Heading into a critical offseason, coach Pete Carroll believes the Seattle Seahawks have established the “nucleus and the core of a championship” team moving forward.
But change is inevitable in the NFL, and while the Seahawks should have most of their roster intact for next season, the front office faces some challenging decisions with 14 players slated to become unrestricted free agents in March and several key players such as quarterback Russell Wilson ready for contract extensions.
Unlike previous seasons, the Seahawks will open the new year flush with cap space, providing financial flexibility as general manager John Schneider and Carroll work in tandem to continue building a Super Bowl-caliber roster. According to OverTheCap.com, Seattle has north of $60 million in available at its disposal.
Which pending free agents will be back in Seattle next year? And which ones will likely be sporting a different uniform? Here are some early predictions for this year’s group set to test the free agency market:
Why he’ll re-sign: The Seahawks didn’t have much of a pass rush at times last season, but Clark emerged as one of the premier edge rushers in the NFC, finishing with a career-high 13.0 sacks and 27 quarterback hits. Given Seattle’s lack of depth at defensive end and the necessity for NFL teams to get after opposing quarterbacks, it’s imperative that Clark at least receives the franchise tag, which would pay him more than $17 million in 2019.
Why he’ll leave: Even if Seattle low-balls Clark in discussion for a long-term deal and contract talks stall, it’s highly, highly unlikely the team will allow him to get away as a free agent. Under those circumstances, using the franchise tag for the first time since 2010 seems like a no-brainer. This would extend the Seahawks window for negotiating a lucrative three- or four-year deal with their star pass rusher.
Prediction: The Seahawks can’t afford to let Clark get away. He’ll receive an extension that makes him one of the five highest-paid defensive ends in the league before free agency starts on March 13.
Why he’ll re-sign: Chances of Thomas, who held out during training camp and played in only four games before fracturing his leg, returning to Seattle seem slim at best. However, if the money isn’t where he expects it to be when he hits the market, there’s always a tiny chance the Seahawks could swoop back in and try to re-sign him.
Why he’ll leave: After flipping the bird to Seattle’s sideline as he exited on a cart in Arizona back in Week 4, the bridge between organization and player has been burned well beyond repair and there’s no going back. Thomas wants to be paid as the top safety in football, and while that contract may not be offered to him by any other team due to his age and recent injuries, he’ll be happy to take his services to Dallas or any other city where he feels appreciated.
Prediction: The Seahawks won’t even attempt to bring back Thomas, who will depart to sign a multi-year deal with his beloved Cowboys to make them a Super Bowl favorite next season.
Why he’ll re-sign: Well-respected in the locker room and on the field, Wright proved he still packs plenty of punch by playing lights out against Dallas in the Wild Card round. He finished with nine tackles and a sensational interception in coverage against tight end Noah Brown. When healthy, the soon-to-be 30-year old linebacker can still play at a very high level and for the right price, he’ll be worth bringing back into the fold.
Why he’ll leave: Despite his excellent showing in the playoffs, Wright only played in a total of six games this year while battling recurring knee issues. Though his instincts have helped make up for it, he’s also lost a step and will continue to decline athletically as he moves into his 30s. Seattle has been much more cautious about third contracts since Kam Chancellor suffered a career-ending injury and there’s no question age and injury history will weigh heavily when deciding what to do with Wright.
Prediction: Wright has already made it clear he plans to test the market. Seattle will make an offer, but he’ll likely be able to get more money from another suitor than the Seahawks will offer on a third contract and there’s a good chance he’ll be heading elsewhere.
Why he’ll re-sign: Using his massive frame, Fluker gave the Seahawks a true mauler at right guard and helped return the team to the role of NFC bully. After he returned from a hamstring injury in Week 3, Seattle rattled off seven straight games with 100-plus rushing yards aided by his powerful blocking on the right side. When he suffered another hamstring injury during the final month, the line struggled to replace him and his true value came to the forefront.
