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O’Neil: Why Seahawks’ aggressiveness doesn’t show up in free agency

John Schneider and Pete Carroll's approach to free agency has remained steady. (Getty)

Same old Seahawks.

This team that has suffered through nine consecutive winning seasons is once again refusing to alter its approach to unrestricted free agency.

What’s been the Seahawks’ best move so far this offseason?

Hasn’t Seattle learned anything? March is the time you impress your owner by getting out their checkbook and signing multi-year deals to guys who are most often available because their previous team passed on the chance to put big bucks into those pockets first. There are headlines that Seattle is missing out on. A news cycle that needs to be filled.

Instead, Seattle has done the same old, same old. It has kept its deals with unrestricted free agents on the shorter side of things, which in this case is the one-year contract with tight end Gerald Everett, formerly of the Rams. Then it has shown a distinct willingness to trade a draft pick for a proven veteran. In this case, that would be dealing a fifth-round pick to the Raiders for guard Gabe Jackson, whose contract calls for him to make $9.3 million in 2021.

The Seahawks value veterans more than you’d expect for a team that emphasizes the draft as much as they do, but from the first year under general manager John Schneider, Seattle has been a team willing to trade picks for veterans whether it was getting Marshawn Lynch for two picks in the latter half of the draft in 2010, or higher-budget deals more recently to acquire offensive tackle Duane Brown, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or safety Jamal Adams.

This should provide you with a clue of how the Seahawks view unrestricted free agency: It’s that time of the NFL calendar when acquiring players is absolutely most expensive in large part because everyone has finished the belt-tightening of offseason roster trimming and is looking around at how best to improve on the year before.

Seattle tends to play defense early in free agency. It looks to retain its own players, and often does. Examples that come to mind are 2012 when the New England Patriots made a push to sign Red Bryant and the Seahawks upped their offer to keep him. Seattle kept Michael Bennett the same way two years later, matching the offer the Chicago Bears had made to the defensive lineman. This year, Seattle sought to keep Shaquill Griffin after the Jacksonville Jaguars became very interested in him, though Griffin ultimately left.

It’s not that Seattle has a conservative front office. It doesn’t. The Seahawks are one of the most aggressive when it comes to making trades or drafting players from lesser-known colleges. But when it comes to signing unrestricted free agents from other teams, the Seahawks are relatively conservative, and especially so since Russell Wilson established himself as the franchise quarterback.

When they do buy, it tends to be in bulk, which has the effect of lessening the risk by spreading it out over multiple players. Instead of buying one top-of-the-line talent and then hoping that the player both measures up to expectations AND stays healthy, Seattle is more likely to acquire multiple players at lesser salaries.

When the Seahawks do make a bigger purchase, it’s usually on a shorter contract. It’s more than a test drive but significantly less than a multi-year purchase agreement. It’s like moving in together before getting married. Let’s see how this works out. While that comes at higher initial salary cap cost, the tradeoff is that they get to see how that player fits before committing long-term. And if the player doesn’t work out – as was the case with Luke Joeckel in 2017 – the team can move on without having to weigh the long-term cost to the salary cap.

Does it mean Seattle misses out? Sure. You can make a pretty strong argument that instead of signing three different offensive linemen in free agency last year, the Seahawks would have been better off piling all that money up to acquire Jack Conklin, who signed with the Browns and was an All-Pro. But there’s two things to remember about that, the first being that Conklin is the exception and not the rule. The second part is that it’s not just the immediate returns that will be important with a player like Conklin, but how long he can sustain it. In general, expect only about half the players signed in unrestricted free agency to make it to a third season with the team that signs them.

Expensive and short-lived is no way to live if you’re a team like Seattle, which has explicitly stated that it builds its roster with the goal of sustaining success in perpetuity as opposed to loading up to win now while pushing the financial consequences of that spending down the road.

The downside of this strategy? Well, it means that Seattle fans every March spend the first few days of free agency waiting and watching and wondering why the team isn’t more active. And for as much complaining as people tend to do, it’s much harder to see the downside in the team’s regular-season results.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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