Paying a premium: How Wright’s deal affects Wagner and the rest

Seahawks top salary cap numbersK.J. Wright’s $27 million contract extension is the latest proof that John Schneider and the Seahawks are willing to pay a premium to keep their favorite players.

The Seahawks paid Wright more than they really needed to — he admitted he had a lower figure in mind. We recently projected they would offer him $4 million a year, which was their original goal, per ESPN’s John Clayton, who said Wright wanted $5.5 million.

Instead, they made him the highest-paid 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL, according to The only outside linebackers with better deals are the guys who rush the passer.

The Hawks obviously value Wright’s versatility — he can play inside or out. But they seemingly overpaid him, just as they did Red Bryant when they gave the run-stopping end $7 million a year.

Wright’s big deal also ensures Wagner a huge payday next offseason, when he is eligible for a contract extension. The other day, we said he probably would seek $9 million a year and the Hawks probably would target $7 million. Well, Wright’s deal indicates the Hawks will have no problem paying him the $9 million. And it could go to $10 million.

They also will be paying quarterback Russell Wilson about $20 million a year in an extension next offseason.

The question then becomes: Who else can they afford? Can they re-sign defensive end Cliff Avril and cornerback Byron Maxwell?

Avril will be looking for one last big payday, but the market for pass rushers has fallen the past two years. Michael Bennett, Seattle’s best defensive lineman, re-signed for $28.5 million over four years last offseason (what will he think when Wagner gets paid more?).

In light of Wright’s overpriced deal and the likely blockbuster for Wagner, would Avril take less than $9 million? Only if he doesn’t get it somewhere else.

Maxwell probably will get at least $6 million a year. We projected an offer of $5 million from the Seahawks, but the Wright deal shows they are willing to pay their guys.

If the Hawks can keep Avril and Maxwell, the only defensive starter they will be missing is Kevin Williams. But he’s 35 and they aren’t going to give him much more than the $2.1 million they are paying him this year. If he retires or wants too much cash, they will find a cheaper veteran for D-line help, as usual.

The Seahawks are projected to have $39 million in cap space next year (it could be more), so they have room to keep Wright (projected $3M cap hit), Wilson ($10M) and Wagner ($3M), plus Avril and Maxwell, who could count a combined $5 million in 2015.

The Hawks would still have upwards of $20 million left for about 15 other key free agents, including restricted free agent receiver Jermaine Kearse and left guard James Carpenter.

If Marshawn Lynch retires or is traded or released, the Hawks would net another $7 million next year.

In 2016, the Seahawks are scheduled to have 14 key free agents, including Lynch and six other starters. But some of those highly paid free agents will free up a lot of cash and, even with the 2015 contracts, the Hawks could have at least $35 million under a $150 million salary cap.

That’s enough to re-sign Jon Ryan and consider deals for Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Zach Miller, Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy and Bruce Irvin. (The Hawks will have the choice next May of picking up a fifth-year option on Irvin for 2016 — probably for something like $3 million.)

The 2016 offseason could bring a big sea change in Seattle, with the Hawks looking at options to replace some of those aging starters.

As they showed with Wright, though, the Hawks will re-sign their core players ahead of time — even if they pay more than they need to.


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