By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
Just days after the organization’s first Super Bowl win, eyes are turning to next season.
The world champion Seattle Seahawks will parade through the heart of Seattle Wednesday afternoon. A handful of the revelers may not be back for next season, during which Seattle is already the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks reached this point via savvy and some luck. Stars like quarterback Russell Wilson and cornerback Richard Sherman emerged while on rookie scale contracts. That allowed the Seahawks to have significant salary cap flexibility, which helped acquire players like defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril and wide receiver Percy Harvin.
Heading into this offseason, the Seahawks will have little wiggle room without significant cuts to role players. After 2014 they will have major decisions. Free safety Earl Thomas and Sherman, among others, can move into unrestricted free agency then.
For now, they have other issues.
Bennett was signed to a one-year deal last offseason and excelled. He’s one of the most important pieces of the defensive line. His brother, Martellus, a tight end for the Chicago Bears, is trying to lure him there. Michael Bennett — who was originally signed by the Seahawks after being undrafted, then was cut — is an unrestricted free agent.
“It’s up to them,” Bennett said. “I’ve been in the situation before that I thought I was going to be playing there for the rest of my life and it didn’t work out the same way. I’m not going to get all ahead of myself and put so much into it. If it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I understand the business more this year than I did last year.”
Wide receiver Golden Tate is also a free agent. He led the Seahawks in receptions and yards during the regular season. On 950-KJR Tuesday, Tate said he would be willing to take less money to stay in Seattle.
Toward the end of the regular season, he told the News Tribune at the time he was not worried about free agency.
“That’s something I’ll let the people upstairs worry about,” Tate said. “I’ll let my agents do their work. That’s why I hired them. My job is to play football. I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible. Play football and do my job, and let the rest work out.”
Other key free agents include kicker Steven Hauschka, right tackle Breno Giacomini, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and cornerback Walter Thurmond. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin is a restricted free agent and likely to be back.
Thurmond was suspended four games toward the end of the season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He went from nickel back, to starter when Brandon Browner was suspended, back to nickel back. Thurmond’s suspension allowed Byron Maxwell to move into the starting lineup, where he will remain. The suspension will also give any team interested in Thurmond pause. He’s a multiple time violator of the league’s substance-abuse policy and is in danger of being suspended for at least a year if he violates the policy again.
Hauschka earned the nickname “Hausch Money” after a season when he hit 95.4 percent of his kicks. One was blocked and one he missed after the mechanics of the snap and hold were off.
Tony McDaniel was a find for the Seahawks. The defensive tackle was sixth on the team in tackles. His base salary was just $840,000. He has significant evidence to reasonably ask for a raise.
The future of four veterans under contract is also up in the air since the Seahawks are estimated to be just $2,201,197, under the salary cap, according to the Web site Overthecap.com.
Defensive end Chris Clemons had a great day at the Super Bowl, but a mediocre season. He’s a $9,666,667 salary cap hit next season. At 32 and entering his 11th season, he could be a candidate to be cut.
Receiver Sidney Rice, whose season ended after he injured his knee Oct. 28, is a $9.7 million cap hit next season and $10,200,000 blow in 2015. Barring a major contract restructuring, he’s probably done with the Seahawks. Cutting Rice could free up enough to re-sign Tate, were the Seahawks interested in doing so.
Tight end Zach Miller has a cap number of $7 million for 2014. Defensive end Red Bryant is scheduled to receive a $3 million roster bonus on the fourth day of the league year (the league year begins March 11). He’s a salary cap hit of $8.5 million in 2014.
A handful of others will be unrestricted free agents. Fullback Michael Robinson, offensive lineman Paul McQuistan, defensive end O’Brien Schofield, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, safety Chris Maragos, backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and tight end Kellen Davis are all unsigned.
In regard to Sherman and Thomas, they may be handled the way Seattle dealt with Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks locked up Chancellor before he reached free agency. But the Seahawks aren’t married to that approach.
“It depends on the individual,” general manager John Schneider said. “There’s certain guys that, A, you just can’t afford to extend that at that time, or B, you just want to see how they handle things. If you’re confident in an individual — we were able to re-do Kam last year, and you know Kam’s going to be out there just being a pro every single day, and had proved it for several years now.
“Then you get to a point where just from a cash standpoint, you have to adjust things accordingly. It’s tough, but you have to be able to say … there’s a cutoff because not everybody’s going to get what they want.”