Sheldon Richardson, Jimmy Graham headline Seahawks’ 16 unrestricted free agents

A lot more happens at the scouting combine than prospects being put through the paces.

It’s often where the groundwork is laid for upcoming free-agent deals.

Though teams are allowed to sign their own free agents at any point, not until March 12 can they discuss contract terms with representatives of players from other clubs. Not technically, at least. But as agents, executives and most of the NFL world convene in Indianapolis for the week, it’s an opportunity for a head start on free agency.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the 16 Seattle Seahawks who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents before we examine a few of the individual situations more closely in the coming days.

DEFENSE

DT Sheldon Richardson: All involved were no doubt hoping for more than one sack from Richardson following his trade from the Jets right before the 2017 season opener, but he had much more of an impact than that stat would suggest. Also keep in mind that he faced an adjustment to Seattle’s 4-3 front having played in a 3-4 during his first four NFL seasons. The franchise tag doesn’t seem like a likely option with its projected cost at $14.5 million, which would hamstring Seattle from a salary-cap standpoint. But might the Seahawks be willing to spend big on Richardson if they feel he’ll make a leap in 2018 after having a year to adjust to their defense? If not, losing Richardson, 27, in free agency would put the Seahawks in line for a 2019 compensatory pick as high as a third-rounder.

S Bradley McDougald: Though this isn’t one of the biggest names on the Seahawks’ list of free agents, he could be one of their more significant decisions. If he’s resigned, McDougald would be in line to start at strong safety assuming Kam Chancellor is unavailable because of the neck injury that threatens to keep him from playing again. Without McDougald, Seattle might have to turn to last year’s third-round pick, Delano Hill, or find a starter via free agency or an early round draft pick. McDougald, 27, made two starts at free safety for Earl Thomas last season and seven more in Chancellor’s absence. With Thomas having already floated the possibility of a holdout if he doesn’t get a new deal, it would make even more sense to have in the fold a veteran with versatility and starting experience like McDougald.

CB Byron Maxwell: Maxwell proved to be a valuable midseason pickup in his second stint with the Seahawks. Brought back in November following Richard Sherman’s season-ending Achilles injury, the 30-year-old Maxwell played about as well as anyone could have expected for a guy who had been out of a job for a few weeks following his release from the Dolphins. He played most of his first game back, then started the final six games, eventually replacing Jeremy Lane at left cornerback. Maxwell has played his best football in Seattle’s defense and the Seahawks could use a proven veteran as insurance with Sherman coming off a serious injury, so a one-year deal would make sense for both sides.

CB DeShawn Shead: The jack-of-all-trades defensive back missed all but the final two games of last season as he recovered from a torn ACL. Though Shead still wasn’t certain at season’s end whether he’d be an unrestricted or a restricted free agent — the team has informed him he’ll be a UFA — he expressed a desire to return to Seattle. Shead, 28, started for a season and a half at right cornerback before injuring his knee. He’s also been a special teams captain and has played every position in Seattle’s secondary since the team signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2012. So bringing him back would have plenty of appeal beyond the experience he’d bring at cornerback.

LB Michael Wilhoite: The former 49er dealt with a nagging hamstring injury over the summer that contributed to a slow start to the season. He appeared in 14 games, mostly as Seattle’s starting strongside linebacker and on special teams. Strongside linebacker is only a part-time position in Seattle’s defense and Wilhoite is 31, so this might be a spot the Seahawks try to fill with a younger, cheaper player.

LB Terence Garvin: The 27-year-old Garvin filled in at strongside linebacker, making three starts there, and was fourth on the Seahawks in special teams snaps. Depth at linebacker is a need for Seattle, but like with Wilhoite, Garvin doesn’t seem like a player Seattle will make it a priority to re-sign.

DE Marcus Smith: The former Eagles first-round pick took on a bigger role in Seattle’s defensive line rotation after Cliff Avril suffered a season-ending neck injury early in the season. Smith (26 in March), registered 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles over 14 games. He’s another player who would make sense to bring back only at close to the minimum salary.

