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Clayton: Big decisions at OL, DE for Seahawks in free agency

Seahawks G D.J. Fluker joined Bob, Groz and Tom Monday. (AP)

The NFL offseason unofficially picked up on Tuesday, the first day teams could franchise players ready to hit free agency.

Will Seahawks use franchise tag on Frank Clark sooner rather than later?

The two-week window to designate franchise players ends on March 5. If deals don’t get done, general managers have to figure out whether to re-sign the player or let him hit free agency. A few teams are passing on this: the Pittsburgh Steelers announced Wednesday they are not going to put the transition tag on halfback Le’Veon Bell. He will be one of the top free agents available, possibly going to the New York Jets or maybe the Houston Texans.

Let’s piece together a few odds and ends before everyone in the league heads to Indianapolis for next week’s scouting combine:

• As many as 10 players could get the franchise tag this month. I would expect four pass-rushers will be tagged: Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark, Houston Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford, and Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. According to NFLPA projections, Clark’s franchise tag should be $17.291 million if the cap is $190 million. (I still hear the cap could go up to $192 million, which means the tag for defensive ends would be at $17.473 million.)

It’s going to be tough for the Seahawks to get a long-term deal done with Clark in two weeks, unless one of the other pass rushers sign. Ford is going to be looking to get $19 million a year, while those free agent defensive ends will be trying to get $20 million a year or more. The New England Patriots figure to lose defensive end Trey Flowers because they probably won’t franchise him. That means Flowers, Ziggy Ansah, Brandon Graham, and Dante Fowler will be the top defensive ends hitting the market.

• I was stumbling across some free agent ratings, and Seahawks tackle George Fant’s name is an interesting one to follow. Fant is a restricted free agent, but some scouts rank him among the better free agent tackles hitting the market. This isn’t to say the Seahawks will lose him — they won’t — but to keep him, they probably have to put the second-round restricted tender on him. That would cost around $3.11 million. If someone would sign him, the Seahawks would have seven days to match. If they don’t match, they would get a second-round choice.

The Seahawks have two unsigned, pending free agent starting guards: D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy. Both had great seasons and loved playing on the Seahawks offensive line. But if Fant has such good value, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get him on the field as a starter. If the Seahawks lose either Sweezy or Fluker, they could move Germain Ifedi to right guard and start Fant at right tackle.

• Another consideration for the offensive line could be former Seahawks first-round pick James Carpenter. Carpenter fit better in the New York Jets offensive line than he did in Seattle under the Tom Cable system (the Jets used more man blocking and took advantage of his 6-5, 321-pound body). But Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari loves big guards. Fluker was a big asset to the line last year, while Sweezy was great and tough. At least the Seahawks have options.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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