If the Seahawks end up using the franchise tag on Russell Wilson in 2016, as it currently appears they might, it most likely would mean the end of the Seattle tenures of Russell Okung and Bruce Irvin.
Irvin knows that and doesn’t really care, even if he said last week that he wants to stay in Seattle. He clearly would be just as happy playing in his hometown of Atlanta. And he knows the Hawks have only so much money to go around.
“They’ve got a lot of people to take care of,” he said. “You’ve got Bobby Wagner, who deserves his money, and Russell, who deserves his money. Like I said, it’s a business and that stuff will work itself out.”
John Schneider has told Irvin the Hawks want to keep him, and that surely is true — just like it was true for Golden Tate and Byron Maxwell, among others. Heck, the Hawks would love to keep all of their draft picks.
We have mentioned previously that the Hawks will be able to keep only one of Okung or Irvin, who both will want around $8 million a year, but that was under the assumption that Wilson would have a long-term deal that didn’t eat up a ton of the salary cap. Wilson reportedly is seeking to be the highest-paid player in the league, at more than $22 million per year, and the sides apparently are nowhere close to a deal.
If Wilson is franchised at $20 million in 2016, neither Okung nor Irvin will be back unless the Hawks make cap space elsewhere. They could extend/restructure Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas or Jimmy Graham, but they are not likely to do it before next offseason — if they care to do it at all.
So, as long as Wilson has no contract, the Hawks will not be able to re-sign Okung or Irvin because they can’t make a deal without knowing what their salary cap will look like in 2016. It’s not like Okung and Irvin are priorities anyway — the team surely knows it can get similar performances from cheaper players.
Wagner is the No. 2 priority behind Wilson, and the Hawks can re-sign him without concern for Wilson’s situation. They also probably could keep J.R. Sweezy, who would be cheaper than Okung and Irvin.
Assuming Wagner ($9 million per year) and Sweezy ($4 million per year) get extensions, the Hawks would have around $13 million left under a $150 million salary cap in 2016. Jon Ryan would require about $2 million, and the Hawks would need to sign a veteran defensive tackle for about $3 million — Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Ahtyba Rubin are all scheduled to be free agents.
As usual, they would need to earmark up to $5 million for rookie bonuses, practice squad and injury replacements, which would leave a mere $3 million. That is clearly not enough to keep Okung or Irvin or do much more than re-sign two or three veteran backups — e.g., Robert Turbin and Jeremy Lane — to minor deals.
Of course, there are ways to add money. If Marshawn Lynch retired, they would net $6.5 million. Or they could restructure/extend Sherman ($12.6 million salary in 2016), Graham ($8.9 million) or Thomas ($8 million).
The Hawks have thus far not had to dip into their big contracts for cap relief, but that is the typical next step in the evolution of a high-priced roster. If Wilson gets the tag, the Hawks would need to adjust at least one of those deals to try to keep either Okung or Irvin.
In the meantime, the Seahawks are already preparing for the likely departure of the left tackle and linebacker. Garry Gilliam is working behind Okung, and rookie Terry Poole could be an option, too. And it appears the Hawks are grooming Cassius Marsh to potentially help replace Irvin.