A day after Seahawks general manager John Schneider talked about the "tough decisions" he and coach Pete Carroll will have to make this offseason, word came out that the Hawks will indeed release wide receiver Sidney Rice.
The Seahawks made no announcement Friday, but Rice tweeted an apparent goodbye later in the day: "The #12 will remain on the left side of my chest no matter what! Grateful for the opportunity to share so many special moments w/ y'all."
The Seahawks will save $7.3 million against the salary cap – money that will help re-sign some of the team's 19 free agents. Rice will still count $2.4 million in dead money based on his unamortized signing bonus proration.
The release of Rice is just the first of several expected maneuvers the Hawks will have to make to clear room to re-sign more productive players.
“It’s a huge goal for us to try to keep this team together for as long as we possibly can," Schneider told reporters at the NFL combine on Thursday. "There are tough decisions to be made along the way. We don’t look forward to those decisions, but it’s more long-term. We’ve talked about trying to be a consistent championship-caliber football team and not just one that cruises in for a year and cruises out. We have to work through those issues.”
The next players likely to be released or approached about pay cuts are defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant. Cutting both outright would add another $13 million under the cap, giving Seattle around $19 million to work with (depending on how high the cap goes).
The Hawks probably do not want to cut ties with Bryant entirely. He is a team leader, and as long as he is willing to reduce a contract that calls for a $3 million roster bonus and $4.5 million salary, he should be back.
Clemons, 32, is a different story. Coming back from a torn ACL suffered in the 2012 playoffs, he wasn't quite the same player in 2013 – although he seemed to amp it up in the playoffs and the Super Bowl. He simply is not worth his $7.5 million salary – money the Hawks probably would prefer to pay the 28-year-old Bennett.
It is possible the Hawks will offer Clemons a chance to stay with a steep pay cut, a la Bryant, and give him performance incentives to make up the difference. Or they could just decide to go younger by moving Bruce Irvin back to LEO to compete with second-year rusher Benson Mayowa.
The Hawks could make other cuts as well. Many think tight end Zach Miller is in danger because he is due $6 million in salary and bonuses. But the Hawks did nothing about his team-high $11 million cap number in 2013, so why would they fret about half that amount when they can make room in other ways?
The other ways: Extending left tackle Russell Okung could cut his $11.24 million cap number down by as much as $6 million. Extending safety Earl Thomas could lower his 2014 cap hit below the scheduled $5.47 million. The team also could save $1.5 million by releasing 32-year-old linebacker Heath Farwell.
It's all money that would go toward re-signing Bennett and other key free agents.
We've already laid out our probability for the free agents to return, but here's a more specific projection, with cuts, extensions, contract numbers and other analysis:
Move: Cut WR Sidney Rice, saving $7.3 million
Analysis: Rice was set to make $8.5 million in 2014 and simply was not worth it. Rice is the latest example of a big-money receiver who did not work out in Seattle, and the Hawks cannot afford to pay a guy with so many health concerns (ACL, shoulders, etc.).
Move: Cut DE Chris Clemons, saving $7.5 million
Analysis: It is possible the Hawks offer the 32-year-old pass rusher a chance to stay on a much smaller salary – maybe $3 million with a chance to make more based on performance. But would he be willing to take such a big cut from his $7.5 million salary when Cliff Avril is making $7 million on the other side? In the end, the Hawks probably will decide to go younger and thank Clemons for his 38 sacks over the past four years.
Move: Reduce salary of DE Red Bryant to $3 million
Analysis: The 323-pound run stopper was given a five-year, $35 million deal in 2012 and has made a tidy $14.6 million over the past two years. But now the Hawks need the team captain to be a team player and let some of his $7.5 million be used for another player. The Hawks could restructure his deal so he still gets $7.5 million this year but cuts his salaries the next two years. That could save the team $4 million this year, $2 million in 2015 and $3 million in 2016. The Hawks surely don't want him to go, but they also cannot pay a run stuffer $7.5 million, even if he is a team captain.
Move: Cut LB Heath Farwell, saving $1.5 million
Analysis: Farwell doesn't make much in comparison to Rice, Clemons and Bryant, but the Hawks could pay three rookies with the savings from the special-teams captain's salary. It's very possible the Hawks will leave Farwell's contract alone – he's heading into the final year anyway.
Move: Re-sign DL Michael Bennett for 4y, $32m
Analysis: The savings from Clemons and Bryant will be put to good use in their D-line unit. Bennett wants a multi-year deal worth more than the $4.8 million he made in Seattle last year – and he certainly deserves it. He said he received better offers last year, so if some team offers him $10 million a year, he might eschew that for $8 million to stay in Seattle. And the Hawks can afford it.
Move: Re-sign WR Golden Tate for 5y, $25m
Analysis: Tate said he would take a "little less" to stay in Seattle, but he still might want $8 million a year. The Hawks are already paying Percy Harvin $11 million in 2014 and will be paying Doug Baldwin at least $2 million. Tate doesn't offer much more than Baldwin -- Tate caught 64 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns, and Baldwin's numbers were 50-778-5 – so why would they pay him much more? He shouldn't get more than $5 million a year from a team that throws the ball less than almost every team in the league.
Move: Extend FS Earl Thomas for 6y, $50m
Analysis: The best safeties get paid around $8 million a year, so Thomas – considered the best -- is good for at least that. This deal would include $23 million in guaranteed money and drop his 2014 cap number to about $3.75 million – adding about $1.7 million to the cap. The big cap hits -- $9 million to $11 million -- would kick in starting in 2016.
