldn’t be keeping your options open in free agency…