It has already been an eventful off-season. Players have left. Players have returned. As we barrel toward the NFL Draft in May, now is a good time to review the off-season plan I laid out before free agency, and see where the team stands. You may be surprised by how "on-plan" the team is. There certainly could have been some more valuable additions, but the front office has been disciplined, and fans will be thanking them when more important players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas stick around. This magazine, Press Coverage, will be an occasional occurrence on Hawk Blogger. My goal is to pull together some valuable articles you may have missed, and add additional ones as appropriate. This format is meant to be read on your iPad, iPhone or other portable device. It works on the desktop, but it is not nearly as cool. It will continue to evolve as the product that drives it evolves. Any and all feedback is encouraged. You can always reach me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading, and Go Hawks!
No position group improved more this year than the defensive line. Depth and production were just above average in 2012, and the front office made it a priority to change that. Boy, did they. To think that the Seahawks defensive line was better than the 49ers defensive line last season is a dizzying statement, but true. I did not believe that kind of jump was possible, and truthfully, it should not have been. That Cliff Avril and and Michael Bennett were available for affordable free agent deals was a shock. John Schneider then hit on another key free agent starter in Tony McDaniel on the cheap. Bennett played at an All-Pro level much of the year and Avril finished the season at that level. The team enjoyed more fortune at the position when Clinton McDonald was released after the pre-season, sat idle for a week, and then came back as almost a completely new player the rest of they way. A player who had never recorded a sack in his career, finished with 5.5, which is an outstanding total for an interior rusher. Seattle did not have a player on the roster that could rush the passer from the inside like that in 2012, except when Jason Jones was healthy. The combination of McDonald and Bennett in the middle formed one of the most ferocious interior rush packages in the NFL.
The Seahawks needed all those free agents to hit because they struck out in the draft. Jordan Hill was injured much of the year, and just not as talented as the guys in front of him. Jesse Williams spent the year on IR, and there are legitimate questions about whether he will ever get better with a degenerative knee condition. Promising 2012 rookie Greg Scruggs also missed the season with an injury. The team has been cultivating other players to watch at defensive tackle in Michael Brooks and defensive end in Benson Mayowa. Those three young men could all play key roles for the team next year depending on how the off-season plays out.
These numbers are provided by OverTheCap.com , and represent what the Seahawks currently have on the books to spend at the position in 2014, as well as where that ranks in the NFL. Being ranked #1 means the team is spending more at that position than any other team, and #32 would mean they are spending the least.
DE : $30,883,706 (#1)
DT: $9,820,368 (#9)
It is worth noting that the next closest team to Seattle in DE spending is the Rams, a full $7M behind the Seahawks. Clemons is scheduled to make $7.5M. The math is pretty obvious.
The Seahawks are not a championship team without an interior pass rush that at least is within sight of what they ran on the field last season. They will likely also look for another affordable 3-technique defensive tackle to stuff the run. There is a TON of depth at defensive end and defensive tackle this year. I will list some players below that are worth discussing.
No player is more important for the Seahawks to sign this off-season. They could land Bennett and lose out on everyone else, and it would be worth it. He can continue his interior wrecking ball act, while also taking a more prominent role as either a starting LEO or, more likely, supplanting Red Bryant at 5-technique defensive end. He will command a hefty multi-year contract. Pay the man.
McDonald made $630K last season. This is his big shot, and he should find a solid contract on the market. Seattle will need to hope one of their cheaper internal options or a draft choice can fill in for McDonald. They cannot afford to pay him what he deserves to get.
McDaniel could be a guy the Seahawks bring back. He was exactly what they needed at that position, and was affordable. Durability was his question mark going into the year. A full healthy year on a Super Bowl team could land him a deal above what the Seahawks would pay him. If his price does not rise, he might be back. The team has preferred "prove it" deals at this 3-technique position, and had a bad experience when Alan Branch had a big drop-off after proving it his first year. I worry a bit about McDaniel putting forth the same effort on another 1-year deal.
It is highly unlikely that Seattle would add another spendy defensive end, but there is a legitimate question mark at the LEO position, assuming Clemons moves on. Allen has been rumored to Seattle before and wants a trophy. I would have never predicted Bennett signing a 1-year deal for under $5M heading into last season, so there is some (very small) chance Allen and the Seahawks find a workable number.
Johnson is too young, too good, and too expensive. No chance he comes to Seattle. Zero.
Tuck is 30 and had 11.0 sacks last year. He will be too expensive.
A very nice LEO prospect at just 26, but will be too expensive.
Now here is one to watch. Phillips will be 33 next season, and made $1M last year to record 10.0 sacks for the Broncos. He could be a great veteran option to replace Clemons if the price does not go higher than what he signed for last year.
He is 25 and had 15.0 sacks last year. Those players don't leave, and obviously are too expensive for Seattle.
Griffen just turned 26, is 6'3" 270+ lbs and runs a 4.46 40-yard dash. He had 5.5 sacks last year for the Vikings. He would be a perfect guy for Seattle in past years, but someone will give him a nice multi-year deal.
Melton missed all last season with an injury after being franchised by the Bears. He would be a guy the team could go after if Bennett ends up being out of their price range. Melton is a disruptive interior rusher when right and is just 27.
A run-stuffing 3-technique option who is 30, and will not command the $5M he made last year. He could be a late veteran signing depending on how things work out in other areas.
I really like Walker. He is an under-rated interior rusher, and is just 26. He made $2M for the Raiders last year. He would be on the list if Bennett does not work out.
Hatcher will be 32 next year, but made himself some cash with an outstanding 11.0 sack season as an interior rusher. Those are Warren Sapp sack numbers for a DT. Another option if Bennett does not work out on a deal of no more than two years.
Pitoitua will be 29 next season, is 6'8" and a disruptive 300 lbs. He had 4.0 sacks for the Titans last year playing as a defensive end, but I could see him at 3-technique. He played college ball at Washington State.
Carrington was coming into his own in 2012 before he suffered a season-ending quad injury in 2013. He will be 27 next year, is 6'5" and 301 lbs. ProFootballFocus.com had him at +9.6 in the pass rush in 2012. Who knows what he will get on the open market, but if his injury scares away the larger deals, he could be a perfect 1-year deal candidate for Schneider. One to watch.
Mitchell played NT in the Texans 3-4. He is small for a nose tackle, weighing just 300 lbs. He will turn 27 before the 2014 season and is not likely to command a ton in the open market. His ability to play both NT and base 3-technique could draw some interest from Seattle.
He just turned 26, and played NT for the Steelers. He is bigger than Mitchell, and would be a swing NT/3T for the Seahawks. He should be affordable, especially on a short-term deal late in free agency.
The team has to continue to make drafting young and affordable defensive lineman a priority. If there is one they believe can make a difference at any position along the line, they will take him. It would be wise to take at least two more defensive lineman in the draft this year. Edge pass rushers are the ones they could most benefit from finding as Avril is on the last year of his deal, and buying them on the market is not where you want to be once Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Bennett, and Richard Sherman are all getting paid.
There is more defensive line talent on the free agent market than I remember in any year from recent memory. Seahawks fans can breathe a bit knowing that the world will not end if their favorite familiar players do not re-sign. Few players, though, fulfill team needs better than Bennett.
