While it may be early to start talking about “next year” with the 2016 NFL season still two weeks from completion, the Seahawks have a number of questions heading into the offseason.
Chief among these: which players from this season are worth bringing back in 2017?
Head coach Pete Carroll has preached development since taking over in 2010. In the past, the Seahawks have leaned towards paying guys already in their system, as opposed to heavy roster turnover and an influx of outside free agents.
Let’s take a look at what types of free agents the Seahawks have and which ones will be key question marks this off season…
Unrestricted Free Agents:
UFA’s are players who have been in the league for four or more years and active (at least six weeks) on an NFL roster. These players have finished the final year of their contract and are allowed to sign with whichever team they choose.
Notable Seahawks unrestricted free agents include:
-Steven Hauschka, K
-Bradley Sowell, OT
-Mike Morgan, LB
-Kelcie McCray, SS
-Luke Willson, TE
-Marcel Reece, FB
Steven Hauschka is easily the biggest name on this list. Assuming the Seahawks starting place kicker job back in 2011, Hauschka has been a key cog in the well oiled machine Seattle has been for the past five years. He holds the franchise record for most field goals kicked, which he broke this season in week eight against New England, and his 88.8 percent field goal percentage is the highest all-time for Seahawks kickers.
However, 2016 was easily his worst year. While he made 89 percent of his field goals (33/37), he missed two within the 20-29 yard range, where 21 other kickers were perfect. What’s more, his six missed extra points (29/35) were worst in the league.
Carroll has continued to stand by his kicker.
“Hauschka is a really good kicker that got in a little bit of a rut with the extra points,” he said during an end of season press conference. “He’s come through for us a lot of times and been a big play guy for us, so I outwardly commended him about showing that he’s back and he’s on it by the way he finished, and I thought that was pretty good.”
Hauschka made $2.8 million in 2016, the 11th highest paid kicker in the league. The Seahawks could go either way on this. Seattle could certainly save money by moving on from Hauschka and finding a younger option; however, the value of a consistent, experienced kicker in the NFL can often be the difference between a two-point win and a one-point loss. If Seattle is going to pass on Hauschka, they better have a plan in mind, and preferably a better one than their project offensive line.
Bradley Sowell was brought in during the offseason to compete for a starting offensive line spot. During training camp, Sowell won the starting left tackle job over preseason favorite Gary Gilliam. A knee injury derailed his season, and undrafted free agent George Fant played well enough as a back up to keep the starting job. Sowell couldn’t find consistent time back on the field, and was a healthy scratch over the final two games.
This seems like a no brainer for the Seahawks. While Sowell’s one-year, one million dollar contract was an easy pill to swallow for Seattle, they can do much better. 2016 was a step backwards for the Seahawks offensive line, and Sowell was outperformed by two, cost-effective rookies with little to no offensive line experience.
Mike Morgan and Kelcie McCray both played depth roles for the Seahawks over the past few years.
Morgan, who went undrafted in 2011, was expected to step into the role of outside linebacker vacated with Bruce Irvin’s departure in the offseason. However, a sports hernia sidelined him for most of the season.
McCray, also an undrafted free agent in 2012 by the Miami Dolphins, was traded to Seattle in 2015. The Seahawks sought out an experienced, yet cost-effective, safety to fill in for Kam Chancellor during his holdout. Even after Chancellor’s return, McCray proved to be invaluable as a backup. With similar lateral quickness and ability to cover side to side at the linebacker level, the change between Chancellor to McCray kept Seattle defensive scheme intact.
As seen with Malcom Smith and Walter Thurmond in the past, Seattle’s defensive backups can often get more money from outside teams, and many times just because they come with the Seahawks pedigree. McCray should be a high target for the Seahawks to bring back. Morgan hasn’t shown a ton in four years, and seeing as his presence didn’t make or break Seattle’s defense, it could be time to pass.
Luke Willson remains the only player still on the Seahawks roster from the 2014 NFL draft class. Since coming to Seattle, Willson has played the 2nd option tight end role well, lining up with Zach Miller and Jimmy Graham. While injured for a chunk of games this season, his four year career numbers speak for themselves. He’s vastly improved his pass blocking, and has become a third down featured option for Russell Wilson. He’s averaged 13.2 yards per reception and just under one first down conversion per game since 2012.
The Seahawks got away with highway robbery the first few years of Willson’s career considering his snap count. Yet, he received a bump in 2016, making around $1.7 million in the final year of his contract. That would be a favorable number for Seattle going forward. However, the Seahawks were the highest spending team at the tight end position this season with $12.6 million counting against the cap, twice the league average ($6 million). Don’t expect Seattle to break out the big bucks to keep a second tight end option in Willson around, especially with Graham already the league highest paid tight end. However, if both sides can come to an accord on a reasonable number, Willson is a great offensive option.
Marcel Reece was a late addition for the Seahawks in 2016. The former University of Washington receiver was cut by the Oakland Raiders in September, having made the Pro Bowl each of the last four years.
Reece seemed to mesh well with Wilson and Rawls, as the running game had a late season surge. With his experience as a receiver, Reece was a passing option out of the backfield, catching every target he had in his five games. He made around $885,000 in 2016, just over the the $769,170 league average. At 31, Reece definitely still has tread on the tire, and it would be intriguing to see what he could do given a full season with the team.
