What to expect from the Seahawks as free agency begins

Mar 7, 2016, 9:47 AM | Updated: 10:48 am
With the big money usually spent early in free agency, expect Bruce Irvin to find his new team righ...
With the big money usually spent early in free agency, expect Bruce Irvin to find his new team right away. (AP)

NFL free agency comes in waves.

That’s the best way to understand the league’s annual spending spree that begins with window shopping on Monday and Tuesday before proceeding to the check-out line on Wednesday. That’s when teams are allowed to begin signing contracts with players from other teams whose deals have expired.

Seahawks UFA profiles: Irvin, Okung, Sweezy, Rubin, Lane, Kearse, Mebane

The Seahawks have 17 players who are unrestricted free agents, meaning they have the requisite four years of NFL tenure and their deals are expiring. These are the players a team worries about losing. That group includes seven starters as well as punter Jon Ryan, so when the market opens this week, the Seahawks are going to be playing defense with somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion in 2016 salary-cap space available among the 32 teams.

It’s impossible to say what’s going to happen. It is possible to provide a basic sketch of when you can expect some answers to be coming and that goes back to the fact that free agency comes in waves.

The first wave: LB Bruce Irvin, WR Jermaine Kearse, RG J.R. Sweezy, CB Jeremy Lane and perhaps LT Russell Okung.

The big money gets spent early. At least that’s what usually happens as the players whose services are sought by multiple teams benefit from bidding wars. These are the deals that often are agreed to before the contract can be formally signed.

Irvin is going to be part of this wave. That’s the closest thing to a certainty among the Seahawks’ free agents with many expecting Jacksonville and Atlanta to be two of his most ardent suitors. As for Seattle’s involvement? A year ago, the Seahawks declined to exercise an option that would have kept Irvin in Seattle in 2016 for just under $7.8 million. Most expect Irvin will command a free-agent deal that averages more than that this week.

The question for Seattle is who else is going to be hotly pursued in the first days of free agency. It isn’t whether Seattle wants Kearse, Lane and Sweezy back so much as how much other teams are willing to pay them. The Seahawks would love to have all three back, but whether that’s possible will depend on whether another team backs up the Brinks truck to get them. The longer any of these three remain on the market, the better news it is regarding their potential return to Seattle.

Okung is the biggest uncertainty. A Pro Bowler in 2012, he plays the most valuable position on the offensive line. He has has also missed one out of every four regular-season games in his career and is coming off shoulder surgery that is going to keep him from participating in offseason work. Throw in the fact that he’s representing himself and Okung’s situation is the most difficult to predict. The only certain thing: If he’s coming back to Seattle, that’s not going to be an agreement that’s reached quickly.

Second wave: DT Ahtyba Rubin, DT Brandon Mebane, QB Tarvaris Jackson and P Jon Ryan.

Rubin, Mebane and Jackson are established veterans who are going to get contracts. They’re just not necessarily going to get them quickly. Rubin and Jackson were on the free-agent market just a year ago and didn’t command multi-year deals. Rubin’s position is stronger after the season he had in Seattle, but the market for run-stuffing defensive tackles is capped at about $4 million annually.

Mebane and Ryan are the two longest-tenured members of the team and the only two players who predate the arrival of coach Pete Carroll. If Mebane is back in Seattle, it’s going to be at less than the $5 million that his previous deal averaged, and as consistent as Ryan has been, he may not be getting a raise on his $1.5 million. Each might find a richer offer elsewhere, but don’t expect a resolution for either one in the first week of free agency.

Third wave: DT Demarcus Dobbs, LB Mike Morgan, FB Will Tukuafu and C Lemuel Jeanpierre.

All have established themselves as rotational players in Seattle. None figures to land a multi-year contract from the Seahawks. Will one of them get a more lucrative deal elsewhere as safety Chris Maragos did in Philadelphia two years ago or O’Brien Schofield did last year in Atlanta? Perhaps.

Fourth wave: TE Chase Coffman, RB Bryce Brown, RB Fred Jackson and TE Anthony McCoy.

Jackson has indicated he would like to continue his NFL career. Expect that to be elsewhere. As professional as he was for the Seahawks as a third-down back, Seattle likely will look to get more speed for that role. Coffman, Brown and McCoy were all added as late-season injury fill-ins. Of the three, Coffman was the most intriguing, but all of them could get a chance to make the roster in training camp.

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What to expect from the Seahawks as free agency begins