The Seahawks made two bold moves yesterday- trading QB Russell Wilson and informing LB Bobby Wagner of his pending release- that signaled a surprising move from a contender to a rebuilding football team. The decisions come just a season after the Seahawks were seemingly “all in” on the current roster, signing some long term extensions for players while also bringing in some players via trade and free agency to extend their playoff window. There were rumors that Seattle could “blow things up” with their coaching staff and front office but it seemed that they were going to be given another chance with a healthy Wilson to return to the playoffs. Now it looks as if they will be tasked with rebuilding a team from the ground up. I wanted to take a look at what they did and where they may go from here.
The Big Trade
While we can argue with the big picture plan Seattle had I don’t think you can argue with the trade value that the Seahawks received here. Last year Wilson was already making noise that he no longer wanted to be in Seattle and odds are it was not going to be long before that started again this year. Once things get to that point it can compromise what a team can and can not do with a trade.
The closest comparison to this trade would be Matt Stafford to the Rams last season. In that trade the Lions acquired two first round draft picks and a third round draft pick for Stafford and what amounts to at least $41.15 million in salary spent on Jared Goff. Goff was going to start for Detroit so it was not a pure salary dump (the net cost for Detroit is probably about $20M if we factor in a high level journeyman to start) but I think you can make a strong argument that the actual trade was Stafford for a 1 and the rest was for the other 1 and 3.
The trade here is going to be two first round draft picks, two second round draft picks, and a 5th round pick along with Noah Fant and Drew Lock for Russell Wilson, a 4th round pick, and what amounts to $8 million, which is the cost of Shelby Harris. Harris, IMO, was included as a salary dump which is why I view it this way. This was a way for the Broncos to offset some of the cost of Wilson without making Seattle look bad.
This is a much better return than the Stafford deal. Yes Wilson is the better player but their situations are pretty comparable and there is probably more risk in trading for Wilson, even with the higher on field upside, than there was with Stafford. While some are wondering why the need for the other players, those players do give Seattle options. While Lock has been terrible he is still a quarterback and if they can get anything out of him he may land a comp pick for Seattle in the future since QB salaries can often be well above the perceived talent level of the player. Fant can actually play and may be a piece the Seahawks can use going forward. If not the way tight end salaries work they should definitely get a comp pick for him whether it is from his leaving in 2023 or 2024. So when you factor that all in I think this is a great deal for the Seahawks.
The Release of Bobby Wagner
It is probably not even arguable that Wagner has been the best linebacker in the NFL for about a decade. The Seahawks will clear $16.6 million in salary cap space with his release which will give them options. There is no role for a player like Wagner on a team like this so this seems like a no brainer. The news broke late in the day and sometimes that news dump is designed to spike trade interest in a player. It is possible that the front office is willing to just let him go and choose his next spot but I don’t think you can totally rule out Seattle picking up a few dollars and trading him for a 3rd or 4th round pick. That is probably the best way to approach it but I can also understand doing the “right thing” and just releasing him outright.
Once you make bold moves like this you clearly are announcing that you are open for business and Seattle has a number of talented players who could get moved. Seattle is one of the few teams that uses option bonuses in their contracts which makes some trades a bit more complex than just looking at OTC and selecting “trade” to see the cost of the trade. So let’s look at the candidates.
Tyler Lockett- The Seahawks signed Lockett to an extension last year which saw him get a raise of $9.5 million in 2021 and his 2022 salary guaranteed. Lockett has $16 million due to him this year which is currently going to split as $3 million in salary and $13 million as an option bonus. Lockett’s option has to be exercised between the 1st and 5th day of the league year. If traded before that the option becomes the responsibility of a new team and the dead money to trade him will be just $15.2 million. It is a loss in cap room but affordable especially after the release of Wagner.
If they still want to keep their options open they can decline the option and elect to just pay $16 million in salary this year. That would spike his cap number but would let them continue to explore options to trade him all the way until the regular season begins and get the benefits of a June 1 trade. Again the money saved by Wagner would allow them to do this on their salary cap. If they exercise the option the trade is basically cut off since it would then cost $28.2 million on the cap to trade him.
Lockett would cost a team just $25.7 million over the next two years which should make him a very attractive player in a trade. Seattle absolutely should be exploring this trade and should keep their options open as long as possible. It is hard to see Lockett being an important piece for Seattle in a few years when they have a QB capable of playing.
Jamal Adams- Adams contract has a similar structure to Lockett. The cost to trade before the option is $16 million while after the option would be $28.44 million. An acquiring team would take on $25.4 million over the next two seasons if they traded for Adams. I am not sure what kind of trade value they could get for him and while it would be nothing like they paid for him this may be addition by subtraction at this point. Adams is going to be looked at as the player who broke the Seahawks. While this is not fair, it is what it is and it might be in the best interests of all if they can just move on.
Gabe Jackson- Seattle traded a 5th round pick for him when the Raiders announced he would be cut and in turn signed him to a modest contract extension. Jackson only costs $6 million this year and if they could recover the 5th they gave up for him that would be a big win for Seattle. Jackson’s salary is guaranteed so they can not release him.
Carlos Dunlap- As part of “going for it” last year they brought back Dunlap on a two year contract. To fit him on the cap they had to defer a lot of money on the contract which means cutting or trading him would not create much cap room but they would save $5.1 million in salary this year and they would eliminate the 2023 costs of his contract voiding. I would lean more toward a cut than a trade.
Chris Carson- Cutting Carson creates $3.425 million in cap room while leaving the team with $3 million in dead cap space. They would save $4.925 million in salary. The only issue here is that Carson was hurt most of last year and may also qualify for injury protection which reduces the savings by $1.2 million. He probably should still be cut but they could opt to try to renegotiate his contract to lower his salary and have the same cap impact as cutting him.
Jason Myers- Seattle would save $4 million in cap room by releasing Myers. I cant see the reason for a rebuilding team to have $5 million in cap devoted to a kicker.
DK Metcalf- Trading Metcalf does not make sense to me since he is the wide receiver that you can pair with a young QB. While they would save nearly $4 million in cap space that is less valuable than a player like Metcalf. The only reason to consider this is if they got a haul for him in a trade.
Overall given the state of the roster this is a big project for the Seahawks. There is not much in the way of young talent on the team and they need to hit with all the picks they acquired for Wilson. Trading Wilson was probably in the best long term interest of the team. They were fading in the NFC West and this gives them the best opportunity to reset. His value may have gone down if he played this year and spent time out with injury again. The best thing for Seattle now is to see how many pieces they can move from their roster. If they can trade down this year or even out into next years draft it might give them the better chance to fill all of the holes in what could be a stronger draft that what many expect this years draft to be.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.