A breakdown of the Seattle Seahawks' 2018 free-agent signings:
Tom Johnson, DT
Grade: B. This is another stop-gap signing, and it's hardly going to move the needle, but the Seahawks could have done much worse. Johnson’s deal is worth up to $2.7 million, according to a source (as first reported by the NFL Network). It likely has a lower base value with Johnson needing to hit performance-based incentives to make the full amount. That’s a major discount from what Seattle would have had to pay to keep Sheldon Richardson, who signed with Minnesota as the two teams essentially swapped defensive tackles. Richardson’s departure left a major void at that position, and Seattle added a veteran with starting experience -- albeit not one with nearly as much upside as Richardson -- to help fill it.
What it means: Adding Johnson doesn’t mean the Seahawks are set at defensive tackle for 2018, but it’s a start. Before Johnson, they only had three other players listed on their roster as defensive tackles, and one of them -- Malik McDowell -- may not be healthy enough to play. Johnson started 25 games over his four seasons with Minnesota, including 15 in 2017. The money the Seahawks are giving him suggests that he’ll be more than just a pure backup. With Jarran Reed projected to start again at nose tackle, perhaps Johnson shares time at the three-technique spot with Nazair Jones, who had an excellent rookie season. Johnson has also shown plenty of ability as a pass-rusher with 21 sacks over seven seasons, which is a significant total for an interior player. Whatever his role is, adding Johnson shouldn’t necessarily stop Seattle from further bolstering the position in the draft, especially with McDowell’s long-term football future still uncertain.
What’s the risk: Johnson will be 34 when the season begins. While he doesn’t play a position that is entirely dependent on straight-line speed, there is a risk that any player who’s well into his 30s can experience a sudden drop-off. That may be another reason to use Johnson in more of a rotational role as opposed how the Vikings used him last season, when he played about two-thirds of their defensive snaps.
Marcus Smith, DE
The Seahawks are bringing back defensive end Marcus Smith, who played for them last season after spending his first three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s a closer look at the move:
Grade: B. ESPN’s Josina Anderson reports that Smith’s deal is for one year and worth up to $2.7 million. Most likely, the deal has a lower base value and includes performance incentives that Smith must hit to make the full amount. The Seahawks need help at this position and the lower-cost options still available at this point in free agency probably aren’t going to be much better than Smith.
What it means: Bringing Smith back reinforces Seattle’s depth at defensive end. That was and arguably still is a need position with Michael Bennett gone and Cliff Avril, Seattle's other longtime starting end, in danger of never playing again because of a neck injury. Frank Clark projects as the starter at one end spot after replacing Avril in that role last season. Dion Jordan is in line to start opposite Clark, but that could change depending on what happens in the draft. Either way, Smith figures to be a part of the rotation behind them. He helped out as part of that rotation last season, producing 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles over 14 games and 253 defensive snaps.
What’s the risk: This isn’t an overly-risky move assuming the base value of Smith’s deal is much less than $2.7 million. He hasn’t lived up to the potential that compelled the Eagles to draft him 26th overall in 2014. But he’s still young -- Smith turns 26 at the end of May -- and showed last season that he can contribute in a rotational role.
Mike Davis, RB
The Seattle Seahawks are re-signing running back Mike Davis, who played for them last year after spending his first two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
Grade: B-plus. That grade assumes Davis’ one-year deal is for considerably less than $1.9 million. That’s what it would have cost had the Seahawks given him the low tender as a restricted free agent. They opted instead to non-tender him with the hope of re-signing him for cheaper, somewhere between the minimum salary (for Davis, that would be $705,000) and $1.9 million. Davis showed last season that he deserves to remain in the fold for the Seahawks in 2018, and if they’re making that happen for something in the neighborhood of $1 million, this is a good move.
What it means: Davis gives the Seahawks a nice secondary option to Chris Carson, who -- for now, at least -- is the presumed favorite among their current running backs to be the starter in 2018. Davis began 2017 on the practice squad despite an excellent summer, then he beat out Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls to finish the season as Seattle’s starter while Carson was on injured reserve. Davis looked much better in his six starts than his 3.5 yards-per-carry average would suggest, and it’s worth a reminder that no running back who carried the ball for the Seahawks last season lit it up behind their offensive line. Even with Davis back and Carson healthy, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Seahawks drafting a running back, even with an earlier pick. In the meantime, Davis gives that group another solid option to go along with Carson as well as J.D. McKissic and oft-injured C.J. Prosise. Lacy and Rawls are unrestricted free agents.
