With 15 unrestricted free agents, the Seahawks are going to have their hands full trying to draft up new deals or replace vacant roster spots for the 2018 season.
One of the more interesting – and toughest – decisions will be whether or not to re-sign Paul Richardson. Coming off his best season as a pro, the 25-year-old wide receiver will become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year in March. As posited by CBS Sports’ Joel Corry, signing Richardson to a new deal could mean the Seahawks would let wide receiver and kick return specialist Tyler Lockett walk when he hits free agency in 2019.
The decision is a bit trickier than choosing one receiver over the other, though; another challenge is the other Seahawks hitting free agency.
The cost of a new deal
Richardson originally signed a 4-year, $4.7 million contract with the Seahawks in 2014. According to Spotrac, he now has a market value of $6.4 million per year entering 2018. He could certainly command even more for his second contract; Corry believes Richardson could request a deal in the $7 million per year range.
And it’s not a stretch to ask for that contract: Richardson’s performance this season is comparable to other receivers who make around $6-7 million per year. (It’s worth noting these numbers differ when comparing the first four years of each player’s career, since Richardson missed all but one game in 2015.)
Travis Benjamin (34 rec/567 yards/4 TD)
Michael Crabtree (58 rec/618 yards/8 TD)
Paul Richardson (44 rec/703 yards/6 TD)
Mohamed Sanu (67 rec/703 yards/5 TD)
Kenny Stills (58 rec/847 yards/6 TD)
The Seahawks have benefited from having both Richardson and Lockett locked in to rookie deals. While the average annual spending on the wide receiver group across the league was $14.2 million, the Seahawks spent just $7.6 million in 2017 (or, about 4.5 percent of their total cap) which puts them in the bottom third of the league.
Making the case for Richardson
Paul Richard finished his most productive year yet with Seattle, finishing with 44 catches on 80 targets for 703 yards and six touchdowns. He was also available for all regular season contests for the first time in his career.
Richardson’s catch percentage hovered around 55 percent, but he was a target on more than a few deep passes and part of a number of highlight reel-worthy plays. His longest touchdown catch of the season was a 61-yarder against Jacksonville. A leap for a 37-yard catch against the Colts, two impressive toe-dragging sideline catches to stay in bounds against the Packers and 49ers, and a two-touchdown performance against the Texans (which included a 47-yard reception) were among his brightest performances.
For all the questions surrounding his durability, in a Week 2 game against the 49ers, Richardson hauled in a game-winning touchdown from Russell Wilson after suffering a dislocation and compound fracture on his finger.
“It came out of his skin and he’s sitting there bleeding,” fellow wide receiver Doug Baldwin told reporters after the game. “His bone is out of the skin. He goes into the locker room, sews it up and tapes it up (and) comes back out.”
Off the field, Richardson has a friendly relationship with the rest of the wide receiver corps, including Baldwin and Lockett, and is a positive presence in the locker room.
But perhaps most importantly, Richardson brings a veteran presence with which Wilson is already familiar. He was Wilson’s third-most targeted player, with 80 passes thrown his way, trailing only Pro Bowlers Baldwin (116) and Jimmy Graham (96). His 703 receiving yards were second only to Baldwin (991).
Three of Seattle’s top four leaders in touchdown receptions will hit free agency in March: Richardson, Graham and tight end Luke Willson. Graham accounted for almost one third of Russell Wilson’s 34 touchdown passes (10) while Richardson and Willson finished with six and four, respectively.
Working against Richardson’s favor are Seattle’s needs at other positions. If Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson and (less likely) Michael Bennett don’t return in 2018, replenishing the defensive line and boosting the pass rush will be the top priority. And by all indications, head coach Pete Carroll favors a return to a run-first offense, which would lighten the requirement for a bevy of receiving threats.
There are a few other free agents Seattle could choose to keep as well, including safety Bradley McDougald (who played well in place of Kam Chancellor), cornerback Byron Maxwell (whom Carroll has voiced his interest in re-signing) and cornerback DeShawn Shead.
If Seattle offers Paul Richardson a multi-year contract, it does become much harder to sign Lockett to a new deal in 2019. In order to keep Richardson and Lockett, both receivers would need to take a pay cut to stay in Seattle. They could sign Richardson to a one-year deal and make another tough decision in 2019, though Richardson would, obviously, have to be open to that idea and willing to turn down multi-year offers from other teams.
With the exception of Wilson, the Seahawks have focused much of their payroll on the defensive side of the ball and seen several offensive veterans walk without a second contract (including left tackle Russell Okung, guards J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter, and wide receiver Golden Tate).
A renewed investment on offense, in Richardson, would buy Seattle insurance while Carroll and general manager John Schneider work to once again put the pieces together for another championship team.