With NFL free agency about a week away, I thought it would be a good time to do some tea leaf reading with each of the main Seattle free agents that are set to hit the market. Historically, under the Pete Carroll and John Schneider regime, Seattle has preferred to reward their own players as opposed to bringing in high profile types via the free agency route. The 2013 signings of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett happened when the market quieted down and they came to them on short team friendly deals.
The one year that was an exception was 2011 when they spent big bringing in Sidney Rice, Robert Gallery, and Zach Miller. They where still a building team then, and they had plenty of cap space to be aggressive. This year Seattle will have more cap space available to them than they have had since 2011, and it is quite possible that they will be as aggressive as they back in that year. Both Pete Carroll and John Schneider have stressed the importance of improving the team’s pass rush, and Russell Wilson made a rare outward plead for adding more “stars” to both sides of the ball.
With all that said, I would expect Seattle to retain a few key veterans while looking to add from outside. The following is a list of the biggest key names with reasons for and against re-signing.
Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney.
Reason For: Clowney is a rare athlete at defensive end. His unique length and strength and speed creates constant disruption against the pass and run, and he is still young enough that his best football could be in front of him. For any great pass rush to happen, a defense needs at least one player that can be a true disruptor and that is his game. He is also one of the very best edge defenders against the run and Seattle plays in a division with teams that love to run the ball. It’s a tough argument to make that allowing your best defensive linemen to leave will help improve you biggest need, which is improving the pass rush. By all accounts, Clowney was a great locker room guy in 2019 and can be a cornerstone leader of the defense moving forward.
Reason Against: For as talented as Clowney is, he has rarely played a full healthy season, and as the saying goes, your best ability is availability. Signing Clowney to a contract North of $20 million will make it more difficult to add more quality to the defensive line through free agency, and Seattle most likely needs to add multiple players.
Return Probability: So so. On the surface, the arguments for keeping Clowney outweigh the arguments against it. However, his healthy history coupled with his likely asking price is a concern. If Seattle pays him a salary that is annually more than $20 million a year but he only plays 10 to 12 games a season for the next few years, that might not be a great investment. That’s probably why we are seeing reports floating out there that Seattle would love to keep him but not at a cost greater than $18 to $20 million. Therefor, I give it about a 50 percent chance he returns. He could find his market colder than expected, or a team ponies up beyond where Seattle is willing to go. We shall see.
Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed
Reasons For: While he isn’t a superstar player in this league, Reed is a well rounded interior defender who is strong against the run and is a capable pass rusher, and those kind of players are hard to find. The team loves him and he is considered a leader on the defensive line. At age 27, like Clowney, there is still likely better ball in front of him. While he had a down statistical year, Pro Football Focus still rates him within the top 50 free agents set to hit the market and well ahead of other defensive tackles that had better 2019 stats. He is a home grown talent and rewarding him shows others on the team that it is still Seattle’s preference to reward their own.
Reasons Against: Under Carroll and Schneider, Seattle has historically found great value on the free agent market at defensive tackle with the like of Alan Branch, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, Ahtyba Rubin, and Al Woods, and there appears to be a lot of depth on the market this year with the 2016 defensive tackle class starring at free agency. Seattle could find a similar enough player on the market without paying as much, and they might even be able to sign a couple to further build back depth.
Return Probability: Decent. From the team’s perspective, I think they would love to keep him. Reed wants big money, but with the free agency class this year, I think there could be enough good young interior players entering the market that it could drive costs down a bit. This is why I think Seattle might reach a deal with Reed once he tests the market. It could be short term, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the club and the player come to an agreement on a longer deal once they have felt the market a bit.
Defensive Lineman Quinton Jefferson
Reasons For: Outside of Clowney, Q Jeff might have been Seattle’s most productive defensive lineman in 2019. His ability to play multiple positions is valuable to Seattle’s 4-3 hybrid scheme, like a poor man’s version of Michael Bennett in year’s past. His interior pass rush win rate was top twenty in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus. Like Reed and Clowney, John Schneider has outwardly expressed a desire to see him return. Rewarding him also shows others on the team that Seattle values their own, and prefers keeping them over adding from outside.