I expect him to take over for Bryant at 5T end, which will improve early down pass rush and still allow him to swing inside for nickel. Bruce Irvin will return to the defensive end role next season, which plays a part in this, but more on that when we get to linebackers. I am high on Scruggs, Brooks and Mayowa. Scruggs had 2.5 sacks playing on the inside as a rookie. There is upside there, and he can play 5T end as well. He could replace a lot of the production from McDonald. Brooks is a guy who flashed a lot in training camp and played well in his one game in Atlanta. I was shocked nobody signed him off the Seahawks practice squad after that performance. Mayowa is a guy the team believes in enough to have let a ton of other talent walk (John Lotulelei, Stephen Williams, Allan Bradford) in order to stow him away on the roster all year. He will get a shot at LEO for sure.
Brandon Mebane was one of the best players on the best defense in football last year. Nose tackles start to wear down, and Mebane needs some depth behind him that can really hold the point against the run. Everyone loves to talk about pass rush, but it was the improvement stoning the run that made the Seahawks a historic defense.
I am not sold on either Hill or Williams. Hill is a try-hard player who will make some plays, but will rarely beat someone with physical talent versus effort. Technique and effort make you a worthwhile player, but offer little in the way of upside. Seattle needs to be grooming starting caliber defensive lineman. Williams could be that if he was somehow healthy, but I don't see his knee all-of-a-sudden improving.
Seattle could bring back Clemons at a lower-priced deal after he tests free agency, but both parties would be better off if he moved on. The team needs to find a new LEO option, and for those thinking it is Avril, think again. Avril is purely a strongside rusher (the side with the tight end). He is not nearly as effective when going against left tackles. Mayowa, O'Brien Schofield (if re-signed), and others will get a shot there. Finding a prove it player on a 1-year deal is real possibility at that spot. Seattle is really just biding time until they can draft someone who can do the job on a rookie contract.
How the front office handles the defensive line this off-season will go a long way towards determining the team's chances to repeat.
No pedestrians covered more ground in 2013 than the Seahawks wide receivers. Golden Tate set career highs in receptions and yards. Doug Baldwin nearly did the same, while collecting a series of game-changing catches. Jermaine Kearse capped off a promising second season with a play that instantly became one of the best in Super Bowl history. And we haven't even mentioned Percy Harvin yet. No group of receivers in the NFL was more efficient with the opportunities they were given. Many people continue to misjudge them because their numbers do not stand out, but if they had more passes thrown their way, they would have bigger numbers. John Schneider could draft the next Calvin Johnson, and this team will still not throw more than 25-30 times per game.
Tate added punt returning to his responsibilities, and immediately became one of the best punt returners in the league. No receiver who played more than 50% of their team's snaps gained more yards after they caught the ball than Tate, who averaged 7.9 YAC according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Baldwin led the NFL in catch rate much of the season before a late season slump from Russell Wilson and the offense starting sinking those numbers. Baldwin had 50 receptions on 52 "catchable" throws, according to PFF. He is still miscast as "just a slot guy," but he and the Seahawks offense heated up when he took over for Rice on the outside. Baldwin finished with a yards-per-reception (15.6) that rivaled known big-play receivers like DeSean Jackson (16.2), Alshon Jeffrey (16.0), and Vincent Jackson (15.7). He was more explosive than guys like Jordy Nelson (15.5), Demaryius Thomas (15.5), and A.J. Green (14.6). The only thing holding Baldwin back is his lack of targets. Only five players--Anquan Boldin, Jackson, T.Y. Hilton, Brandon Marshall, and Marques Colston--averaged more yards per route run out of the slot (min 50% of their snaps from the slot). He was rewarded by ranking 22 out of 33 receivers in percentage of routes that resulted in a target, of those players who played at least 50% of their snaps in the slot. He was treated like Mohamed Sanu, but was producing like T.Y. Hilton.
Kearse looks like he can take on more, but how much more remains a question. He can be a Roddy White-type player in terms of skill set, if not raw numbers. More physical than fast. Makes catches in traffic. Big play receiver down the field. Somewhat ironically, Kearse reminds me of Chris Carter. That begs the question of whether Carter considered himself an appetizer early on in his career. What we need to see more of from Kearse is short and intermediate routes that require precision and timing. He cannot be satisfied with last season if he wants to be a legitimate starting caliber player in this league.
Harvin is just getting started. He will transform this offense next season. He will be healthy. He will bring Hell with him. Count on it.
Guys like Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters demonstrate there is room on this roster for a young receiver to join the fray and develop over the next season, much the way Benson Mayowa and Christine Michael were stowed away this year.
Zach Miller and Luke Willson had terrific seasons. They did their jobs as blockers and receivers when called upon. Kellen Davis filled in when the team erred in letting Sean McGrath go, and did a fine job as a third tight end.
These numbers are provided by OverTheCap.com , and represent what the Seahawks currently have on the books to spend at the position in 2014, as well as where that ranks in the NFL. Being ranked #1 means the team is spending more at that position than any other team, and #32 would mean they are spending the least.
WR : $25,650,000 (#2)
TE: $7,959,633 (#10)
Even if you cut Rice to save $7.3M, the spending would be right back to this level if the team signed Tate and Baldwin.
As with every position, the Seahawks will start with their own free agents and work outward.
I have expected Tate to hit the open market all along because the team cannot afford to pay him a premium. Both he and the team need to know what he can command from other clubs. The Seahawks want him back, but this is a Win Forever moment for Carroll. He loves Tate. We all do. He is also not a player the team can afford to be paying $5M/year for if they want to sustain the talent elsewhere on the roster. This will be one of the toughest calls of the off-season, but the right thing for the club is to save some money at the split end spot. I'm just not sure Carroll has it in him to let Tate play elsewhere.
It is a real question mark why Baldwin was not featured more given his off-the-charts efficiency and demonstrated ability to make the big catch. I can find a dozen clips of Pete Carroll talking about how the team needs to get Tate more involved in the passing game, or even Rice last year. He has never uttered those words about Baldwin. He has praised him, but his lack of enthusiasm ,and the evidence in the form of targets, shows who he favors. Baldwin is a tougher skill set to replace than Tate's, but I expect the team to sign Tate and look to see if there are any takers for Baldwin in the trade market. By placing a 2nd-round tender on him, they can set his value and see if a team would part with a 3rd. Teams called about Baldwin last year after a down season. Seattle should have some people interested this year. It is not the decision I would make, but it the decision I expect Carroll to roll with.
Boldin made $8.3M last year, and earned every penny. He would be an ideal addition in terms of skill set, mentality and duration of contract. The amount will likely be too steep for one season.
McCoy is a solid tight end, with the potential to do much more than he has done in the past. There is a high likelihood that Seattle will sign him to a prove it deal that will allow him to go back on the market next season while he is still young and not coming off a lost season due to injury. To think the team can cut Miller and just plug in McCoy is fantasy. McCoy would come in to replace Davis.
There will be no rush to sign Davis, but he is a fine safety net if the team does not find a younger, cheaper option elsewhere. Blocking is key for the third tight end.
