Seahawks are now about retaining talent, not adding it

Rarely does the same transaction — the Seattle Seahawks signing receiver Sidney Rice — illustrate such differing states of a franchise.

Yet with Rice signing with Seattle as a free agent twice in three years, we can see in both of those roster moves, which at the most basic level were the same, just how different the Seahawks are now than they were in 2011. We can also see why this relatively quiet offseason has been a good one for the Seahawks despite losing key players in free agency without adding much.

When Rice signed a five-year, $41 million deal in 2011, he was the splashy addition Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider needed, not just to give their team an offensive weapon, but also to help make a statement that this franchise meant business and could be desirable destination for free agents. Carroll wouldn’t ever use the term, because it goes against his “win forever” philosophy, but in a lot of ways the Seahawks were in rebuilding mode that summer after the lockout ended, and adding Rice, as well as tight end Zach Miller, were big parts of the process.

Now, with Rice going from salary cap casualty to bargain re-signing, we see another example of what the Seahawks are trying to do this offseason to stay on top after winning the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

The Seahawks added outside talent in the first couple of years under Carroll and Schneider because the talent within the organization was lacking. Now that they’ve built a Super Bowl caliber roster, Carroll and Schneider have focused their attention on retaining their own talent, and supplementing that with bargains, which Rice became not because of a lack of ability, but rather because of his lengthy injury history.

“We’re trying to take care of our own people and keep our core of young players together,” Schneider said.

The realities of the NFL salary cap meant some departures were inevitable. Among those most expected to be gone were Rice and Miller, not because the Seahawks don’t like them as players, but because the team couldn’t afford them while also focusing on re-signing young players approaching the end of their rookie contracts. Yet two months after releasing Rice, they got him back, presumably at a bargain — details of his contract have not yet leaked out, but the assumption is that Rice will make more, but not a ton more, than the veteran minimum of $855,000. They also were able to convince Miller to restructure his deal, taking a significant pay cut.

So no, the Seahawks haven’t added much in the way of talent, but in addition to re-signing Michael Bennett, one of the most sought after free agents on the market, they also kept two important offensive players many people assumed wouldn’t be back. And considering some attrition was inevitable — the salary cap will do that to a team, and so too will being the defending champs — this has to be considered a rather positive offseason for the Seahawks, even if they did lose leading receiver Golden Tate in free agency to the Lions.

With Bennett re-signed, with Rice and Miller still here, and with Carroll signing a contract extension as well, the only way this will feel like an unsuccessful offseason is if the Seahawks aren’t able to extend safety Earl Thomas, who is entering the final year of his contract. And based on what Carroll and Schneider, as well as people close to Thomas have said, that seems like a matter of when, not if.

And if Seattle can extend cornerback Richard Sherman as well, a move that seems all the more possible with the Seahawks not re-signing Tate or spending big on other outside free agents, this offseason becomes a home run, because again, the Seahawks are now about retaining talent, not adding it.

Even as the Seahawks were still rebuilding years ago, they recognized that in players like Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Sherman, Russell Okung, and Marshawn Lynch, as Carroll put it, “The core of the championship team that is going to come here is already here. We recognized that a while back with the great classes that we brought in that it was happening.”

Ultimately, the most important part of this offseason, aside from locking up one or maybe two of their best defensive players, will be what Seattle does in the draft. The Seahawks are good enough to be title contenders again in 2014 without making another move, but if they hope to stay on top for a prolonged amount of time, they’ll need to find the next wave of young impact players who will be the future bargains after players like Sherman and Russell Wilson deservedly get big raises after spending the past two seasons being two of the best values in football.

But while we won’t know the impact of this years draft class for a while, what is evident now is that, while quiet, this offseason has been a good one for the Seahawks, and one that has also shown just how different the franchise is now than it was the last time Rice picked the Seahawks in free agency.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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