Reasons Against: Like Clowney, Q Jeff hasn’t had a great history of staying healthy through a full season. Seattle has two similar players already on their roster in first round pick LJ Collier, and former third round pick Rasheem Green, and retaining Q Jeff might hamper their development. Q Jeff might be a better fit as a defensive end for a team that runs a 3-4 defense than a team the mainly runs a 4-3 like Seattle, and could easily get a better offer than what Seattle is willing to go towards.
Return Probability: A mild chance. I like Q Jeff a lot. I love that he is a sell made player, and a family man. I love that he is versatile and therefore, he is valuable. However, I see at least two other players on the roster who can grown into his role, and I think he is likely to find a hotter market and is likely be priced out of Seattle’s range. I think team’s the run 3-4 defenses are going to look intently at this guy, and I could see New England really valuing him. It all depends on how far Seattle is willing to go to pay him. He could have a hotter market than Reed.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks
Reasons For: He is one of the more athletic coverage linebackers in the league, and Seattle needs to add speed to the defense and not lose any. Kendricks is also a very capable blitzer. Pete Carroll has consistently raved about his play and clearly values his athletic traits. He can play all three linebacker spots reasonably well.
Reasons Against: For as well as he moves in coverage, he is not always the best tackler, and missed way too many tackles in 2019. He is also an older player who has been injury prone over his two seasons in Seattle. Seattle has three young linebackers who could vie for his roster spot.
Return Probability: Iffy. I think Carroll would like to see him back, but GM John Schneider pumped the breaks a bit during his Scouting Combine press conference. Seattle is going to be aggressive this off-season in fixing its pass rush and that is likely to get expensive with veteran contracts. Something has to give and Seattle has enough younger players behind him that they can justify not spending here. I think he more likely returns if they decide to cut KJ Wright to save a few, and I don’t think they do that.
Offensive Tackle Germaine Ifedi
Reasons For: He has improved his game enough with each year as a starter that he has become a serviceable starter in the league after a very rough early start to his career. Carroll has expressed a desire to keep as much of his offensive line together as they can for continuity purposes. He is a young player who can continue to grow and get better.
Reasons Against: He was a Tom Cable guy and might not be an ideal fit at right tackle to what current offensive line coach Mike Solari would prefer. He might not be an ideal fit for what improviser Russell Wilson needs at tackle and might be a better fit on a team with a taller quarterback who can get the ball out quicker. One of the main reasons for all the false starts is his lack of quickness going against speed rushers. This year’s draft class offers numerous athletic offensive tackle prospects and Seattle could find a cheaper replacement through the draft.
Return Probability: Slim. If Seattle was serious about keeping him around long term, they would have picked up his fifth year option off of his first round rookie contract last year. While they probably viewed him as a better option at right tackle than George Fant, they likely haven’t seen him as a long term building block on the offensive line. It feels like he’s likely not a great fit for a short scrambling quarterback and needs to be in a system with a tall passer who gets the ball out quicker. I think he moves on.
Offensive Tackle/Tight End George Fant
Reasons For: He is a versatile player that is athletic enough to play blocking tight end in the run game and he played well enough at left tackle in place of injured starter Duane Brown that the team could see him as an eventual replacement at left tackle down the road. He could be adequate replace for Germaine Ifedi at right tackle.
Reasons Against: Seattle may not view him as a great option at right tackle because he was a raw athletic coming out of college who had more of a basketball background than a football one, and only really learned enough football skills to play comfortably on the left side of the line.
Return Probability: Not great. The way I see it, if Seattle would have thought he was decent competition at right tackle for Germaine Ifedi, we would have seen him there, and we never saw him there. I think he wants to be a left tackle not just because it’s a position that pays more but it’s where he is most comfortable. While there is good draft prospects this year for left tackle, a team might decide that they have seen enough positive play on tape that they might offer decent enough money for them to bring him in. The Jets are already reportedly interested and I think there will be other suitors.