Davis is a former Trojan with real talent. He has fought injuries and Mike Shanahan, which has reduced his market value. He could get a short-term deal with his old coach to resuscitate his career and earning potential.
A solid blocking tight end who could be another 3rd tight end option.
Wide receiver and tight end are deep positions in this draft. Seattle needs to add size and strength to their receiving corps. They struck out on Chris Harper last year, and have not hit on any receivers in the draft other than Tate. This is a good year to invest a little there. If the team can add 1-2 receivers and at least one tight end through the draft, they will be in good shape.
It makes little sense for Rice to be back with the club. Baldwin would cost the team $2M if tendered at the second-round level. Tate could cost anywhere from $4M-$6.5M/year. As good as this receiving group was, Carroll wants to mix in more height. Returning a receiving groups whose top three players are all under 6' does not mesh well with Carroll's history when selecting receivers. It feels like an "or" not an "and" situation with Tate and Baldwin, and while the more cost-effective and logical personnel decision would be Baldwin (cheaper, harder skill set to replace), I expect the team to be more invested in Tate's future. The team will not be desperate to trade Baldwin, but will be more open to it than they were last year.
The team needs a young receiving prospect with some size, who can be developed. That will come via the draft. The only free agents they would logically look at would be Tate and Boldin. And really, just Tate. Harvin becomes the equivalent of a major free agent addition, both in terms of production potential and cost.
Everyone wants to can Zach Miller because of his $7M salary. It is true that he would not get that on the open market. He probably would not get $5M on the open market. I'm just not sure I see the team approaching a player who had a great season and is integral to their offense to ask for a restructured deal. I also do not see why they would cut him if they can find the money they need under the cap elsewhere. Tight end was a thin position last year. Going into the year with Willson as the #1 and either McCoy or a rookie as the #2 would be a big leap of faith that the team simply does not need to risk. The most likely outcome here is Miller, Willson and McCoy form an improved trio at the tight end spot. Second most likely is Miller, Willson and a draft choice.
By the time all the analysis is done, this will go down as possibly the best secondary in this history of the NFL. Some will disagree. Nobody will be able to credibly dismiss the discussion out of hand. On a team where respect is hard to find outside the Pacific NW, this legion of budding legends needs no introduction. Earl Thomas was the best defender in football at the age of 24, only missing out on the title because he split votes with the best cornerback in football, Richard Sherman, who is 25. And both would call out the best strong safety, Kam Chancellor (also 25), as being the best player in their group down the stretch.
They lost a former Pro Bowl corner in Brandon Browner to a drug suspension, and managed to improve with the play of Byron Maxwell, who had 4 interceptions in five starts. Only five corners in the NFL had more interceptions on the year, and all had hundreds more snaps. Maxwell punctuated his year with memorable punch-fumble against the Broncos in the Super Bowl. His emergence clarified the Seahawks free agent and draft priorities a little, as Maxwell is under contract for the 2014 season.
The most unheralded member of the group was Walter Thurmond III, who is arguably the best cover corner of the bunch. Maxwell and Sherman are fantastic edge press corners. Thurmond is as well, but can also slide inside any cover the Wes Welker's of the world. He can play in any scheme, and it is not clear that a player like Maxwell or Browner can. Thurmond stayed healthy the whole year, but had a 4-game drug suspension that will cost him millions in free agency.
Jeremy Lane proved he deserves to be in the mix at nickel corner. Inside corner is almost a completely different position than edge corner, and requires very different skills. There is no sideline to act as a defender. Lateral quickness, instincts and route recognition are paramount. Lane acquitted himself well in Thurmond's absence, while also being one of the best special teams players in the NFL throughout the year.
Depth at safety is a question. Jeron Johnson was injured much of the year. Chris Maragos is a great special teams player that we do not know much about as a safety. DeShawn Shead is a promising young player who joined the roster late. He can play both corner and safety, but what I saw in training camp was someone who could be a quality free safety backup and good special teams player. He is one to watch.
The team has players like Chandler Fenner, Tharold Simon, Akeem Auguste and Terrance Parks who will get a chance to step forward and keep the depth young, and more importantly, inexpensive.
These numbers are provided by OverTheCap.com , and represent what the Seahawks currently have on the books to spend at the position in 2014, as well as where that ranks in the NFL. Being ranked #1 means the team is spending more at that position than any other team, and #32 would mean they are spending the least.
CB : $3,675,973 (#28)
S: $12,288,212 (#5)
The only free agents the Seahawks will consider in the secondary will be their own. There could be a third-tier safety they kick the tires of, but nothing serious.
Thurmond was headed toward being the #1 or #2 cornerback on the free agent market before his suspension. Now he faces a year suspension the next time he tests positive. Many teams will not want to take that risk. Thurmond is a high quality person and an elite corner who has been unable to control his pot usage. Someone--my guess is Jacksonville--will get a major bargain with him as a free agent. He can be a Pro Bowl performer and a #1 corner on many defenses. Having him as part of this secondary was perhaps the team's greatest luxury. Ask any player on the team just how good Thurmond is. I wish him all the success on his next stop.
Browner joins the ranks of those that cost themselves dearly with pot usage. His suspension is indefinite and his status is unclear. The most likely outcome at this point would seem to be Browner is out of football as missing next season at his age, with a lifetime ban looming as the next strike, just would not be attractive to most teams. The Seahawks would definitely consider him at the veteran's minimum for one year, but far more likely is they turn the page and try to develop the younger players behind Maxwell.
Johnson is a restricted free agent, and I would not expect the Seahawks to tender him, which would make him unrestricted. He is a very good special teams player, and a guy who made some impact plays on defense, but his durability has become an issue. Look for the team to bring him back late in free agency, depending on what they see available in the draft. Johnson is more the backup to Chancellor, where Shead and Maragos play behind Thomas. There is no other backup strong safety on the roster.
Maragos is similar to Johnson in terms of special teams prowess, except that he has far less snaps on the defense. Another quality person who also possesses elite speed, Maragos will probably need to find employment elsewhere in 2014 as the team allows the cheaper Shead to step forward.
The biggest risk to any Seahawks season is an Earl Thomas injury. Russell Wilson is great, but the team could function in much the same way without him. His value really emerges in championship moments where his poise and play stands out. Losing Thomas would cause massive ripple effects through the defensive scheme. It is doubtful that the Seahawks will find a safety that could fill that void in the draft, but they will always be looking. Strong safety is a better bet. Guys like Chancellor do not fit most NFL schemes, where a lot of coordinators now favor two interchangeable safeties. That means they can be had later in the draft, where Schneider works his magic. Seattle is okay at edge corner, but need to add to the pile at slot corner. Do not be surprised when you see the Seahawks take a corner under 6' tall. That is your sign that they expect him to play inside.
