Following an 11-5 record and a solid run in the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks appear poised to be a major player in the NFC for years to come with a young and talented roster built from scratch by head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
With the 'Hawks no longer rebuilding, how should the team go about refining their roster from a financial perspective?
It's a question that was easy to ignore until now, but some day not too soon the brain trust will have to figure out how to pay for the likes of young stars Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, who were named to NFL.com analyst Elliot Harrison's All-Under-25 Team.
At the same time can the 'Hawks afford to sit on cap space?
I suppose it depends on whether you think the 'Hawks should be conservative and save or go for broke in not knowing when the window of opportunity for this team will close.
B/R's NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland posted his thoughts regarding the Seahawks salary cap space last week in stating:
With such an abundance in cap space and minimal internal re-signings to be had, do the the 'Hawks spend big in free agency? Or do they sit on the excess and wait for next year, when guys like Richard Sherman and Golden Tate may be looking for new deals?
That's the biggest question right now, but logically it's safe to say the draft will play another huge role this offseason and free-agent activity will be minimal. An overabundance of talent is always a good thing to have, even if it means not having enough money to extend everyone on the roster.
In situations like those, you have to trust that Schneider and Carroll make the right decision on who stays and who goes.
While I certainly have grown to trust Schneider and Carroll over time, the rumor mill is already in full swing, buzzing with potential opportunities for the 'Hawks to pursue.
Before free agency gets under way, I figured it might be interesting to see what rumors are worth buying and which ones are worth selling.
OK, technically Harvin is not a free agent, but he is certainly a hot commodity.
Eric Williams at thenewstribune.com posted his thoughts when news of Harvin's potential availability became known:
I think Harvin is the type of explosive playmaker Seattle is looking to add offensively, and could be work the risk of giving up a second-round pick. Harvin’s injury issues could be lessoned by the fact that he would be more of a complementary player for Seattle, and therefore won’t be used as much.
That's all well and good, but Harvin's injury history and inability to stay out of trouble in the locker room is a bit of a concern for a team like the 'Hawks given that they seem to have discovered a winning mojo this year.
Couldn't Pete Carroll help convince Harvin to put his ego aside as a complementary player that Williams described?
It's possible, but perhaps more than anything I really don't see Harvin adding anything unique to the mix for the 'Hawks with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin on the roster.
At receiver I believe the Seahawks need someone with the size and skill capable of getting separation downfield, but also in traffic, especially in the red zone.
OK, what about real free agents?
First I think it's only fair to look at who the Seahawks need to keep before shopping elsewhere.
Last week ESPN's Field Yates suggested that the 'Hawks prioritize on keeping defensive tackle Alan Branch:
The Seahawks’ hybrid defensive front is predicated upon two reliable tackles who can eat up space and provide an interior push. Branch is a mountain at 6-foot-6 [sic] and 325 pounds, and he frees up space for teammates.
Don't get me wrong, Branch is valuable. The question is, how valuable? And what about fellow lineman Jason Jones?
Danny Kelly over at Fieldgulls.com addressed the issue of both players' upcoming availability in a post last week:
Both players were in Seattle on short-term 'prove it' style deals that each paid them $4M in 2012; Branch signed a two year, $8M deal back in 2011 and Jones a one-year deal for $4M, last summer. It's entirely unclear to me right now whether the Seahawks will try hard to retain either of these players, despite the fact they both logged significant snaps in '12.
I would guess the Hawks may make a play for DT Henry Melton or DE Michael Johnson, and also dip their foot into the water in with talks for Randy Starks, Sedrick Ellis, Frosty Rucker, Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant, Matt Shaughnessy, Paul Kruger and/or Fili Moala, among many others, to shore up their thin defensive line ranks. Naturally, the Draft is fairly deep at defensive line too, so that's a major option as well.
The point being—it doesn't seem likely that the Seahawks will break the bank for Branch or Jones, but would probably welcome either of them back with team-friendly or incentive based deals.
Couldn't agree more.
I think the 'Hawks should make an effort, but if somebody else comes along to make either Branch or Jones an offer they can't refuse, so be it.
Before we start spending the Seahawks money to bring in talent, I thought it would be interesting to share two points Peter King at Sports Illustrated made earlier this week regarding free agency this year:
1. The new young class of general managers are far more interested in building through the draft than with their checkbooks. Consider this point from one such young-turk general manager of a team that in the past has spent generously in the March free-agent market: "I'm more concerned with keeping our own team intact than spending money on players we could use, but who would create problems of their own." Although this team needs a wide receiver and pass rusher, this general manager fears the impact of high-priced imports on his locker room at a time when he's not going to be able to pay everyone big money.
2. The flat cap is dictating many decisions. NFL teams have been told to expect a cap of around $121 to $122 million over the next two years, with marginal increases after that, beginning in 2015. And so smart teams snug to the cap—Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta, the Giants—will lead the way by not jumping out in the early days of the market for any player other than a reasonably priced one. "More than anything this year, I believe you will see teams saying, 'patience is a virtue,'" one general manager said over the weekend. That means that the secondary market, which usually occurs about two weeks after free agency begins in mid-March, will be a busier time than the early days of free agency.
