INDIANAPOLIS — The Seattle Seahawks are having it both ways at the NFL combine.
And are actually welcoming all ways.
They have talked to Earl Thomas’ representatives about a new contract, continuing the first steps to avoiding any idea of the holdout the three-time All-Pro free safety has hinted is possible this fall.
At the same time, Seattle is the talk of this NFL scouting combine for the possibility of seismic moves of mega stars.
Coach Pete Carroll on Thursday and then general manager John Schneider on Friday said nothing that blocks the prevailing wind that’s gaining speed around the league.
In fact, what Schneider said added to it. When asked Friday by The News Tribune if anyone on the current roster was untouchable in trade talks, the GM said: “Not at this time of the year.”
“We’re just open to anything,” Schneider said inside the Indiana Convention Center, while offensive linemen ran 40-yard dashes next door inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
That includes and perhaps foremost means listening to offers for Thomas, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett and three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. All have been recently injured, are nearing 30 and, in the cases of Thomas and Sherman, entering the finals years of their contracts.
“I told you guys this when we got here in 2010: We are going to be in every deal,” Schneider said. “And then you want to be able to walk away. You don’t want to have the opportunity to — you don’t want to miss any opportunity. That’s how we built this thing, and that’s how we are going to build it. Now, do we have some challenges this year? Absolutely.”
This is what happens in the NFL when you just missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, have scant salary-cap space and have a core of recently injured, expensive players past or pushing 30 years old.
“You know, we are pretty disappointed the way our season ended. We went 9-7, and you would have thought that we won two games,” Schneider said. “It’s a pit that sits in your stomach and really fuels you.
“And we are excited about the challenges ahead, because we feel like we want to get rolling on this thing.”
Schneider has met with Thomas’ agents this week.
“I’ve talked to his representatives. Yeah, I mean, that’s all I can say,” Schneider said. “Earl is under contract. I’ve talked to his representatives in the meetings we’ve had down here. We are meeting with all our guys here, as well as other teams, you know. Trying to figure out where everybody is. We have a huge map, and we’re just trying to put it all together.”
Schneider has set precedents since taking the job in January 2010 of re-signing core starters in the final years of their existing contracts and before those deals run out. The Seahawks did that with Thomas in April 2014, entering the final year of his first NFL contract, when they gave him a four-year, $40 million deal. That contract expires this year.
The GM said those precedents do not apply in this case with Thomas.
“Well, it’s a little different. This would be his third (contract),” Schneider said.
“It’s a little different situation than when you have a guy coming off his rookie deal and then you are just going on a second contract.”
That, and the Seahawks’ salary-cap constraints now compared to then, raise the possibility he plays through this contract year — and the disgruntlement he’d surely have about that — if the two sides can’t find an agreement before the season begins in September.
Thomas said in an ESPN interview at the Pro Bowl in January “I definitely don’t see myself going out there unsigned” to play in 2018 — that is, while still under his current Seattle deal.
“I want to finish my career there,” Thomas said.
“I definitely don’t see myself going out there not signed. But I’m going to continue to work my butt off and enjoy this process at the Pro Bowl.
“As far as my future in Seattle, I think if they want me, you know, money talks. We’ll get something accomplished. Other than that, I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
The Seahawks would save $8.5 million against this year’s salary cap if they released or traded Thomas before the season begins in September. But who would replace him? Seattle drafted Tedric Thompson last year to potentially play free safety, but Thompson barely played on defense, appearing in just two games at safety while doing far more on special teams. Schneider said Friday it’s time for Thompson and fellow second-year defensive backs Delano Hill and Mike Tyson to step up and compete to potentially replace Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Sherman — maybe sooner than later.
Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, turns 29 in May. He has been talking about wanting an extension from the Seahawks since August — on the day Schneider and Seattle gave safety partner Chancellor at contract extension worth $25 million guaranteed at age … 29.
“I was watching very closely,” Thomas said Aug. 1 of Chancellor’s negotiations with the Seahawks. “You want to see, because I feel we are all right around the same age. You know, they brought a lot of new guys in.
“If the writing is on the wall, you know, I want to be able to see it. Because I know I’ll be next. … And when that time comes, it comes.”
It’s arrived — at least for Thomas.
No doubt, the Seahawks are going fishing this week in Indiana. They are casting far and wide across the league in search of whatever bites they can get, for any of their older, more expensive stars. Then they hope to have legitimate offers to weigh or discard when they get home, and beyond.
The Seahawks did this on a more limited, specific basis last offseason, very publicly floating Sherman as a potential trade target for other teams to explore. When they didn’t get near the offer they sought — high draft picks, perhaps a starting player, in return — they kept the three-time All-Pro cornerback.
Sherman tore his Achilles tendon in November, recently had surgery on his other Achilles and is now walking with a boot over the left foot, and has one season remaining on his contract.
The Seahawks could save $11 million by trading or releasing him before next season.
Bennett said on New Year’s Eve following the 2017 season finale “I probably won’t be back” in 2018. Asked Friday if the three-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher is on the trading block, Schneider said: “You know what? That’s a great question. I was reading about that (Thursday) night. We don’t get into people’s contracts. But I understand why that’s out there.
“This time of the year, the combine has really developed into a lot more of the — I have a couple of friends in baseball — kind of like the baseball winter meetings. I mean, I’ve been here since Monday night and I’ve literally been in meetings the whole time, whether it’s league meetings, committee meetings. I met with the NCAA (Thursday). We are just constantly talking to people, all the time.
“Part of our challenge right now — I want to say this appropriately — is sustaining our level of success that we’ve had. And we are just open to anything.”
Trading or releasing the 32-year-old Bennett would save Seattle just $2.2 million against this year’s salary cap. Thing is, with Dion Jordan a restricted free agent who’s played just three games the past three years and Cliff Avril’s career in doubt because of a neck injury and surgery, Frank Clark is the only other proven pass-rusher on the roster. And Clark’s contract ends after this year.
So, yes, the Seahawks may be shopping their stars. But getting an offer worthy enough to actually deal them is a far different matter.
No tag for Richardson
Schneider said the Seahawks have no plans to use their annual franchise-tag designation on Sheldon Richardson, to keep the impending free agent from going on the market when it opens March 14.
“Not at this time,” Schneider said.
That makes sense for Seattle; the franchise tag is going to cost at least $14 million for defensive tackles this year. The Seahawks don’t have that to spend on Richardson.
But they could keep him with a multiyear deal with a more team-friendly cap number this year and bonus money to keep Richardson happy in lieu of becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time.
The Seahawks have until March 6 to use the franchise- and the transition-tag designation for 2018.
Always compete — with a punter
Texas punter Michael Dickson was asked Friday for the strangest question he’d gotten from a team in their player interviews here.
“I mean I had to do a staring contest and I had to see how long I could stare without blinking,” Dickson said. “I had a couple of attempts. I tried a few techniques, looking away from the light, trying to block any sort of wind coming into the eyes. That was a weird process.”
How long did it take before Dickson blinked in the staring contest?
“The first time I did terrible. I only lasted for 14 seconds,” he said. “But my third time I had figured out a technique to look around the room just to get your eyes a little watery, I guess.”
Which team asked Dickson to perform the staring contest?
You guessed it.
“It was the Seahawks,” he said.