This will be the best secondary in football next year regardless of what they do in the draft or in free agency. The important parts here are replenishing the depth that allowed them to not skip a beat when injury or suspension happened. The options behind Lane at nickel corner are very questionable. Maxwell becomes a free agent after next season. Now is the time to groom the next generation because there is no way the team will pay top dollar at all four secondary spots. Sherman, Chancellor and Thomas will get their money. The other starting corner and the nickel corner need to be young and inexpensive. They also need to be good, if the defense wants to sustain their level of play. The good news is that the edge corner should not be a major issue. Carroll, Kris Richard and Rocky Seto do a good job making the job of an edge cornerback pretty straight-forward. Schneider gets too much credit for finding great corner talent late in the draft or free agency. He is a fantastic GM, but more of the credit in this case should go to a coaching staff that utilizes a scheme and technique that drastically reduces the requirements of those players and instead puts maximum pressure on the safeties.
The biggest risk here will be in finding a nickel corner. Lane looks like he can be the answer, but they need more. The techniques used to lessen the pressure on edge corners in this scheme do not apply to the slot corner. Those players need to be able to cover on their own. They are also players that other teams are more likely to value and draft higher up the board. Finding another good option there is a priority in the draft.
It was fitting that after all the attention given to the Legion of Boom and the dominant Seahawks defensive line, that a back-up linebacker won the Super Bowl MVP. This linebacker unit had an uneven 2013, impacted by injury and positional shifting, but finished the year as an elite group that looks like it could grow stronger heading into next season.
Malcolm Smith was a microcosm of the group as a whole. He started the year playing strongside linebacker (lined up next to Red Bryant, near the opponents tight end) while the starter at that position, Bruce Irvin, served a four-game suspension. He was adequate at that spot, but was playing out of position. He was a spot player for much of the rest of the year until K.J. Wright was injured versus San Francisco in week fourteen. Until that point, Smith had 1 tackle for loss, 0 interceptions, and averaging 2.9 tackles per game. After switching to his natural weakside linebacker position for the final six-and-a-half games of the year, he had 7 TFLs, 4 INT (4 in his last 5 games), 2 touchdowns, and averaged 6.8 tackles per game (in his 6 starts). How good is that? Stretch that production out over 16 starts, and his numbers would look something like:
I do not even to look up historical numbers to tell you that no linebacker has ever had a season like that. Six games is six games, sure, but it is not like he did this for two games. Smith did this against some of the best competition the team saw, and in the biggest moments. Never forget that while Richard Sherman's tip was the iconic moment of the NFC Championship victory, it was Smith who was there to make the interception. One could argue it was Smith's pick-six in the Super Bowl that broke the game open. He now enters his contract year as a 25-year-old Super Bowl MVP, and the presumed starter at weakside linebacker for the World Champs. What a year for Malcolm Smith.
He was not alone. Bobby Wagner entered the year as a guy I thought would take the next step to being at least a Pro Bowl player, and potentially and All-Pro caliber player. He was not himself out of the gates, and then was injured in week five in Indianapolis. He began to right himself versus Tampa Bay. Before that game, Wagner had only 1 game with 9 tackles or more and 0 sacks. He finished with eleven straight games of 9 tackles or more (10.4/gm) and 5.0 sacks. Put that kind of production together for a full year, and you have:
You also have an All-Pro. Wagner also added two picks. He is a versatile talent who can be a factor against passes in coverage or as a pass rusher, and against the run. He had only one tackle for loss this season, well off the 6 he registered in his rookie season. That is a key measure for a middle linebacker, as it helps to tell the story of whether a player is reading and blowing up plays versus catching running backs after they come through the hole. Wagner still has upside beyond what we have seen. He may not quite be Luke Kuechly, but he may not be far off either.
Wright had a good, but not great season. He enters his contract year with a reputation as a guy who can play any of the three linebacker spots, and is excellent in coverage. Wright was hurt by his versatility this season as he really played out of position as a weakside linebacker until Smith emerged. Seahawks coaches wanted to create room for Bruce Irvin at strongside linebacker, and shifted Wright to weak. Irvin played a very solid strongside linebacker, but was not as dynamic at the position as Wright, which meant the Seahawks were really not optimizing their talent.
The Super Bowl gave the best view of what next year could look like with Wright playing his best position at strongside and Smith at weak. Wright finished with 7 tackles, and a TFL. Irvin had only one game of more than 6 tackles and had just one TFL all season. Wright is a very good--but not quite Pro Bowl--player. The team would be wise to let him excel where he plays best, and that is what they will likely do.
That means Irvin needs a new home. Fans will want to pile on Irvin, but that's not really fair. He played well at his position, a new position for him. He was good in coverage and very good at setting the edge against the run. We all want to see big sack numbers, but the team very rarely gave Irvin the chance to rush the passer. It seemed like this move to linebacker would allow him to roam the line and attack from different spots, but he mostly just stayed home, and was often off the field for nickel situations. Most will see the 2.0 sacks this year and start calling him a bust. I don't see that. Not yet. He had 8.0 sacks as a rookie when given the chance to rush the passer. They need to put him in a position where he can do that more regularly. I expect that to involve more snaps as an edge rusher like he was as a rookie. The problem will be that he and Avril are best at rushing from the same side. They may try Irvin more at LEO, but only in passing situations. It is one of the bigger questions heading into training camp.
Reader, Paul Milem, reminded me that I forgot to discuss Korey Toomer. He is definitely someone who will impact the team's off-season plans, and it is yet to be determined where he can best provide depth at linebacker. He is incredibly fast, and a better pass rusher than run defender. The team was very high on him coming into this season before an injury derailed him.
He was slotted as a strongside 'backer, which would create quite the pile over there with Wright and Irvin and possibly O'Brien Schofield. If he could be a credible backup at weakside, that would be solve for one of the meaningful needs for the team this off-season. He is definitely fast enough, and he is built more like Smith than Wright or Irvin. He is under club control through 2015, so it is in the Seahawks best interest to give Toomer every chance to succeed.
LB/DE O'Brien Schoefield
LB : $5,428,497 (#31)
This is somewhat deflated because I believe Bruce Irvin is counted as a defensive end. Still, the Seahawks are not big spenders at linebacker, and likely never will be.
Seattle may fill in with some cheap veteran depth, but do not expect any flashy signings here. They need to find players who could step in should the team have to part ways with both Smith and Wright after next season. If they see a young guy who could fit the bill in free agency, they could grab him.
Schofield is a guy I expect the Seahawks to give serious consideration to re-signing. He can play strongside linebacker and is a legitimate option at LEO. Give him Chris Clemons' snaps next year, and he very well may out-produce the 4.5 sacks Seattle got there in 2013. He is also a good special teams player, and Carroll likes him a lot. He did not do enough last season to command a big payday, so look for him to explore the market, and then possibly accept another short deal (he is only 26) that could put him back on the market with more earning power.
Wright and Heath Farwell act as back-up options to Wagner, but Farwell makes $1.5M, and could become a cap casualty at age 32. Angerer is a great special teams player who is just 27. He could provide some depth inside and cost less than Farwell.
Seattle would do well to find at least two linebackers either in the draft or as undrafted free agents. It is a shame they had to part ways with a guy like John Lotulelei, who was the perfect combination of cost, potential and special teams value. He was undrafted. Allen Bradford, also no longer with the team, was undrafted. Smith was a 7th round pick. Wright was a 4th. This team should be able to find some value later in the draft.