Offensive Guard Mike Iupati
Reasons For: He fits the profile of what Seattle prefers at guard with line coach Mike Solari, and he is a proven capable starter. He is an older player who understands the system well. Carroll expressed a heavy interest in keeping the line together as much as possible and if they lose Ifedi, losing Iupati means having to replace 3/5’s of the line, and that’s not a great recipe for continuity.
Reasons Against: Seattle has younger players behind him in Phil Haynes and Jamarco Jones who each have shown enough promise to warrant giving them a chance to be the starter. This is a good enough draft class at offensive line that could find solutions there, as well.
Return Probability. Good. Carroll has expressed an interest in keeping as much of the line together as they can, and Iupati is enough on the older side of football where he probably isn’t going to find a great market, especially with a good offensive line draft class around the corner. Seattle could bring him back on another inexpensive one year deal, and open up competition between him and Haynes or Jones. He might feel that his chances are still good enough to hold off the young pups for another year.
Running Back Marshawn Lynch
Reasons For: With Chris Carson coming back from a major hip injury and Rashaad Penny likely not going to be ready at the start of the regular season, Seattle needs a reliable option to mix in and be a capable starter if called upon. While his days as a featured back are probably over, Marshawn’s physical running style would be a good mix with Carson, and he would be a solid short yardage back. Marshawn’s ability to inspire other players has value.
Reasons Against: With Carson set to become a free agent in 2021 and Penny coming back from a major knee injury, Seattle might prefer to draft a player that could become a future starter rather than use valuable salary cap space on an aging veteran. Marshawn might decide that retirement suits him in 2020.
Return Probability: So so. There is solid reasons for Marshawn to return. It doesn’t appear that he has slowed down much, and he is a proven veteran. His physical style lends well with how Seattle likes to run, and it can have a positive effect on others. Even if Seattle drafts or signs a younger player, they still might decide to add Marshawn into the mix, if Marshawn still wants to play. That’s the big “if” for me. Does Marshawn want to play a full season? Does he want to be involved with off-season workouts and training camp? He was not a big fan of those during his first go around in Seattle.
Tight End Luke Willson
Reasons For: He is a solid blocking tight end, and should Seattle lose George Fant in free agency, he could have a niche on running downs. He is a great locker room guy, and team player. With Will Dissly’s injury history and Greg Olsen’s age, Seattle might want as much quality depth as they can get with their tight ends, and Willson is a proven vet.
Reasons Against: Seattle invests heavily in free agency to rebuild the defensive line, and they find a cheaper solution to add tight end depth through the draft. George Fant returns to Seattle and the need for Willson or another tight end isn’t as high.
Return Probability: Goo. Willson might have more value in Seattle than on other rosters. He is a journeyman player that probably won’t see a big market, and John Schneider has already stated that the team wants him back.
As I type all this up, I realize that it’s difficult to project who stays and who goes. These are just the tea leaves that I am seeing. Clowney could well be the player Seattle will aggressively look to bring back, even at the cost of keeping other key players. Ideally, they would want to keep Clowney, Reed, and Jefferson, and add another veteran speed rusher, but that could prove too expensive, and something might give. That could force them to look for value at defensive tackle like they have done in years past.
Rumors of how much Clowney is asking for and what the team is willing to spend is likely posturing on both sides. Both sides probably want to reach a deal, but all it takes is one team on the market to throw more money at Clowney than Seattle wants to spend for it not to materialize. That’s probably why we are hearing rumors of Seattle being interested in trading for Jaguar pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. It’s probably Plan B.
With the other players, I think both the offensive tackles are propably out-y, and the jury is out on many others. Seattle will be in wait and see mode until they resolve the defensive line issues.
Once we get closer to free agency, I will compile a list of players that I think Seattle will likely target, especially for their defensive line.