Pete Carroll and John Schneider have made very clear they are planning to keep the Seahawks in the title hunt for the long haul.
At his final press conference, Carroll was asked about repeating as Super Bowl champs in 2014, and he said, "It’s not repeating for me. We’re trying to do something really good for a really long time and we want to see how far we can go."
Schneider told KJR-AM the next day: "We don't want to be one of those teams that cruises in & cruises out."
The Hawks are not afraid to talk about winning the Super Bowl again, and the fact is they are poised to do it with the core they return in 2014 – even if they don't re-sign defensive lineman Michael Bennett, wide receiver Golden Tate or right tackle Breno Giacomini.
After the Super Bowl, Carroll told reporters, "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."
The immediate challenge is figuring out which of their 19 pending free agents they will be able to keep. They already have laid the groundwork for re-signing the guys they really want – Schneider said he has spoken to the players whose contracts are expiring and has expressed the team's level of interest.
Despite the high number of free agents, the Seahawks probably can keep 80 percent of their 2013 roster intact for 2014 – probably re-signing the four restricted free agents and half of the 15 unrestricted guys while losing a couple of overpaid vets (Sidney Rice and Chris Clemons).
But they want to position themselves for 2015 and beyond as well.
“You know, we are looking two to three years ahead," Schneider told reporters the week after the Seahawks beat San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. "So last year we knew we were going to have some things coming and how to handle certain players and to know just where we are headed.’’
The Hawks probably can retain 70 percent of this team through 2015. Next year, they will have three or four key free agents, depending on whether they sign cornerback Richard Sherman to an extension this offseason (we assume safety Earl Thomas will be extended this year). They might have to replace defensive end Cliff Avril, linebacker K.J. Wright and/or cornerback Byron Maxwell.
An extension for quarterback Russell Wilson might preclude keeping a couple of those guys, but the Hawks will be roughly the same team – with a few younger players added through the draft – over the next two years.
In 2016, though, the Hawks could change significantly. They are scheduled to have a bunch of key free agents – running backs Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, tight end Zach Miller, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, linebackers Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin, punter Jon Ryan and guard J.R. Sweezy.
With Wilson, Sherman, Thomas and Percy Harvin expected to eat up as much as 30 percent of the salary cap, the team simply won't have room to pay everyone. It's a fact of life in the NFL, but through savvy personnel moves and innovative coaching, Schneider and Carroll seem prepared to keep the franchise highly competitive.
Let's take a look at the contract status of each position, including what the team needs to do this year and what looms ahead:
Signed thru 2015: Russell Wilson, B.J. Daniels (ERFA)
UFA: Tarvaris Jackson
This year: The Seahawks seem likely to bring back Jackson at the minimum salary and continue to develop Daniels (and/or rotate him on and off the practice squad again) unless they find an option they like better.
Future: Next year, Wilson will be eligible for a contract extension that could pay him around $20 million a year and $40 million guaranteed. It will take a big bite out of the team's salary cap beginning in 2016 – there's really no way around it – and by 2019 the team probably will have to start doing the same cap dance many teams do with their franchise QBs.
Signed thru 2015: Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Derrick Coleman (RFA)
Signed thru 2016: Christine Michael, Spencer Ware
UFA: Michael Robinson
This year: This is one of the few positions where the Hawks really don't have to do much this offseason. Robinson, 30, would be a cheap re-sign if the team wanted to retain his veteran presence.
Future: The rest are under contract for at least two more years, and you have to think the Hawks will get the speedy Michael more involved next season. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the team draft another running back in 2015, in preparation for possibly losing Lynch and/or Turbin after that season.