The Seahawks linebacker corps could go from solid-to-good next season. Wagner continues to have the highest upside, although, Irvin could be a major play-maker down the road if the parts fall into place for him. Smith is a playmaker right now, and almost certainly is playing his last season as a Seahawk. Wright is steady and occasionally spectacular. His future is a little more cloudy, as his price may be reasonable. The front office has to plan as if they will be missing two starting linebackers after this season.
Irvin has already proved he can be a solid strongside linebacker, even if it did not allow him to stand out yet. Schofield could be another option there. Should Wright leave after next year, the team also lacks depth behind Wagner in case of injury. Finding at least two rookie linebackers they can carry on the roster is key, and possibly picking up another cheap, young player through free agency would make sense. The best news here is that finding linebackers is among the easiest tasks for a team, and Wagner is here for at least two more years.
One group on the Seahawks was less than super in the 2013 season. An offensive line that featured one Pro Bowl starter at left tackle and a first-team All-Pro at center from the previous season, struggled to produce any sort of consistency at any position. Russell Okung suffered another injury, and missed almost half the year. He courageously battled through the toe injury that very well might require surgery in the off-season. His talent is undeniable, but his durability makes it key to have options at back-up left tackle.
Seahawks coaches chose to stick with Paul McQuistan at left tackle in Okung's absence, and the offense suffered for it. Going from a top three left tackle in football to possibly the worst tends to show up on game day. The good news is that there actually was quality tackle depth on the roster. Rookie Alvin Bailey got some snaps just before Okung returned at was a far superior left tackle to McQuistan. Bailey is arguably the second-best pass protection tackle on the roster. Michael Bowie, another rookie, is an excellent right tackle or guard prospect, but is not the pass protector Bailey is. Both rookies may wind up starting next season. Bowie could take over at left guard, but a better bet is right tackle. Bailey could become the starting left guard. There is no shortage of irony that two years after spending a first and a third round pick on James Carpenter and John Moffit to be the future starting right tackle and guard, John Schneider looks to have finally found those positions in the 7th round (Bowie) and via undrafted free agency (Bailey).
Carpenter may not be on the team next season, depending on salary cap needs elsewhere. He was given every opportunity to step forward this year, but consistently was the source of pressure up the middle. When he and McQuistan were next to each other, Seattle was allowing pressure on about every other play. Carpenter shows flashes as a run blocker, and heading into the final year of his deal, Seattle likely will want to play this out until the end on the chance that he blossoms into the Larry Allen-like player they envisioned. If nothing else, he makes for a terrific part of a jumbo package against power teams like the 49ers.
Max Unger had a few injuries himself, and never approached the elite play we had seen the year prior. There is no reason to think he is incapable of recapturing that level of performance, but any honest evaluation of his last season has to admit he was less than a Pro Bowl player. His backup, Lemuel Juanpierre, had a terrific year filling in. He is capable of being a starter somewhere, and may get his chance this year as a free agent, assuming the team does not tender him.
Right guard was relatively stable, with J.R. Sweezy getting nearly all the snaps. The team appears to be more satisfied with his play than most observers. He looks to be an adequate guard, who is a plus athlete at the position, and a nice nasty streak. There were not consistent breakdowns or dominant play. It is just his second year playing the offensive line, so he should have more upside ahead. Still, the thought of Bowie and Bailey at both guard spots is appealing.
Breno Giacomini earned some appreciation after he was lost to injury, and people saw that he was not as terrible as they liked to think. He was generally a better pass protector than Bowie, but with the money the team needs to spend elsewhere, it seems like this was The Big Russian's swan song in Seattle.
C/G Lemuel Jeanpierre (Restricted)
RT Breno Giacomini
G/T Paul McQuistan
OL : $21,269,861 (#14)
It is hard to imagine the team going big in free agency to address the offensive line. They have their center, left tackle and right guard. They have a right tackle, and two left guards. What they need is depth. That is part of why you saw them grab Greg Van Roten after he was let go. He could be a cheap replacement for Juanpierre. Hauptmann was someone they thought highly enough to carry on the 53-man roster most of the year while jettisoning other quality talent. The only players you may seen them go after in free agency would be cheap depth, like McQuistan has been.
They could probably have McQuistan for the veteran's minimum. The question will be whether they want younger and cheaper options to maximize the money going elsewhere. Chances of re-signing him are about 50/50, maybe closer to 40/60.
Giacomini is a great fit for the team. His upside is limited, though, and his price will be multiple millions per season. His chances of coming back are under 30%. If he strikes out on the open market, it could mean Seattle gets him back for cheap, and can save a draft choice for another need while also allowing for the potential of Bowie and Bailey to play guard. Not likely, but possible.
Lem has been a perfect back-up lineman, who was solid as both a guard and a center. He will likely get more money elsewhere.
The Seahawks have found their starting right guard, probably their starting left guard, and starting right tackle in rounds seven or later (undrafted). There is no reason to think they need to spend a high pick on a lineman with a guy like Tom Cable coaching them up. Then again, adding another top-shelf talent to the line can only help the offense for years to come. The team has four players who can play tackle and five who can play guard. The versatility of Bowie and Bailey allow the front office to take the talent that comes to them. At least one choice will go towards the line, but it won't be the high-round priority that some will expect it to be given the unit's struggles last year.
Seattle had a horrible injury year for their line. The depth held, but barely. That is no way to sustain winning, especially as a running team. A healthy Percy Harvin will help any line they throw out there, as his routes and uses require minimal protection. Still, a young and talented offensive line is the best way to find sustainable offensive success over time. Bailey and Bowie are two of the best prospects this team has seen. Their first year success bodes well for what is to come. Both are stellar run blockers and at least average pass protectors, with Bailey being well above average there. Both can play guard or tackle. Bailey can play either tackle spot. The offensive line should improve just with another year and Bowie and Bailey getting more snaps. Sweezy should continue to grow, although I'm not convinced he will ever be more than a solid player.
Unger and Okung are star quality lineman, but need to stay healthy. Guys like Hauptmann and Van Roten remain unknowns. It is hard, though, to question Cable when it comes to teaching up depth players. Seattle should add 1-3 more lineman, most likely late in the draft and through undrafted free agents. People will freak that they did not do enough. Just wait. This group will enjoy a resurgence next year.
Marshawn Lynch spent much of the season shoving his hand in the face of opposing defenders. He spent most of the Super Bowl dancing on the sideline. When he wasn't dancing, he was clowning his coach, asking if the Seahawks offense was allowed to score more points. Whatever Lynch was doing last season, he was at the heart of who the Seahawks were and what they do. A team largely considered to be braggarts and loudmouths, was more accurately captured by the all-action, all-hitting, no-talking Lynch. My favorite play of the regular season was when Richard Sherman picked off Matt Shaub, but my favorite moment came in week two when Lynch paused and stared at the 49ers before crossing the goal-line. Bad ass.
