SEATTLE – So there’s J.J. Watt, perhaps the best defensive player of his generation, signing a two-year, $31 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
And upon this happening, the first thought in Seattle is that life just got a whole lot tougher for Russell Wilson, who has taken more sacks than anybody since he came into the league.
But it also raises a second question – a particularly relevant one given Wilson’s open discontent of late: Why don’t the Seahawks ever seem to go big in free agency?
No doubt that Seahawks general manager John Schneider has snagged some big names over the years. But almost all of them – from Wilson to Marshawn Lynch, to Richard Sherman to Earl Thomas, to Bobby Wagner to Jimmy Graham, to Duane Brown to Jadeveon Clowney to Jamal Adams – have come via the draft or trades.
It doesn’t mean they are unwilling to spend money. They made Wilson the highest-paid player in football, made Sherman, Wagner and Thomas the highest-paid players at their positions, locked Brown up to a long-term deal and will likely go big on Adams.
But in terms of free-agent splashes? Pretty much sparrows jumping into a puddle.
Perhaps the most significant FA acquisitions came in 2013, when the Seahawks signed Michael Bennett to a one-year, $4.8 million deal, and Cliff Avril to a two-year, $13 million deal. Each was a key piece in the team’s Super Bowl runs, and each ended up signing an extension with the Seahawks.
But there have been no real home run swings since. The question: Is that really a bad thing?
Overthecap.com features a chart showing the correlation between free-agency spending and winning percentage from 2017-2020.
In the bottom-left corner are teams that have spent less than the NFL average and were below .500 during that stretch. In the top-left corner are teams that have spent less than the NFL average and were above .500. In the bottom-right corner are teams that have spent above the NFL average and were below .500. And in the top-right corner are teams that have spent above the NFL average and were above .500.
Free-agent enthusiasts probably think that top-right corner was loaded. After all, you gotta spend to win, right? But it turns out that only the Bills and Bears occupied that portion of the graphic – and only Buffalo was at .600 or better.
Twelve teams occupied the bottom-right corner – the ones that spent big but still lost. Another 12 – including the Seahawks – were in the top-left portion. The data almost overwhelmingly suggests that being frugal during free agency is the right approach. But then I asked former agent and current CBS Sports contributor Joel Corry about it.
He mentioned how the Bucs won a Super Bowl after signing Tom Brady and Leonard Fournette through free agency, and that Kansas City won the year after making Tyrann Mathieu one of the league’s highest-paid safeties. He added that the Broncos became instant contenders when they lured Peyton Manning, and that the defense that carried him to a Super Bowl win was built through free agency.
It’s a case-by-case basis, Corry said. Does that mean the Seahawks have taken the right approach?
“Seattle has accomplished something difficult to do: stay competitive in going from a low-cost QB to a high-priced QB,” Corry said. “Taking a shot or two at a true difference maker probably should have been given serious consideration.”
Maybe. Maybe instead of trying to piecemeal the offensive line with a string of $3-4 million contracts, they should have dropped $12 million or so one big name. Maybe there was an impact receiver who could have helped get the Seahawks to another Super Bowl.
But it’s tough to argue with the results.
Corry is right that it’s difficult to be incessant contenders when you’ve ponied up big for a QB, as the Seahawks have done with Wilson. And yet, they have won at least 10 games in eight of the past nine seasons, and just finished 12-4.
Seahawks fans are justified in their frustration for having gone six straight seasons without making the NFC Championship. But given their consistency, not to mention teams’ general results when spending big this time of year, the Seahawks aren’t likely to change their approach to free agency.
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