Why he’ll leave: Seattle won’t break the bank to keep Fluker despite his obvious impact in the trenches. The main reason? It’s all about durability issues for the former first-round pick out of Alabama. He wound up missing five games with hamstring issues this season and he only played in nine games with the Giants in 2017, so the organization may have reservations about giving him a multi-year deal with much guaranteed money.
Prediction: Fluker loves playing in Seattle and the Seahawks love having him at right guard. Negotiations will be tough because of his previous injury history, but expect the two sides to reach an agreement on a two-year deal to keep him in the Pacific Northwest.
Why he’ll re-sign: After three injury-riddled seasons with the Buccaneers, a return to Seattle resurrected Sweezy’s career, as he took over as the full-time starter at left guard in Week 3 and never looked back. The former college defensive lineman still provides outstanding athleticism for his position and played an instrumental role in Seattle’s rise to the top of the league in rushing yardage. He won’t be chasing money at this point and loves his current situation.
Why he’ll leave: Sweezy managed to play in the Wild Card loss to the Cowboys, but he once again battled injuries, suffering a cracked bone in his foot in Week 16. He’s dealt with a variety of different injuries over the years and he’ll turn 30 years old in April, so it’s not a slam dunk that he’s back with the Seahawks, who could choose to look at other free agent guard alternatives.
Prediction: Due to recent injury luck as well as his documented struggles after getting paid by the Buccaneers a few years ago, he’s probably not going to be in high demand on the free agent market, opening up the opportunity for the Seahawks to retain him at a reasonable price on a one-year deal.
Why he’ll sign: Coleman has been a turnover machine since arriving from the Patriots in a trade prior to the 2017 season, as he’s returned two interceptions and a fumble for touchdowns over the past two years. He’s thrived in Seattle’s defensive scheme as a slot corner, becoming one of the very best at his position in the NFC.
Why he’ll leave: Unlike previous eras, the slot cornerback position has become far more important in a league trending towards more spread concepts and passing the football with higher frequency. Coleman may find a market where teams are willing to overpay for his services and based on past precedent, the Seahawks wouldn’t match such offers.
Prediction: Other cornerback-needy teams will covet Coleman and his price will exceed Seattle’s ability to pay. It’ll be back to the drawing board for Schneider and Carroll as they seek out a cheap replacement option.
Why he’ll sign: Unable to make things work with the 49ers, Davis has found a home in Seattle. A physical runner with adequate hands out of the backfield, he rushed for over 500 yards and caught 34 passes in 2018, giving Seattle valuable snaps when Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny missed time with injuries. He’s also decent in pass protection and has value as a third down back.
Why he’ll leave: Penny will be Seattle’s primary backup behind Carson and compete for more playing time next year, leaving Davis as the third wheel in the backfield. The Seahawks would love to bring him back, but there will likely be several teams that can offer more playing time next year and his cost could be far more than the team wants to pay a third-string back.
Prediction: Davis tested the free agent waters last year and opted to return to Seattle. Coming off a solid season, he’ll get an offer elsewhere he simply can’t refuse and the Seahawks will have Bo Scarbrough, J.D. McKissic, and C.J. Prosise compete for the third running back spot.
Why he’ll return: Stephen had a solid first season in Seattle, recording 25 tackles and 2.0 sacks in 15 games despite dealing with a nagging foot issue most of the year. Set to turn 28 years old next month, he’s also still in the midst of his prime and at the very least should offer a reasonably-priced backup nose tackle for Seattle.
Why he’ll leave: With the league leaning more and more towards the passing game, space-eating defensive tackles aren’t in demand quite like they used to be. Stephen isn’t much of a pass rusher, which diminishes his value to an extent. With Poona Ford set to take over as the new starting nose tackle, it may be in Stephen’s best interest to sign elsewhere after a one-year stint in Seattle.
Prediction: There will be enough outside interest for Stephen due to his youth and starting experience that other options may be a better fit for him than staying in Seattle. With Ford and Jarran Reed set to be the starters moving into 2019, expect him to search for extended snaps with another team.