Lynch did not have quite as productive of a season in 2013 as he did in 2012 in terms of yards and yards per carry, but a significant part of that has to be attributed to a offensive line that was in triage most of the year. When it mattered against two of the best defenses in football, Lynch and that line produced big rushing totals in the playoffs. He will be 28 next season, and it is hard to count on his body holding up much longer given his style. We know his will is invincible. It is time, though, for the team to start more heavily rotating in other runners. Like it or not, the transition to the next featured runner needs to start next season. That does not mean Lynch has to be phased out prematurely. A Seahawks team that relies on a rushing game as its foundation simply cannot be caught flat-footed when Lynch cannot carry them any longer.
The competition to get those extra carries will be among the most fierce heading into training camp. Robert Turbin got nearly all the back-up carries this season. He was a durable and willing runner, but showed little upside in terms of eluding tackles, breaking tackles, or out-running defenders. He had a few breakaway runs that were called back for holding, but few other memorable moments. He is a plus receiver and a good blocker in pass protection. His best chance to be a starter may be if the team offers him a chance to be the next John L. Williams or Leonard Weaver at fullback. Tom Cable had a player in Oakland that Huskies fans should remember in Marcel Reece. He is a multi-faceted threat that has made the Pro Bowl twice. There is a path to glory and reward here, but the team has to be creative (something they have done time and again) and Turbin has to be open to the idea. I just don't see a starting running back in Turbin.
Christine Michael, on the other hand, is a guy the NFL will soon marvel about. He has been a play-maker at running back, even in small intervals. The thought of Michael and Harvin in the same offense is breathtaking. Running backs are not hard to project, especially after seeing them on the field with other NFL players. Michael will be a big-play runner and receiver, who may have some durability and ball security issues. He may also land in Cable's doghouse for dancing around in search of the big hole instead of just hitting it and getting the tough 2-3 yards we have seen Lynch sacrifice his body for. Even with that, it is hard to see how Michael loses back-up snaps to anyone on this roster at the running back position. Pete Carroll loves players that become factors opposing teams needs to account for. Michael is destined to be one of those guys.
Spencer Ware may also factor into the back-up running back battle, but not as a featured runner. He could be a situational player. Ware was a promising special teams player from the jump, and runs with an aggression and eagerness for contact that the coaching staff covets. They will be inclined to find a way to use him. His injury robbed him of a rookie year, but he will be full-go come training camp and most likely will get snaps at running back and fullback. The word last year was he was going to be a fullback, but nearly all of his training camp snaps came at running back. He got a few fullback opportunities later in the pre-season, but we simply do not know what he looks like at fullback yet. Maybe he becomes the multi-faceted player at that position if Turbin is not tried there. A Ware and Michael back-field of the future certainly is appealing in concept.
Michael Robinson was predictably released before the season began, but came back after Derrick Coleman was injured. He was a clearly superior fullback, and a player that Lynch trusted far more. Nobody deserved the Super Bowl ring on the Seahawks more than Robinson. He is everything this team believes in: tough, selfless, professional, smart. The door is not completely closed on his possible return depending on how all the other pieces fall in place. The team, however, has to be looking for a younger and cheaper replacement.
Coleman attempted to fill Robinson's void early in the year, and simply was not to close to his level. His special teams value buoys his spot on the roster, and he is a better offensive weapon than Robinson. But his bread-and-butter has to be lead blocking, and he just was not great in that regard. We will find out if a year of seasoning helps him come back with a better idea of what he needs to do.
Phil Bates is a sleeper for the fullback spot. He is primarily a receiver, but got snaps at fullback late in camp. Teammates and coaches love Bates, and will be open to giving him a chance to stick wherever he best fits.
FB Michael Robinson
RB/FB : $9,465,388 (#13)
Interesting to see a team so focused on setting the tone with the run is 14th in the NFL in offensive line spending and 13th in running back spending. And is 2nd in the NFL in WR spending (before an expected cut of Sidney Rice). Even with a cut of Rice, the Seahawks will be in the top ten in WR spending. One has to assume the team will have to trade, draft and overpay wide receivers to play in this offense that will likely never produce a receiver with top production numbers.
Robinson most likely moves on to a new career in media, but he definitely looks like he can play another year. It will come down to his desire to continue playing and the way the cap plays out. Less than a 30% chance he returns.
Spending a draft choice on another running back would be disappointing. The front office may do it if they find some crazy value they cannot pass up. There is plenty of talent in this position group heading into next year, so drafting another player would just mean there would be more talented players falling off the roster for another team to benefit from.
This will be a transitional year for the Seahawks back-field. Lynch is one to watch. If he shows no signs of slowing down, it will have a ripple effect on the snaps for everyone else. He becomes a free agent after 2015, and is due to have a $9M cap number in 2015 where the team could save $7.5M if they chose to part ways after this coming season. Nobody wants to admit that would even be a consideration, but it has to be. Seahawks fans should start to brace for the reality that Lynch will not finish his career in Seattle. There is a slight chance the team could sign him to an extension through 2017, when he would be 30, but far more likely is they elevate another player to his position who is on his rookie contract and utilize that big chunk of salary for other parts of the roster.
Michael is the player I expect to break-out in 2014, or at least prove that he can be the featured back of the future. The biggest obstacle to this will be injury and Turbin. I don't see Turbin as a legitimate feature back option, but the coaching staff clearly thinks highly enough of him to give him all of the back-up running back snaps in 2013. If pass protection is a big part of why Turbin was ahead of Michael last season, as Carroll intimated a few times, that should be far less of a factor when you are evaluating a player as a featured back. Back-up runners are often brought in for passing situations. A featured runner is really about producing yards and points. Michael is just better at this than anyone outside of Lynch on the roster.
Seeing how the fullback position shapes up will be fascinating, and a great story throughout camp. It will be hard to match Robinson's production as a lead blocker, but there is potential to add another weapon to the back-field.
The team has experimented with using tight ends in the back-field as a lead blocker, but the results have been mixed. Percy Harvin will also spend some time in the back-field, stealing fullback snaps, and some back-up running back snaps. That could play a role in roster numbers when cut day comes down. Do you really need five backs on the roster if Harvin and a tight end are playing meaningful snaps in the back-field? Possibly. Going with four players at these positions can happen when there are players with true two-position use like Turbin, Ware and Bates could have.
The good news is that there is a pile of talent to choose from, and some potential for the back-field to be even more productive next year.
Is he tall enough to play quarterback in the NFL? Yes
Can he sustain success after the NFL adjusts to his style of play? Yes
Is he more than a read-option sensation? Dumb question
Can he beat teams with elite quarterbacks? Yes
Does he have what it takes to win in the playoffs? Yes
Is he good enough to win a Super Bowl? 43-8
Russell Wilson has answered just about every question. The ones he will face now will involve history. As in, can he become the best quarterback in the history of the game? That may sound hyperbolic, but it is an absolutely fair question to ask when a player is winning at his rate and playing at his efficiency level at such an early stage in his career. Should he finish with 3-4 Super Bowl rings, a win rate that rivals Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and a career passer rating in the range of Aaron Rodgers, he will answer that question in the affirmative as well.
Consider that in the two biggest games of his young career, against the impenetrable 49ers defense and on the games biggest stage in the Super Bowl, he combined to complete 34 of 50 passes (68%) for 421 yards (8.4 avg per attempt), 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That works out to a passer rating of 113.8.
