Seattle Seahawks' NFL free-agent signings 2021: Carlos Dunlap is back in the fold

NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, which means free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.

The Seahawks offseason was already eventful before the calendar turned to March. They have a new offensive coordinator in Shane Waldron and an unhappy quarterback in Russell Wilson, who's been the subject of trade speculation.

The situation with Wilson adds intrigue to how the Seahawks will approach free agency. They'll have to balance Wilson’s desires for offensive-line upgrades with their other roster needs -- which include cornerback, pass-rusher and running back -- and will have to fill all of those holes with limited resources. Seattle begins free agency with around $20 million in cap space and only owns four picks in April's draft, with no first- or third-rounder.

Here's a breakdown of every 2021 NFL free-agent signing by the Seattle Seahawks, and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Poona Ford, defensive tackle

The Seahawks have re-signed Ford with a two-year deal.

What it means: The Seahawks are keeping one of their young, ascending playmakers in the fold for at least the next two seasons. That's something they haven't done enough of in recent years. Ford is only the fourth homegrown player acquired since 2013 to get a multi-year second contract from the team. Another is Jarran Reed, whom Ford has started alongside the past two seasons. The Seahawks have a strong defensive-tackle tandem in Ford and Reed, but they need a primary pass-rushing threat off the edge after releasing Carlos Dunlap. Their current edge players consist of some nice complementary pieces, but no one of Dunlap's caliber.

What's the risk: Ford was going to be back with Seattle in 2021 one way or another. It was just a matter of whether he'd be tendered as a restricted free agent or given a multi-year deal. The two-year deal means the Seahawks are paying Ford earlier than they have to, but a one-year tender would have put him on track to hit free agency next March, when another strong season and the expected increase in the NFL's salary cap could have made him much more expensive to re-sign. What's not clear is what his cap number will be in 2021 compared to what it would have been with a first-round ($4.766 million) or second-round ($3.384 million) tender.

Ahkello Witherspoon, cornerback

What it means: The Seahawks have a candidate to replace Shaquill Griffin, who is off to Jacksonville. At 6-foot-3, Witherspoon has the length that Seattle prefers in its perimeter cornerbacks and comes from a 49ers defense that was coordinated by Pete Carroll disciple Robert Saleh, which should help his transition to Seattle. The Seahawks like Witherspoon's athleticism, awareness, ball skills and the sense of urgency he plays with. D.J. Reed Jr. showed enough last season to start again on one side, but the Seahawks had to at least add competition for Tre Flowers on the other side given how up and down he's been. Quinton Dunbar is a free agent after his eventful offseason and injury-shortened season, another reason why cornerback was a need.

What's the risk: Durability has been an issue with Witherspoon, who has played in 47 of a possible 64 regular-season games and never more than 14 in any of his four NFL seasons. Injuries and occasional coverage errors had Witherspoon in and out of the 49ers' lineup. Financial details of his one-year deal were not available, but it's likely an inexpensive bet on a player that Seattle believes is ascending at 26 years old.

Gerald Everett, tight end

The Seahawks signed the former Rams tight end to a one-year deal.

What it means: Everett isn't an offensive lineman, but his addition should make Russell Wilson happy as it gives Seattle's passing game another weapon to go with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Everett was a logical free-agent target for the Seahawks given their need for another tight end and Everett's connection to new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who coached him with the Rams. Everett's knowledge of Waldron's system should help ease Seattle's offensive transition, especially if on-field work is again limited during the offseason program. The Seahawks have the makings of a nice tight end group provided that Everett continues his ascension, Will Dissly stays healthy and last year’s fourth-round pick, Colby Parkinson, makes a jump after a nondescript rookie season. The Seahawks are also high on 2020 UDFA Tyler Mabry.

What's the risk: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Everett's deal is for up to $7 million with $6 million fully guaranteed. That's about what the Seahawks gave Olsen last year on a deal that did not pan out. The big difference between the two is that Olsen was 35 at the time and had missed 18 games over the previous three seasons. Everett turns 27 in June and has only missed three games in his four-year career. His reception and receiving yardage totals have increased in each of the last three seasons, which is indicative of an ascending player. And it never hurts to pluck from a division rival.

Nick Bellore, fullback

What it means: The Seahawks are bringing back one of the core members of one of the league's best special-teams units last season. Bellore's 11 tackles on special teams last year were fourth-most in the NFL, according to the league's official stats (teammate Cody Barton was tied for second with 13). That earned Bellore a Pro Bowl nod. He also plays fullback but has only played a combined 64 offensive snaps the past two seasons, per Pro Football Reference. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron comes from the Sean McVay system, which does not use a fullback. Clearly, the Seahawks are bringing back Bellore more for their special teams -- which finished third in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings in 2020 -- than their backfield.

What's the risk: The Seahawks are likely not committing any significant amount of money to Bellore, whom they paid the league-minimum salaries of $930,000 in 2019 and $1.05 million in 2020. Whatever they're paying him 2021 is money that isn't going towards bigger needs like an edge-rusher, tailback or center. But the Seahawks can always make moves to create more cap room. At this rate -- having signed Ahkello Witherspoon and Gerald Everett, re-signed Bellore and Poona Ford, and traded for Gabe Jackson after starting free agency with around $17 million -- it looks like they'll have to.

