Coach Pete Carroll may shed light on the decision when he speaks with the media Wednesday afternoon. In the meantime, let's try to make some sense of it while also looking ahead to what it could mean.
Why it was surprising. Because Freeney had been helping Seattle's pass rush, at least before Monday night. He recorded three sacks and a pass defensed over his first two games -- Week 8 vs. Houston and Week 9 vs. Washington -- and also had a QB hit last week vs. Arizona. That's good production, especially considering he was averaging 28 snaps over those first three games. Freeney didn't record any stats while playing 17 snaps Monday night, when the Seahawks hardly got any pressure on Matt Ryan. But Freeney wasn't alone there, and he had clearly shown over his first three games that he still has plenty left at 37 years old.
Could money have been a factor? This is one of the only explanations that comes to mind. Freeney was making a prorated share of $1 million (the minimum for a player with 10 or more credited seasons) and his contract included $8,000 roster bonuses for each game he was active, according to ESPN's Field Yates. That was by no means a prohibitive amount relative to Freeney's production, but perhaps the Seahawks felt it was too much given how hard up they are against the salary cap at the moment. According to NFL Players Association records, the Seahawks have a league-low $150,505 in cap space (NFLPA salary cap records aren't always accurate to the exact dollar amount but generally provide a good ballpark figure). That's cutting it pretty close. Then again, teams can usually create salary-cap space when it's badly needed without having to part with productive players. Recall that Seattle freed up money by restructuring Doug Baldwin's and Russell Wilson's contracts to make way for the Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown trades, respectively. So money isn't an obvious explanation for waiving Freeney.
The Cassius Marsh connection. Seattle's move with Freeney came on the same day the Patriots waived former Seahawks defensive end Cassius Marsh, which will potentially make him available. Potentially is the operative word here. The Seahawks could very conceivably have interest in bringing back Marsh, whom they traded to New England before the season. He was an excellent special teams player and that's an area where Seattle could use help given how injuries have sidelined some top contributors like Dewey McDonald and Tre Madden. Another, Bradley McDougald, will play significantly less on special teams now that he's starting for Kam Chancellor at strong safety. But Marsh is subject to waivers and the Seahawks aren't anywhere near the top of the order (which is now determined by the reverse order of the standings). That means that even if the Seahawks were putting in a claim on Marsh, there's no guarantee they'd end up with him. That makes it hard to imagine them waiving Freeney with an eye toward adding Marsh. And besides, Freeney was giving the Seahawks at least the same if not more in terms of pass-rush production than they could reasonably expect to get from Marsh.
Who fills Freeney's spot? The Seahawks didn't announce a corresponding move, so waiving Freeney leaves an opening on their 53-man roster. Seattle still has 10 defensive linemen, so that's not necessarily a position that needs an extra body. Cornerback is one possibility. Shaquill Griffin suffered a concussion Monday night, and getting cleared in time for Sunday's game at San Francisco could be a challenge with Seattle on a short week. Tailback is another as Mike Davis (groin) is likely out this week. Seattle has also been without a fullback for the past two games.
What it means for Seattle's D-line. Dion Jordan is one player who figures to play more in Freeney's absence. The 2o13 No. 3 overall pick made his Seahawks debut in Week 10 vs. Arizona, which marked his return from injuries and a third drug suspension that had kept him off the field since 2014. Jordan had a sack vs. Arizona and has played 33 and 19 snaps over his first two games. Branden Jackson and Marcus Smith are Seattle's other backup defensive ends behind starters Michael Bennett and Frank Clark.
What's next for Freeney. He'll be subject to waivers as well and should appeal to teams in need of pass-rush help, though it's unlikely that Freeney would have interest in playing for anyone other than a Super Bowl contender at this stage of his career. He said he nearly gave up on the thought of playing in 2017 before the Seahawks signed him in late October.