He could have thrown for 300+ yards and 5+ touchdowns if the Seahawks needed him to against Denver. The moment was not too big for him. He was too big for the moment. That is your Seahawks quarterback for the next decade.
Wilson, for all the well-earned superlatives thrown his way, has room to improve. More room than most casual observers may realize. He still is too quick to bail out on plays that require him to go through his progressions. He improved on his ability to spread the ball around, but can get better still. He added the back shoulder throw this season, but it was only occasionally used. Throwing to backs out of the backfield is something he has a tough time with, often coming dangerously close to throwing backwards and other times struggling to lead the runner toward the line. That throw will become even more important with a healthy Percy Harvin in the future.
One of the least appreciated part of Wilson's game has been his durability. He has yet to miss a game. That has made the back-up quarterback a cushy job. Tarvaris Jackson was ideal for it last year, and looked like a different level of confident player when he got chances to play. Many will consider it crazy, but the Seahawks could have won the Super Bowl versus the Broncos with Jackson at quarterback. The difference comes in a game like the one versus San Francisco. Wilson has that special ability to make an impossible play at the key moment that a defense cannot prepare for or defend. Some players have that innate ability, but lack the physical tools to realize it at the highest levels of their sport. Some have the physical gifts, but lack the special sauce. Wilson is a splendid combination of the two.
The team signed a young rookie quarterback, B.J. Daniels, who is 5'11" as well. Carroll always had two quarterbacks he was grooming during his time at USC, and the team will definitely be looking for at least one young quarterback to carry who can give the team options if Wilson were to go down for an extended period. Veteran back-ups are expensive, and usually have limited potential. An ideal situation for Seattle is to have a young player who they believe is starting caliber, and can earn a back-up role on a rookie contract by at least his second year. The trade market for back-up quarterbacks has cooled considerably, but the intense demand for signal callers, and the increased visibility of the Seahawks organization could make their young players more intriguing in future years. Consider the interest the Patriots get for a guy like Ryan Mallett.
QB : $1,312,302 (#31)
Only the Tampa Bay Bucs spend less on their quarterbacks than the Seahawks.
Combing through veteran free agent quarterbacks is like digging your hands into the couch cushion looking for change. You may find a quarter, but more likely, you find food remains you wish you were not touching. I won't subject you to it beyond the one that probably matters.
Jackson should be re-signed. He fits with the program, and is perfect for what the team needs. He is more than a .500 quarterback with this team. If called upon, he could win 9-12 games as a starter, and even a game or two in the playoffs.
It could happen, but it would register as a big surprise. Adding another undrafted free agent seems likely to see if they can find a developmental player they like more than Daniels.
The franchise is set at the most important position in the sport for the next decade. Wilson will continue to succeed. He will sign a big extension after next season. The real questions are about how high can he set the bar. An ironic question for a player so many believed did not measure up.
In just over a week, on March 8th, clubs will have permission to enter into contract negotiations with unrestricted free agents. They cannot be signed until the new league year starts a few days later on March 11th at 1PM PT. Qualifying offers to restricted free agents will have to be made. Clubs must be under the salary cap by the same time. Rumors will fly. Twitter will throttle updates so humans can have a chance to keep up with the blizzard when a big name hits. Let the games begin.
Seattle enters the new league year as the best team in football. They are better equipped to sustain their championship level than any team since the Patriots from the early part of the new millennium. Besides being the youngest Super Bowl winner in history, and having a salary structure that should allow them to maintain their core players long-term, the league is rumored to be raising the salary cap as much as $10M over what it was for the last few years to $133M. The Seahawks had been rolling over money from previous years since 2010, which had allowed them to essentially spend more than the cap for some time, but a larger-than-expected rise in the cap this year comes at the perfect time for a team trying to keep the band together.
What we have seen in the past is that when there is more money to spend, the top-tier players get most of it as bidding wars lead to crazy guaranteed money, while mid-tier free agents got squeezed. I expect things to happen differently this time. There will always been a GM who is not good at his or her job and pays through the nose for a star. Most, though, will see how Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis are building a depth of talent that leads to consistent winning. That one 10-12 sack defensive end will not be as helpful as two 8 sack players that could possibly be had for a similar price. The days of guys like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett being available for inexpensive, short-term deals while in the mid-20s are likely over.
Seattle will enter free agency largely with gaps created by player departures. In most cases, re-signing those players will be prioritized before replacing them. They will clear space by saying goodbye to some familiar players. The overarching goal of this off-season will be to reassemble a team with many of the same capabilities as the one they exited last season with. This draft will be one of the most crucial elements in determining just how long the Seahawks can maintain their championship level. Godspeed, John Schneider.
Fans watch front office moves for fun. New names are generally more exciting than old ones. Players watch as well. But they want to see if the front office is going to reward the players that have put in the time and helped the team reach the point where they are now. No player fits that bill more than Thomas, who was arguably the best player on the best defense in a decade or more. Not only does the team need to sign Thomas to an extension because he may be the most irreplaceable player on the whole roster, but they should sign him before adding any new free agent as a statement that they take care of their own. A Thomas extension has the trickle-down effect of nearly guaranteeing Richard Sherman will stay with the team for the foreseeable future. Russell Wilson is going to get his extension next year. If Thomas is signed, that means the Seahawks will have the Franchise Tag to use as leverage in talks with Sherman. Trying to sign Thomas, Sherman and Wilson simultaneously would be a disaster. Thomas is the priority. Do it now.
Jared Allen is not an interior pass rusher. Michael Johnson is not an interior pass rusher. Greg Hardy is not an interior pass rusher. Many fans continue to point out players to replace Michael Bennett who would absolutely not replace Michael Bennett. Bennett is actually a 3-in-1 player. His most valuable asset to the Seahawks is his ability to create pressure from the inside as a defensive tackle. If the team is unable to sign him, they will need to spend some free agent dollars on a player with that ability. Names like Henry Melton, Alex Carrington, Vance Walker, and Jason Hatcher are interior pass rushers. None have demonstrated the combination of production, durability, and versatility that Bennett has while being under 30. The Seahawks will not break the bank for Bennett, but they will pay him a lot of money to stay around. I expect him to be starting where Red Bryant did the past few seasons, and be available to swing inside in nickel situations to allow another edge rusher onto the field. Keep in mind, the team is losing Clinton McDonald as well. They have some players on the roster who could help next year, but they must supplement with at least one free agent.
This is not really a need for 2014. This is about managing roster costs beyond 2014. Cliff Avril is entering the final year of his deal. There is little proven edge rush talent beyond him. Chris Clemons will be released. Bruce Irvin has not proven he can be a LEO on a regular basis. Benson Mayowa could grow into something. That is pretty thin at a key area, and very costly one to address if a team needs to do it through free agency. There are some veteran edge rushers like Allen, Justin Tuck, and Shaun Phillips who could be added on a short-term deal to replace Clemons. There are some young and talented options like Everson Griffen who could become more appealing if the team loses out on Bennett. The logic there would be that the Seahawks are willing to spend bigger money on one defensive line player this off-season, and if they lose out on their top priority in Bennett, they may consider a guy like Griffen to be the next best place to put their money. That would mean signing a veteran or more limited interior guy. It would not be totally shocking to see a Griffen and McDonald signing instead of a Bennett and Phillips. The team really needs to hit on a LEO in the draft. They have yet to find that player. Irvin was supposed to be that guy, and still may be, but they need to add to the pile. A guy I'd like to see them bring back who could help here and at SAM linebacker is O'Brien Schofield.
