While a lot of people think the Seahawks face a daunting offseason — with 24 scheduled free agents and decisions to make on Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett — you can bet John Schneider and Pete Carroll see it for what it really is: A chance for them to reset their still-strong team for Part III of the Schneider/Carroll era so they can win a couple more Super Bowls.
Part I included the building years of 2010-12, when they put together a stout defense and powerful running attack and found a franchise quarterback. Part II (2013-15) was the first Super Bowl window, which did not turn out quite as well as it should have.
This offseason offers the chance for Schneider and Carroll to redefine their team — officially moving on from some 2010-15 stalwarts (e.g., Marshawn Lynch, Chancellor, Russell Okung) and remaking their offensive line. It will set the table for next offseason, when Schneider will have the flexibility to make some moves that could create a dominant team for 2017 and beyond.
While the Seahawks have seven UFA starters this year, they will have only one — Doug Baldwin — in 2017. And he might be re-signed well before that.
The Seahawks should have at least $25 million in discretionary salary cap space in 2017 (this assumes the Seahawks hand out six deals of at least $3 million a year this offseason) — and they could have as much as $35 million if they don’t pay a left tackle.
In 2017, beyond Baldwin, Seattle will have just a handful of second-tier UFAs (Steven Hauschka, Luke Willson, Jordan Hill, Kelcie McCray, Tharold Simon), a few key restricted free agents (DeShawn Shead, Marcus Burley, Garry Gilliam, Brock Coyle) and maybe a couple of veterans coming off one-year deals — a la Bennett in 2013 and Ahtyba Rubin in 2015 — the team might want to consider trying to keep.
While Schneider has re-signed 11 key Seahawks over the last three years, the only possible new deal next year would be Jimmy Graham — and that depends on how he comes back from a torn patellar tendon. If he does return to full health and play well, the Hawks probably will want to give him a new deal (which would lower his cap hit).
Lynch, Chancellor and Bennett all are slated to be free agents in 2018, too, but their situations all should be resolved this offseason. Lynch announced his retirement on Super Bowl Sunday, and Schneider will have to deal with the two unhappy defenders — whether that means moving money around, extending the deal or moving the player. (We agree with Dave Wyman on how Seattle should handle this.)
The 2014 draft class (Paul Richardson, Justin Britt, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Cassius Marsh) will be up after 2017 as well, but none of them have done anything yet to merit extensions next year.
So, with few free agents and extensions to worry about in 2017 and as much as $30 million in cap space, watch for Schneider to make another “splash” move next year — continuing his trend of surprising everyone with major additions in odd years: Sidney Rice and Zach Miller in 2011; Percy Harvin, Bennett and Cliff Avril in 2013; Graham in 2015.
With Okung, J.R. Sweezy, Patrick Lewis and Alvin Bailey all set to be free agents this offseason, Schneider will begin to reset the O-line now. And next year he will be able to build on his 2016 moves and ideally add a couple more pieces that set the Seahawks up for long-term stability (i.e., 4-5 years).
Schneider also can work on getting younger on the defensive line — Bennett and Avril (signed through 2018) both will play next season at age 30 and might not be with Seattle past 2018.
In 2018, Schneider likely will again focus on signing players to extensions. He will have to decide whether Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright deserve third contracts taking them into their 30s, and 2015 rookies Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett might merit extensions as well.
“We know that there’s a lot of future and there’s a big upside for us,” Carroll said in his end-of-season presser. “We have leadership and big-time players and leadership from the quarterback position, which is so hard to find. The connection of what these guys are like on defense really gives us a hope as we go into this offseason that we’re going to do something really special in the future.”
(UPDATE: This post was updated after news of Marshawn Lynch’s retirement Feb. 8.)