Schneider: Hawks are better prepared for free agency this year

John Schneider (via Fresh Files)John Schneider and his staff apparently messed up in free agency last year, thanks to the Super Bowl, and they aren’t letting it happen again.

That was the most significant message imparted Friday by the general manager, who shed no new light on the team’s position with Marshawn Lynch or Russell Wilson but indicated the team was not prepared enough for free agency in 2014.

Schneider seemed to indicate his staff underestimated the value of some of their free agents last offseason — Golden Tate and Clinton McDonald come to mind (although the Hawks will get compensatory draft picks for those two).

To avoid getting caught with their pants down this year, Schneider has already met with his pro personnel guys — Trent Kirchner and Dan Morgan — and they have a better bead on the market for their 15 unrestricted free agents.

“Last year, it was a little bit of a different approach because we knew we weren’t going to be active in free agency much at all,” said Schneider, whose biggest signing was street free agent Kevin Williams, for $2.1 million. “We usually have our free agency meetings in the first week at the end of the season heading into the playoffs, and we kind of got crunched last year. I don’t think we did a very good job with it.”

The lack of preparation might have led the Hawks to undervalue Tate and McDonald — Tate complained that Seattle lowballed him by 40 percent.

“So we wanted to be ahead this year,” Schneider said, “and it really helped because we kind of had the lay of the land and we know we should have a pretty good feeling how other people would feel about our free agents as compared to the rest of the league. Trent Kirchner did a good job getting those guys all ready and getting the board lined up, and it felt great to have that behind us before the playoffs even started.”

Asked if that means they’ll be more active in free agency this year, Schneider said, “No, I’m just saying we’re more prepared for what other people would think about our free agents or how we feel about other people’s free agents. Last year, by the time we got to the Combine, it was just a whirlwind. You’re meeting with agents down there and other teams, so I just feel like we could do a better job this year.”

Seattle’s top free agent will be cornerback Byron Maxwell, and Schneider knows it will be tough to keep him.

“That, quite frankly, is one of our first priorities — to talk to Maxie,” Schneider said. “Now, I think he, like a lot of our other unrestricted guys, is going to be highly sought after. And he should be. But we would at least like to have the opportunity to retain him.’’

That could cost $7 million a year — a price the Hawks could afford but might not want to pay because they also want to re-sign linebacker Bobby Wagner this year or next. Plus, the Hawks have three other corners behind Maxwell and surely will draft at least one this year.

With about $5 million to roll over from 2014, Seattle should have at least $25 million in salary cap space (based on a $140 million cap). The Hawks have about 20 free agents (including restricted players) but none of them is worth paying too much.

Wilson is not a free agent, but he figures to get at least $100 million in an extension. That doesn’t need to add any more than $5 million to the 2015 cap, though. Set aside another $5 million for rookie bonuses, practice squad and potential injury replacements, and that would leave $15 million to keep as many of their young veterans as possible.

Of Wilson, Schneider said, “We don’t have a timetable. At the appropriate time we are able to speak to his representatives, we’ll do that. We are not in a situation where we can yet.’’ They will be after the Super Bowl.

Schneider did not offer much regarding Lynch’s situation either.

Asked about midseason reports that the Hawks had tired of Lynch’s “act,” Schneider cracked, “No. I kind of love his act.”

Schneider reminded everyone that Lynch is under contract for next season — for $7 million, including a $2 million roster bonus — and the GM said, “He’s a warrior. He goes out there every weekend and lays it on the line. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better running back in the National Football League.”

Of course, that doesn’t say anything about whether Lynch will be back in Seattle after the Super Bowl.

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