Despite winning Super Bowl XLVIII less than 48 hours ago, it’s never too soon to start looking ahead if you’re the Seattle Seahawks. Why? Because head coach Pete Carroll and his players aren’t satisfied with one Super Bowl championship. They are eager to defend their title and avoid contractual fallouts.
"John Schneider has done an extraordinary job of structuring this roster contractually and with the vision of looking ahead so that we can keep our guys together," Carroll told reporters after Sunday’s 43-8 victory, via ESPN. "One of the things that happens every so often is teams have a big fallout after they win the Super Bowl. We're not in that situation.”
Carroll’s right: The Seahawks aren’t in that situation, which is why their roster is built for more than just a repeat run. Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times told Adam Lefkoe of Bleacher Report that he would be surprised if Seattle doesn’t compete for championships for the next three, four, maybe even five years.
Even though three to five years is an incredibly long time in the NFL, it’s hard to disagree with Brewer’s assessment of the Seahawks’ championship window. When your star quarterback makes less than a million dollars a year and a majority of your starters are mid- to late-round draft picks, it’s easy to keep that window open longer.
Yet, that doesn’t mean the Seahawks won’t have a few tough decisions to make along the way. Heading into the 2014 season, the organization has $30,883,706 wrapped up in the defensive end position and $24,810,000 wrapped up in the wide receiver position, via Over the Cap.
Obviously, those numbers will have to come down if the Seahawks want to continuously re-sign their own players and add talent in the draft. The good news is, they can make a couple of key cuts at the wide receiver and defensive end positions that will help lighten the salary cap load.
By cutting seventh-year wideout Sidney Rice, Seattle would save $16 million over the course of the next two years. He carries a $9.7 million cap number in 2014 and a $10.2 million cap number in 2015. That’s a lot of money for a guy who has missed 15 regular-season games since he signed with the Seahawks in 2011.
Let’s not forget, his numbers have been less than impressive during his tenure in the Pacific Northwest. In 33 regular-season games for the Seahawks, Rice has tallied 97 receptions, 1,463 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. To put those figures into perspective, he earned $217,525.77 for every catch, $14,422.42 for every receiving yard and $1,758,333.33 for every receiving touchdown.
The other player Seattle should look at departing with is defensive end Red Bryant. Bryant is crucial to the Seahawks’ success against the run, yet his large cap number could force him out the door. From the beginning of the 2014 season to the end of the 2016 season, he is scheduled to make $23.5 million.
Moreover, Bryant will be 30 years old at the start of the 2014 season. Can the Seahawks afford a 30-year-old who only excels against the run? Possibly, but it’s unlikely. If they cut ties with him, Seattle will save $17.5 million over the next three years.
This, in turn, means the Seahawks could pour the $33.5 million in savings into players like defensive end Michael Bennett, safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman. Bennett is scheduled for free agency this offseason, while Thomas and Sherman are scheduled for free agency next offseason.
Nonetheless, it’s safe to say Schneider would like to get all three players long-term extensions before the start of the 2014 season. The Seahawks can’t afford to play the waiting game with Thomas and Sherman. Their prices are only going to go up.
Seattle could also allocate money to those three players by letting a handful of players walk in free agency. The top three names that come to mind are right tackle Breno Giacomini, left guard Paul McQuistan and cornerback Walter Thurmond.
Thurmond will command a decent-sized paycheck based on his play this season, while Giacomini and McQuistan aren’t worth the money they made in 2013. Both offensive linemen could return under the right circumstances, but they would have to make far less than they did last season.
As you can see, the Seahawks’ front office has plenty of flexibility when it comes to the franchise's contractual situation, which is why you have to tip your hat to Schneider. A large number of the contracts he signed off on are either short-term deals or heavily front-loaded deals. This makes for an easy escape when players start to age/underperform.
With the start of free agency being a little over a month away, Seattle has some tough decisions to make. It doesn’t have a lot of cap room heading into free agency, so it will have to get creative. According to the analysts at Spotrac, the Seahawks’ cap number for the upcoming season currently sits at $126,931,240.
The salary cap floor hasn’t been set for the 2014 season, so we can’t say if the Seahawks are over or under the cap. Yet, based on projections, one shouldn’t expect the cap floor to jump above $126.3 million. More often than not, Spotrac does a fine job of projecting the cap floor.
Nevertheless, this coming season is the only one that provides major hurdles. The 2015 and 2016 seasons offer tons of relief in terms of expiring contracts. This will allow the Seahawks to re-sign their franchise quarterback, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, outside linebacker K.J. Wright, outside linebacker Bruce Irvin and left tackle Russell Okung.
With that being said, the Seahawks will have to continue to draft well because that’s one of the major reasons behind their success. When a team drafts well, it gives the organization wiggle room and allows it to move on from players who it can’t afford to pay without a drop-off in performance.
Without trying to predict the future too much, the Seahawks are sitting pretty for the next few years. Their roster is built the right way, they don’t overspend in free agency, and they aren’t scared to replace a big-name player with a cheaper, younger option.
Now is a good time to be a Seattle fan. Its roster is built for more than just a repeat; it's built to last. This is why the Seahawks could be the next dynasty in the making. All they have to do is make it through the 2014 offseason. Things get a whole lot easier after that.
Unless otherwise noted, all cap numbers via Over the Cap.