Restricted Free Agents:
These are a bit trickier.
With the league now operating under four-year rookie contracts, most restricted free agents (those with exactly three years experience) are a result of going undrafted out of college and signed as a free agent.
Restricted free agents follow a structured process where the team extends a one year tender that ranks within a three-tier system:
First round tender – 1 year, around $3.582 million
Second round tender – 1 year, around $2.516 million
Right of first refusal/Original round tender – 1 year, around $1.647 million
(2016 offseason numbers)
Another team can complete an offer sheet for more money than the original tender, but the original team has the opportunity to match. If they choose not to, they are awarded the new team’s draft pick that aligns with the tender placed on the player.
Restricted free agent contracts are not guaranteed, and can often be a placeholder while attempting to get a deal done over the next year.
For example, in early 2014, the Seahawks placed a second-round tender on Doug Baldwin after his third season in Seattle. No team was willing to give up a 2nd round pick to sign Baldwin for more money, and therefore his tender lead to a one year deal with Seattle. However, later in the offseason, the Seahawks and Baldwin reached an agreement on a two year extension.
Notable Seahawks restricted free agents include:
-Deshawn Shead, CB
-Steven Terrell, FS
-Garry Gilliam, OT
Deshawn Shead played the biggest role for the Seahawks in 2016 out of the RFA’s. He took over the starting cornerback job in 2015 after Cary Williams was benched, and has held onto it since. Shead played the fourth-most defensive snaps for the Seahawks this season (919). He was heavily-targeted opposite of top cornerback Richard Sherman, yet his 14 passes defended were 15th best in the NFL.
With the recent ACL injury, it’s unlikely another team would spend high on Shead, giving the Seahawks the inside track to a lower right of first refusal tender. Shead looks to have a long road ahead of him. However, $1.6 million for a starting cornerback is a bargain, and Schneider & Co. may at least lock up his rights now while they can.
Steven Terrell went undrafted in 2013, but eventually landed with the Seahawks, flopping between active roster and practice squad. Outside of special teams, Terrell saw his role increase this season taking over at free safety after Earl Thomas’ season ending injury. He played well in relief of Thomas, but still gave up key plays to the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers.
Don’t expect the Seahawks to shell out a high tender to bring back Terrell. However, unless Seattle plans to draft or bring in a free agent at the safety position, the $1.6 million tender isn’t necessarily breaking the bank. Unlike Shead, Terrell can be ready from the get-go. There’s no guarantee Thomas will be ready for the season opener, and having Terrell’s experience with the Seahawks scheme for the first few games may bet to both his and the team’s benefit.
Garry Gilliam’s season was a bit of a roller coaster. Both Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable believed Gilliam would start at left tackle. Yet several days into training camp, Gilliam was moving around the line. He later moved to right tackle, where he played for 14 games throughout the season (trading off with Sowell.) Gilliam looked lost on the line at times, and struggled with aggressiveness in both pass protection and run blocking. At one point, he was the lowest ranked offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.
Yet Carroll and Cable stuck with him, and seemed to believe he was on the cusp of breaking out.
“He played well, the more he played the better he played,” Carroll said. “He played with more consistency, more aggressively, remember he came of the knee thing last year too and it took him a while to get back to full go. I thought he finished well.”
Gilliam isn’t going to be a highly sought RFA. It would be shocking if the Seahawks didn’t draft a tackle (if not more than one) in the first few rounds of the draft. If Seattle places the tender on Gilliam, expect him to have competition. If they don’t, the Seahawks mercifully will be turning the page on potentially one of the worst offensive lines in the history of the league.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
ERFA’s are players with less than two seasons in the NFL, and, unlike RFA, are not allowed to negotiate with other teams once they have been tender. When offered a one year, non-guaranteed tender, they become the exclusive right of their team.
Most often, exclusive rights free agents are players who have struggled with injuries and have yet to see time outside the practice squad. Developmentally, they come at a reasonable price for the team (minimum salary) and help fill depth at the organizational level.
Notable Seahawks exclusive restricted free agents include:
-Mohammed Seisay, CB
-Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB
-Troymaine Pope, RB
-Kasen Williams, WR
Mohammed Seisay and Stanley Jean-Baptiste are both cornerbacks who can benefit a very thin secondary for Seattle. The expectation is that the Seahawks will target the cornerback position in the draft. However, while currently on the injured reserve list, one of these could be an intriguing option.
Jean-Baptiste is a former second round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints, while Seisay was an undrafted free agent. Both are over 6’2”, which fits the mold the Seahawks look for in corners.
Troymaine Pope was an exciting player to watch during the 2016 preseason, but couldn’t make the Seahawks roster. After bouncing around the league, he was re-signed to the Seahawks. While he didn’t see much field time this season, the unpredictability in health of Thomas Rawls and CJ Prosise requires the Seahawks to keep a number of running backs, just in case.
Kasen Williams is a product of the University of Washington and has played a larger role in years past. After being cut, Williams found his way back to the Seahawks practice squad. He’s shown impressive flashes out on the practice field, but has yet to take advantage of what little game action he’s seen.