Ethan Pocic, center

The Seahawks are expected to re-sing their starting center to a one-year deal.

What it means: The Seahawks are bringing back last year's center and someone they view as a solid starter. Pocic was 16th in ESPN's Pass Block Win Rate as a center in 2020, finding a home there after playing guard his first three seasons. Details of his contract will give a better indication of how committed the Seahawks are to Pocic as their starting center in 2021. It's possible that he's an inexpensive fallback option if they can't find a better alternative via the draft (they have only three picks as of now) or later in free agency (which would likely require them to free up cap room). But as of now, the Seahawks have filled the two immediate openings on their offensive line by trading for guard Gabe Jackson and bringing back Pocic.

What's the risk: Russell Wilson had guard and center in mind as the two positions he wanted the Seahawks to upgrade when he publicly urged the team to improve his pass protection. So while he had to be happy with Seattle's trade for Jackson, he might not be as thrilled with the prospects of Pocic returning as the starter at center. That said, the Seahawks could do much worse than Pocic. He didn't get a shot at center until last season in part because there was disagreement within the organization about where he was best suited to play. So it's reasonable to think that at only 25 years old, he could still grow into that position.

Chris Carson, running back

The Seahawks signed Carson to a three-year contract that voids after two years.

What it means: Re-signing Carson takes care of one of the Seahawks' biggest remaining needs, and they did so at a reasonable price that helps their tricky cap situation. And yes, running back was a need for the Seahawks even with 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny under contract for at least one more season. Carson has been the better player and will continue to be the starter in 2021 as long as he stays healthy, something both have had trouble doing. If both can stay on the field, Seattle has the makings of an excellent one-two punch that was starting to come to life in 2019 before Penny tore his ACL. That the Seahawks used the voiding-year mechanism in Carson's contract indicates a willingness to break from organizational norms in order to save cap room. They'll need to free up more money in order to fill their remaining needs. At the top of that list: an edge-rusher.

What's the risk: As is often the case with running backs, the risk with Carson is his injury history. He's missed 19 of a possible 64 regular-season games over four years, including four in 2020 with a foot sprain. But it's not as big of a risk as it would have been had the Seahawks given Carson a franchise tag or signed him to a longer deal similar to what Aaron Jones got from the Green Bay Packers. Carson gets a fully-guaranteed $5.5 million in 2021 with a chance to make up to $6.9 million with incentives. That's better than a lot of running backs are getting in a depressed market for that position, but it will be good value for Seattle if Carson can replicate his 2018-2019 form.

Benson Mayowa, defensive end

The Seahawks brought Mayowa back on a two-year deal to help fortify their pass-rush.

What it means: The Seahawks are addressing their biggest remaining need by bringing back Mayowa and agreeing to a deal with another pass-rusher in Kerry Hyder. Mayowa gives the Seahawks another option at Leo end to go along with Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor, assuming Taylor can get and stay on the field after missing his rookie season because of a leg injury suffered in college. Mayowa might be more effective as a third-down rusher than a starter, but his familiarity with Seattle's defense and recent production (13 sacks over the last two seasons) made bringing him back a logical move, even if it's with a situational role in mind.

What's the risk: Mayowa missed three games last season with an ankle injury and turns 30 in August. But even then, there's not a hue amount of risk assuming his new deal averages something similar to the $3.05 million Seattle gave him on his one-year deal last March. That could be solid value if Mayowa produces like he has over the past two seasons, in which he averaged 6.5 sacks. Mayowa's deal likely includes at least one voiding year in addition to its two actual years, a source tells ESPN. The Seahawks have used that mechanism in several deals over the last week. It amounts to borrowing cap space from future years, an approach that can get teams in trouble down the road but a necessary evil in a unique year in which the Seahawks and most other teams are feeling the pinch of a reduced salary cap.

Kerry Hyder Jr., defensive end

Hyder will join the Seahawks after a career year last season with the 49ers.

What it means: Adding Hyder and bringing back Benson Mayowa on the same day are two moves that bolster the Seahawks' pass-rush, their biggest remaining need a week into free agency. While Mayowa is a Leo -- the smaller and more athletic of the two ends in Pete Carroll's defense -- the 270-pound Hyder looks like more of a 5-technique. That's the bigger of the two ends and the one who often moves inside in passing situations, a la L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green. That was what the 49ers signed Hyder to do last offseason, though he mostly played on the edge as a starter after injuries to Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Hyder had a career-best 8.5 sacks, production the Seahawks hope he can replicate in a defense similar to the one he played in last year under Carroll disciple Robert Saleh.

What's the risk: It depends on what else the Seahawks can add to their pass-rush. Hyder himself doesn't look like too big of a risk. While he turns 30 in May, he's played in every game over the past two seasons and is likely coming to Seattle on a low-cost deal. The risk is that the Seahawks aren't able to add another impact rusher and end up with the same lack of firepower up front that held their defense back early last season before their trade for Carlos Dunlap. Unless the Seahawks are expecting Hyder to have that same type of impact, it feels like their pass-rush is still missing one more piece.

Jordan Simmons, guard

What it means: Another piece of the Seahawks' O-line puzzle is in place, with Simmons returning as guard depth behind recent trade addition Gabe Jackson and last year's third-round pick, Damien Lewis. Simmons started six games for Seattle last year and three in 2018, experience that should give him an edge on the depth chart over Phil Haynes. One of his starts last year came in a loss to the Rams in Week 16, when he and the rest of Seattle's line struggled against Aaron Donald and Co. But even with that performance, Simmons' Pass Block Win Rate as a guard was 24th among qualifying players last season, only three spots behind Jackson. He played well in a start against the Rams in 2018. As far as inexpensive backup options, the Seahawks probably couldn't do much better than Simmons.

What's the risk: Minimal. Exact details of Simmons' deal aren't available, but it's worth less than the $2.133 million it would have cost Seattle to tender him as a restricted free agent. The deal includes playing-time incentives. Simmons' injury history has been a bit overstated. He could have returned from a knee procedure in 2019, but the Seahawks elected to put him on season-ending IR to save one of their IR/return designations for another player. Simmons missed two games last year with a low-grade calf strain.

Cedric Ogbuehi, offensive tackle

What it means: By agreeing to deals with guard Jordan Simmons and Ogbuehi on the same day, the Seahawks are bringing back two depth pieces for their offensive line. Ogbuehi is the leading candidate to again serve as Seattle's swing tackle -- i.e. the primary backup to Duane Brown on the left side and Brandon Shell on the right. The former first-round pick was up and down in four fill-in starts for Shell last season. His combined Pass Block Win Rate against Washington and the Rams was 94.7% but only 70.1% against the Eagles and 49ers. The return of Simmons and Ogbuehi put the Seahawks at 12 offensive linemen for 2021. They will likely bring a few more than that to training camp, perhaps a draft pick or a post-June-1 signing to compete with Ethan Pocic at center. But as of now, Gabe Jackson is the lone newcomer among the 12.

What's the risk: We've reached the point in free agency where players are mostly settling for shorter, inexpensive deals after accepting that their markets won't bear anything better. Assuming he's getting a low-cost deal similar to the one he signed last year ($2.3 million with $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses), Ogbuehi's contract is not much of a risk. The risk is that the Seahawks aren't upgrading from Ogbuehi and are leaving themselves vulnerable in the event that he has to step in, which would be true for most teams and their backup tackle. They have plenty of time to look for something better. But Ogbuehi might have been their best option right now and could still be by the time the season starts.

Carlos Dunlap, defensive end

The Seahawks re-signed Dunlap to a two-year deal after trading for him in November and releasing him earlier in March.

What it means: Seattle's pass-rush is officially loaded, at least on the edge. That group looks like it will be one of the Seahawks' strengths now that they've brought back Dunlap and Benson Mayowa and added Kerry Hyder Jr. to a group that returns several promising young players as well as safety Jamal Adams. Led by Dunlap and Adams, the Seahawks have as strong of a pass-rush as they've had in years. If they can replace Jarran Reed's production in the middle and get something out of 2020 second-round pick Darrell Taylor, it could be as good or better than that of the 2013 team that won Super Bowl XLVIII.

What's the risk: Dunlap's return is coming at the expense of Reed, who is expected to be traded or released. The Seahawks are essentially choosing a player who is four years older and dealt with a foot injury late last season. But even with that injury and his age, Dunlap was the more impactful of the two after arriving in a midseason trade. And he’s returning on a team-friendly deal. The exact breakdown is not yet known, but Dunlap will undoubtedly make and count less than the $14.1 million that his last contract would have paid him. General manager John Schneider deserves credit for correctly anticipating that he could release Dunlap and either bring him back or sign a replacement at a reduced rate. He played the market well.

Al Woods, defensive tackle

Woods returned to the Seahawks for a third stint with the team on the same day Seattle released DT Jarran Reed.

What it means: With the Seahawks releasing Reed, they now have a veteran option in Woods to replace him on early downs. That's when you can expect to see the 6-4, 330-pound Woods on the field, as he's been been a run-stuffer throughout his 10-year career. That's a role the Seahawks have generally filled on the cheap, including with Woods in 2019. His return continues to shakeup to Seattle's defensive line, with the Seahawks also bringing back Benson Mayowa and Carlos Dunlap while adding Kerry Hyder Jr. and moving on from Reed. They're loaded with edge rushers but had a void in the middle without Reed. Woods' return will help fill it.

What's the risk: Woods just turned 34 and hasn't played since December 2019, having opted out last season due to COVID-19 concerns. That long of a layoff could be challenging to come back from, especially at Woods' age. As purely a run-stuffer, Woods isn't as versatile or impactful of a player as Reed, who had developed into a three-down defender with a 10.5-sack season on his resume. But whatever the Seahawks are saving by replacing Reed with the cheaper Woods is money they needed to bolster the rest of their defensive line. That group looks like it will be a strength, even with a dropoff from Reed to Woods.