Seahawks Free Agent Update: Wave 1


The NFL’s 2016 league year has begun and the first wave of free agency saw the Seahawks send fans on a roller coaster of emotions as the team lost some familiar faces before rallying to keep others in the fold.

Fans do not take long to fret and panic when their favorite team starts losing players that they’ve come to know and love, and 12’s everywhere began to break out in hives after day one of free agency concluded. The Seahawks lost three starters to the free agent market while not adding anyone from other teams to the roster.

In a bit, I’ll tell you why that’s a good thing.

The biggest fish to escape was EDGE/OLB Bruce Irvin, who signed a front-loaded 4-year, $37M contract with the Oakland Raiders. He will be primarily be asked to terrorize quarterbacks opposite Khalil Mack, and I expect him to be relatively successful doing it.

Irvin’s tenure in Seattle will be remembered fondly, for the most part, and fans should be appreciative of his contributions both on the field and off. He came into the league as a questionable human being and a reach of a first round pick, and he left Seattle four years later as a hard-working, tough, loyal, successful and reliable teammate. He did everything the coaches asked him to do (which was a lot) with 100% effort. You can find countless Instragram pics of Bruce in the community brightening someone’s day and just as many pics in his best Chris Clemons pose after making a big play for the Seahawks.

I am happy for Bruce and his family, but there was just no way Seattle could afford to keep him at the salary he eventually agreed to with the Raiders. Frankly, Irvin isn’t a player that warrants nearly 6% of a team’s salary cap, which is what his $9.25M APY would have soaked up in Seattle. He is a good player and I wish him all the best in the Bay Area, but in Seattle that kind of contract is already applied to Pro Bowl types like Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas.

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Next to go on Day 1 was Brandon Mebane, who inked a 3-year, $13.5M deal with the San Diego Chargers. This is your classic free agent frenzy overpay.

Again, you love the belly roll, I love the belly roll, we all love the belly roll dance. Mebane was one of the longest tenured players on the team and he was the epitome of an unselfish guy that does the dirty work that allows others to get the fame. After 9 years, however, the on-field production understandably began to wane and no longer warranted the type of contract that he just finished (5 yrs, $25M extension in 2011). A new contract at $4.5M APY is pretty rich for a two-down run-stuffer with a big number on the odometer.

As with Bruce, I wish Brandon Mebane all the best in San Diego and the same logic applies regarding the salary cap. Because the Seahawks already have about a dozen high-end contracts on the books, they must fill in most of the rest of the roster with cheaper options. His play no longer justifies the pay for Mebane in Seattle, and that’s ok. As they always do, the Seahawks will sign a similar player at defensive tackle at a fraction of the cost and the expectation is the new player will give the team a comparable performance.

Finally, the most controversial of the free agent losses was that of starting right guard J.R. Sweezy to Tampa Bay. While some people cling to the adage that offensive lines only succeed when there is continuity among the linemen and are lamenting the loss of a player that has been the starting right guard for the better part of the last 4 years, I do not. You can’t convince me that a line will succeed with bad players just because they spend a lot of time together. I would submit to you Sweezy’s game tape. He still makes the same mistakes now that he did in year 1 and will make in year 6.

Free agent
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J.R. Sweezy will be a good run blocker most of the time for Tampa Bay because he absolutely is ultra-athletic for an O-lineman, along with being smart, aggressive and a hard worker. He will also be equally terrible at pass protection because he is actually a defensive lineman with defensive lineman habits and does not have the strength or repeatably sound technique required to keep his man from killing the quarterback.

When your quarterback is $84M man Russell Wilson, do you want to continue to leave his health, well-being and game availability to abysmal pass protectors? I don’t.

The Seahawks reportedly tried hard to keep Sweezy but he eventually signed with the Buccaneers for a mind-numbing $32.5M over 5 years. I would advise Jameis Winston to work on getting quicker this offseason because when it’s 3rd and 9, he can count on getting some heat rather quickly from the inside more often than not. 

So, after a day that saw the team lose three big contributors, the Seahawks took a fresh look at their roster models and knew they needed to aggressively pursue their other big ticket free agents because they knew they couldn’t let them all walk out the door.

The team then re-signed Jeremy Lane to a 4-year, $23M deal. Cornerbacks are hot commodities in the free agent market and Seattle ponied up to keep their former 6th round pick in the fold. Lane’s familiarity with the team’s unique position teachings almost certainly was a factor as well, as the stink of Cary Williams still permeates the building. Still only 26 years old, Lane’s return allows the big, young corners on the roster (Seisay, Jean-Baptiste, etc) additional time to learn and use the step-kick style perfected by Richard Sherman.

Then, what was a surprise to some but not to those of you that read our Seahawks coverage on ECS, the team was able to re-sign Jermaine Kearse to a 3-year, $13.5M contract. We felt his market outside of Seattle would be cool, and it was. He always was far more valuable in Seattle than any other offense. The Seahawks get to keep their clutch target at a reasonable price and do not have to force a draft pick from this year’s NFL Draft wide receiver class into that position in 2016- a group that is seen as somewhat underwhelming overall.

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Finally, in a rather shocking move, the Seahawks recently announced the re-signing of the Canadian Redwood- punter Jon Ryan– to a 4-year, $10M contract! Coming off a rather disappointing year in 2015, it’s a little surprising to see Ryan get this deal. Until the details emerge, it would surprise me if this wasn’t a very back-loaded contract that in reality is a 1 or 2 year deal that gets torn up well before its expiration date.

Now, I promised earlier to explain why the losses of Irvin, Mebane and Sweezy were good things. The answer is simple- compensatory draft picks. Seattle will be positioned to acquire additional draft selections in 2017 as a result of these free agent “losses”, just as they are in 2016 (3rd, 5th and 6th round picks). These draft picks become vital to keeping the roster what it is- one of the most talented from top to bottom in the league.

When you pay your great players the kind of money they deserve, you must stay under the salary cap ceiling by filling in the bulk of the roster with rookie deals. At the same time, those rookies must play well enough to keep the performance of the team high. The best way to make sure your rookies are good enough to contribute to a quality team is to improve your odds of “hitting” on them by acquiring as many draft picks as possible. Not all pan out, so it stands to reason that the more shots at it a team has, the better their chances of unearthing competent players.

It’s the cycle of life in the NFL. Out with the old, in with the new.

Next: Seahawks Free Agent Target: Donald Penn

Stay tuned to ECS when we recap Wave 2 of free agency, which will include Russell Okung’s decision, the annual fate of free agent Tarvaris Jackson  and any additions to the team made by the Seahawks’ brain trust.