A couple of months ago, we wrote that the Seahawks’ bosses — Pete Carroll and John Schneider — were going to have to make some changes no matter how the season ended.
Well, the season has ended (prematurely), and now it is time for those changes.
“There’s all kinds of stuff we’re going to be working on,” Carroll said Monday. “There’s tons of stuff. I’m not going to single anything out right now because there’s no way I can do that and be talking straight with you, because I don’t know. We don’t know at this point. We have a lot of thoughts, and we’re just going to start putting them together over the next few weeks and all.”
Although the Seahawks are slated to have more free agents this year than they have had in any year since Schneider and Carroll arrived in 2010, Schneider’s focus will be a little bit different this time.
The last two years especially, Schneider’s priority has been on re-signing core players to keep the Seahawks’ Super Bowl window wide open.
Mission accomplished: Seattle is poised to contend for at least the next couple of years — and probably beyond that — with Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and a number of younger players all under contract through at least 2017.
Schneider’s major tasks this offseason will be to (1) build an offensive line for 2016 and beyond, (2) make sure the Hawks have some run-stopping tackles and (3) deal with lingering contract issues.
The Seahawks have 24 scheduled free agents — 17 unrestricted and seven restricted (that doesn’t count seven exclusive-rights free agents who will be back if the Seahawks want them). Among the 17 UFAs, seven are starters — but the Seahawks don’t necessarily need any of them back (except a defensive tackle or two). Among the seven RFAs, none merit tenders.
Schneider’s first moves will be to add to Seattle’s projected $29 million in spending space (on an expected $153 million salary cap). Marshawn Lynch’s departure — via retirement or release — will add $6.5 million. A possible trade of Kam Chancellor (see below) would add $4.1 million.
As for their top free agents, Bruce Irvin is unlikely to be back — even if he did say he would take a little less to return. The Seahawks did not want to pay him in the $7 million range this year and probably wouldn’t pay him more than $5 million — assuming they could budget that. They will make an offer, but it very likely will not be close to what he can get elsewhere. And they can replace him easily enough — they built him, after all.
The bigger question will be Seattle’s two starting linemen: Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy. Those two did not do anything to make the Seahawks want to pay them a bunch of cash.
Okung has been making $8 million a year on his rookie deal, and some team probably will offer him more than he is worth. But it won’t be the Seahawks, who would be wise to look to the draft or a cheaper, healthier veteran.
Sweezy’s not worth more than $3 million a year; so, if he gets a better offer, the Seahawks would be smart to let him go and replace him with Mark Glowinski (or someone else).
Schneider and his staff need to hunt high and low and leave no stone unturned — via possible trades, free agents, draft picks — as they look to improve the offensive line this offseason.
Carroll said the line is “still a work in progress. I don’t think we’ve nailed it yet. I think this needs to be a really competitive spot again, and we’re going to work really hard to build it up. … We’ve got a couple unrestricted guys there; we’re going to have to deal with how that’s going to work out. There’s just stuff that we’re going to have to work through.”
Beyond the offensive line, let’s look at some key moves the Seahawks should make:
Part ways with Marshawn Lynch: The soon-to-be-30-year-old might simply retire, saving the Hawks the trouble of releasing him, and that would give the team $6.5 million in extra cap space. Thomas Rawls will return as the much cheaper, younger and faster starter.
What if they don’t? Lynch would remain the starter and the Hawks won’t get the extra cash to spend elsewhere. Lynch probably would then hobble through one more season before the Hawks decided to move on. This is a very unlikely scenario.
Trade Kam Chancellor: The Hawks welcomed Chancellor back after his two-game holdout, but he didn’t do anything to prove he deserves the raise he wants. If they don’t move him, they will have to deal with that headache again. Unless he has a change of heart and decides to live up to his deal, they need to see what they can get for him — a third-round pick would suffice. Moving him would give them $4.1 million in cap space.
What if they don’t? They would deal with the same holdout as last year unless they came to a financial understanding.
Extend Michael Bennett: Unlike Chancellor, Bennett has earned an upgrade to his deal. Yes, he still has two years left on the four-year, $28.5 million contract he signed in 2014, but the Hawks should tear it up and pay the 31-year-old market rate ($10 million a year).
What if they don’t? Bennett seems likely to hold out, as Chancellor did. He knows he just had his best season and his bargaining position will never be better. It is possible the Hawks do what they did for Lynch in 2014, moving some money up to appease him, with the promise of an extension in 2017. Whatever it takes to keep him happy and productive …
Re-sign Brandon Mebane: The Hawks have to keep at least one of their run-stopping tackles. Mebane just turned 31 and probably has a solid three years left. His market is around $3 million a year.
What if they don’t? On the off chance that Mebane prices himself out of Seattle, the Hawks will need to focus on re-signing Ahtyba Rubin and bringing in a different veteran tackle — something they have been good at (e.g., Alan Branch, Tony McDaniel, Rubin).
Re-sign Ahtyba Rubin: He has had an excellent season and seemingly earned a multi-year deal from some team. He’ll be 30 this year, but a three-year deal averaging $3 million would seem legit.
What if they don’t? If the Hawks can’t keep both Mebane and Rubin, they will have to go get at least one veteran tackle (bring back Tony McDaniel?). The draft also is considered deep at tackle this year, so expect the Seahawks to draft one as well.
Re-sign Jeremy Lane: Lane’s value is one of the mysteries of this offseason. His Super Bowl XLIX injuries severely limited his playing time in 2015, but he clearly is a very good player for Seattle. It’s hard to see him having a big market, so the Hawks probably could bring him back on a one-year, prove-it deal for maybe $1.5 million.
What if they don’t? They have other options at corner (Tye Smith, Mohammed Seisay, et al.) and could do without Lane if necessary.
Re-sign Jermaine Kearse: The former undrafted receiver had his best year in 2015, playing on the RFA tender of $2.4 million. He probably won’t have much of a market so the Hawks should be able to keep him at $3 million per year for three years or so — if they are so inclined.
What if they don’t? This is a low priority because the Hawks have Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham (assuming Graham comes back from his torn patellar tendon). Seattle also has two former UW understudies behind Kearse. Bottom line: It won’t hurt if he leaves.
Re-sign Jon Ryan: Should be an easy deal — say three years, $6 million.
What if they don’t? They will need to find a new punter. Hard to see that happening.
Extend Doug Baldwin: This is low priority, but Baldwin is entering the final year of the three-year, $16 million deal he signed in 2014. He certainly has earned an extension and raise — probably something like $7 million a year.
(UPDATE: The original version of this mentioned DeShawn Shead as an RFA, but he is really an ERFA, under club control in 2016.)