The NFL year — i.e., free agency and the trading period — begins in four weeks, but the business of rebuilding teams already has begun as clubs re-sign and release players.
The Seahawks haven’t made any big moves yet — although Marshawn Lynch’s pending retirement will save them $6.5 million vs. the 2016 salary cap — but they surely are watching other teams’ transactions with great interest.
Recent contract extensions have established the markets for Michael Bennett (who is expected to push hard for a raise) and Bruce Irvin; a few teams have parted company with safeties, making them potential trade destinations for Kam Chancellor; and some veteran offensive linemen already have been released as well.
Two notable line moves were made Wednesday by the New York Giants, who cut starting left tackle Will Beatty and guard Geoff Schwartz. Beatty, 30, missed last season with a torn pectoral after starting 57 games the four previous seasons. He could be a bargain replacement for Russell Okung.
Schwartz, a 29-year-old journeyman, played in 13 games over two seasons with the Giants. These are the kind of veterans the Seahawks will look at because they will not affect the compensatory pick formula.
The Saints cut guard Jahri Evans because he wouldn’t take a pay cut (Drew Brees takes up a ton of cap space). Evans is 32 and past his prime (a knee injury limited him to 11 games last season), but the Hawks could check in with the vet to see what kind of money he wants (he was making $8 million a year).
The release of Evans should end rumors that the cap-strapped Saints might cut center Max Unger a year after trading for him (the Saints also cut former Seahawk David Hawthorne and are expected to part ways with former Hawk Brandon Browner, too). The Saints are more likely to give Unger an extension to lower his cap hit.
Some Seattle fans had speculated about a reunion of Unger and the Hawks. But, even if he were released, Seattle wouldn’t bring him back at his current rate ($6 million). (They probably wouldn’t bring back Browner at any rate.)
Meanwhile, it looks like Joe Thomas will not be an option. Cleveland’s star left tackle said he is not going to be traded.
As for Chancellor, Atlanta and Tennessee both joined the list of possible trade partners when they released safeties this week. The Falcons cut William Moore, 30, to save $3.2 million. Coach Dan Quinn — Seattle’s former DC — obviously knows Chancellor well, so the question is whether the Falcons would be willing to give up one of their five draft picks (or maybe a 2017 pick or a player).
As many as 10 teams reportedly were interested in Chancellor last summer. Houston reportedly was considering offering a second-round pick, and the Giants also were very interested. Atlanta, Tennessee and Oakland (losing Charles Woodson to retirement) all seem to be possibilities this year.
Unless he thinks he can resolve Chancellor’s dissatisfaction, John Schneider surely will talk to some of those teams at the Combine in Indianapolis in two weeks. He also will feel out what kind of offers Irvin is going to get.
The Eagles gave Vinny Curry $47.25 million over five years — a $9.45 million average that Irvin seems likely to beat. In four years, Curry has 16.5 sacks; Irvin has 22 and offers better position versatility. Irvin could well get an offer worth $10 million a year — and Schneider would take the third-round comp pick that would bring in 2017.
Ten million dollars is also the figure Bennett likely will target. The Broncos paid Derek Wolfe over $9 million, and Bennett is worth more than Wolfe. It’s just a question of whether Schneider will pay him that way (John Clayton doesn’t think the Seahawks will do anything with Bennett).
Beyond Bennett and Chancellor, some are concerned that Doug Baldwin might hold out for a better deal as he heads into a contract year, coming off his best season. It’s hard to imagine that, though, considering what he said back in 2014, when he was a restricted free agent: A holdout “would not allow me to pursue my passion for playing football. So sitting out does nothing for me. I’m going to play this season, whether it’s on the tender or under an extension.”
The Seahawks took care of him not long after that, signing him to a three-year, $16 million contract. The team now will have to consider bumping him from $5 million a year into the $7 million range, and he has every reason to trust they will find time to re-sign him again.
But that is a move for much later this offseason. For now, Schneider and his staff are watching every move other teams make as the league year approaches.