What’s the risk: There is a bit of risk in the sense that Davis doesn’t have a track record of consistent production in the NFL. He’s averaged 2.9 yards per carry in his 20 games, though a lack of opportunities is surely a factor there. He also dealt with some injuries in his limited action last season, including one to his groin that caused him to miss a game. That invites some skepticism about durability. Then again, pretty much every Seahawks running back got hurt at one point or another over the past two seasons. And whatever risk Seattle is taking with Davis, only 25, is mitigated by his deal being for just one year and at a reasonable cost.
D.J. Fluker, G
The Seattle Seahawks have agreed to terms with offensive lineman D.J. Fluker. He spent last year with the New York Giants after beginning his career with the Chargers, who drafted him 11th overall in 2013. Here’s a closer look at the move:
Grade: B. The deal is for one season, as first reported by ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, but the financial terms weren’t immediately available. We can only judge so much about the move without knowing how much money the Seahawks are committing to Fluker. We’ll give it a B for now, assuming the Seahawks didn’t overpay for Fluker the way they did last season when they gave $7 million guaranteed on a one-year deal for another free-agent guard, Luke Joeckel. Whatever the price tag is, Fluker is a player who makes sense for Seattle given his reputation as a strong run blocker and his ties to new offensive line coach Mike Solari.
What it means: It’s not entirely clear where the 27-year-old Fluker projects to play, but the best guess for now is right guard. That’s where he’s played the past three seasons after beginning his career at tackle. If so, Ethan Pocic could move to left guard, where Seattle has an opening with Joeckel unsigned (and not expected back with Fluker now in the mix). Fluker becomes the first offensive lineman Seattle has added this year in free agency. It’s a big addition in the sense that Fluker is a very big man. He’s 6-foot-5 and weighed in at 342 pounds during his recent visit with the Seahawks, his agent, Deryk Gilmore, told ESPN.com. He’s known as a mauler of a run blocker, and ESPN’s Jordan Raanan noted that the Giants averaged 25 more rushing yards per game with Fluker in the lineup than without him. The Seahawks are trying to reverse the two-year decline in what had been one of the league’s best rushing attacks from 2012 to 2015. They clearly think Fluker is a part of that solution. That he knows Solari’s system is another plus.
What’s the risk: Much of that depends on what the Seahawks are paying Fluker, of course. Whatever it is, there’s an inherent risk with every free agent, and dipping into the free-agent market for short-term fixes to their offensive line hasn’t been all that fruitful for the Seahawks in recent seasons. That’s a nice way of saying that the likes of Joeckel, J’Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell did not pan out in Seattle. But it’s worth nothing that those moves came under a different offensive line coach in Tom Cable. Perhaps Solari, who coached Fluker last season, can get more out of him and the rest of Seattle’s offensive line. Fluker’s agent says he’s completely recovered from the toe injury that cut his 2017 season short.
Jaron Brown, WR
The Seahawks have agreed to terms with wide receiver Jaron Brown, who spent his first five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. Here's a closer look at the move, which was first reported by the NFL Network:
Grade: B. The terms of Brown's deal weren't immediately available, and we can only judge so much about the signing in the absence of any details about the money. In the meantime, we'll give it a B under the presumption that the Seahawks signed Brown at a reasonable price in keeping with their recent trend of conservative spending in free agency.
What it means: Whatever they're paying Brown, the Seahawks added a player coming off his best season to reinforce a position of some need following Paul Richardson's departure in free agency. The 28-year-old Brown started eight games last season and caught 31 passes for 477 yards and four touchdowns, all career highs.
The details of Brown's contract will offer some indication of where he might fit into Seattle's receiver corps. The best guess as of now is that he pushes 2017 third-round pick Amara Darboh for the No. 3 role behind Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. Brown is listed at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and is considered to have good speed at that size. That makes him similar in physical profile to Darboh (6-2, 219) and 2017 seventh-round pick David Moore (6-0, 219).
What's the risk: Again, tough to say without knowing what Brown's deal is worth. He's appeared in 16 games in four of his five NFL seasons with the exception being 2016, when he suffered an ACL injury. So it's not as though there should be any major durability concerns. A potential downside to this signing is that whatever playing time Brown gets could mean less playing time for Darboh, Moore and/or Marcus Johnson, another young receiver whom Seattle acquired in the Michael Bennett trade. But that also would mean that Brown did something to earn that playing time, which is what the Seahawks hope happens.
Ed Dickson, TE
Grade: B-minus. Signing Dickson to a three-year deal -- per ESPN’s Josina Anderson and others -- is another addition by the Seahawks that hardly moves the needle but addresses one of their biggest needs after losing Jimmy Graham. Re-signing his backup, Luke Willson, would have had appeal given his familiarity in the offense and because he’s a good locker room presence. Dickson, 30, is older than Willson, who’s 28, but the Seahawks clearly seem to view him as an upgrade.
