The Seahawks are already listed as co-favorites to win Super Bowl XLIX, and they have their sights set on winning that one and the next one and the next one and ...
You get the picture. They are preparing to dominate the NFL for the rest of the decade.
That means they need to have another "championship offseason," and it all starts with general manager John Schneider and his staff. But even with 19 free agents, it won't be as hard as you might think.
The Seahawks will return most of their core players next season -- just five listed starters are pending free agents (one is restricted free agent Doug Baldwin) -- but it's clear they will not be exactly the same team.
One byproduct of winning the Super Bowl is the boost in the value of the team's free agents. The Seahawks have 16 pending unrestricted free agents, and some of those players will get offers the Seahawks won't be able to match.
Multifaceted defensive lineman Michael Bennett should be the team's No. 1 priority to re-sign, but he might prefer to wait to see what kind of offers he gets in free agency. Last year, he surprisingly was not pursued and the Hawks got him for a relatively cheap $5 million. This year, having led the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks, he should command a bit more than that.
Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini are the key offensive starters who are slated to become free agents, and the Hawks surely would welcome them back at reasonable prices. But the team also will replace them if it has to.
Meanwhile, key role players such as defensive tackles Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald and kicker Steven Hauschka could get better money in free agency. The Hawks needn't be worried – after all, all three of those guys were cheap afterthoughts last season.
The Seahawks are fairly snug up against the projected $126 million salary cap for 2014, but they can chop some big contracts (i.e., Sidney Rice, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant) to create enough space to keep younger, healthier players or refit their roster.
The Hawks surely will be able to keep some of their cheaper backup players – e.g., quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, center Lemuel Jeanpierre, safety Chris Maragos and linebacker O'Brien Schofield – and they might get Rice, Clemons or Bryant to stay with big pay cuts.
But even if they lose/release some of those guys, they have ready-made replacements in some cases.
Rookie Michael Bowie, who started seven games at right tackle, could replace Giacomini. Fellow rookie Alvin Bailey likely makes veteran free agent Paul McQuistan expendable.
The defensive line has a bunch of options. Rookie tackle Jordan Hill, who was inactive for most of the season while struggling with injuries, could replace McDonald. Rookie DT Jesse Williams could be a factor if he manages to come back from his knee problem. Practice squad tackles Michael Brooks, D'Anthony Smith and Dewayne Cherrington also stand ready to challenge for roster spots.
Greg Scruggs, who had a good rookie year but missed the 2013 season with a knee injury, could step into Bryant's spot or otherwise help the line rotation. Benson Mayowa, who was inactive for every game after Week 2, probably is viewed as Clemons' replacement.
With Brandon Browner gone and Thurmond a free agent, the Hawks could look to rookie Tharold Simon and practice squad star Akeem Auguste to boost the depth in the secondary.
Basically, the Seahawks have a squad full of rookies and injured reserves that could alleviate the loss of some veterans.
Of course, the Seahawks hope the idea of playing for a Super Bowl contender appeals to veterans enough that they will take a little less to stay in Seattle.
As Carroll said a year ago, "We'll need some cooperation from guys who want to be part of our team to really give us the chance to stay really strong as we move forward."
But even if they don't get many so-called Dynasty Discounts, the Hawks will be fine. And they still have the draft to try to supplement the roster.
Meanwhile, the Hawks also figure to address some key contract extensions this year. Earl Thomas figures to be No. 1 on the list, with Russell Okung and Richard Sherman possibilities.
As Carroll told reporters in the wake of the Super Bowl win, "John Schneider has done an extraordinary job of structuring this roster (and) looking ahead so that we keep our guys together. A lot of times what happens is that teams have a big fallout after the Super Bowl. We don't need to be in that situation. We've done that with foresight so that we'll be ahead. We'll get going for the next challenge."
Here's a look at the players who might be involved in negotiations this offseason:
FS Earl Thomas: The All-Pro safety is signed through 2014, but he figures to get an extension worth $8 million a year. It's what the highest-paid safeties make, and he certainly is worth what the market pays. Figure something like a five-year deal worth $40 million and around $20 million guaranteed. A new deal could actually lower his 2014 cap hit, and it should be one of the easier deals the Hawks make.
