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Clayton: How will the trade market affect the Seahawks?

Would the Seahawks be willing to trade one of their best players? (AP)

The timing of the Alex Smith trade to the Washington Redskins caught everyone by surprise.

To see a deal happen this early is rare. The trade deadline begins March 14. The Redskins executed this trade on January 30. I’ve seen trades worked out at the combine, which is in late February, but not this early.

O’Neil: A look at history shows why Seahawks should trade Earl Thomas

This trade indicates two things. First, it’s going to be a very active offseason. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a quarterback was involved in the first trade; four to five quarterbacks could go in the first round of the draft. With Alex Smith replacing him, Kirk Cousins is free to sign with anyone for more than $27.5 million.

What I wonder is how the trade market will ultimately affect the Seahawks. A potential Earl Thomas holdout could lead to a trade, and while it would be nice for the Seahawks to get a first-round pick and another draft choice, it’s more likely his value could net the equivalent of a first-rounder.

If the Seahawks can’t get a No. 1, getting a high selection in the second round and maybe another pick (a fifth-rounder, for example) could work. Obviously, the Seahawks would rather have Thomas on the roster playing free safety; but to make things work this offseason, John Schneider needs to move assets to fill holes in the draft. The Seahawks have the 18th pick in the first round but no picks in rounds two and three. Filling those voids are important.

One option that I think would be a no-brainer would be putting the franchise tag on defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Richardson should be the top defensive tackle in free agency and could command a contract in excess of $15 million a year. If the salary cap is around $178 million, the franchise number could come in around $14 million. More importantly, franchising Richardson protects an asset — and at $14 million, it’s a little bit of a bargain.

What the Seahawks can’t afford to do is lose too much defense. Sure, they could get a third-round compensatory pick in 2019 if Richardson gets a big contract elsewhere. Franchising him, though, gives them more leverage.

Franchise players can be traded. The Seahawks could be without Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril on the defensive line, and without Kam Chancellor and maybe Earl Thomas in the secondary.

Richardson had a solid season in Seattle. He may not have produced big sack numbers but he was great against the run and drew double team blocks. A franchise tag can be justified.

But let’s say the Seahawks can’t fit $14 million salary in their salary cap. They could trade him for a second-round if not more. And, clearly, the Seahawks could gain more picks if they make a few trades from the 18th pick in the first round to lower spots in the trade. Ultimately, Seattle has options.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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