Sidney Rice played flanker. Golden Tate played split end. Both will be free agents. Percy Harvin will mostly be used as a slot receiver. Doug Baldwin filled in for Rice at flanker and slid inside to slot as well. Jermaine Kearse plays all three receiver positions. This pedestrian group become The Walking Dread for defenses last year. The most likely scenario is that they reprise their roles once more in 2014. My spidey sense tells me otherwise. Make no mistake, the team will not keep both Baldwin and Tate long-term. They have already committed a massive amount to Harvin. Should they sign Tate to even a moderate deal, there is no way they will want to pay Baldwin market value after next season. This is not a passing team, and they need to control costs at a position that will only get 25 chances to catch the ball each game. That is why we may see Schneider be more willing to listen to trade offers for Baldwin this year. Assume that Tate re-signs. Schneider will need to decide whether keeping Baldwin for one more year and then losing him for no compensation is better than trading him for a draft choice, and recouping ~$2M in cap space to spend elsewhere.
This is a rare situation where what I would do differs from what I think the Seahawks will do. I think the Seahawks can draft a tall outside receiver, and need to add that element to their attack. I think Kearse is more capable of filling in for Tate than Baldwin. I value separation receivers like Baldwin more than ran-after-catch receivers like Tate. I expect Baldwin to be less expensive than Tate. These are all the reasons I would let Tate go, and look to sign Baldwin to an extension after next year. I just do not see the Seahawks taking that route.
Similar to #4 above, the Seahawks have players on the roster who can play either of these positions, but need to add more. Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey could be starting right tackles or starting guards. If the team signs Breno Giacomini or drafts a starting-caliber tackle, Bowie and Bailey can compete for guard snaps. If the team signs or drafts a starting-caliber guard, Bowie and Bailey can compete for tackle snaps. The one thing we can be certain of is that the team will add talent to this position group. It would not be shocking to see the team spend another high draft choice here. Consider that the Seahawks are #14 in the NFL in OL spending. That does not make a lot of sense for a team that relies on the running game so much. The 49ers have three first-round picks on their line. Tom Cable is a magician with coaching up late-round talent, but the team needs to have a line that can win on pure physical talent. The rise in the salary cap could mean the team brings back a player like Giacomini or adds a different veteran free agent. A little birdie told me there may be some mutual interest in Broncos guard Zane Beadles.
Tony McDaniel was the perfect fit here last season. Very few folks realize how fortunate we are that he stayed healthy and played well. There was literally no other credible options on the team for an early down run stuffer to play next to Brandon Mebane. Jordan Hill was injured, and is more of a pass rusher than a stout run defender. Jesse Williams was out the whole year. McDaniel did his job for under $1M. Seattle has been fortunate to find players like Alan Branch and McDaniel to fill this little-understood-but-crucial role. Look for them to do it again this year, while also giving young players like Williams, Michael Brooks and possibly a draft choice a chance to compete for snaps.
#7 - Back-Up QB
This should be a given.
Projection: Re-sign Tarvaris Jackson Projection: Re-sign Tarvaris Jackson
#8 - Back-Up Weakside LB
Malcolm Smith earned a starting role with his play down the stretch in 2013. Durability has been an issue for him at times, though, and he is entering his final year. K.J. Wright can always swing back to WILL, but there is no reason for the team to wait for next year to begin developing talent that could step in as a starting linebacker in 2015.
Projection: 1 drafted WILL Projection: 1 drafted WILL
#9 - Back-Up Middle LB
Bobby Wagner is setup for a monster 2014. Wright is a capable back-up, but is a free agent after this year. Heath Farwell could very well be released to save $1.5M in cap space. The cupboard is bare beyond that at the MIKE LB spot. Look for the team to add to the pile via the draft.
Projection: 1 drafted MIKE Projection: 1 drafted MIKE
#10 - Nickel CB
Jeremy Lane gets this role by default next season, but will be challenged by Akeem Auguste. That is not enough. The team needs to add to this spot, and could use a mid-round pick to do it.
Projection: Possibly 1 CB drafted (6' or under) Projection: Possibly 1 CB drafted (6' or under)
#11 - Kicker
Steven Hauschka is a free agent. He was fantastic last year. Bring him back.
Projection: Hauschka is re-signed Projection: Hauschka is re-signed
OTHER - Safety | Tight End
I continue to see Zach Miller as a player the team will keep, and will not disrespect with a reduced salary. If they want to reduce his cap number, they might do it via an extension, which nobody has discussed. Most likely, he stays, and the team looks to re-sign Anthony McCoy as a 3rd tight end instead of Kellen Davis.
Safety will be a catch-as-catch-can situation. If a safety the team likes shows up on the board, the team will not hesitate to take him. Jeron Johnson is a free agent, and Deshawn Shead is unproven. The biggest risk every year to Seattle's ability to be a championship team is the health of Earl Thomas. If they do not take a safety in the draft, look for them to bargain hunt there in the undrafted market or special teams-type unrestricted free agent.
Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Sidney Rice released
1 Veteran Free Agent 3-Tech DT (short-term deal)
1 Veteran Free Agent DE/LEO (short-term deal)
1 Free Agent #3 TE
1 Free Agent OT or OG
1 Drafted DT
1 Drafted LEO/DE
1 Drafted WR
2 Drafted LB
1 Drafted OT or OG
1 Drafted TE
The team will likely be looking to move back and pick up picks wherever they can. They have to covet more than the seven picks they have. A Baldwin trade could be part of the solution there. Another name that could be involved in a trade is Robert Turbin. This is a weak running back draft, and Turbin could be appealing to a team for 4th or 5th, allowing Christine Michael and Spencer Ware to step forward.
If the Seahawks only extend Thomas, and have a solid B grade draft, they will have a successful off-season. A home run would be to extend Thomas, get Bennett for a reasonable 3-year deal, and draft a promising young receiver and promising edge pass rusher. They need at least one more body on the offensive line to compete, but they can win with the players they have there.
This is the year that flexibility starts to decrease. Choices between Player A and Player B have to be made. It will start somewhat slowly this off-season, and will hit full tilt next year. The biggest threat to Seattle competing for a repeat trip to the Super Bowl will be injury no matter how this off-season plays out. They have a championship roster without adding anyone. This off-season is about making wise fiscal bets on players who can reinforce areas in the short-term, while finding young players who can grow into starting-caliber contributors at low cost in 2015 and beyond. Pass rush is the most costly thing to acquire after a quarterback, and Seattle has yet to really strike big via the draft with a player like that. Re-signing a player like Bennett may have the biggest impact on short-term performance, but finding a young edge rusher probably plays the largest role in keeping this team among the elite beyond the next three seasons.
The free agent market is deep in defensive lineman and the draft is deep in a variety of positions. Schneider excels even when the ground is arid. A field this fertile should be like shooting fish in a barrel.