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Gregg Bell: Mike Iupati says he's retiring; Seahawks may be replacing two starters on offensive line

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 4 days ago Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Feb. 22—It was already apparent the Seahawks were going to need a new starting left guard, with veteran Mike Iupati's contract ending.

Now it's certifiable.

Iupati is retiring from the NFL at the age of 33 after 11 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and, in 2019 and 2020, Seattle. The former All-Pro guard who played at the University of Idaho told his agent as soon as the Seahawks' season ended with their home playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams last month that he was leaving the game following a chronic nerve issue in his neck that sidelined him late in each of his two seasons with Seattle, the Spokesman-Review in Spokane reported Sunday.

The team acknowledged Iupati's retirement on its Twitter account Monday:

"We wish you nothing but the best," the Seahawks' online statement said.

Iupati's contract ended with the end of the Seahawks' 2020 season.

"My body was telling me it was time to close the door," Iupati told the Spokesman-Review.

"My goal was to hit 10 years," Iupati says.

Iupati started 15 games at left guard for the Seahawks in 2019 after signing as a free agent from Arizona. He missed the playoffs with the nerve issue. Seattle shopped for a new left guard last spring before they signed Iupati back to a one-year deal one month into free agency, in April 2020.

The Seahawks have an in-house replacement in Jordan Simmons. He has performed well in spot starts at left, and more often, right guard as an injury replacement on the offensive line the last few seasons.

Seattle drafted Phil Haynes in the fourth round in 2019 to potentially start at left guard. He's been injured for most of his first two NFL seasons and played in just two games in two years.

Quarterback Russell Wilson declaring his frustration at getting hit so much (a league-high 394 sacks in nine years) and essentially demanding better pass protection could precede 40% of his offensive line changing for 2021.

Center Ethan Pocic's contract alsohas ended among the Seahawks' starting offensive linemen. The team's second-round draft choice in 2017 is on track to become a free agent when the league year begins March 17.

Seattle could have an unusually large market of veteran starters available across the league from which to choose as free agents to replace Iupati and Pocic next month. The league's salary cap is dropping from $198.2 million last year to no lower than $180 million this year. That is going to result in teams cutting many veterans who have what are middle-class salaries in the NFL, in the range of $3-8 million per season, to get under the lower cap limit.

Thing is, the Seahawks don't have much cap space currently to do a ton of shopping next month.

Assuming a cap of $180 million (it could end up closer to $185 million), Seattle has just over $5 million of space, according to overthecap.com. That is the second-lowest total in the league among teams that aren't over the new cap for 2021.

The Seahawks are likely to join the many teams cutting veterans or restructuring expensive contracts to save cap space. The prime candidates for converting base salary to bonus money for a more team-friendly cap number: Wilson ($32 million cap charge for 2021), Bobby Wagner ($17.15 million) and Tyler Lockett ($14,950,000).

Seattle's fourth- and fifth-highest cap charges on the team are for defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap ($14.04 million) and Jarran Reed ($13,975,000). Both were key to the team's resurgent pass rush over the latter half of the 2020 season.

They are both entering the final years of their contracts, so a restructure with them to save cap space would more likely be new contract extensions beyond 2021 with bonus money and lower, more-team-friendly base salaries this year.

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