What does Baldwin deal mean for Bennett, 2017?

Salary cap logoEarlier this year, we said 2017 could be another “splash” offseason for John Schneider. But he dived into the deep end early, giving Doug Baldwin a $46 million deal this week.

Now the big question: What does that mean for Seattle’s 2017 salary cap? More important: What does it mean for the underpaid Michael Bennett? And, by extension, what might that mean for the highly paid Jimmy Graham?

Before Baldwin’s deal, the Hawks were projected to have around $27 million to spend on veterans in 2017 (assuming a $166 million salary cap). If Baldwin’s deal counts around the true average, $11 million, they will be down to $16 million (not counting any unused cap space they roll over from 2016).

With Baldwin signed, Seattle has no big-money free agents in 2017 — just role players such as Steven Hauschka, Luke Willson, Jordan Hill, Kelcie McCray, Patrick Lewis and Sealver Siliga, plus restricted free agents Garry Gilliam, DeShawn Shead, Marcus Burley and Brock Coyle.

Some of those guys might get better offers elsewhere, and the team surely will prefer to upgrade over a few others — if they are even on the club in 2016.

Assuming Gilliam shows promise as the left tackle, the Hawks probably will tender him at the first-round level, which would cost them upwards of $4 million. Shead might get a second-round tender, worth around $2.75 million. That’s also about what Hauschka might get on a new deal.

That quickly whittles the cap space down to around $7 million, which is still plenty to upgrade Bennett’s deal and keep some other cheap vets.

Bennett is set to be paid $7.5 million in 2017, the final year of the contract he has regretted signing almost since he put pen to paper in March 2014.

After seeing a few defensive linemen receive $100 million deals since then, Bennett apparently thinks he belongs in that stratosphere. He certainly has played better than his salary’s No. 29 ranking among defensive linemen.

The problem: Bennett will be 31 in November. As well as he has played for Seattle — he made his first Pro Bowl last season — no team is going to give him a $100 million deal, even if he thinks he can play forever.

“I haven’t missed a game in three years,” he told 710 ESPN in mid-June. “I’m always keeping up with my nutrition. I’m just getting better as I get older. I’m hitting my prime and I want to keep getting better and be one of the best in the league.”

Then it comes down to paying him like one of the best, within reason.

The Seahawks just gave Baldwin a second extension, paying him $11.5 million a year, and the Seahawks would be remiss to not give Bennett at least that amount on his second extension.

Nine NFL D-linemen make at least $12 million a year, so targeting that number would put Bennett where he seemingly belongs — around the top 10.

A three-year, $36 million deal would do that, extending Bennett through age 35. An $8 million signing bonus would give Bennett $15.5 million in 2017. At $12 million a year, he would vault over Baldwin to No. 3 on the team payroll as well.

$6 million men

Meanwhile, just $2 million in new money would count against the 2017 cap, leaving Seattle around $5 million to deal with any stray free agents and/or Kam Chancellor (also unhappy about his salary).

Graham’s deal also figures to be addressed in 2017 — one way or another. If he returns to health and performs like he did before he was injured last season, he likely will merit an extension before the final year of the deal he signed with the Saints.

He’s already making top dollar for a tight end; and, even when Rob Gronkowski surpasses him, he still won’t need to be bumped much — maybe to Baldwin’s $11.5 million. He’ll be 30 to start the 2017 season, so a three-year extension would make sense.

Of course, if Graham ends up unable to return to form, the Seahawks might have to make the tough call to let him go — which would return $10 million to their cap and allow Schneider to make another splash instead.

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