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Clayton: What Seahawks’ free agents could net them in compensatory picks

If Jimmy Graham leaves, it may get the Seahawks as high as a fourth-round pick. (AP)

To everyone’s surprise, compensatory picks were announced by the NFL late last week, roughly a month before the normal release date.

There were no surprises. Of 32 compensatory picks distributed to 15 teams, 24 went to seven teams that lost more than one unrestricted free agent than they signed for the 2017 season. As a reminder, the NFL gives compensatory picks to teams that lose more unrestricted free agents than they sign.

The reason the Seahawks have to be careful in free agency

Because the Seahawks signed more UFAs than they lost, they were shut out of the compensatory game. That won’t be the case after this offseason. Of Seattle’s 17 unrestricted free agents, at least eight could generate enough value to gain significant compensatory picks in 2019.

If the Seahawks don’t sign or franchise Sheldon Richardson, they could net two third-round picks, a fifth-round pick and a sixth-round pick based on some of my estimates of what some of the Seahawks free agents could get if they leave in free agency. The most a team can get is four compensatory picks as long as they lose four or more free agents than they sign.

Depending on who signs where and for how much will play significantly in what the Seahawks can do in free agency. The four 2019 compensatory picks would also give the Seahawks draft currency they could use in trade discussions, as comp picks now can be traded.

But there is one limitation if the Seahawks elect to play the compensatory game. They probably can’t invest in an unrestricted free agent who makes more than $4 million a year. Let’s say, for example, the Seahawks lose tight end Jimmy Graham at about $9 million a year and sign either Tyler Eifert or Austin Sefarian-Jenkins for $8 million or $9 million per year. That signing would cancel out the third-round compensatory pick.

An example of that was the Baltimore Ravens’ signing of safety Tony Jefferson for $8.5 million per year. That addition cancelled what would be a third-round pick the Ravens would have acquired for the loss of right tackle Rick Wagner to the Detroit Lions.

Each year, I try to make a pre-free agency estimate of what players can make in free agency. I do it league-wide.

Richardson is the best defensive tackle who could be on the market, and he could get between $14 million and $16 million per year. That’s third-round compensatory pick range.

Graham could get between $7 million to $9 million per year, which could be a fourth-rounder, but it’s not out of the question for him to get near the $10 million average he made with the Seahawks, which would net a third.

Wide receiver Paul Richardson could get $6 million to $7 million per year. That’s a fifth-round pick.

Cornerback Byron Maxwell and safety Bradley McDougald could possibly get starting jobs elsewhere and each could get the Seahawks a sixth-round pick.

Cornerback DeShawn Shead could sign for $3 million and produce a seventh-rounder.

Tight end Luke Willson could get around $3 million per year if not more.

Usually in free agency, it’s safer to take the over when estimating signings because prices go up and not down. Defensive end Marcus Smith and linebackers Michael Wilhoite and Terence Garvin could get contracts higher than the NFL minimum. Players who sign for the minimum don’t count in favor of the team losing free agents in the compensatory equation.

No team wants to lose as many as 11 free agents, and chances of re-signing some are strong. But if the Seahawks figure to lose seven to nine free agents, they can spend a little bit in free agency to get a few players.

What this means is that the Seahawks will need to sit out the first wave of free agency, but they can get involved once they realize what they lose and what they can afford to sign without sacrificing top compensatory picks.

General manager John Schneider has played this game well since 2010. Expect him to play it again this year.

More columns from John Clayton

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