The six Seahawks in the Pro Bowl showed just why the Hawks are poised to be Super Bowl contenders for the next few years.
Of course, Pro Bowl players are a double-edged sword: While they represent the strength of a team (OK, maybe not in Kansas City's case), they also mean that team is going to be paying if it wants to keep them.
The Seahawks' advantage is that they have become so good so quickly that they won't have to pay some of their players for a few years. But starting next season, they will have to start making decisions on which guys to pay.
The Hawks have only two starters who will be free agents this year, but then it jumps to six in 2014, five in 2015 and seven in 2016.
An analysis of the roster and contract situations shows that the Hawks can keep most of their key young players if they are creative and willing to make a few tough business decisions in the next three years.
Although the new TV contracts take effect in 2014, the salary cap is expected to stay relatively flat at least through 2015. That means teams will have to be creative and players will have to understand that salaries are not going to grow much beyond where they are now.
Because they will have to devote so much money to re-signing guys, the Seahawks might not be big players in free agency. But -- other than Zach Miller, Sidney Rice and Matt Flynn -- they haven't been over the last three years anyway.
The key will be for John Schneider to stay ahead of the curve in drafting well and re-signing key players before they get to free agency. He recently told KJR-AM that he has already begun preliminary talks with some players about extensions.
That will not include quarterback Russell Wilson. He capped off a great rookie season with three touchdown passes in the Pro Bowl, but he will remain cheap for two or three more years. The CBA will not allow the Seahawks to give him a raise until 2015.
All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, who had an interception in the Pro Bowl, and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman are both under contract for two more years, but the Hawks likely will try to lock them up to extensions in 2014.
Those are just some of the decisions the Hawks are going to have to make as they try to remain a Super Bowl contender over the next decade under Pete Carroll and Schneider.
Here’s a year-by-year look at decisions they will have to make:
Key free agents: DL Alan Branch, DL Jason Jones, TE Cam Morrah, LB Leroy Hill, CB Marcus Trufant, OT Frank Omiyale, K Steven Hauschka.
The Hawks have no major free agents this year, and they will probably try to find upgrades for the two starters whose contracts expire -- linebacker Leroy Hill and defensive tackle Alan Branch.
The team's bigger priorities likely will be trying to get safety Kam Chancellor signed long term and also to sign a veteran pass rusher.
Chancellor's contract is up next year, but Schneider figures to make him a priority this offseason. The five best-paid safeties last season averaged $6.7 million. Chancellor is not in that class, but he does have a Pro Bowl on his resume and probably will seek $5 million a year.
The Hawks also need to sign a pass rusher of some kind -- whether an interior guy like Chicago's Henry Melton or Miami's Randy Starks or an outside rusher like Detroit's Cliff Avril, Dallas' Anthony Spencer or Baltimore's Paul Kruger. That likely will cost at least $8 million per season.
Assuming the Hawks cut receiver Ben Obomanu and his $2.3 million salary, they will have upwards of $21 million to spend on free agents -- their own and those from other teams.
Schneider might also try to extend right tackle Breno Giacomini and wide receiver Golden Tate, although neither would seem to be a priority -- let them prove they are worth it next season.
Another move the Hawks could make with an eye to the future is to extend Miller's contract. He has three years left, but he has the highest cap hit on the team in 2013: $11 million. The Hawks could add two or three years to the 27-year-old's contract and turn his $15.6 million in salary and roster bonuses the next two years into lower salaries and a guaranteed signing bonus. That could free up $8 million in cap space over the next two years without costing the team a penny until the extension years arrive. Miller is young enough to make the move worth it.
Key free agents: SS Kam Chancellor, OT Breno Giacomini, CB Brandon Browner (RFA), FB Michael Robinson, WR Golden Tate, CB Walter Thurmond, TE Anthony McCoy, OL Paul McQuistan, Doug Baldwin (RFA), Jeron Johnson (RFA), Mike Morgan (RFA).
This will be another relatively light year on the Seattle free-agent front, with extensions starting to become the main focus.
Beyond Chancellor, Giacomini and Tate, the key guys will be fullback Michael Robinson and restricted free agents Brandon Browner and Doug Baldwin -- all easy moves that won't cost too much, assuming the Hawks want to keep them.
Overall, the Hawks should be able to re-sign all six players for a net cost of about $15 million a year.
The big negotiations in 2014 will be on extensions for Thomas and Sherman. Seattle will need about $7 million a year for Thomas and $10 million for Sherman -- based on the current market value for their positions.
The Hawks will have to get an extension for one of them -- probably Thomas -- or they will put themselves in a spot where they have to decide which player to possibly use the franchise tag on in 2015. Odds seem pretty good that they will end up having to use it on Sherman if he asks to become one of the top-paid defenders in the league.
