John Schneider has stopped playing the comp game.
As the deadline for compensatory signings passed this week, the Seahawks once again ended up with a zero in the comp column. The 2022 draft will be the fourth time in five years that the Seahawks won’t have any comp picks – quite a reversal for a team that used to play that game as much as anyone.
As we wrote last year, Schneider wasn’t getting much out of those picks anyway. But why has his strategy changed?
The quick answer: Seattle has lost few quality UFAs and largely has decided signing veterans to replace departing players is better than angling for a fourth-round pick the next year.
Let’s delve deeper into it though.
From 2011 to 2017, the Seahawks added 12 picks through the COMPetition. They took advantage of interest in their Super Bowl roster to net eight comps in 2015-17 (off the 2014-16 free agency periods), including third-rounders for losing Byron Maxwell, Bruce Irvin and Russell Okung.
But they have since hit a dry spell, with the 2019 offseason being the only one in the past five where they lost more compensatory free agents than they added. That year, they lost Earl Thomas, Justin Coleman and three others while signing just two and netted picks in Rounds 3, 4 and 6 for 2020.
In 2017, the only comp UFA they lost was Steven Hauschka. Basically, a horrible 2013 draft produced no quality free agents (most of those picks were not even on the team by 2016).
In 2018, Seattle needed a tight end to replace Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson and a receiver to replace Paul Richardson, so Schneider added Ed Dickson and Jaron Brown. Neither did much while recent draft picks Nick Vannett, Will Dissly and David Moore got more playing time. Dickson was injured for most of his two years in Seattle.
That offseason, Schneider explained why he didn’t try to protect a possible third- or fourth-rounder for losing Graham.
“We talk about being a championship-caliber football team every year and not being one of those teams that takes those huge dips, so we want to be able to be competing every single year and we’re doing that at every avenue we possibly can,” Schneider said. “It just so happens that these (added) guys happen to be unrestricted free agents. We’ve been involved with other guys that were cut and don’t count toward compensatory picks, but we’re not just going to pass on guys and sit on our hands. We want our fans knowing that we’re busting our tail at every avenue.”
How quickly things flip though. The next offseason, Schneider changed his mind about the COMPetition.
At the Combine, he told 710 ESPN’s John Clayton: “You have to be careful with unrestricted free agency because there’s that balance of losing draft picks. … We ended up signing so many unrestricted free agents (in 2018) that we ended up losing draft picks (in 2019).” In April, he added, “This year, we’re trying to be a little bit more selective with the cap casualty guys that don’t count toward your compensatory picks.”
They signed just three guys before the deadline: Jason Myers, Mike Iupati and Cassius Marsh (later cut). Ziggy Ansah and Al Woods were signed in May. Meanwhile, they lost five guys and ended up with three comp picks in the 2020 draft: a 3 for Thomas, 4 for Coleman and 6 for J.R. Sweezy.
However, 2020 free agency did not go Schneider’s way. Jadeveon Clowney not only did not return to Seattle; he waited until well after the comp signing deadline to join the Titans. And Germain Ifedi unexpectedly did not count as a loss, signing for the vet minimum in Chicago.
Of course, with Schneider adding five UFAs, it wouldn’t have mattered. Even if he had limited the team’s UFA additions, the best he could have gotten would have been a fifth-rounder (for losing George Fant).
This year, again, there were few quality UFAs to lose – especially with K.J. Wright not finding the market he wanted and remaining unsigned past the deadline. Shaquill Griffin was worth a 4 and Carlos Hyde and David Moore were 7s.
But, like 2018, the Hawks needed to add a tight end again after losing Greg Olsen and Jacob Hollister; they needed a corner to replace Griffin; and they made a smart move to bolster their pass rush with an extra guy (Kerry Hyder). They could have protected the fourth for losing Griffin, but they basically picked a year of Ahkello Witherspoon over an extra 4 in 2022.
Schneider has been right most of the time in not wanting to pay the best Seattle comp UFAs: Graham ($10 million APY), Richardson ($8 million), Sheldon Richardson ($8 million), Thomas ($13.75 million), Coleman ($9 million), Fant ($9 million), Griffin ($13.3 million). Most of those guys are already gone from the teams that signed them – not worth the deals they got.
Schneider has chosen to replace some of them with cheaper veteran UFAs: Dickson, Brown, Shamar Stephen, Brandon Shell, Cedric Ogbuehi, Witherspoon. Some have worked out (Stephen ended up helping the 2020 comp haul when he re-signed with Minnesota in 2019); others have not.
Could Schneider have played the comp game more? Possibly.
In 2018, he could have tried to protect the Graham comp (a 3 or 4) by going cheap at tight end and waiting until after the deadline to sign a defensive tackle. And this year he could have done the same to protect the Griffin comp.
But, as we wrote last year, Schneider has not done much with his comp picks anyway. He really whiffed on the third-rounders in 2016 and 2017: Rees Odhiambo, Nazair Jones and Amara Darboh. Malcolm Smith (a 7 in 2011) and Mark Glowinski (a 4 in 2015) have been his best comp picks – and he inexplicably let Glow go late in the 2017 season.
We will have to see whether the 2020 comp picks – Darrell Taylor, DeeJay Dallas, Freddie Swain – stick around and do anything.
Perhaps Schneider has decided he has a better chance of hitting with veterans than with draft picks. Or maybe it has all been circumstance.
That all leads to the last question: Will Schneider get back in the COMPetition next year?
It’s certainly possible, especially with his entire secondary, his top two tight ends and 60% of the offensive line unsigned in 2022. But there also aren’t many proven players in that group, and Schneider will have to fill any roster holes as well.
We assume Jamal Adams will still be in Seattle, either on a new deal or the franchise tag. And Duane Brown is taking it a year at a time; he will either return or retire, with a move to a new team seeming pretty unlikely.
So, barring cuts or extensions by Seattle, possible comp UFAs include Quandre Diggs, Gerald Everett, Brandon Shell, Ethan Pocic, Cedric Ogbuehi, Rashaad Penny, D.J. Reed, Al Woods, Rasheem Green, Will Dissly, Tre Flowers and Witherspoon.
Diggs and Everett are the most valuable of that dozen and seem top options to be extended or re-signed. Otherwise, they certainly would qualify for comps.
The rest depends on performance. The Hawks have two good RT options in Shell and Ogbuehi and could end up trading one if Stone Forsythe shows he can be a swing backup. It sounds like Pete Carroll thinks Ogbuehi might win the job, in which case Schneider should be able to get something in trade for Shell.
Pocic has to prove he can be a solid starting center, but Carroll said Kyle Fuller is going to push him, which means the coach at least somewhat agrees with the many fans who are not confident in Pocic.
At corner: Reed needs to follow up on a good 2020 to earn a payday, and Flowers and Witherspoon are in a big battle to start – the latter being the clear favorite. It’s certainly possible that none of those guys return in 2022, although Schneider would then need to find new corners unless Tre Brown and a mystery man emerged.
Penny, Green and Dissly simply need to stay healthy and perform to their talent; Green seems the most likely to earn a comp contract elsewhere, and Dissly seems a prime candidate to stay in Seattle on a veteran benefit deal.
If a handful of those dozen merit comp-qualifying deals in 2022, it will come down to how many Schneider pays and how he replaces the ones he doesn’t.
Based on the overall quality of the 2022 UFAs (off their career performances so far) and his MO the past five years, the guess here is that Schneider probably will end up sitting out the COMPetition again.