Christine Michael is coming back.
Now who’s going to block for him?
The Seahawks are realizing their worst-case scenario in this ongoing free-agency period after left tackle Russell Okung signed Thursday with the Denver Broncos.
Multiple national reports said Okung’s deal is a one-year, prove-it contract with the Super Bowl champions worth $5 million in base pay and potentially $3 million more in bonuses in 2016. The Broncos then have a team option for four years at an average of $12 million per season.
So — poof! — 40 percent of the Seahawks’ starting offensive line is gone. Last week, right guard J.R. Sweezy signed a five-year contract for $32.5 million with Tampa Bay.
An iffy line is now 40 percent iffier.
“It’s a bit intricate, but I thought it was the best deal for me moving forward,” Okung said talking to Colorado’s media. “Denver is the place I want to be for the long haul.”
No wonder he wants that. Fox Sports reported if Denver picks up Okung’s option $20.5 million of the deal’s remaining $48 million over the final four years becomes guaranteed. That’s what the left tackle negotiated himself, without an agent. So Okung reportedly could end up with a five-year deal worth $53 million. An average of $10.6 million is top-tier money that would leave Okung entitled to say “See, who needs an agent?” in the NFL.
But if the Broncos don’t exercise the option after the 2016 season, Okung would become a free agent again next year.
Seattle’s sixth-overall choice in 2010 draft taking Denver’s prove-it offer for one year and $5 million strongly suggests the Seahawks did not have any offer on the table when Okung made his decision.
So they must have a post-Okung plan.
Seattle signed free-agent J’Marcus Webb from Oakland at money that suggests the Seahawks have bigger plans for him than the right guard he was for 13 starts last season with the Raiders. Webb is believed to have received $6.25 million over two years with $2.5 million guaranteed from Seattle. That makes him Seattle’s highest-paid offensive lineman. The 27-year old started 12 games as a rookie in 2010 for Chicago at right tackle then two full seasons for the Bears at left tackle.
The Seahawks also could move Garry Gilliam, their athletic right tackle in 2015, to left tackle. Bradley Sowell, signed this week from Arizona for one year and $1.5 million, is likely to take over the role of backup tackle and guard; Alvin Bailey had that role for the Seahawks until he signed last week with Cleveland.
At the maximum 3-percent commission rate agents get on NFL contracts, per the cap from the league’s players’ union, Okung could be saving at least $318,000 per year on agent fees before factoring in taxes and pre-tax commissions. Okung has been consulting with the union since before entering free agency.
Again, that remains an “if,” after a prove-it 2016 season for Okung in Denver.
The whole league was watching what he got without an agent. What he got isn’t necessarily what he will end up getting.
“I don’t necessarily know if there would be anything different about it,” Okung said of what contract he may have received with an agent. “I think that other guys, it’s for them. In terms of me, it wasn’t for me.
“I got the deal I wanted.”
The Broncos were the last known interested team in Okung’s tour that included the New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers. As for the Seahawks, who drafted him sixth overall in 2010, they weren’t going to — and couldn’t — give him near the money Denver reportedly did. Maybe the Seahawks could have for the one year, but not while dangling the rich, four-year team option Denver did.
Earlier Thursday, Seattle announced it had re-signed Michael six months after the team traded its former second-round draft choice to Dallas. The Cowboys, then Redskins, let him go, then he returned to the Seahawks in November because of injuries and impressed Seahawks coaches with how humbled and re-dedicated he was.
Now Michael is the primary backup behind Thomas Rawls, the 2015 rookie breakout star. That’s the 1-2 lineup for now in the first months of Seattle’s life without the retiring Marshawn Lynch.
Rawls is the lead back while he rehabilitates his broken ankle. Coach Pete Carroll said at the league’s scouting combine in February he expects Rawls to be ready for September’s season opener.
“He did everything he could his rookie season to make a statement that he belongs,” Carroll said in Indianapolis last month. “We love the style. He’s a great kid. I can’t imagine that he’s not going to be right in the middle of it.
“I don’t know who else is going to be added to the team, but he’s coming in as the guy that we’re looking to him to give the ball to and he’s recovering really well.”
Seahawks coaches had for years been frustrated Michael didn’t seize his opportunities and maximize his talent. His chances seemed to run out when Seattle traded him to the Cowboys. But then Lynch’s abdominal surgery and Rawls’ broken ankle and torn ligaments led to the Seahawks bringing back Michael in November. He rushed for 192 yards on 39 carries in three regular season games then had 71 yards on 20 runs in the wild-card playoff win at frozen Minnesota in January.
The Seahawks also announced Thursday they had released long snapper Clint Gresham. Seattle’s snapper for kicks was one year into a three-year, $2.7 million contract.
The move saves the team $660,000 against its salary cap for 2016. That isn’t much, but it hints at how up against the cap the Seahawks are and why they didn’t make a competitive offer for Okung — not even for a prove-it contract.
Seattle was in the bottom third of the league in cap space before the free-agent market opened last week. Then the Seahawks re-signed cornerback Jeremy Lane (to a $21 million deal), wide receiver Jermaine Kearse ($13.5 million), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin ($12 million) and punter Jon Ryan ($10 million). That was in addition to the deals for Webb, Sowell and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga ($1.4 million) this week.
Also, the Seahawks announced that reserve linebacker Eric Pinkins signed his tender as an exclusive-rights free agent for 2016.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle