By Bob Condotta
The Seattle Times
The dominoes resulting from the Seahawks’ loading up on offensive linemen the past few weeks began to fall Sunday as the team released veterans Justin Britt and D.J. Fluker in moves that cleared out roughly $12.1 million in salary-cap space.
Fluker revealed his release in a tweet and it was confirmed by The Seattle Times. A source also confirmed that Britt would be released, news which was first reported by The Athletic’s Aaron Fentress. Britt further confirmed his release posting a “peace out” symbol on Instagram on Sunday night. Quarterback Russell Wilson also tweeted a goodbye message to Britt, stating in part “thanks for all the focus and hard work and love you brought to the game.”
The team did not announce either move but both could become official by Monday.
Fluker was entering the final season of a two-year contract and his release saves the Seahawks $3.687 million against the salary cap in 2020 while resulting in a dead cap hit of $500,000 (which is cap room the team has to spend on a player whether he is with the team or not).
Releasing Britt will clear out even more space as it would result in cap savings of $8.5 million, though it comes with a dead cap hit of $2.9 million. Britt is also entering the final season of his contract.
There was no immediate indication the moves were being made in relation to any specific signing — such as, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — but may have been moves the team was going to make anyway, especially after adding to an already crowded offensive line in the draft. The Seahawks also have to create some cap space for the eight draft picks acquired over the weekend and create some roster spots to sign undrafted free agents.
However, they were also moves the team would have to make if they were to come to an agreement with Clowney, and they also create cap space if Seattle wants to go after other veteran players who remain available such as end Everson Griffen, who has been widely thought a possible target.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said after the draft Saturday that the team had not closed the door on Clowney while indicating nothing was imminent.
But Monday also marks a time when league interest in Clowney could increase since it is the date when veteran free-agent signees no longer factor into the formula for determining compensatory picks for the 2021 draft, meaning any team other than the Seahawks that would sign Clowney wouldn’t have to worry about losing a pick, nor would Seattle be eligible for getting one if he departs. There’s been some thought that if other teams were interested in signing him they might be waiting until that date passed.
Using numbers from OvertheCap.com, the moves would appear to leave the Seahawks with about $14 million in cap space, which accounts for a salary-cap hit total of $7.8 million for its draft picks but does not include the contract of veteran defensive end Bruce Irvin, whose deal was signed last week but has not been processed yet.
The Seahawks entered the draft with 18 offensive linemen on the roster and added another in the third round, selecting guard Damien Lewis out of LSU. Lewis started 28 games the last two years for LSU at right guard — the same position Fluker played — and the Seahawks stated that’s where they planned to start him out.
“It’s easier for us to just project that,” Schneider said. “We saw him do that for (28) straight starts playing big-time football. … He has taken some snaps at center, but obviously it’s easier for us to see him and competing at right guard.”
As for the center position, the Seahawks retained Joey Hunt — who started the rest of last season after Britt was injured — signing him as a restricted free agent and also signed free agent B.J. Finney, who could play guard or center. Ethan Pocic, entering the final season of his four-year rookie deal, could also play center.
Asked Friday about loading up on offensive linemen, Schneider said: “Just trying to get as much competition as we possibly can to protect our quarterback. We think we have the best quarterback in the National Football League, and we have to figure out the best group to protect him.”
Fluker announced his release with a tweet in which he wrote: “Dear 12s, I was released by the Seahawks today. Couple of things: I am not upset, or hurt. This is a business and one that I’ve been in for a while. I want to thank John and Pete for their very thoughtful calls. Stay safe, be kind and I love y’all. Thank you, Seattle.” (Fluker later released another tweet with a video message of goodbye to Seattle fans).
Fluker signed as a free agent before the 2018 season and became a popular locker-room presence with his boisterous personality (which was vividly displayed in the goodbye tweet sent after his release) while adding a measure of toughness that helped the team revive a running game that had floundered in 2016 and 2017.
He started nine games in 2018 when the Seahawks led the NFL in rushing and 14 more last season. But along with the big cap number in 2020 Fluker has also battled injuries the last few seasons, missing two games last year with a hamstring issue and playing just 19 of 32 games in the 2017 and 2018 season.
The Seahawks also have ample candidates in place to take over at right guard, with Finney at the top of the list unless he is viewed as the heir apparent at center with Britt gone. Finney had 13 starts with the Steelers over the past four years before signing a two-year deal last month.
Others who could get a shot at right guard include holdovers Phil Haynes, Jordan Simmons, Pocic and Jamarco Jones and veteran free-agent signee Chance Warmack.
The Seahawks also re-signed veteran Mike Iupati earlier this month. Iupati started at left guard last season and re-signed to a contract that has a $2.5 million cap hit for 2020, a move that also seemed to foreshadow that the Seahawks might be making a move with Britt, if not also Fluker.
The releases of Britt and Fluker leave the Seahawks with 17 offensive linemen on the roster (excluding undrafted free agents). Of that number, eight are listed specifically as guards — Haynes, Iupati, Demetrius Knox, Lewis, Khalil McKenzie, Jordan Roos, Simmons and Warmack.
Fluker was a first-round pick of the Chargers in 2016 and played for the Giants before signing with Seattle.
Britt was a second-round pick in 2014 out of Missouri at No. 64 overall and started 86 games for the Seahawks over the past seven seasons, and also started seven postseason games including Super Bowl XLIX against New England.
He started at right tackle in 2014 and left guard in 2015 before moving to center in 2016 where he started all but one game until being injured against Atlanta, which turned out to be his final game with the Seahawks.