Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks losing 3 starters, re-signing one leaves Okung as top priority

Seattle Seahawks’ Brandon Mebane (92) brings down Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) in the first half of a game Dec. 20 in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks’ Brandon Mebane (92) brings down Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) in the first half of a game Dec. 20 in Seattle. The Associated Press

The entire secondary from the end of last season is now under contract or tendered to be.

But the offensive line is in danger of losing 40 percent of its starting lineup.

It’s time now to move on the suddenly pivotal Russell Okung.

That was where the Seahawks stood Wednesday night at the end of the first official day of the NFL’s 2016 free-agency period.

After the doors to the free-agent market swung open, they swung in one direction for Seattle through most of the day: out of town.

The Seahawks lost starters Bruce Irvin, Brandon Mebane and J.R. Sweezy in the first two hours of the free agency for veterans with expired contracts.

The team then announced in the evening it had re-signed the starter that had been most likely to return, cornerback Jeremy Lane. The 25-year-old’s contract, for four years according to the NFL network, stemmed the tide of free-agent exits.

Irvin confirmed via his Instagram account — today’s way of saying “goodbye” — that he is signing with Oakland. He thanked the Seahawks for giving him his start on his road to a reported $37 million over the next four years from the Raiders.

The outside linebacker the Seahawks turned from a pass-rush specialist into an every-down player made $1.66 million last year, the final one of his rookie contract as Seattle’s 15th overall draft choice in 2012.

He is going to earn $12 million in 2016 from the Raiders, according to USA Today.

“To a city and fan base that embraced me when everyone considered me a reach I appreciate you and I will love your forever,” Irvin wrote Wednesday on social media. “Mr Allen Pete and John thank u for the chance to play for such a great city and a group of men who I consider my lifetime brothers now. I know some may not understand the decision but this window of opportunity is so small that you have to make the best decision for you and your family. 12’sssss I thank you and I love you. One of the best fan bases in sports today u will be missed! I’m looking forward to my new chapter and helping the city of Oakland bring a ship there!”

The San Diego Chargers announced about an hour into free agency they had signed Mebane. The defensive tackle had been a Seahawk since 2007 when Mike Holmgren was the team’s coach. Mebane left Seattle on a three-year deal.

“The Chargers were the team that was most aggressive as far as wanting me,” the Los Angeles native and longest-tenured Seahawk —until Wednesday — told San Diego’s 1090-AM radio.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, they preemptively agreed to their own three-year contract with fellow free-agent defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin on Monday. The 29-year-old run stuffer, who is getting a reported $12 million, is two years younger than Mebane. He was the other half of Seattle’s foundation to the NFL’s top-ranked run defense last season.

Tampa Bay signed Sweezy to replace retired Buccaneer right guard Logan Mankins, a deal first reported by the Tampa Bay Times. Fox Sports reported it is worth $32.5 million for five years. That’s far more than the Seahawks could or would spend on a guard, even one they successfully converted from a college defensive tackle the past four years.

Sweezy was the Seahawks’ least-expected loss of the three Wednesday. It could be a big departure, depending on what happens now with Okung.

Okung is perhaps the most highly regarded offensive lineman still available in the league’s free-agent market. That’s even though he is one month removed from shoulder surgery. Typically, left tackles cost more than right guards in the NFL. So it was likely to be cheaper for Seattle to re-sign Sweezy, the former college defensive tackle Seahawks line coach Tom Cable converted into a nasty run blocker with pass-protection issues.

Now the Seahawks are making a big financial push to keep general manager John Schneider’s and coach Pete Carroll’s first draft choice of their regime in 2010, at sixth overall. If they don’t re-sign Okung, Seattle would lose two-fifths of its already iffy offensive line almost overnight.

Mark Glowinski is in line to replace Sweezy at right guard. Coaches raved about the rookie draft choice last season from West Virginia. He got his first career start in January’s regular-season finale victory at Arizona when Sweezy was out with a concussion.

But left tackle? The Seahawks didn’t think enough of the guy who spelled Okung there when he was injured the last two seasons, Alvin Bailey, to even give the restricted free agent a standard tender offer by Wednesday’s deadline. So Bailey is now also an unrestricted free agent. Seattle could move 2015 first-time starting right tackle Garry Gilliam to the left side, but that would create a hole at right tackle. Justin Britt, the starting left guard, struggled starting at right tackle as a rookie in 2014.

Seattle’s exodus early in the free-agency period is not unexpected. Irvin and Mebane weren’t expected back, Mebane less so after Rubin’s new deal. In recent years, the Seahawks haven’t spent early in free agency, which is when the price tags are largest. They also don’t have the salary-cap space — believed to be around $15 million, if the team ever gets around to putting Marshawn Lynch on the reserve-retired list. Not doing so yet means he still counts for all his $11.5 million cap number for this year, even if he won’t play.

A secondary silver lining to Wednesday’s developments: The Seahawks could get at least three compensatory draft choices in 2017 from their free-agent departures, depending on whether they sign any free agents from other teams. Irvin’s exit could net a middle-round choice. Mebane’s and Sweezy’s could be later-round picks. Those comp picks just gained in value because in December, NFL owners voted to allow teams to trade compensatory picks, beginning next year.

Seattle has two more starters still available as unrestricted free agents: wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and punter Jon Ryan.

Given the events of the first few hours of free agency, Okung, who is representing himself, is clearly the Seahawks’ top priority to retain.

EXTRA POINTS

The Seahawks announced they had extended tender offers to the following exclusive-rights restricted free agents, in addition to Burley and Shead: DT A.J. Francis, TE Cooper Helfet, LB Eric Pinkins, CB Mohammed Seisay and FS Steven Terrell. They also gave a tender offer of one year and $1.67 million to Patrick Lewis, their starting center the last half of last season. If another team offers Lewis a contract, Seattle has the right of first refusal. … Seattle did not choose to tender offers to restricted free agents RB Christine Michael, WR Ricardo Lockette (recovering from neck surgery and unsure whether he’ll play football again), FB Derrick Coleman (facing two felony charges from a car crash in Bellevue) and Bailey. That makes them unrestricted free agents.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

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