You almost have to wonder if the young-turk GM in need of a wide receiver and pass rusher King quotes is none other than the 'Hawks John Schneider?
If not, I certainly believe both theories shared by King could be applied to the 'Hawks this year given their success in the draft and the need to save money in years to come.
At the same time, every so often a player comes along that might be a little too hard to ignore.
Bill Swartz at CBS Seattle offers a few suggestions among some potentially available pass rushers, but one particular player stands out in my book:
One guy with lofty sack numbers, (11.5), is the Cincinatti [sic] Bengals Michael Johnson. He’s a tall drink of water at 6′7″ and 270 pounds. There’s a strong possibility the Bengals will use the franchise tag on the 25-year-old Johnson. If not, Seattle should be ready to pounce.
If the Bengals are too cheap to pay him or too stupid to franchise him, the 'Hawks should at least consider making an offer given Bruce Irvin is still coming along and Chris Clemons' ACL recovery could have him shelved for the start of next season.
Should the Seahawks go after a former Heisman trophy and Super Bowl winner?
Woodson said he has no plans to retire and would like to play for a contender, which the Seahawks are with Russell Wilson after going to the playoffs and defeating the Washington Redskins. Seahawks general manager John Schneider previously worked with the Packers, so the move for Woodson could be a comfortable one and would put him near his old home in California.
In theory it sounds nice to have a veteran presence to join the legion of boom and Richard Sherman has certainly made his feelings known on the topic with a pretty strong endorsement.
However I can't see the 'Hawks spending a ton of money on the aging Woodson.
Perhaps an incentive-laden deal based on performance might be worth a shot, but otherwise the 'Hawks might as well look towards the draft for extra depth at safety in support of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Speaking of depth, earlier this month Nick Ashbourne at 12th Man Rising put together his thoughts on potential free agents at tight end, wide receiver and defensive tackle.
A few options were interesting including future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, but Ashbourne sold me on the following player:
Jared Cook has always struck me as an underutilized play in Tennessee’s offense as he always seems to be open but only gets the ball occasionally. To be fair I probably haven’t seen enough Titans games for that judgment to be definitive, but it is the impression I get. The 6-4 235 [sic] tight end is very quick and can stretch the field when given the opportunity. I’m inclined to believe his best football is ahead of him as he turns 26 this year and has never played with a particularly good quarterback (I’m sorry decline phase Matt Hasselbeck, you know I love you). Cook is slightly undersized for the position and not much of a blocker so he has to be utilized carefully, perhaps in the ‘move’ tight end or joker role, whatever you want to call it. I think he has potential to be an excellent value coming off a season where he had a fairly pedestrian 523 yards receiving. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll get paid, but not to an absolutely crazy extent and if the Seahawks are in the market for a tight end the young and athletic Cook would be an interesting and exciting fit.
Unfortunately it seems that the Tennessee Titans also think highly of Cook and have made sure to franchise him according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke; nevertheless I still believe Zach Miller could use a little help more help next season in Seattle.
Granted there were times this past season where Anthony McCoy looked serviceable, but you have to wonder whether that had more to do with him improving or the presence of Russell Wilson?
My guess for today is that the 'Hawks will use one of their late round picks in the draft to find another tight end.
Finishing up with Nick Ashbourne's wide receiver and defensive tackle lists at 12th Man Rising you can see he has done his homework, but the players he tends to gravitate towards as favorites tend to be a bit too expensive for my taste.
Whether he's discussing the Chicago Bears Henry Melton...
Melton turns 27 this year so age is not a major concern. That being said, his price will be high, high enough that his contract will probably end up being an overpay to some degree. Even if that’s so, I wouldn’t mind overpaying for a player this young, with these skills and at a position of need.
...or the Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Wallace:
In short I’m a fan. I think now might be the time to buy a low (relatively speaking, this will still be a hefty contract) on Wallace. A wide receiving core featuring Wallace, Rice and Tate would be lethal down the field, giving opposing defensive backs nightmares. Wallace would look good in Seahawks colors.
Truth be told both players would look good in 'Hawks uniforms, yet unlike Jared Cook who may have been signed for a reasonable price I can't see John Schneider breaking the bank for either Melton or Wallace when you imagine there are several other teams probably willing to spend that much money (if not more) as well.
Not to mention there's always the potential of finding younger, far more affordable options via the draft. Given the 'Hawks recent success in building their roster with picks both high and low, I along with most of the pundits here are skeptical that the 'Hawks will make a big splash in free agency.
Right now we will need to wait and see what happens, but the temptation is certainly there when you consider how close the Seahawks came to not only winning the division title, but also reaching the Super Bowl.
The question is one of judging value. Do you spend your money on a guy like Mike Wallace now and go for broke, or do you save that money with the hopes you can some day lock up your home-grown talent like Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas instead?
Not an easy choice, is it?
How John Schneider decides to go about this along with Pete Carroll will certainly prove entertaining this year and for the next several to come.
Fingers crossed they choose wisely...