Signed thru 2014: Jermaine Kearse (RFA), Ricardo Lockette (ERFA), Bryan Walters (ERFA)
Signed thru 2015: Sidney Rice, Phil Bates (ERFA), Arceto Clark (ERFA), Chris Matthews (ERFA)
Signed thru 2018: Percy Harvin
UFA: Golden Tate
RFA: Doug Baldwin
This year: Rice is expected to be released to give the team $7.3 million in cap space. Tate wants to stay, but is he willing to accept no more than $5 million a year? If he is aiming for $7 million or $8 million, the Hawks surely will let him test free agency (which is loaded with receivers). Baldwin figures to get a first-round tender for about $3 million, although it wouldn't be surprising to see the team extend him beyond one year after all of the other major moves are done. It also would not be a shock to see the Hawks let both Rice and Tate go and add a receiver or two in the draft.
Future: Much depends on whether Tate comes back and whether Harvin can stay healthy and play a full season in 2014. If Tate costs too much to re-sign and Harvin is injured again, it is quite possible that Baldwin and Kearse will be the only two among the 2013 top five who are on the team in 2015 (assuming Baldwin gets an extension). Of course, the Hawks surely hope to have Harvin, Tate, Baldwin and Kearse for the next three or four seasons. Either way, they are likely to draft the position in the next two years as well.
Signed thru 2104: Travis Beckum
Signed thru 2015: Zach Miller, Cooper Helfet (ERFA)
Signed thru 2016: Luke Willson
UFA: Kellen Davis, Anthony McCoy
This year: Some think Miller will be asked to cut his $5.8 million salary (including $1 million roster bonus), but there is simply no reason for that. The team carried his team-high $11 million cap hit in 2013, can free money elsewhere this year and has no one to replace him, so why would the Hawks cut him? In fact, they are short a tight end. They could bring back Davis or McCoy, or Helfet could be a third option after spending two years on the practice squad. Or, they might bring in a new guy via the draft or free agency.
Future: Miller is signed for two more seasons (at cap hits of $7 million and $6 million), and there is no reason for Seattle to dump the 28-year-old before then. The Hawks seem likely to draft another tight end in 2014 or 2015 in preparation for Miller's possible departure in 2016. Of course, he will be just 30 then and it is possible the Hawks keep him for a couple more years at a cheaper rate (isn't that a 180 degree position from what many think right now?).
Signed thru 2014: LG James Carpenter, OT Caylin Hauptmann (ERFA), OL Greg Van Roten (ERFA)
Signed thru 2015: LT Russell Okung, RG J.R. Sweezy, OL Alvin Bailey (RFA), OG Jared Smith (RFA)
Signed thru 2016: C Max Unger, OT Michael Bowie
UFA: RT Breno Giacomini, LG Paul McQuistan
RFA: C Lemuel Jeanpierre
This year: Expect the Hawks to let McQuistan go and try to retain Giacomini, who just finished a two-year, $6 million deal. Considering he missed seven games in 2013, the Hawks should be able to re-sign him to a similar contract. If not, they can let Bowie and perhaps a rookie or cheap veteran (Jonathan Martin?) battle for right tackle. The Hawks have to fix the left guard spot this offseason. They rotated four players through there last season. Carpenter doesn't seem to be the answer, so it would not be surprising to see Bailey, Bowie or another player starting there this year. There was some confusion about Jeanpierre's status, but it appears he is a restricted free agent (he entered the league undrafted in 2010 but didn't make a roster until 2011). The team seems unlikely to tender him for $1.4 million (right of first refusal), which means he either comes back for cheaper than that or the Hawks replace him with Smith or Van Roten.
Future: The Hawks might give Okung an extension to help their cap – they could save about $6 million this year by signing him to a long-term deal. Of course, they also might be wary of his health. He has missed 19 games in his four seasons, including a career-worst eight in 2013. That means the Hawks might want any new deal to include playing incentives. Or they might just let him play through his rookie deal and see whether he merits a new contract. They have two years to groom a replacement if they find him unworthy. This unit is still very much a work in progress and the Hawks would be smart to draft a few this year and next to try to stabilize this rocky group.
