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Analysis: As NFL free agency approaches, assessing the Seahawks’ biggest areas of need

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) looks on during an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Chris Szagola / AP)
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) looks on during an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Chris Szagola / AP)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – As of Saturday afternoon, the word around the NFL was that the new league year, and with it the ability to sign unrestricted free agents, is still set for Wednesday. And that means the beginning of the legal tampering period – when teams can start negotiating with player agents – remains set for Monday morning.

The Seahawks enter free agency with an estimated $44 million in cap space and lots of questions to answer.

Here’s a review of their positions, rated by need, as free agency approaches.

1. Defensive end/pass-rusher

Improving the pass rush is by far Seattle’s No. 1 priority this offseason. That effort will begin with trying to re-sign free agent Jadeveon Clowney. But Clowney appears to want a precedent-setting deal – more than the $21 million a year Dallas gave DeMarcus Lawrence last year, to start – and Seattle might not want to give it to him.

But if Clowney gets away, expect Seattle to then turn aggressively to other options. One way or another, the Seahawks will spend some money on pass-rushers.

Could the Seahawks turn to some former players, such as Michael Bennett or Bruce Irvin? Maybe. But Seattle will do more than that, either via free agency or the draft. Seattle has been rumored to be interested in trading for Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue, though he officially got the franchise tag Friday, which means the Jaguars don’t have to rush into anything.

2. Defensive tackle

The Seahawks have big needs here, too, and lots of questions with Jarran Reed and Al Woods both free agents, as well as Quinton Jefferson, who played a lot inside in passing downs last year. Reed’s market will be really interesting to watch: Will teams pay him based on the 10.5 sacks he had in 2018, or the five he had in his other three seasons combined? But as with Clowney, if Reed gets away then expect Seattle to make an aggressive move to replenish/add to the tackle spot. And word is Jefferson’s market might be rising, as well.

3. Offensive line

Here’s another spot where what happens with a few of Seattle’s own players will heavily dictate how the Seahawks proceed. Three of what were essentially Seattle’s top six O-linemen last year – tackles Germain Ifedi and George Fant and guard Mike Iupati – are free agents.

Both Ifedi and Fant could be more attractive on the open market than Seattle fans might expect, especially Ifedi, a favorite target of criticism but a player who has proven durable and is still only 25 years old. Joey Hunt, who started the last half of the season at center, is also a free agent.

The Seahawks, though, like a lot of their young linemen, such as Jamarco Jones and Phil Haynes, and might not spend heavily on replacements if Ifedi and Fant get away, but rather look more for relatively inexpensive veterans they can plug in for a year or two, a la the signings the last two years of Iupati and D.J. Fluker.

4. Receivers

Seattle could use a third receiving threat to go along with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, and a veteran on a low-cost deal makes some sense. But with what is considered a really deep draft for receivers, Seattle might not spend big in free agency, especially after already adding tight end Greg Olsen.

5. Running backs

With Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny rehabbing from injuries (Carson should be ready for the season but Penny is more questionable), the Seahawks need some depth and insurance in the backfield. But this is another spot where any free-agent signing probably isn’t going to be overly expensive.

6. Defensive backs

Seattle appears set at safety with the veteran duo of Bradley McDougald and Quandre Diggs returning as starters and Marqiuse Blair, last year’s second-round pick, waiting in the wings. And the Seahawks might feel better about Tre Flowers at right cornerback than others do. But Seattle needs a nickel corner and has already been in contact with veteran T.J. Carrie (who is a street free agent), indicating they might try to fill that void in free agency.

7. Linebackers

The Seahawks don’t appear set to make a major move here with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright under contract and Cody Barton the heir apparent at strongside linebacker. But Wright has a $10 million cap hit, with Seattle able to save $7.5 million if he were released, which is worth watching (Wright is due a $1 million signing bonus on March 22, so any decision would be made by then). Seattle could look to add depth at the SLB spot, though, particularly players who can double as effective edge rushers.

8. Tight end

The Seahawks might seem pretty well off at this spot after the signing last month of Olsen and the news that Will Dissly should be recovered from an Achilles injury in time for the regular season. But the Seahawks showed they are still at least exploring options when it was reported this week they had veteran Jordan Reed in for a visit. That, though, might have been more of an exploratory “keep in touch down the road’’ kind of visit than an indication that a signing is imminent.

9. Quarterback

Seattle’s only need here is a backup for Russell Wilson. The Seahawks had scouts in Houston last week to look at XFL star P.J. Walker, and he could well be the answer unless he decides he’d rather go to a team where he might have a more realistic chance to compete for a starting role.

10. Special teams

Seattle has no need for a kicker, punter or snapper with Jason Myers, Michael Dickson and Tyler Ott all safely under contract for at least two more years.

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