Move: Extend LT Russell Okung for 6y, $48m
Analysis: Okung has two years left on his rookie deal, but he also has a cap number of more than $11 million in 2014. This extension would drop his cap hit to $5.3 million, saving nearly $6 million. Okung has had injury issues in three of his four seasons and has yet to play all 16 games – he was a Pro Bowl player in 2012, when he played 15 -- so the Hawks might prefer to build in some playing-time incentives for 2014 and beyond.
Move: Extend CB Richard Sherman for 6y, $65m
Analysis: Like Thomas, Sherman has been the best at his position the past two years, and he should be paid as such. But it is quite possible this deal does not get done this year, especially if Sherman's agent wants to use Darrelle Revis' $16 million deal with Tampa Bay as a basis for negotiations.
Move: Re-sign RT Breno Giacomini for 2y, $6m
Analysis: Some other team might throw more money his way, but the 28-year-old fits the Hawks, and his injurious 2013 season plays into the team's favor financially. They can probably get him back for the same deal he worked under in 2012-13. If they can't, they can let Michael Bowie, a rookie or a cheaper veteran start at right tackle.
Move: Tender WR Doug Baldwin for $3m
Impact: A lot of people think the Hawks will use the second-round tender of $2.1 million for the former undrafted free agent, but the Hawks probably plan to give him a multi-year extension at some point this offseason anyway, and he is worth $3 million, so why not used the first-round tender and make sure he doesn't go anywhere?
Move: Re-sign K Steven Hauschka for 3y, $5m
Impact: The Hawks are not going to use the $3 million franchise tag on the 28-year-old, who just had his best season in a seven-year career. Giddy fans tend to forget that the Hawks brought back Hauschka last year only after exploring several other options. He played for the minimum. If he doesn't like this deal, the Hawks can find another kicker to offer a Super Bowl ring.
Move: Re-sign DT Tony McDaniel for 1y, $1.5m
Analysis: The Hawks probably would like to have the 6-foot-7 29-year-old back on perhaps a small raise over the $890,000 he played for in 2013. But they also might keep their eyes open for other free-agent options, such as Alex Carrington (6-5) of the Buffalo Bills or Ropati Pitoitua (6-8) of the Tennessee Titans.
Move: Re-sign OL Lemuel Jeanpierre for 1y, $645,000
Analysis: Jeanpierre knows the Hawks' system well after three years in it. They probably are not going to tender the restricted free agent for $1.4 million, or if they do tender him it will just be to keep him off the market so they can keep him for half that ($645,000). They have a couple of other options as well, so they could just let him go. But with so little depth along the line, that seems unlikely.
Move: Re-sign QB Tarvaris Jackson for 1y, $855,000
Analysis: Seems like a no-brainer for both sides – unless the Hawks have someone else in mind (Colt McCoy?).
Move: Re-sign S Jeron Johnson for 1y, $645,000
Analysis: Unless the Hawks decide to go with DeShawn Shead and other players, the restricted free agent should be back on the same one-year, non-tender as Jeanpierre.
Move: Re-sign S Chris Maragos for 1y, $730,000
Analysis: He took a pay cut to stay last season, so why would the 27-year-old leave now? He's young enough and contributes well on special teams (except as the holder) that the Hawks should want him back on a cheap deal.
Move: Re-sign LB Mike Morgan for 1y, $570,000
Analysis: Morgan is an exclusive-rights free agent and thus tied to the Hawks for another season. He was on the roster for just five games in 2011, and the requirement to accrue a season toward free agency is six games, so he has just two seasons accrued (2012 and 2013).
Move: Re-sign TE Anthony McCoy for 1y, $730,000
Analysis: The 26-year-old sat out the season on IR but should be a cheap re-sign and could have a role in 2014.
NOT PROJECTED BACK
CB Walter Thurmond: Thurmond's value plummeted when he tested positive for marijuana and was suspended for four games. Now in the NFL's drug program and in a saturated cornerback market, he might not get any offers he likes. But they still might be better than what Seattle offers.
LB O'Brien Schofield: Some other team is likely to offer the 26-year-old a starting gig and better money.
FB Michael Robinson: The 30-year-old came back and got a ring, but will the Hawks go back to their young backs?
DT Clinton McDonald: The 27-year-old had his best season and probably earned a good deal elsewhere.
OL Paul McQuistan: The 30-year-old vet's time in Seattle is likely done; the team can do better with younger players.
TE Kellen Davis: The late addition was a decent third tight end, but the Hawks are likely to find someone else.
COULD BROWNER RETURN IN 2014?
The Hawks probably were happy to finally get the Brandon Browner saga behind them in December. His name was scarcely brought up throughout the playoffs, except when Byron Maxwell would intercept another pass and remind people that they didn't miss Browner.
Browner, 29, is suspended indefinitely -- eligible to apply for reinstatement next December. But ESPN's John Clayton reported Thursday that Browner's attorneys have built a legal case and could work out a deal with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for Browner to return sooner.
"His tact at the moment is waiting to see if (NFL lead attorney) Jeff Pash and Roger Goodell are going to offer him a lower suspension," Clayton said on 710 ESPN, "because he's prepared a case that he's going to take to federal court if he doesn’t get any kind of relief and a chance to get back into the National Football League."
Browner reportedly turned down the league's offer of an eight-game suspension, so he obviously is seeking something less than that.
Browner tweeted Friday that he received his playoff and Super Bowl checks for being part of the champion Seahawks, and he also said, "More than blessed to have played for such a great organization."
It wouldn't be stunning to see the Hawks bring Browner back when his suspension is lifted – he will be very cheap, after all. But he also will be 30 in August and the team might want to move on to younger players – and guys who aren't one strike away from a lifetime ban.