Don’t panic: Hawks can easily keep top stars

Logo -- Free agencyThere’s much panic in the streets about whether the Seahawks are going to keep their top four players in 2020, and it has only intensified after pessimistic speculation by NFL reporter Mike Garafolo on 710 ESPN.

If you believe Garafolo (and others), the Seahawks probably won’t re-sign Russell Wilson, Frank Clark or Bobby Wagner before next year. And don’t forget about Jarran Reed, the fourth musketeer in this contract melee.

But here’s the truth of the matter: The Seahawks have the cap space to keep all four on market deals if John Schneider and Pete Carroll want them back, and they can guarantee they keep two of those players in 2020 without any extensions because teams are allowed to use both a franchise tag and a transition tag in the final year of the CBA (which 2020 will be).

The trendy speculation now has Wilson targeting $40 million a year, not just $35 million, as he tries to avoid being leapfrogged quickly by other QB deals. Many seem to think he will end up playing under the franchise tag in 2020, which would cost $30.4 million.

We think both sides might benefit from a short deal this time: $100 million guaranteed over three years.

Whatever the details, Wilson knows where he will be in 2020 (and probably beyond). As he told Jimmy Fallon, “I don’t think the Seahawks are going to let me get away.”

They also don’t want to let Clark go, but can they come to a long-term deal with him? He reportedly won’t sign the $17.1 million tender and won’t show up to training camp unless he has an extension.

The Seahawks, who have never paid $10 million annually for a pass rusher, are suddenly looking at paying double that. Trey Flowers and Dee Ford got deals in the $17 million to $18 million range this month, and Clark probably is aiming for $20 million, with $50 million fully guaranteed (the same amount Flowers got).

Last year, we didn’t think the Hawks would want to pay Clark monster money. But they still have not replaced Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Clark is their only guy — unless they think they can get four players for the price of Clark.

They reportedly have received calls from other teams feeling out trade possibilities, but what might Seattle get for Clark in a year when the draft is loaded with pass rushers? Ford netted just a second-rounder for Kansas City, so Clark might net a 2 and change.

Of course, Schneider then would need to replace Clark, plus get the second pass rusher Seattle already needs. And there are not many good veteran rushers still available.

Carroll wants to contend now, so it would be a big gamble to count on rookies, unproven returning players and a cheap veteran to fill those two key defensive positions. Rushing the passer is a veteran’s job. At this point, keeping Clark, at least for 2019, appears to be Seattle’s best play.

If Wilson gets a new deal and Clark does not, the Hawks could use the franchise tag on Clark again in 2020 — at a price of $20.55 million. That assumes, of course, that he doesn’t pull a Le’Veon Bell in 2019 and is willing to play on the tag in 2020, even if he sits out camp.

If they have to use the franchise marker on Wilson in 2020, the Hawks could choose to use the transition tag on Clark (for the same $20.55 million). Clark could shop himself and find his best deal, with the Hawks having the chance to match any offer (though getting nothing if he left).

As for Wagner: His return in 2020 depends on whether he and the team are willing to compromise on his value. The new bar is $17 million, thanks to the Jets’ crazy deal with C.J. Mosley, but Seattle won’t want to give him basically a $6 million raise. Would both sides settle for $14 million?

If Schneider doesn’t want to pay Wagner, the GM needs to look into trading the linebacker for a second-rounder or better by the November deadline. Otherwise, Wagner would go the way of Earl Thomas, leaving in free agency next year, and Seattle would get nothing better than a 2021 comp pick.

The Hawks wouldn’t use the franchise or transition tag, if available, because that would cost $16.8 million (120 percent of his 2019 cap hit of $14 million). If they were willing to pay him that much, a deal would be easy.

As for Reed: He is in the final year of his rookie deal and the Hawks should extend him, which figures to cost over $10 million a year. After his 10.5 sacks in 2018, he might even aim for $15 million. Like the rest, this might not be an easy negotiation. He could just play it out and see what his market is after 2019.

If the Hawks were able to re-sign Clark or Wilson and still had the transition tender available in 2020, they could consider it for Reed. The defensive tackle tag costs $12.4 million this year, so they can expect something a bit higher next year. But they would consider that only if they were willing to pay Reed at least $12.5 million a year. And he might be willing to play for that on a long-term deal anyway.

The Seahawks know they are going to have to pay a lot to keep their top players, but they also know they have the cap space — and two tags — to do it.

So there’s no reason to panic.

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