Tate goes to Lions, joins Seahawks free agent exodus

Through two days of NFL free agency, it’s becoming evident to both the Seattle Seahawks and their free agents just how much the rest of the league values a championship-caliber roster.

For the second straight day, Seahawks free agents were popular, with leading receiver Golden Tate leading the exodus with a new five-year deal with the Detroit Lions. Tate wasn’t just Seattle’s most productive receiver in 2013, he was also one of the NFL’s best punt returners, but the Lions made him feel more wanted, offering a five-year deal that Tate told ESPN was worth $31 million with $13.25 million guaranteed.

In an interview with Sports Radio 950 KJR, Tate repeatedly thanked the Seahawks organization, the fans, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, but he also said, “I didn’t feel like I was taken care of,” implying Seattle’s offer wasn’t on par with Detroit’s.

“I had a number in my mind, I knew what I thought I was worth,” he said. “I thought they would take care of me and want me to be here a long time, but it didn’t work out. I don’t know what the numbers were for them; I’m sure they have other guys they need to take care of.”

And therein lies the rub. The Seahawks aren’t losing free agents left and right — on Wednesday, tackle Breno Giacomini signed with the New York Jets and backup safety Chris Maragos signed with Philadelphia, and a day earlier defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and linebacker O’Brien Schofield move on — because they don’t like those players. The Seahawks are losing free agents because the rest of the league values them more.

The Seahawks would love to have Tate catching passes for them in 2014, but if they think a combination of Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette and a for now unknown draft pick or free agent can get the job done at close to the same level, they’ll take that chance if it means extending Earl Thomas’ contract this offseason.

They’d love to have Giacomini clearing holes from Marshawn Lynch and baiting opponents into 15-yard penalties for another year, but if it means keeping Richard Sherman beyond next year, they’ll take their chances with Michael Bowie or perhaps a rookie.

NFL rosters change every year. That’s the reality of a sport where youth rules and a salary cap forces teams into decisions they don’t want to make.

And when you’re the Super Bowl champion, teams want to try to capture a piece of that championship magic by enticing your players. The Seahawks would have lost players this offseason regardless of how the 2013 season went; they’re just losing them at a much higher rate as the champs, as is evident by the fact that backups off of their league-best defense got multi-year deals in the first two days of free agency, usually the time when big-name free agents are the first to go.

You can even see the effect of the Seahawks’ defensive dominance on the team they bullied in the Super Bowl. The Broncos spent big in free agency to bolster their defense over the past two days, upgrading their secondary with a physical cornerback in Aqib Talib and bolstering their pass rush with DeMarcus Ware. If, as the old saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Seahawks should be pretty flattered right now.

The realities of the salary cap led to another significant departure from the Seahawks championship roster Wednesday, with defensive end Chris Clemons being released in a cost-cutting move. By releasing Clemons, the Seahawks save $7.5 million in cap space, but they also lose a player who had 33.5 sacks from 2010 to 2012. Clemons, who came to Seattle in a draft-weekend trade that also netted Seattle a fourth-round pick for Darryl Tapp, was one of Carroll’s and Schneider’s earliest and biggest success stories.

However, with an eye to the future and not their past, the Seahawks let Clemons go. Not surprisingly, Clemons already has a visit set up with Jacksonville, which has become a frequent landing spot for former Seahawks such as Red Bryant, who earlier this week was reunited with former Seahawks defensive coordinator and current Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley.

Not every free agent is fleeing Seattle for money elsewhere however. Two days after Michael Bennett re-upped with the Seahawks, starting defensive tackle Tony McDaniel did the same Wednesday, agreeing to a deal worth up to $6.3 million over two years according to multiple reports. McDaniel, who came to Seattle last year on a one-year deal, was a key part of the run defense playing alongside nose tackle Brandon Mebane.

Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson sent out a tweet late Wenesday night, stating he would return to the Seahawks next season.

And with Tate leaving, the Seahawks did add a receiver, although not one who could be reasonably expected to replace Tate’s production. According to a source, Seattle agreed to terms on a deal with Taylor Price, a former third-round pick who entered the league in the same 2010 draft as Tate, but has had minimal production thanks to numerous injuries.

After spending part of his first two seasons in New England, Price was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville, where he finished the 2011 season before missing all of the past two years with foot injuries. If healthy, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Price would provide an intriguing combination of size and speed, having run the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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