When coach Pete Carroll said at his end-of-season press conference that it’s not Seattle’s M.O. to spend big money in free agency to patch up its offensive line, it was the latest and strongest indication that the Seahawks will instead rely on the draft and the expected development of their young players for much-needed improvement at that position.
That’s another reason to think there’s a decent chance that Seattle brings back restricted free agent Garry Gilliam in some capacity even after his up-and-mostly-down season.
To review: Gilliam was slated to be Seattle’s left tackle in 2016, having shown enough promise as a first-year starter at right tackle the previous season to convince the Seahawks that he could switch sides and take over for Russell Okung. But that plan hit a snag when Gilliam missed a significant portion of offseason work after having surgery to remove a cyst in his knee. The Seahawks moved him back to right tackle, where he started and largely struggled to the point that he was benched in favor of Bradley Sowell three snaps into a loss to Tampa Bay in Week 12.
Gilliam reclaimed that job in Week 16 and started the rest of the way. Comments from Carroll and offensive-line coach Tom Cable supported what was apparent by watching Gilliam over those final four games: he was better. Specifically, he played with more of the physicality that was often lacking before he was benched.
“He played well,” Carroll said when asked what Gilliam showed once he reclaimed the job at right tackle. “The more he played, the better he played. He played with more consistency, more aggressively, I thought. Remember, he came off the knee thing last year, too, and it took him a while to get back to full-go. But I thought he finished well.”
That finish should help Gilliam’s case for another shot next season, even if it’s as an experienced fallback option and a potential swing tackle as opposed to the presumed starter.
He’s a restricted free agent as a player with three accrued seasons (as opposed to four for unrestricted free agents). That means the Seahawks have three options if they want to bring Gilliam back:
1) They can tender him a contract as an RFA. The lowest of the three tender levels should be around $1.75 million, which would be awfully steep for a player who may not end up being a starter and a huge raise from the minimum salary of $600,000 that Gilliam made last season. That makes this option highly unlikely.
2) They can non-tender him and try to sign him later for something closer to the league minimum, which for a player of Gilliam’s service time would be $690,000. The Seahawks did this last year with running back Christine Michael, for instance, non-tendering him as an RFA then signing him after the start of free agency at a reduced price. The risk here is that any RFA who isn’t tendered becomes an unrestricted free agent, which means any other team would be free to sign Gilliam. That may be a risk Seattle is willing to take.
3) They can tender him at the lowest level then renegotiate a lower salary later, something the Seahawks have done with RFAs in the past, safety Jeron Johnson being one example.
The second or third options seem much more likely than the first if the Seahawks decide they want to bring Gilliam back, which isn’t at all out of the question like it may have seemed late last season when he lost his starting job.
Another reason for that is that Seattle is again picking late in the first round, this time at No. 26. With the general dearth of quality, NFL-ready offensive linemen being produced by today’s college game, there’s a good chance that the top tackle prospects will be off the board by the time Seattle’s turn comes up.
Also remember that Gilliam was a tight end in college, which means he’s been a tackle for all of three seasons and only a starter for two. So when the Seahawks talk about how they’re counting on growth from their young offensive linemen, Gilliam is one of them.
Here’s a look at Seattle’s other restricted free agents:
CB DeShawn Shead. His situation is complicated by his torn ACL, which will likely sideline him through the start of next season. If he were healthy, Shead would have been a candidate for a second-round tender at around $2.8 million based on how well he played in his first full season as a starter. That would have entitled the Seahawks to a second-round pick if another team made him an offer that Seattle was unwilling to match. But no team is going to make Shead that significant of an offer coming off a serious knee injury, which points to the likelihood of the Seahawks giving him the low RFA tender if they tender him at all.
FS Steven Terrell. He took over as Seattle’s starter once Earl Thomas went down with a broken leg, and the results were mixed. The Seahawks will likely want to bring Terrell back for safety depth given that Thomas will be coming off an injury, and both Kelcie McCray and Jeron Johnson are unrestricted free agents. If they do, it’ll presumably be for around the league minimum and Terrell will have to earn a roster spot.
LB Brock Coyle. He’s been one of Seattle’s biggest special-teams contributors and has made five starts as an injury replacement, two at middle linebacker as a rookie in 2014 and three at strong-side linebacker this past season. Carroll mentioned linebacker in particular as one position where the Seahawks want to add depth, noting how none of their backups ever challenged Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright for playing time as those two played just about every meaningful defensive snap this past season. There’s a good chance Coyle is back on a low-cost deal, but he could have some competition for his spot.
CB Mohammed Seisay. Remember that name? Seattle acquired Seisay in a trade with Detroit at the start of training camp in 2015, but he missed that season with a torn shoulder labrum and all of last season as well because of a torn Achilles. Cornerback is another position where the Seahawks will be looking to add depth, and while they certainly can’t count on anything from Seisay, he’s an intriguing sleeper option.