Not that the NFL offseason ever lacks for news – witness the several weeks of debate and speculation that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s pass-protection comments elicited.
But the league’s news cycle is about to kick into a higher gear, as free agency and the draft take center stage.
There won’t be an NFL combine, which usually serves as the unofficial offseason kickoff in Indianapolis, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Draft-eligible players will instead be timed, tested and graded at pro days on college campuses.
The rest of the league’s offseason schedule, though, will go as planned.
Here’s a look at key dates with thoughts on how they impact the Seahawks:
Feb. 23-March 9: Franchise tag window
The Seahawks have used the franchise tag just twice since 2010, on kicker Olindo Mare in 2010 and defensive end Frank Clark in 2019. The tag on Clark was a way for Seattle to buy time to work out a trade.
The Seahawks have two pending free agents this year they might consider using the tag on – running back Chris Carson and cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
Teams can use one tag per year, which keeps the player under contract for one season.
Though it’s unclear what the league’s exact tag number will be, for Carson it likely would be around $8.5 million for 2021, and for Griffin around $15 million.
That would put Carson among the NFL’s top 10 highest-paid running backs and Griffin among the top seven cornerbacks.
As Seattle did with Clark, teams can use the tag in part to prevent a player from entering free agency and keeping their options open, including working out a long-term extension. And because all of the tag number goes on the 2021 salary cap, that’s likely what Seattle would prefer if the tag is used.
Fourteen NFL players were tagged last year, but only one signed a long-term deal.
With the salary cap certain to be lower in 2021 than in 2020, however, there could be less use of the tag.
The cap was $198.2 million in 2020. Though the exact number for this year’s cap remains uncertain, a report from Pro Football Talk said it is expected to be between $182 million and $183 million. That might make teams less inclined to use the tag.
Carson and Griffin battled injuries last season, and the Seahawks may feel they have other options at those positions. Considering that and their history, it’s more likely they won’t use the tag.
This also is when teams can assign a transition tag to a player. The transition tag is used less frequently, and Seattle hasn’t used it since 2006 with Steve Hutchinson.
The transition tag gives a player less money than the franchise tag, but allows him to continue seeking offers from other teams. The player’s current team can match other offers.
March 15: ‘Legal tampering period’ begins
NFL teams can re-sign their free agents at any time. But they are not allowed to talk with representatives of other teams’ free agents until March 15. Of course, such conversations usually happen on sort of a “wink-wink” basis at the combine. The agent of one player on a team might just happen to represent lots of other players; maybe a name or two slips out during a conversation.
Of course, that can happen in other ways. It will be interesting to see if the free-agent process seems different this year without the combine.
March 17: Free agents can sign with other teams
Though many agreements will be reported during the tampering period, March 17 is when players become free agents (at 1 p.m. Seattle time) and can sign with other teams.
It also marks the deadline for teams to submit qualifying offers to restricted and exclusive-rights free agents.
The Seahawks have 21 unrestricted free agents, led by Carson, Shaquill Griffin, K.J. Wright, Benson Mayowa, Bruce Irvin, Quinton Dunbar and Carlos Hyde. That number accounts for the announced retirements of Mike Iupati and Greg Olsen. Iupati, Seattle’s primary starting left guard the past two seasons, told The Spokesman-Review over the weekend that he is retiring.
Seattle has nine other restricted or exclusive-rights free agents, the most intriguing of which may be Shaquem Griffin, who is a restricted free agent. Seattle would have to offer Griffin a tender worth a non-guaranteed $2.1 million to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
April 19: Offseason programs begin
The general expectation is that offseason programs will again be held virtually. But however the programs are held, this will mark a key date for the Seahawks, as the first day when new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron can begin holding meetings with players and implementing his new system.
April 29-May 1: NFL draft
The Seahawks have just four picks, and only one in the first three rounds, at No. 56 in the second, thanks to last year’s Jamal Adams trade with the New York Jets.
So it’s more accurate to say that for the Seahawks’ purposes that the draft doesn’t begin until April 30, unless they acquire some first-day selections.
May 3: Option deadline for first-round picks
This hasn’t always applied to the Seahawks, because they haven’t always had first-round draft picks.
But it does this year, as they will have to decide whether to exercise a contract option on the 2022 season for running back Rashaad Penny, a 2018 first-round selection.
It probably won’t be much of a decision. Changes in rules means the option becomes immediately fully guaranteed. In the past it was guaranteed for injury only, and the player could still be cut before his fifth year without the team having to pay the salary.
Though exact figures on what the salaries for the options will be (it’s dependent in part on what the cap number is), it’s expected to be close to $9 million for Penny.
It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks guaranteeing that for a player who saw just 38 snaps last season while coming off a major knee injury. That means Penny likely will be playing for his future in 2021.
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