Signed thru 2014: Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Benson Mayowa (ERFA), Kenneth Boatright (ERFA), Michael Brooks (ERFA), D'Anthony Smith (ERFA)
Signed thru 2015: Brandon Mebane, Greg Scruggs (RFA), Dewayne Cherrington (ERFA)
Signed thru 2016: Red Bryant, Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams
UFA: Michael Bennett, Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel
This year: Among the key players, the only sure things in 2014 are Avril and Mebane. Clemons, 32, is likely to be cut, which would save $7.5 million on the team's cap. Bryant is due $7.5 million, including a $3 million roster bonus, and he reportedly will be released (he probably has refused to take a pay cut). The extra money from Clemons and Bryant could be used to re-sign Bennett, who should be the team's No. 1 free-agent priority and worth around $8 million a year. McDonald, 27, probably earned himself a good deal in free agency and seems unlikely to return. The Hawks might be interested in re-signing McDaniel, 29, for a year or two. But they can replace him. The team already has possible replacements for some of those guys – Mayowa or Bruce Irvin for Clemons, Scruggs for Bryant, Hill for McDonald, etc. – if needed.
Future: The 2014 line appears set for a bunch of changes, with as many as five of the top eight players leaving. They surely are hoping Scruggs and Hill step up next season. They probably cannot count on Williams to come back from his knee problem; if he does, it will be a bonus. They have a bunch of young linemen and certainly will keep drafting one or two a year while developing their depth. It also will be interesting to see whether they try to extend Avril beyond 2014. If they don't intend to, they need to draft a pass rusher this year.
Signed thru 2014: K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Heath Farwell, Korey Toomer
Signed thru 2015: Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Mike Taylor (ERFA)
UFA: O'Brien Schofield
ERFA: Mike Morgan
This year: This unit will remain largely intact in 2014. It would be great if they were able to get an affordable extension with Wright or Smith or else an under-the-radar deal with Schofield, who could be an affordable replacement for Wright next year. It largely will depend on what kind of offers Schofield gets on the market.
Future: The Hawks are going to have to draft this position pretty hard over the next two years because they probably won't be able to keep this group together in 2015 and 2016. Unless Wright can be re-signed pretty cheaply, it's easy to see him moving on in 2015, when the Hawks will be paying big cash to 10-12 players. Smith also is free in 2015 and figures to get offers as a starter if he repeats his 2013 play (even if he is not Super Bowl MVP again). In 2016, the Hawks are slated to have about a dozen free agents and might have to decide between Wagner and Irvin.
Signed thru 2014: Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, DeShawn Shead (ERFA)
Signed thru 2015: Jeremy Lane, Akeem Auguste (ERFA), Chandler Fenner (RFA), Terrance Parks (ERFA)
Signed thru 2016: Tharold Simon
Signed thru 2017: Kam Chancellor
UFA: Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner, Chris Maragos, Jeron Johnson
This year: An extension for Thomas is high on the priority list and should get done with minimal problems. Sherman's extension might not be as simple, and the Hawks might let him play out his contract on the way to a possible franchise tag in 2015. Browner is suspended for a season, Thurmond likely is gone and Simon (toe surgery) does not seem like a healthy option – which means the Hawks need to look for a corner or two in the draft.
Future: The secondary is the strength of this defense, and when all is said and done it will be paid as such. Chancellor, Thomas and Sherman figure to account for $30 million in cap space by 2016. That probably means they won't be able to re-sign Maxwell next year, so you can bet they will use at least one draft pick on a corner this year – and another one next year. After all, Carroll loves his defensive backs.
Signed thru 2014: LS Clint Gresham
Signed thru 2015: P Jon Ryan
UFA: K Steven Hauschka
This year: Hauschka was re-signed in 2013 only after the Hawks could not find anyone better, and then he had a spectacular season. The Hawks certainly are not going to pay him top kicker dollar ($3 million per year), but they might "split the uprights" and pay him half that (or maybe $2 million).
Future: Looks like the team will have to re-sign one of the key cogs of the kicking game in each of the next three offseasons, but as long as the team wants them they seem sure to return.