Richard Sherman is a 49er.
Michael Bennett is an Eagle.
Doug Baldwin is a bummed-out Seahawk.
Seahawks fans were so nervous following the seismic moves that shook the franchise last week that many freaked when Baldwin posted this on his Twitter account Sunday: “Well … this sucks.”
People worried the team’s No.-1 wide receiver was the next star out of Seattle.
Rest assured, Baldwin was still a Seahawk entering Tuesday.
Baldwin is a great friend of Sherman’s. They were teammates at Stanford from 2007-10. They were NFL rookies together and teammates in Seattle from 2011 until Sunday, when Sherman signed a three-year contract with San Francisco that could be worth up to $39 million. That was one day after the Seahawks released their three-time All-Pro cornerback rather than pay his $11 million salary this season.
Baldwin and Sherman have been together throughout each of the past 11 years, from Palo Alto to Puget Sound. Now they are going to be playing against each other, sometimes man to man, twice next season inside the NFC West.
So, yeah, Baldwin’s bummed.
So where do he and the Seahawks go from here?
Monday started the league’s “legal tampering period,” the two days teams can begin negotiating with free agents. Wednesday at 1 p.m., the NFL’s free-agency market opens and the 2018 league year officially begins.
Thanks to this past week’s roster moves — including waiving veteran defensive back Jeremy Lane to save more money — the Seahawks cleared $17.95 million in salary-cap space. They begin this week an estimated $30.5 million under the cap, minus about $7 million they will need to set aside to sign their eight draft picks. So, effectively, Seattle has $23 million or so to spend, not counting injury contingencies.
Here are the team’s priorities for shopping right now:
1. Restock the defensive line/try to re-sign Sheldon Richardson.
The added cap space allows the Seahawks to sweeten their offer to keep the defensive tackle.
The 27-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career on Wednesday. The team that traded a second-round draft pick in 2018 and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for Richardson in September needs his athleticism and versatility on a defensive line now thinned to near empty-cupboard status. With Bennett gone, the only proven pass rusher certain to be on the team next season is Frank Clark — and the defensive end’s rookie contract ends after this year. Richardson is likely seeking an annual salary well above the $8 million he earned last season.
With Bennett gone the Seahawks can sell Richardson on having a more dynamic role up and down the defensive line next season, at end and tackle, instead solely as the three-technique, gap tackle he was in his Seahawks debut last season. Will that and Seattle’s new money be enough to keep him? If the market that is soft for defensive tackles opens and he remains unsigned, Seattle will have a difficult time matching offers elsewhere. Half the league has more cap space than Seattle.
Ndamukong Suh was in Seattle Monday. No word if his agent talked to the Seahawks. The 31-year-old defensive tackle and Portland native is expected to be released this week by the Miami Dolphins. They don’t want anything to do with Suh’s $26.1 million cap charge for 2018.
All of Suh’s guaranteed salary is past on the mammoth six-year, $114 million deal he signed with Miami in 2015. So he’d come far more cheaply than that for Seattle, or anyone else on the free-agent market. But how much more cheaply?
2. Determine Cliff Avil’s future.
The Pro Bowl defensive end told NFL Network last week he was days away from his next doctor’s assessment to determine if he’s made any progress from the season-ending neck injury he suffered October. It’s been a foregone conclusion for most that Avril, 31, is going to retire. The team is giving him time to announce what he wants when he wants to.
The Seahawks will get $7.1 million in salary cap space if Avril retires. The sooner that happens, the more the team can shop for pass rushers to replace him — plus fill its many other needs.
3. Tighten up at tight end.
This free agency week began with two-year veteran Nick Vannett as Seattle’s only tight end with any lengthy playing experience signed for 2018. Jimmy Graham is a free agent way too expensive to re-sign. A league source told The News Tribune the Seahawks are expecting Graham to sign with either the New Orleans Saints, in a reunion, or the Green Bay Packers. Luke Willson also is due to be a free agent Wednesday.
Willson is not a strong blocker and Vannett hasn’t yet proven himself as a blocker in minimal playing time. Will Dissly of the University of Washington, a converted defensive lineman, impressed at the league’s scouting combine two weeks ago and made a name as perhaps the best blocking tight end in this year’s draft class.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is available to come home in free agency. An NFL source told The News Tribune the former star tight end for UW and Gig Harbor High School is “extremely interested” in playing for the Seahawks.
Seferian-Jenkins is a free agent who recently turned down a two-year, $8 million offer to remain with the New York Jets. His new agent, Doug Hendrickson, has represented Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett and knows the Seahawks and general manager John Schneider well.
Multiple league sources have indicated the Seahawks are very interested in the 6-foot-5 receiving target who often physically dominates defenders. They entered Monday considering whether to make Seferian-Jenkins an offer.
Seattle will have competition if it does. The league source told the TNT the Bears, Jaguars and Colts are also interested in Seferian-Jenkins.
4. Address the running game.
Coach Pete Carroll made it a priority a couple days after last season ended. He fired his play caller, Darrell Bevell, and line coach, Tom Cable. He replaced Bevell with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Cable with Mike Solari. Now comes the player part. Last week Seattle hosted Jonathan Stewart, Carolina’s recently released career rushing leader and former star at Timberline High School in Lacey. It’s not likely he will be the only veteran, 30-ish running back to visit Seahawks headquarters this spring. Demarco Murray, Frank Gore (who only seems like he’s 54) and other discards are available.
The Seahawks are likely to draft a runner among their eight picks in next month’s draft.
We haven’t even mentioned this team’s recurring issue the past three years: The offensive line needs help—again. But signing offensive linemen in free agency is an expensive and risky proposition. Drafting them has proven to be that, too. The Seahawks have picked 18 blockers since Carroll and Schneider took over running the team in 2010. That’s the most in the NFL.
And it’s still an issue.