The Seahawks are in far better financial shape for this year than they were to start the week.
Four-hundred-percent better shape, in fact.
Now what are they going to do with it?
The NFL reportedly set the salary cap for each team for 2021 at $182.5 million on Wednesday, with the league year to begin Monday.
Seattle will have $20.6 million in cap space when free agency begins next week. That is the 12th-most buying power in the league, according to figures from overthecap.com.
The Seahawks had $4 million in cap space entering this week. It was the second-lowest amount of space in the league among teams that weren't above the cap, based on a projection of the minimum, $180 million cap.
Then Seattle released two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap. That saved the team $14.1 million in cap space Monday.
Tuesday, they decided as usual to not use a franchise or transition tag for the year by the league deadline to do so. They didn't use a tag on lead running back Chris Carson, or on 2019 Pro Bowl cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
So Carson and Griffin are heading into free agency with the first chances to shop of their careers. Their Seattle rookie contracts ended with the end of the team's 2020 season.
So what are the Seahawks going to do with an increase from $4 million to perhaps $21 million in its ability to spend? Free agency begins Monday with the negotiating period. Wednesday, March 17, is the first official free-agent signing day for 2021.
How should they spend?
The Seahawks have many needs to fill with their new cap space.
New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is arriving from having been the passing coordinator in the Los Angeles Rams' shorter, quicker, run-based throwing game. Waldron and the Rams maximized the use of tight ends in the passing game.
One of the tight ends he featured in L.A., Gerald Everett, is heading into free agency. He could command $6 million per season.
The Seahawks need a new lead tight end after the retirement of Greg Olsen.
Seattle also needs a new lead running back to replace Carson. He is assuredly going to find offers in free agency richer than Seattle wants to pay, perhaps $8 million per year or more.
The Seahawks need at least one new starting cornerback. Griffin could command over $10 million per year with his selection in 2019 as a Pro Bowl cornerback. Along with pass rusher, one of the two most valued commodities on defense in the pass-and-stop-the-pass NFL.
Seattle's other starting cornerback is also poised for free agency. But Quinton Dunbar is more likely than Griffin to re-sign at a price the Seahawks can afford. Dunbar missed six games and had a season-ending knee injury in 2020, his Seattle debut season. With that and his bizarre legal problems in Florida last summer, his perceived value around the league is low—and thus in the Seahawks' price range to retain.
The Seahawks need a veteran pass rusher, now that they've cut Dunlap. In that way, they are back to where they were this time last year, before they traded with Cincinnati for Dunlap in late October.
Keeping Wilson happy
Most of all, Seattle needs two new starting offensive linemen, a center and a left guard. Placing that as the highest shopping priority would make Russell Wilson happy.
The $140 million franchise quarterback said last month "I am frustrated with getting hit too much," after another year of being among the league leaders in getting sacked.
Wilson has been sacked 394 times in his NFL career for Seattle. That's the most in NFL history for a QB over the first nine seasons of a career. He clearly sees that fact as hindering his status among the league's elite quarterbacks, and, eventually, his legacy he's talked about with increasing frequency the last couple years.
"I'm trying to break away. I want to be the best in the world to ever do this," Wilson said in September.
Ethan Pocic, Seattle's center on the team's iffy offensive line in 2020, has an expired contract. He is headed to free agency.
Seattle's new cap space could get them in the bidding for All-Pro center Corey Linsley. At the same time Wilson's agent was telling ESPN last month four teams Wilson would accept being traded to if the Seahawks wanted to trade him (which they don't), Linsley was telling Sirius XM radio "looks like all signs are pointing towards snapping the ball somewhere else next year."
Linsley is particularly attractive, and thus is likely to be particularly expensive. He's been Green Bay's starting center for the last seven seasons. He's still in his 20s. This past season was his first All-Pro selection.
Currently, the league's highest-paid center is Indianapolis' Ryan Kelly, at an average annual value of $12.4 million. Linsley may top that this month.
Including Linsley, Seattle could have an unusually large market of veteran starters available across the league from which to choose as free agents to replace its own departing linemen. The league's salary cap is dropping from $198.2 million last year. That is going to result in teams cutting many veterans over the next week or two who have what are middle-class salaries in the NFL, in the range of $3-8 million per season, to get under the lower cap limit.
Teams expected the league to have set the cap number by now, less than a week before the new league year begins. Such is business in a pandemic.
The Seahawks' other need on the offensive line is at left guard. Mike Iupati, the team's starting guard the last two seasons, said last month he is retiring at age 33 after 11 NFL seasons.
There's another elite free agent coming available at left guard: Joe Thuney from New England. The Patriots didn't tag him Tuesday. Some rate Thuney, 28, among the top 25 free agents available next week.
If the Seahawks want to show they have heard Wilson's very public and loud calls for better pass protection, they now have cap space to make bids for Linsley or Thuney. But not both, not without Seattle cutting more veterans.
Hyde poised to return
Carlos Hyde is joining Carson as a Seahawk running back heading to free agency, in a year coach Pete Carroll has already said the Seahawks will run the ball more to set up Wilson for better pass protection. Hyde is more likely than Carson to re-sign with Seattle, at a far more affordable price. Hyde rushed for 356 yards with four touchdowns backing up Carson this past season. He missed a month with a hamstring injury and then a game with an illness.
The Seahawks signed Hyde to a one-year contract at $2.75 million before the 2020 season. That was coming off the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career, with Houston.
"I really like Carlos," Carroll said in January. "Carlos and Chris, really they're the kind of the epitome of hardball running guys. They bring you attitude. They bring you a connection to the physical part of the game the way we'd love it. ...
"Carlos is right in there. He's one of our guys. We'd love to have him back."
The Seahawks have already made one move to improving Wilson's pass protection: hiring Waldron to be a first-time NFL play caller. Carroll included Wilson in picking Waldron to replace fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who continued to have Wilson throw the ball deep, mostly unsuccessfully, against two-deep safety coverage at the end of last season.
Waldron's Ram-based scheme should, in theory, improve Seattle's pass protection simply because its linemen will be asked to block for shorter times on quicker pass plays.
Wilson wants two things from the Seahawks' offense this season: getting hit less, plus a play caller who has real autonomy to call his own plays outside Carroll's influence.
Seattle has new money available to aid the new scheme, but it take games into the season how much autonomy Waldron has, and whether Wilson takes fewer hits.