CB Richard Sherman: Getting Thomas signed long-term could be key if the Hawks have issues with Sherman's deal and need the franchise tag in 2015. If Sherman's agent decides to use Tampa Bay CB Darrelle Revis' contract as the measuring stick, these negotiations could get sticky. Revis' deal averages $16 million, but he has no guaranteed money. The other top-paid corners (Brandon Carr, Cortland Finnegan, et al.) average around $10 million but have guarantees worth more than $20 million. If Sherman's agent is smart, he will use those deals as his baseline. A good deal for him would be something like $55 million over five years, with upwards of $30 million in guarantees. If the Hawks can do it for cheaper, excellent. If the Hawks extend him, his salary cap likely would jump from $690,000 to maybe $4 million in 2014 before climbing from there. If they have to use the franchise tag in 2015, it probably will cost around $11 million. It would not be surprising to see the Hawks let Sherman play out his rookie deal and make a decision next year.
OT Russell Okung: The left tackle is signed through 2015, but the Hawks might want to extend his deal early to give them more room in 2014. They could push out the ultra-big money until 2016 if they gave him a $10 million signing bonus and smaller salaries the next two years. The fact that he has not been able to stay healthy for much of his career should keep his price reasonable. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Hawks include weekly roster bonuses to mitigate the cost if he continues to have issues with his health.
DE Chris Clemons: At 32, Clemons is the oldest player on the team. He also is slated to make $7.5 million next season. He came back from a torn ACL very well in his first two or three games, but he was not a major presence for most of the season – upstaged by the performances of newcomers Cliff Avril and Bennett. Clemons played well in the Super Bowl, but it sure looks like the Hawks are planning on Mayowa stepping into his role so they can use Clemons' cap money to keep Bennett.
DE Red Bryant: Bryant is also due $7.5 million (including a $3 million roster bonus), which is way too much for a run-stopping end. The Hawks could ask him to take a pay cut (perhaps to $3 million) or they could simply release him, which would net them $5.5 million. Even though he is a team captain, it seems unlikely the Hawks will let him play for all of that cash in 2014.
WR Sidney Rice: Rice has struggled with injuries and landed on injured reserve for the second time in his three seasons with the Hawks, so he and his $8.5 million salary are as good as gone. That would give the Hawks $7.3 million in cap space.
DL Michael Bennett: The Hawks got Bennett on a surprising one-year deal worth $5 million, and he was the team's best front-seven defender – leading the team with 8.5 sacks and offering the most versatility among Seattle's linemen. He should be the No. 1 free-agent priority, worthy of an extension worth around $7 million per year. The Hawks probably will try to lock him up before free agency begins on March 11, but if he wants more than $7 million, he probably will have to see if he can find it elsewhere. The franchise tag is not an option; it would cost the Hawks around $13 million.
WR Golden Tate: Tate had some big games the last couple of seasons and is a nice weapon to have, but the Hawks have a limited budget. If he wants $8 million per year, he will have to go to free agency to try to find it. But if he is willing to take around $4 million, he might have a chance to stay. The Seahawks' level of interest might hinge on how they feel about Percy Harvin's health – he sure looked good on his kick-return TD in the Super Bowl. The Hawks are paying Harvin a king's ransom, and they might be less inclined to offer Tate big money -- especially with Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse under team control at least one receiver likely coming via the draft.
OT Breno Giacomini: The feisty right tackle is making $3.5 million this season, which is the cap for his value. The question is whether the Hawks want to try to keep the 28-year-old as their starter at that rate or go with Michael Bowie or another player at that spot in 2014. The latter option would be cheaper, but the Hawks obviously don't think Bowie is ready for the full-time gig yet. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Hawks and Giacomini settle on another two-year, $6 million deal.
WR Doug Baldwin: Baldwin just finished his third season, which makes him a restricted free agent this year. The Hawks are almost certain to make the clutch catcher a first-round tender, which would be worth close to $3 million. Once they finish all of their other player business, they might also pursue an extension in late spring or summer.
CB Walter Thurmond: With Brandon Browner injured, Thurmond had a chance to lay claim to the starting spot opposite Sherman. But then he was suspended for four games, which ruined his chance to create a nice market for himself after the season. Byron Maxwell took the starting gig and did not let go, and the Hawks probably won't offer Thurmond much to return.
K Steven Hauschka: Hauschka, who was re-signed last year only after the Hawks couldn't find an improvement, had his best season (fourth in the league with 143 points, making 33 of 35 field goals during the season and all eight tries in the postseason). That doesn't mean the Hawks will be interested in paying him much, but it's possible they give him a multi-year deal if he doesn’t ask for top kicker dollar ($3 million a year).
