Setting up free agency

As free agency looms, a big trade on Friday shook up the top of the draft and essentially guaranteed the Seahawks will have a shot at one of the top two defensive players.

The draft is still over a month away though, and the Hawks always like to fill their starting spots with vets before they get that far.

To the delight of many around the league (but not all Seattle fans), the Comeback Player of the Year came back this week: Quarterback Geno Smith signed an incentive-heavy three-year deal.

Seattle also addressed right guard, with Phil Haynes returning and Gabe Jackson leaving. Those moves followed the re-signings of special-teams stalwarts Jason Myers and Nick Bellore.

The Seahawks still need a center, two inside linebackers, a No. 3 receiver and upgrades across their defensive line — though the latter probably will come in the draft.

Let’s first look at the salary cap situation in the wake of Smith’s deal and then the positions they need to tackle next week and beyond.

Salary cap

The numbers are in for Smith’s three-year, $75 million deal, and the 2023 cap hit is a couple million more than we originally projected. It is $10.1 million ($26.1 million signing bonus, $1.2 million salary, $200,000 workout bonus), according to OverTheCap.

That’s a friendly number for a No. 1 QB. Along with the $6.5 million coming back from the release of Jackson, the Hawks sit at $20 million in cap space.

About $16 million of that is earmarked for the draft class, practice squad and in-season transactions, so they will need to make more space.

Moving on from Shelby Harris would add about $9 million more, and indications are that will happen.

Harris, 31, hinted at it on Instagram on Friday (edited): “From seventh-round pick to going into 10 years in the league, no matter where I’m at I’ll always be good.” He also responded to a supportive fan that it’s “not my choice” whether he stays.

The Seahawks have not released him yet, possibly because they are trying to trade him. It would be a surprise if any team offered more than a sixth-round pick, if Seattle gets any nibbles at all.

Assuming Harris is let go, the Hawks would have $13 million for free agency (they can spend from the $16 million pool, too; they just would have to account for it later).

They could free more space if they decided to part with Quinton Jefferson ($4.5 million savings) or Al Woods ($3.7 million). But they would then be left with no defensive line (Bryan Mone is injured, and Poona Ford and L.J. Collier are free agents).

“We have some flexibility,” Pete Carroll told Seattle Sports 710. “We have to be really smart, really judicious about every step of the way here.”

Free agency strategy

As everyone knows, the Seahawks are very measured in free agency. They almost never sign an outside free agent for more than two years, and they never jump on big-money guys.

In fact, the two-year, $19 million deal Seattle gave Uchenna Nwosu last year was the biggest multi-year deal to an outside free agent that the team has given out in a decade.

“We’re a little more contained than (other teams),” Carroll told 710. “We’re trying to make really good decisions along the way and still compete. To do that, we have to be patient. … We don’t want to be frenzied entering this first week of free agency because that’s where you make huge mistakes.”

That isn’t to say the Hawks won’t make moves right off the bat. Last year, they signed four guys in the first week: Nwosu, Artie Burns ($2 million), Austin Blythe ($4 million) and Quinton Jefferson ($9.5 million over two years).

In 2021, they jumped on Ahkello Witherspoon and Gerald Everett out of the gate, for a combined $10 million. In 2020, it was B.J. Finney, Bruce Irvin, Brandon Shell and Cedric Ogbuehi – for an average of $4.4 million per player per year.

So that’s probably what you can expect from Seattle: 2-4 players for an individual average of around $4 million. The Hawks also likely will tender Ryan Neal for $4.3 million (second round), unless they extend him instead.

The Hawks also will be looking at cap cuts.

“Notice how many players keep coming off rosters,” Carroll said. “There’s a real attrition rate. We have to be available for those moments, too.”

Linebacker: Wagner reunion?

One of the players coming off a roster is Bobby Wagner.

Carroll and John Schneider have talked to Wagner and apparently have interest in bringing him back. But he has plenty of suitors — the Chargers and Cowboys reportedly are among the other teams that also have called — and he seems likely to get a better deal elsewhere.

Asked about Wagner, Schneider told 710: “You always have to look at the landscape of the whole league … and how you’re trying to help your team. … Right, wrong or indifferent, we have to prioritize things and try to help our team based on what the landscape of the whole league looks like, based on position strength (in free agency).”

Linebacker is a strong position in free agency – which Carroll pointed out when asked about bringing back Cody Barton.

There are over-30 stars like Wagner, Lavonte David and Eric Kendricks. There are big-money young guys like T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds and Germaine Pratt. And middle-money guys like Alex Singleton, Denzel Perryman and Bobby Okere. But maybe Anthony Walker, Alex Anzalone, Kaden Elliss or Kyzir White will fit their budget.

There is a segment of fans that wants Barton to come back – based on his steady improvement last season. That’s certainly possible, but we have the feeling Carroll wants some fresh blood in his front seven.

Center: Ethan Pocic, really?

Believe it or not, Pocic is among the top free-agent centers. But, after his failed tenure in Seattle, there’s really no reason for Schneider to bring him back. Some team will overpay him anyway.

The other top free agents are Minnesota’s Garrett Bradbury, the Jets’ Connor McGovern, Carolina’s Bradley Bozeman and Detroit’s Evan Brown. But the Hawks are unlikely to be interested in paying $12 million, which is what most of those are expected to get.

Cheaper options might include Tennessee’s Corey Levin, the Giants’ Jon Feliciano or Miami’s Michael Deiter. Denver also released Graham Glasgow.

The other route would be to make a trade: The Colts reportedly are shopping veteran starter Ryan Kelly.

Worst case: Schneider might just re-sign Kyle Fuller to go with Joey Hunt (neither are starter caliber) and prioritize this position in the draft. The Seahawks have met with Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz, considered the top draft prospect.

D-line: Clark doesn’t make sense

Some Seahawks fans and media (and Quandre Diggs) are petitioning for Frank Clark to return. But three things: He does not fit what the Hawks do on defense now (Darrell Taylor is basically Clark), he is not very productive outside the postseason and he probably will get more money from another team.

The Hawks also are not going to pay $20 million for Javon Hargrave — and Dalvin Tomlinson, Dre’Mont Jones and Zach Allen all figure to get good paydays as well.

Maybe Seattle goes for a cheaper end such as Shy Tuttle, Taven Bryan or Larry Ogunjobi to replace Harris.

Defense and the draft

Carroll is focused on fixing his defense, which got run over last season after players did not adjust well to the new 3-4 scheme. Several times during the season, Carroll lamented that they did not have the right players for the system.

“We’ve got some big decisions to make. We’ve got to get better; we’ve got to play better,” Carroll told 710. “We transitioned from our scheme not as tightly as I wanted to. Since the day it was over, we’ve been on it. … I’m really excited … to really tighten the thing so it’s really, really to the point where it can be great and we can play great football.

“We’ve got to get some guys to come to us to help us out,” he said. “We’ve got some guys (Jamal Adams, Jordyn Brooks, Bryan Mone, et al.) banged up that are coming back – we’ve gotta see how that goes. But my intention and focus is on that as much as anything we’re doing.”

With Carolina moving up to No. 1, three quarterbacks are expected to go in the first four picks. That would leave either Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter for Seattle at 5. And of course Tyree Wilson should be there as well. The Hawks could slide down in the top 10 and still probably get one of those three.

In the meantime, they need to add some free agents to their front seven.

“We’re going to be wise about it, hopefully, and make really good decisions that are going to fit us,” Carroll said. “We’re deep into it right now. We’ve been working on this for weeks. It’s an exciting time that’s coming up.”


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