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Seahawks don't use franchise tag on any players as salary cap continues to be an issue

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 3/10/2021 Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Mar. 9—Chris Carson has been waiting for this for half a year.

Shaquill Griffin said he didn't want this. But he's got it.

Carson and Griffin are on their ways to free agency next week after Tuesday's NFL deadline for teams using franchise and transition tags for 2021 passed. As expected and is their norm, the Seahawks did not use their tag on Carson, Griffin or any other player.

The team entered the week just $4 million under the expected NFL salary cap of about $180 million per team. Then the Seahawks cut two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap on Monday to create $14 million in cap room.

Tags are just too expensive for Seattle in its cap situation.

A franchise tag for Carson would have guaranteed the running back $8.6 million for 2020, and all of it applying to this year's salary cap. A franchise tag for Griffin would have been a cap charge of $14.9 million. That cap number for cornerbacks is also far too expensive for a team that needs two new offensive linemen, new veteran pass rushers and have both starting cornerbacks heading to free agency.

Seattle has only tagged two players in the 12 offseasons coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have been running the franchise. Kicker Olindo Mare got one in 2010, two months into the Carroll-Schneider regime when they were ransacking the rest of the roster. Frank Clark got one in 2019, only to buy Schneider time and keep Clark out of free agency before the Seahawks traded the pass rusher to the Kansas City Chiefs in April 2019.

Each NFL team gets one franchise tag and one transition tag to use per season. It's used to keep players with expired contracts from entering free agency at a cost that is usually the average of the top five salaries at each position, with some exceptions. In simplest terms, a franchise tag retains that player to a tag exclusively while a less-expensive transition tag gives the tagging team the right to match any other offer a transition-tagged player may get from another team.

Only nine of the league's 32 teams used their franchise tags this year. That includes Washington, on All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff. So he's no longer a candidate for the Seahawks to make a big-ticket purchase for the offensive line in free agency.

Seattle has openings at left guard and center for 2021. Ethan Pocic, the team's center in 2020, is heading to free agency with an expired contract. Left guard Mike Iupati said last month he is retiring.

The last time the Seahawks used the rarer transition tag was on Hall-of-Fame guard Steve Hutchinson in 2006. That prompted the infamous "poison pill" provision in a subsequent contract offer from the Minnesota Vikings agent Tom Condon shrewdly used to get around Seattle's tag and make it impossible for the Seahawks to match. Hutchinson signed with the Vikings.

Carson, the team's lead running back the last several years, wanted a new contract last summer. He spoke in September how it was on his mind the Seahawks were not even talking to him about a new deal beyond his rookie one that ended with the 2020 season.

"I mean, of course that's something that's in my head, on my mind. You see a lot of guys that are starting to get paid," Seattle's seventh-round draft choice from 2017 said Sept. 1. "You see somebody get paid, your phone blows up. Everybody's up in you like, 'Oh, did you see so and so go paid, blah, blah, blah.'

"Like I said, man, I just try not to focus on it."

Carroll said in January Carson, who rushed for 2,381 yards in the 2018 and '19 seasons before yet another injury-shortened season in 2020, would get the chance he's earned to shop in free agency. That begins next week.

Carson is likely seeking at least $8 million per year. That's where all of the league's top nine running-back salaries start.

Griffin said in August he wanted to stay with the Seahawks, the team that drafted him and his twin brother Shaquem, "forever." In January after Seattle's season and his rookie contract ended, Shaquill Griffin sounded like he understood he was likely gone.

"I know at the end of the day, everything is a business," he said.

The Seahawks also have Quinton Dunbar heading to free agency that begins with the start of the league year on Monday. He was the starting cornerback opposite Griffin last season.

Dunbar's injury-shortened 2020 debut season with Seattle and season-ending knee surgery make him a cheaper option and more likely one for the Seahawks to sign back to a new contract, compared to Griffin. Griffin being a Pro Bowl selection in 2019 is likely to price him out of Seattle.

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