OFFENSE

TE Jimmy Graham: The mixed bag that was Graham’s 2017 season included a lot of touchdowns (10 of them, all inside the red zone) but not much production outside the 20 (only 520 receiving yards on 57 catches for a career-low 9.1-yard average). He also finished with seven drops, tied for second-most in the NFL. That uneven production combined with Graham’s age (31) and his major knee injury from 2015 make it hard to imagine Seattle re-signing him unless the bottom falls out of his market and he’s available at a big discount. But even then, might Graham opt instead for a chance to play in an offense that features him more consistently and doesn’t ask him to block? As for the possibility of the franchise tag, don’t bet on it. According to former NFL agent Joel Corry, who writes about contract matters for CBSSports.com, tagging Graham would cost almost $15.5 million as opposed to the standard projected cost for tight tends, which is around $10 million. (The reason is that $3 million in 2017 signing bonus proration would factor into the calculation of 120 percent of Graham’s 2017 salary). Seattle tagging Graham at $10 million wouldn’t even seem likely let alone at the higher figure.

WR Paul Richardson: Richardson hits free agency at a good time — on the heels of the most productive of his four seasons with the Seahawks. Buried on the depth chart as a rookie in 2014 then limited to only one game because of injuries in 2015, he’s eased questions about his durability by only missing one game over the past two seasons. Richardson (26 in April) took over as Seattle’s No. 2 receiver behind Doug Baldwin in 2017 and caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns — all career-highs by a wide margin. The Seahawks would love to have his blazing speed and his ability to make acrobatic leaping catches, but with Baldwin already making $11.5 million per season and Tyler Lockett entering the final year of his rookie deal, it’s easy to imagine Seattle getting outbid. Like with Sheldon Richardson and Graham, Seattle would be in line for a potential compensation pick if Paul Richardson were to sign elsewhere, depending on the sizes of those deals.

RB Eddie Lacy: Lacy will go down as one of the Seahawks’ bigger free-agent busts in recent memory. Signed to a one-year deal that included almost $2.9 million guaranteed, he was expected to play a significant if not a leading role in Seattle’s backfield. But he and Thomas Rawls were beaten out for the starting job by rookie seventh-round pick Chris Carson. Neither did much with their opportunities after Carson suffered a season-ending injury in early October. Lacy, 27, finished with 179 yards on 69 attempts (2.9 average, well off his 4.4 YPC average from his first four seasons in Green Bay) and no touchdowns. He was a healthy scratch four times and finished the season behind Mike Davis on the depth chart. So yeah, don’t expect him back with Seattle.

OL Luke Joeckel: The Seahawks didn’t get a great return on their investment in Joeckel after giving him $7 million guaranteed on a one-year contract. The former No. 2 overall pick by the Jaguars missed five games because he needed another surgery to address lingering issues from the major knee injury he suffered in his final season in Jacksonville. Joeckel, 26, was up and down in the 11 games he did start at left guard.

TE Luke Willson: He’s been a nice complementary tight end during his five seasons in Seattle and has stepped into a starting role on several occasions. Willson, 28, tested free agency last year, then signed a one-year deal to return to the Seahawks when he didn’t find the right offer. The Seahawks would be happy if the same thing happened again this year, especially since they might already lose their starting tight end, Graham. Willson caught 15 passes for 153 yards and a career-high four touchdowns last season.

QB Austin Davis: Davis (29 in June) won the backup job after some steady performances over the summer and some very erratic ones from Trevone Boykin. Davis has experience with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, having started eight games for the Rams in 2014 while Schottenheimer was their coordinator. That could help his chances of returning as Russell Wilson’s backup for another season.

OL Oday Aboushi: He started eight games at right guard before suffering a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season. Though Aboushi (27 in June) initially drew praise from coaches for helping out with the communication along Seattle’s line once he took over for Mark Glowinski in Week 3, he didn’t seem long for the starting lineup even before he was hurt.

OL Matt Tobin: Acquired in a summer trade with the Eagles, Tobin (28 in June) served as Seattle’s swing tackle and played occasionally as an extra blocker in heavy sets. He a hard time against Chandler Jones when he had to step in at left tackle after Duane Brown sprained his ankle against the Cardinals, but that will happen to most backup tackles under those circumstances.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Blair Walsh: Believe it or not, the cost-saving switch the Seahawks made in signing Walsh before letting Stephen Hauschka leave in free agency looked like a shrewd move for a while. Walsh, 28, made 12 of his first 13 field goals to begin the season, but it all started to come undone when he missed all three of his attempts in a three-point loss to Washington in Week 9, and after his hot start Walsh missed seven of his final 16 attempts to finish 29th among qualified kickers with a 72.4 percent field goal rate (21 of 29). The Seahawks signed Jason Myers to a futures contract after the season, and they’ll likely bring in another kicker to compete for the job, but that kicker figures to be someone other than Walsh after his awful finish to the season.

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