Why he’ll stay: Since Jordan couldn’t get healthy this season and only recorded 1.5 sacks, he won’t be in high demand as a free agent. The Seahawks need all the pass rushing depth they can get and the former first-round pick still tantalizes with his raw talent, so it’s not out of the question he’ll be back on another one-year deal.
Why he’ll leave: The Seahawks already paid Jordan as a restricted free agent with a first-round tender and the deal didn’t work out due to injury problems and inconsistent performance. Rather than set themselves up for failure again, they could just cut their losses on a player who has been a bust in the NFL.
Prediction: This one could go either way because overall interest will be minimal from other teams. Seattle won't be in a rush to re-sign him, but he could be a player who remains unsigned deep into the offseason and then comes back for league minimum prior to training camp if deemed healthy.
Why he’ll stay: Signed in September while dealing with major off-field legal issues, Kendricks played in three games before the league suspended him for his guilty plea to federal insider trading charges. He recorded 15 tackles and 2.0 sacks during that span, providing outstanding insurance with Wright sidelined by a knee injury. The Seahawks were ecstatic to get him back after an eight-game suspension, but he suffered a season-ending injury in his first game back. Carroll has indicated on several occasions that the Seahawks would love to re-sign him.
Why he’ll leave: The interest in a reunion appears to be mutual, but due to unique circumstances, it remains unknown if Kendricks will be able to sign with anyone. He will be sentenced for his crimes later this month, leaving his status as an NFL player in limbo. If he serves extended time in prison as many predict, that may signal an end to his career altogether.
Prediction: Until his punishment becomes known later this month, it’s impossible to know what will happen down the road. But if he’s not in prison when the season starts, there’s a strong likelihood he will be starting alongside Bobby Wagner as Seattle’s new weakside linebacker in 2019.
Why he’ll stay: He’s one of the finest special teams players on Seattle’s roster, and given the struggles the team had on kick and punt coverage late in the season, keeping him around makes a great deal of sense. He showed he’s still got it with a beautiful play in the Wild Card game against Dallas when he batted a punt from the end zone and the Seahawks downed it at the two-yard line.
Why he’ll leave: Set to turn 30 years old early next month, Thorpe has only played defense sparingly during his three seasons with the Seahawks. He also made nearly $1.8 million in 2018 and there’s no way Seattle will give him a similar deal this time around as only a core special teams player.
Prediction: Thorpe will return to Seattle on a one-year deal, but it will be for substantially less money than he made under the terms of his previous contract.
Why he’ll stay: “Sea Bass” made three game-winning field goals during his first season in Seattle and proved to be an upgrade over his predecessor Blair Walsh.
Why he’ll leave: He’s going to be 41 years old coming off a significant hamstring injury suffered in the playoffs and made less than 82 percent of his total field goals in 2018. He also has a bad back, which makes signing him risky.
Prediction: Janikowski will retire after his lone season with the Seahawks and the team will have to find its third kicker in three seasons.
Why he’ll stay: A former starter for the Rams, Alexander provides excellent depth at both safety positions and played well on special teams throughout the season, finishing with 10 tackles in 9 games.
Why he’ll leave: There are numerous road blocks in front of Alexander preventing him from playing defensively in Seattle. If he wants a better shot at a starting spot, it won’t be with the Seahawks.
Prediction: Seattle will likely look at other alternatives for reserve safety help, including the draft, leaving Alexander expendable. He’ll try to latch on with another team.
Why he’ll stay: Seattle dealt a sixth-round pick to the Packers to acquire Hundley prior to the start of the season. For the investment to really be worth it, they should re-sign him as Wilson’s main backup thanks to his prior starting experience.
Why he’ll leave: The Seahawks may decide after one season working with him that Hundley isn’t the answer behind Wilson. There’s also a chance he could sign with another team that has less stability at quarterback with hopes of finding his way onto the field.
Prediction: Given what Seattle traded away to acquire him, the Seahawks will lock up Hundley on another one-year deal to continue developing him behind Wilson.