Richard Sherman is a 49er.
Michael Bennett is an Eagle.
Doug Baldwin is a bummed-out Seahawk.
Seahawks fans are so whiplashed and nervous following this past week of seismic moves that shook the franchise, many freaked when Baldwin posted this on his Twitter account Sunday morning:
People started worrying the team’s No.-1 wide receiver was the next star out of Seattle. Folks started messing with the Doug Baldwin Wikipedia page saying he was now with the Jets. And in 2018, a scary number of people take free-range, user-fed Wikipedia--or anything else they read online from whomever--as fact.
Rest assured, Baldwin got through Sunday still a Seahawk.
In fact, he’s remained perhaps its most influential one this offseason. While his team remade itself last week, Baldwin spent more time at the state capitol in Olympia as Washington’s House and Senate passed reforming legislation, House Bill 303, on the use of deadly force by our state’s police officers.
Baldwin is a great friend of Sherman’s, the best on the Seahawks. They were teammates at Stanford from 2007-10. They were NFL rookies together and teammates in Seattle from 2011 until Saturday, when Sherman signed a three-year contract that could be worth up to $39 million to play for San Francisco. That was one day after the Seahawks released their three-time All-Pro superstar because they decided they would not pay their former cornerstone cornerback his $11 million salary this season.
Baldwin and Sherman have been together throughout each of the last 11 years, from Palo Alto to Puget Sound. Now they are going to be playing against each other, sometimes man to man, twice next season inside the NFC West. So, yeah, Baldwin’s bummed.
So where do he and the Seahawks go from here?
Monday starts the league’s “legal tampering period,” the two days teams can begin negotiating with the agent of players with expired contracts on free-agent deals. Wednesday at 1 p.m., the NFL’s free-agency market opens and the 2018 league year officially begins.
Thanks to this past week’s altering moves, including waiving veteran defensive back Jeremy Lane to save more money, the Seahawks saved $17.95 million in salary cap space. They begin this week with an estimated $30.5 million in cap space, minus about $7 million they will need to set aside to sign their rookie pool of what are currently scheduled to be eight draft choices next month. So, effectively, Seattle has $23.5 million to spend.
Here are this team’s priorities for shopping right now:
1. Restock the defensive line/try to re-sign Sheldon Richardson. The first thing the added cap space allows the Seahawks to do is sweeten their offer to keep the defensive tackle. The clock is now ticking.
The 27-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career on Wednesday. The team that traded a second-round draft pick in 2018 and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for Richardson in September needs his athleticism and versatility on its defensive line now thinned by the trade of Bennett to near empty-cupboard status. The only other proven pass rusher certain to be on the team next season is Frank Clark--and the defensive end’s rookie contract ends after this year. Richardson is likely seeking an annual salary above the $8 million he earned last season at the end of his rookie deal the Jets signed him to, and below the $14 million franchise-tag charge for this year the Seahawks deemed too expensive to use on him.
With Bennett gone the Seahawks can sell Richardson on having a more dynamic role up and down the defensive line next season, at end and tackle, instead as the solely three-technique, gap tackle he was in his Seahawks debut last season. Will that and Seattle’s new money be enough keep him here before Wednesday? Because if the market that is soft for defensive tackles opens then and he remains unsigned, Seattle will have a difficult time matching offers elsewhere, from half the league that has more cap space.
Oh, and Ndamukong Suh is in Seattle. He says so himself:
The 31-year-old defensive tackle is expected to be released perhaps as early as Monday by the shedding Miami Dolphins, who don’t want anything to do with Suh’s $26.1 million cap charge for 2018.
He’d come far more cheaply than that for Seattle, or anyone else on the free-agent market.
2. Determine Cliff Avil’s future. The Pro Bowl defensive end told NFL Network last week he was a few more days away from his next doctor’s assessment to determine if he’s had any progress from his season-ending neck injury from October and neck surgery. It’s been a foregone conclusion for most that Avril, 31, is going to retire. The team is giving him his space and time to announce what he wants to--specifically, what his doctors tell him. His is a quality-of-life issue, to ensure he can play with his boys and continue his philanthropic efforts well beyond his career.
All that adds up to indications the Seahawks will get $7.1 million in salary cap space when and if Avril retires. The sooner that happens, the more the team can shop for pass rushers to replace him--plus the many other needs it has after Seattle’s first non-playoff season in six years.
3. Address the running game. Pete Carroll made it a priority a couple days after last season ended. He fired his play caller, Darrell Bevell, and line coach Tom Cable and replaced Bevell with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Cable with Mike Solari to begin fixing the run. Now comes the player part. Last week Seattle hosted Jonathan Stewart, Carolina’s recently released career rushing leader and former star at Timberline High School in Lacey and at Oregon. It’s not likely he will be the only veteran, 30-ish running back to visit Seahawks headquarters this offseason. Demarco Murray, Frank Gore (who only seems like he’s 54) and other discards are shopping.
The Seahawks are likely to draft a runner among the eight picks they are currently scheduled to have in next month’s draft.
We haven’t even mentioned this team’s recurring issue the last three years--until now. The offensive line needs more help. The starting right tackle could be Germain Ifedi again, after he struggled mightily outside after moving from his rookie position of guard to tackle in 2017. He led the NFL in penalties. George Fant is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery last summer. He was the second-year starting left tackle until he got hurt. Seattle has veteran Duane Brown starting there for at least the final year of his contract in 2018. So does Fant go to right tackle? Does Ifedi move back to right guard? Who replaces departing free agent Luke Joeckel at left guard, after Joeckel’s $7 million guaranteed failure there last season?
Signing offensive linemen in free agency is an expensive and risky proposition. Drafting them has proven to be that, too. The Seahawks have picked 18 blockers since Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over running the team in 2010. That’s the most in the NFL. And it’s still an issue. Now they have a new man evaluating and coaching offensive linemen, Solari.
4. Tighten up at tight end. This free agency week began with two-year veteran Nick Vannett as the only tight end on the depth chart signed for 2018. Jimmy Graham is a free agent likely way too expensive to re-sign. Luke Willson is also due to be a free agent Wednesday. He could come more cheaply to stay for perhaps multiple season this time instead of the one he signed for this time last year.
Neither Graham nor Willson are strong blockers. Vannett hasn’t proven himself consistently as one in the NFL with minimal playing time so far. Will Dissly of the University of Washington, a converted defensive lineman, impressed at the league’s scouting combine two weeks ago and made a name as perhaps this draft class’ best blocking tight end. He impressed again Saturday at UW’s Pro Day.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is available to come home in free agency. The former Gig Harbor High School and UW star recently said no to a two-year, $8 million offer from the New York Jets to get this chance this week, to sign with anyone.
He’d love it to be the Seahawks. We may find out in the next couple days if the Seahawks would love to have him.