DT Tony McDaniel: After missing most of training camp with a groin injury, McDaniel was a surprise contributor. He played on a minimum one-year deal, and the Hawks probably will be interested in re-signing the 28-year-old for a year or two at a reasonable price. He's an example of a guy who might fit the Seahawks better than he fits elsewhere, although that might not prevent some other team from approaching him with a multi-year deal with better guaranteed money.
DT Clinton McDonald: McDonald, who missed the opener but was re-signed before Week 2, has had his best season while playing for the fourth-year minimum ($630,000). The 26-year-old seems likely to draw interest from other teams, and the Hawks probably would have to let him go.
OL Lemuel Jeanpierre: Jeanpierre is a solid backup player and the Hawks surely would like to keep the 26-year-old on a reasonable two-year deal. He started three games last season and acquitted himself well, so it's possible another team comes after him, leaving the Hawks to go even younger on the line.
LB O'Brien Schofield: A nice waiver pickup in late July, the 26-year-old got some action early in the season while injuries sidelined starters, but he was relegated to special teams for most of the season. He's a great insurance policy who figures to come in handy over the next couple of years if the Hawks can keep him on a cheap multi-year deal. He doesn't have as much playing film as guys like McDonald and McDaniel, so it's possible Seattle can quietly re-sign him for reasonable money.
QB Tarvaris Jackson: The 30-year-old veteran seems to have accepted his NFL role as a backup, and it's easy to see him working on a rolling one-year deal with the Hawks. Hey, $855,000 is a nice chunk of change to hold the clipboard on a Super Bowl winner (and get into a few games).
FS Chris Maragos: The backup safety took a pay cut to stay on the team this season at $855,000, and he surely would stay for a similar price -- unless the Hawks choose a cheaper replacement such as DeShawn Shead.
LB Mike Morgan: Like Schofield, Morgan got more playing time early in the season due to injuries. He's a nice special-teams player and backup linebacker, and the Hawks probably can keep him for cheaper than the tender.
OL Paul McQuistan: The 30-year-old vet has been a patch at left guard, but he was horrible at left tackle while Okung was out and the Hawks have developed enough depth (and surely will add to it in the draft) that they probably will let the $3 million lineman go. Of course, if he is willing to play for the minimum ($855,000), they might consider it.
FB Michael Robinson: The Hawks brought Robinson back in October when Spencer Ware was placed on injured reserve. It is possible Robinson, 30, returns on a minimum deal, but they also might go with Derrick Coleman and Ware again if those guys show they can handle the job.
TE Kellen Davis: A late signing, Davis chipped in on occasion and could return for minimum money ($730,000), but the Hawks could look for a cheaper option.
SS Jeron Johnson: Johnson is a restricted free agent. He ended up on IR late in the season, and it seems unlikely the Hawks would burn over $1 million on a tender for him when they probably could just re-sign him for $645,000 after the tender period.
TE Anthony McCoy: On injured reserve with an Achilles injury, the 25-year-old could come back on a minimum deal ($730,000) and compete to be the third tight end.
CB Brandon Browner: Browner is suspended for a full year for violating the league's policy on substance abuse and the Hawks will have to move on from him.
OTHER HAWK CONTRACT TALK
**The Hawks could decide to extend Avril's deal, which expires after next season. They could clear another $4 million in 2014 cap space by doing that. With eight sacks and five forced fumbles this season, Avril has 28.5 sacks and 13 forced fumbles since 2011. That's worth a longer investment, and it would not be surprising to see the Hawks extend him before next season.
**Harvin is due a team-high $11 million in 2014, and the Hawks could consider restructuring that salary to spread it out over the remainder of his contract. But, like Zach Miller's $11 million this year, they surely already have planned to carry the gargantuan cap hit in 2014.
**Some speculate the Hawks might let Miller go, but what sense would that make? They carried his huge cap number last season and it drops to $7 million this year ($4.8 million salary and $1 million roster bonus). He also is easily the best tight end they have and does so many things for them, it would make no sense to cut him.
**In 2015, other than Sherman, the key free agents will be LB K.J. Wright, LG James Carpenter and LB Heath Farwell. The Hawks also figure to broach a new contract for QB Russell Wilson, who will be entering the final year of his rookie deal.