What will Hawks do in free agency? Check out the last three years

John Schneider (via Fresh Files)Over the past three years, we have gotten a good idea of how John Schneider leads the Seahawks in free agency.

Outside of the big blockbuster deal for Percy Harvin in 2013, Schneider typically has moved at a measured pace in March — making as many roster deletions as additions and signing only mid-priced free agents.

It should be more of the same this month.

Schneider said it himself at the Combine last month: “We are going to keep doing things the way we started here: Just keep drafting people and playing young people and trying to keep the players that we can keep, try to identify the players that we have to reward and make those tough decisions about players that are under contract that you may have to let go to create some cap room. Those are just tough decisions as you go. We are not going to change anything we do.”

So what have they done the last three years?

In 2012, they needed a quarterback — Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst showed in 2011 they were not the answers — so they signed Matt Flynn and drafted Russell Wilson. The rest is history (and the future): two NFC titles, one Super Bowl title and counting.

In 2013, they needed pass rushers, and they took advantage of an inexplicably depressed market at the position, following up their big trade for Harvin by signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in a head-spinning three-day span that made them bigger Super Bowl favorites than they already were. Avril and Bennett helped them fulfill that promise, and both have since been signed to extensions.

In 2014, the Hawks focused on keeping their core players. They re-signed Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Steven Hauschka, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin while letting Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Golden Tate and seven other key players go.

They filled in the blanks largely with draft picks, making no key additions until June, when they signed Kevin Williams to a one-year deal worth $2.1 million. And they were a play away from winning the Super Bowl again.

This year figures to be a mix of the 2012-14 offseasons.

Just like 2012, the Hawks are dealing with a new contract for Marshawn Lynch and another decision at quarterback — Wilson’s coming extension.

Just like 2013, they could decide to jump into free agency for someone — whether it’s a cornerback, defensive lineman, tight end or receiver. With $24.4 million in salary cap space, they have about $7 million more than they had in 2013 ($17.1 million) and 2014 ($17.8 million).

Just like 2014, they plan to use a lot of that to keep core players — Wilson, Bobby Wagner, perhaps J.R. Sweezy and/or Russell Okung — with long-term deals. But they have some extra money to play with.

Schneider also alluded to making “those tough decisions about players that are under contract that you may have to let go to create some cap room.”

In each of the last three years, they have released two or three players at this time of year: Marcus Trufant and Robert Gallery in 2012; Leon Washington and Ben Obomanu in 2013; Bryant, Sidney Rice and Clemons last year.

This year, they could end up dumping Brandon Mebane ($5.5 million savings), Tony McDaniel ($3 million) or Zach Miller ($3 million) — although none of those moves seems necessary unless the Hawks plan to upgrade over those players in free agency.

So, what do the Seahawks need to accomplish in free agency? Not too much really.

Byron Maxwell and James Carpenter are the only starters the Hawks have to replace — the Hawks figure to lose both. After that, their free agents are role players such as Williams, O’Brien Schofield and Malcolm Smith — all of them replaceable by similarly priced players or draft picks.

They need to replace Maxwell with a versatile veteran who can start over Tharold Simon and also play in the slot. They are already on the hunt for that guy.

They also need to either re-sign Williams or find another defensive tackle. The Hawks are unlikely to pursue Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but they could court Chicago DT Stephen Paea.

They also need to fill in their offensive line with a veteran, whether they bring back Steve Schilling or add a different lineman. They surely will address the unit in the draft as well.

Depending on whether they lose both Malcolm Smith and Mike Morgan, they will need to add a linebacker, too. They probably won’t bring back 33-year-old Heath Farwell.

A lot of people think they need to go big for a tight end — Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron have been mentioned a lot — or receiver, where aging vets Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall have been talked about (both reportedly are available).

Assuming they extend Wilson and Wagner and tender restricted free agent Jermaine Kearse, the Hawks figure to have around $8 million in discretionary funds for free agents (that is after a $5 million deduction for rookies, practice squad and injury replacements for next season). That number could grow by $2 million with an extension for Lynch, $3 million with an extension for Mebane and $3 million by releasing either McDaniel or Miller.

So, figure they have as much as $16 million for a cornerback, offensive lineman, defensive tackle and linebacker. The lineman and linebacker might be minimum-salary vets, leaving $15 million for the corner, DT and one minor splurge.

They seem to be pursuing veteran corners with starting ability, so that would cost perhaps $3 million this year. A quality DT such as Paea might cost $4 million this year ($6 million a year average), basically replacing McDaniel. And they would still have money for a veteran pass catcher, costing maybe $4 million this year and leaving them with a $4 million slush fund — or $7 million if they cut McDaniel and Miller.

They could then use some of that to extend Sweezy — adding just $1 million to his 2015 cap hit.

That would continue Schneider’s MO of “trying to keep the players that we can keep, try to identify the players that we have to reward.”

Just like last year, that’s largely what this offseason will be about.

Read more about the offseason plans:

This is the perfect time to reset the offense.
Position-by-position outlook.

Not as many decisions to make on defense.
Position-by-position outlook.

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