RENTON — Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin turned 25 just last month and is still playing on his rookie contract.
An example for those who say that the NFL stands for “Not For Long,” Griffin is something of a grizzled veteran as he begins his fourth season.
Consider that of the 79 players on the team’s roster, only seven have been with the Seahawks continuously longer than Griffin, who arrived as a third-round draft choice in 2017.
Now to the question that hovers over Griffin as he begins his third year as the team’s starting left cornerback — how long will he be able to stay?
Griffin will make $2.133 million in 2020 in the final season of his four-year rookie contract, getting a boost of about $1.4 million in the offseason from the league’s proven performance bonus escalator.
It will take a lot more than that to keep him beyond this year, especially if he turns in another season as he did in 2019. He showed significant improvement playing the pivotal left cornerback spot for a second year and earned the right to play in his first Pro Bowl.
But as is always the case in the NFL, Griffin is far from the only key Seahawks player facing contract uncertainty as the season begins.
Others who can be free agents following the season include fellow cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who was available in a trade with Washington in March for a fifth-round pick in large part because he wanted a new contract he wasn’t going to get anytime soon.
The Seahawks have to manage their salary cap now knowing that at some point in the next year or so they will have to give Jamal Adams a contract that could make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL before his deal runs out following the 2021 season (at least, that’s the assumption because it’s hard to figure they would give up two first-round draft choices and not keep Adams for the long-term).
Free safety Quandre Diggs has just two years left on his deal.
Keeping all four members of a secondary that on paper has the look of one that could be among the best in the NFL for the long haul won’t be easy.
But if Griffin has any worries about how it will all shake out he isn’t letting on.
“The contract will play itself out and hopefully I’m still here and we’ll see how it goes,” Griffin said during a Zoom interview with local media members.
Actually, Griffin made clear he’s a little more than hopeful he can stay in Seattle.
“The main thing is that the coaches, the organization, they know I love it here,” Griffin said. “I feel like that’s very noticeable. I would love to be here as long as I can, if not forever.”
Griffin, in fact, said he felt at home more quickly with the Seahawks than he did in college at Central Florida even though he grew up in nearby St. Petersburg, recalling how former UCF coach George O’Leary once told Shaquill and twin Shaquem that they had to cut their hair.
“I don’t know what dreads had to do with football, but it happened,” Griffin said.
He recalled that among the first things Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told him after he was drafted was “to show your personality. Let it show.”
“That’s all I could ever ask for,” Griffin said. “And that’s a true home to me.”
Of course, there is the presence of Shaquem, drafted by the Seahawks a year later, allowing the twins to still be “Inseparable,” a word they used to title their autobiography published last year.
So yes, he wants to stay.
But who could have imagined when the 2017 season started and Griffin joined Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in the secondary that within two years not a single founding member of the Legion of Boom would remain?
Tough choices await the Seahawks over the next year, especially considering that the team also will have to consider giving new deals after this season to running back Chris Carson and defensive tackle Poona Ford. They’ll have to deal with a salary cap in 2021 that is likely to drop from the $198.2 million of this season due to COVID-19-related revenue losses. The cap could drop to $175 million, the floor agreed to by the league and the Players Association, and depending on the revenue loss could also be below expected levels through the 2024 season.
Because of the financial uncertainty, teams have been handing out fewer extensions this offseason with some notable exceptions, such as tight ends George Kittle and Travis Kelce, who signed new deals this week with the 49ers and Kansas City, respectively, and Green Bay defensive tackle Kenny Clark on Saturday.
The Seahawks could hand Griffin a new deal at any time, and in years past have handed out extensions during camp to players entering the final year of their contracts, such as receiver Tyler Lockett prior to the 2018 season.
Maybe Griffin’s turn will come soon.
But if Griffin has to wait, then he also gets one more season to state his case.
While virtually all of Griffin’s stats improved last season from 2018 (he allowed just a 57.1 completion percentage against him last season compared to 66.3 the year before, according to Pro Football Reference) he said he hopes to improve his interceptions. Griffin has just three in three seasons, none last year.
“Make the play,” Griffin said of his focus in training camp this year. “I need to make the play. No more dropping the ball. … going into this camp, I see the ball in the air I’m going to try to catch it every single time. I need to be more consistent with that.”
If he succeeds at that goal it might help Griffin reel in a much bigger prize down the road.