The Hawks currently appear to have about $16 million to spend in 2014, but they figure to add $6.25 million in space when Matt Flynn is moved off the roster this year or next. They also surely will roll over any leftover space from 2013, like they did this year ($13.2 million) -- that's where an extension for Miller could help.
They also could re-evaluate the pricey contracts of Sidney Rice ($8.5 million salary), Red Bryant ($4.5 million salary, $3 million roster bonus) and Chris Clemons ($7.5 million salary).
They also could work on extending Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, who already has hit incentives that have bumped his salary cap number to $11.24 million in 2014. He is signed through 2015 and teams don't usually extend players with more than one year left on their deals, but this is a case where it might make sense.
Key free agents: QB Matt Flynn, FS Earl Thomas, CB Richard Sherman, CB Brandon Browner, DE Chris Clemons, RB Leon Washington, LB K.J. Wright, OL James Carpenter, OG John Moffitt, LB Heath Farwell.
This figures to be a huge offseason for Schneider, who will need to address, among other things, both starting cornerbacks and possible extensions for Wilson and Okung, who will be free agents in 2016.
Assuming the Hawks get an extension with Thomas, they might have to use the franchise tag on Sherman. Then they will have to decide what they are willing to pay Browner, who will be unrestricted. And then they must see about keeping their quarterback and left tackle long term.
They also will have to make decisions on a couple of veterans -- Clemons and Leon Washington -- and some younger players Schneider and Carroll drafted.
If the Hawks haven't let Clemons go by this time, they will have to look at whether he is worth another contract at age 33.
Washington will be 33 before the 2015 season, and it will come down to whether he is still as effective as he has been the past three seasons. The Hawks might find his replacement as return man in the draft in 2013 or 2014.
Three young players might merit new contracts: LB K.J. Wright, OG James Carpenter, OG John Moffitt.
Carpenter will have to show he is healthy in 2013 and 2014 to earn a new deal. If he plays well in 2013, the team might try to extend him before he becomes a free agent. More likely, he will need to prove it over two seasons. Moffitt is in a similar spot.
Wright had a slightly disappointing 2012 season, considering he seemed poise to possibly become a Pro Bowl-caliber player. If he becomes a greater factor in 2013, the team could try to extend him in 2014.
Since the salary cap is projected to go no higher than $125 million in 2015, the Hawks will have to shuffle contracts to fit their best players: Wilson, Okung, Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman, Browner, Giacomini, Wright, Bryant, Miller, Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Mebane and Max Unger.
Those 13 could account for $90 million or more of the cap. Seattle's top 13 in 2013 will account for about $83 million, so it's actually a similar allocation of funds.
If the Hawks add a pass rusher in free agency this year, he would probably add another $8 million in each year of the deal.
That would leave around $25 million for 39 players in 2015. The bottom 39 in 2013 will account for around $30 million, so the accounting is workable. It just comes down to creatively moving the money around.
Rice ($10.2 million), Lynch ($9 million) and Bryant ($7 million) are all scheduled for big cap numbers in 2015, so they are the prime candidates to have money moved around either with extensions, pay cuts or outright releases.
Key free agents: DE Bruce Irvin, RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Zach Miller, DT Brandon Mebane, OT Russell Okung, WR Sidney Rice, P Jon Ryan, RB Robert Turbin, LB Bobby Wagner, QB Russell Wilson
Some of the team's veteran players will be gone by 2015, and 2016 is the year the Hawks probably will have to replace Lynch -- the heart and soul of the running game.
Odds are he will start wearing down over the next two seasons and might not even make it to 2015, when he will be 29. Even if he does, he will be 30 in 2016, and the Hawks won't want to pay him a ton of money. If he re-signs, it will be at a team-friendly price.
The Hawks also will have to decide on re-signing Miller (if they haven't already extended his contract), Mebane, Jon Ryan and their 2012 rookies -- especially Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Lynch's backup, Robert Turbin.
Miller will be 30 but should be worth holding onto if the Hawks can keep him at a reasonable price. Mebane will be 32, and they will have to see how he is playing. Ryan would seem to be an easy re-up.
The big-money guy might be Wagner, who led the team in tackles as a rookie in 2012.
If the Hawks do not get extensions for Wilson or Okung in 2015, those guys will be major priorities in 2016 -- and one likely would get the franchise tag.
Everything they do in 2013-15 will determine just what they can accomplish in 2016. But if they do it right, they can keep the young core of the team intact through the end of the decade and continue to make a strong push for one or more Super Bowl titles.
(Note: Contract details used in this breakdown were gleaned from spotrac.com and various reports, particularly by Brian McIntyre.)