What it means: The Seahawks appear to have found their starting tight end, at least for the short term. Dickson has made 85 starts in his career, including 12 last season when he took on a larger role in the Panthers’ offense while Greg Olsen was injured. Dickson caught 30 passes for 437 yards – his best totals since 2011 -- and one touchdown. He’s considered a good pass-blocker. Tight end was a major hole on Seattle’s roster with Graham gone and Willson unsigned. Dickson becomes the best one on Seattle’s roster, which isn’t saying much. He joins 2016 third-round pick Nick Vannett and 2017 UDFA Tyrone Swoopes -- a converted quarterback -- as the only tight ends under contract. Neither Vannett nor Swoopes were viable options to replace Graham as a starter, so it’s no wonder that Seattle also took a look at Austin Seferian-Jenkins before moving onto Dickson. The Seahawks could still draft a tight end, but adding Dickson would seem to preclude Willson’s return.
What’s the risk: There’s inherent risk in signing any player of Dickson’s age, and someone like Seferian-Jenkins -- who’s only 25 -- has more long-term upside. But Seferian-Jenkins would have carried a great deal of risk given his previous battles with alcohol. And the Seahawks appear to have protection in Dickson’s deal. It’s worth as much as $14 million, per Anderson, but the actual average is likely lower than $4.66 million with Dickson needing to hit incentives to make the full amount. And per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the deal includes a very manageable signing bonus of $2.6 million.
Barkevious Mingo, LB
The Seahawks have signed defensive end/outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who spent last season with the Indianapolis Colts. Mingo spent the 2016 season with the New England Patriots after beginning his career with the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him sixth overall in 2013.
Grade: B. With only nine sacks in 78 career games, Mingo hasn't realized the potential that made him such a high draft pick. That makes it hard to get too excited about this signing. But his profile suggests he can play linebacker and rush the passer, two areas of need for Seattle.
What it means: The Seahawks are on the free-agent board with the 27-year-old Mingo (6-4, 239) as their first outside addition. According to a source, it's a two-year deal with $3.2 million fully guaranteed, $6.8 million in base value and more available in incentives. This is hardly a splash signing, but Mingo's appeal to the Seahawks makes sense. They have one of the NFL's best linebacker tandems in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, but there's a need at the strong-side spot because Michael Wilhoite and Terence Garvin -- the two players who filled that role last season -- are both free agents. That's only a part-time position in Seattle's defense -- the SAM linebacker comes off the field in nickel situations -- so the money the Seahawks are committing to Mingo suggests they're expecting to double as a pass-rush option. That's a need for Seattle after trading Michael Bennett and also because Cliff Avril is in danger of not playing again because of his neck injury. Plus, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is a free agent. Seattle's pass rush left something to be desired in 2017 and stands to lose a lot of talent, so adding Mingo should only be the start of the Seahawks reinforcing that part of their defense.
What's the risk: It's pretty straightforward -- the Seahawks are giving a decent chunk of money to someone who has bounced around in his five NFL seasons and has never been a high-impact defender. That said, the guarantee isn't exorbitant and Mingo's cost is palatable when you consider that he's potentially addressing two areas of need. And perhaps a new setting can help unlock some of his untapped potential. Another plus: Mingo hasn't missed a game over the past three seasons and has only missed two in his career.
The Seahawks have agreed to a deal with veteran safety Bradley McDougald, who joined the team last offseason after spending most of his first four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here's a closer look at the signing:
Grade: A-minus. The Seahawks take care of a major need in their secondary with a player who's relatively young and has experience in their defense. And they do so at what appears to be a reasonable rate, with the NFL Network reporting that McDougald's deal is for three years and just under $14 million.
What it means: McDougald projects to be Seattle's starting strong safety in 2018 in the apparently likely event that Kam Chancellor's neck injury prevents him from playing. McDougald, 27, made seven starts there last season after Chancellor went down. He made two starts before that at free safety while Earl Thomas was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Thomas is entering the final year of his contract, so McDougald would give Seattle an option at free safety as well if Thomas were to move on. That flexibility is no doubt a reason why Seattle locked up McDougald before he hit the market. Doing so ensures Seattle's secondary will have at least some continuity with Richard Sherman gone and DeShawn Shead, another versatile defensive back, headed into free agency.
What's the risk: Not much, really. Sure, McDougald might not have the upside of a highly drafted player, but those are no sure things. Plus, he's been durable and Seattle didn't have to break the bank to re-sign him. If there's a downside, it's that keeping McDougald in the fold will make it harder for Delano Hill to see the field. Hill was a third-round draft pick last year and his immediate path to playing time would have to take over at strong safety in 2018. But trusting an unproven player like Hill to assume a starting role would have carried more risk than re-signing McDougald.