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Clayton: The reason the Seahawks have to be careful in free agency

Free agent Paul Richardson could net Seahawks GM John Schneider a compensatory pick. (AP)

Just about every day through the next month, free agent names will be topics of discussion involving the Seahawks.

You’ve already heard some over the past week. Some believe the Seahawks should go after Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell. When the Oakland Raiders told kicker Sebastian Janikowski they weren’t going to re-sign him, Seahawks fans were quick to proclaim him the replacement for Blair Walsh. There were some wondering if the Seahawks would go after 35-year-old linebacker Derrick Johnson, whom the Chiefs informed he would be a free agent they weren’t going to re-sign.

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Two words for any of those thoughts: compensatory picks. This may be a topic I will keep pounding on, but the Seahawks have to be very selective dabbling into free agency and most likely will have to stay out of unrestricted free agency because of them.

This is the way compensatory picks are distributed: teams get a compensatory pick for each qualifying free agent they lose in free agency. If a team signs three free agents and loses four in unrestricted free agency, it can get a compensatory pick. A team can get up to four compensatory picks if it loses four more free agents than they sign.

Those compensatory picks will occur between the third and seventh rounds and will be for the 2019 draft.

Here is why the Seahawks will be reluctant to bid heavy, if at all, in free agency. They have 17 free agents. Losing Sheldon Richardson and Jimmy Graham each could net third-round picks for the Seahawks. If wide receiver Paul Richardson gets a $6 million per year deal from another team, the Seahawks could get a fifth-round pick if not a fourth. Luke Joeckel and Bradley McDougald could result in picks in the fifth or six rounds depending on if other teams can fit them into their starting lineups.

While you might think it’s wrong of the Seahawks to worry about four picks in the 2019 draft as opposed to building the roster for next year, you have to look closer at what is going to make general manager John Schneider tick over the next couple of seasons. With age catching up to the team’s core group on defense, Schneider has to find replacements for the Legion of Boom secondary and eventually the stars in front seven of the defense.

For that, he needs draft choices. Teams are built through the draft, not free agency. At the moment, the Seahawks have the 18th pick in the first round of the 2018 draft and nothing in rounds two and three. Trading down in the first round can start filling the voids, which can be done until April right before the draft. In the meantime, the Seahawks can build up draft reserves in the 2019 draft knowing they can use them in trades this year.

Future compensatory picks can be traded. The higher the compensatory picks are in the draft, the more value they can be in trade discussions.

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In 2017, the Seahawks didn’t have a good list of free agents that could net them compensatory picks. Only four unrestricted free agents were signed by other teams, and three were at the NFL minimum: tight end Brandon Williams, tackle Bradley Sowell and defensive tackle John Jenkins. Kicker Stephen Hauschka signed with Buffalo for $2.95 million a year, which would be worth only a seventh-round pick. Sensing that, Schneider hit the free agent market hard knowing this was his one chance to do it.

Andrew Norwell is going to command more than $12 million a year. Signing him would cancel the third-rounder Seattle might be able to get for Richardson or Graham. An $8 million per year player would wipe out a fourth.

Some people wonder if the Seahawks will sign a running back in free agency. They would have good options in the draft if they can fill the upper-round voids by trading for more picks, or they could sign a back who was cut from another team because those players don’t count in the compensatory pool.

Keep this in mind when you think free agency.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturdayshows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive”segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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