Aka the extremely premature, half baked attempt to guess what Seattle's 2014 offseason plan might resemble.
Seattle's offseason plan is pretty simple, lock up a few major contributors while freeing up money that can be rolled over to absorb some of the incoming Russell Wilson / Richard Sherman 2nd contract tidal wave.
Players I expect to be released due to cash considerations:
Even if Clemons unexpectedly has a big year in 2013, the fact is that the market for older pass rushers is virtually non-existent. John Abraham had a huge season yet only got 1 year, $3 million. Osi Umenyiora isn't even that old, and he didn't get a major deal. After his big 2010 season, Raheem Brock went untouched in FA until the Seahawks brought him back dirt cheap very late in the process. There is almost no way that Seattle pays Clemons $7.5 million. The cap hit to make him go away is $2.17 million. If Clemons plays well this year, restructure could be an option.
This one is iffy. One the one hand, Rice is making $8.5 million next year and $9 million after that, with a very low dead money figure ($2.4 million next year / $1.2 million after that). On the other hand, Rice is a good player who is in his prime, and we don't really have a replacement for him yet. If Seattle drafts a big multi-purpose WR like Brandon Coleman, that might free them up to unload Rice and his salary. Given the gap between his salary and protected money, Rice is a prime candidate for restructure.
If Rice hits FA upon being released, Seattle needs to maintain a good relationship and stay on it. It's not unheard of for a player to get released because of money and end up signing back (Trufant in 2012, etc). Rice's value around the league is lower than he deserves- remember too that this is a guy who didn't catch almost any interest as a FA in 2011. If Seattle can keep Rice for maybe half (or less) of his current earnings, that is a big win for the team. Our being a major superbowl favorite every year might tone down some of the bitterness over being released, too.
Personally, I think Rice is worth the money, the only reason he's being targeted is because of our depth at the position, and our financial needs elsewhere.
Bryant's contract has a roster bonus coming up in 2014, which creates incentive to get out of his contract before that date. Bryant was one of our worst defenders last season, and also the highest paid. Sure, he was hurt, and yes, he's a great person and an important team leader. But there is a reason why Seattle signed Michael Bennett and is trying Jaye Howard at the 5-tech... they simply need more pass rush from the position and that will never be Bryant's MO.
Unlike most of his teammates, Bryant's reputation outside of Seattle actually exceeds his true performance level, so there could actually be some trade potential if the Seahawks decide to go that route. I doubt they'd get more than a mid-to-late round pick, but that's hardly anything to downplay given Seattle's day 3 success.
Trade talks to consider:
This one is obvious. Even after a down year in 2012, interest around the league is still very high for Baldwin's services (as revealed by JS in a recent radio interview). Baldwin was primed for a bounce-back year even before Harvin's surgery opened doors. An RFA in 2014, Seattle can slap a 2nd round tender for very little potential cap cost and wait for the phone to ring. We might not get a team to sign Baldwin for the 2nd rounder outright, but I'd bet more than a few teams would offer a 3rd / 4th.
Baldwin is a good player and worth keeping long term if he can stay cheap. That's an option too. However, I suspect that Baldwin's reputation and value around the league is just too high for that to be realistic. A UFA Doug Baldwin would probably have value similar to Danny Amendola, who just received a 5/31 contract this Spring. Seattle is already overbudget at WR, even if they release Rice outright money will still be tight there (especially since no team in the NFL uses their WRs less than Seattle).
Sherman becomes extension eligible in 2014, and I suspect that's when we'll see him get his huge 2nd contract. However, I do not expect his contract negotiations to be smooth. Sherman will want to be the highest paid CB in the game, and with the silly deal Tampa gave Revis, that will be a challenge. If Seattle gave Sherman that kind of money, he'd have to play at an all-pro level just to break even in terms of value per dollar, and that's just not worth it, especially on a roster that is loaded with quality CBs. Seattle can't afford to saddle themselves with a contract that is all downside, and I'm sure they'll fight to avoid such an outcome.
I am fairly certain that Seattle extends and keeps Sherman, probably on a deal that emphasizes guaranteed money. However, just like the process of extending Felix Hernandez, trade discussions will be a part of the process. The team will keep all options open. If extension talks are very far apart and a very good trade offer is on the table, Seattle might consider it.
For the record, I'd be fine with dealing Sherman for the right price, even though he's one of my favorite players. The money saved as well as the draft picks earned could make it the equivalent of a 4 good players for 1 type deal, or, Seattle could maybe package Sherman in an attempt to land an NFL superstar at a different position (JJ Watt, Geno Atkins, etc). I don't think this happens. I think Sherman stays and has a HoF career here. I do think the possibility will be explored though, and it could potentially be worth exploring, depending on the situation.
Lynch is the heart of the offense, but it's conceivable that he might not even be the best RB on the team anymore, if Michael stays healthy and grows into an NFL job. Lynch is also one of the higher paid RBs in the NFL, so trading him would really help in terms of cap relief. If Seattle believes that Michael/Turbin/Ware can handle the job without Lynch, this is a trade option that should be explored. This is nothing against Lynch at all, but we may not need him after this season and Seattle needs to find relatively painless ways to free cash up for Sherman, Wilson, and others.
Richard Sherman, as outlined above.
Earl Thomas, who can probably expect a tiny pay raise.
Retained free agents:
Michael Bennett, if he makes Bryant expendable.
Breno Giacomini, on a short contract. Unless he struggles, or Alvin Bailey beasts his way into a starting job.
Lemuel Jeanpierre, on a minimum contract.
Whoever wins between Quinn/Tjack.
Real Rob stays on a cheap 1 year deal. Unless Ware shows he can play FB by then.
Walter Thurmond. Thurmond is the steal of 2014 free agency, and I suspect only PC/JS know about it.
Anthony McCoy. It sucks getting hurt and IR'd without playing a single down in your first contract year. That really helps his chances of staying in Seattle, though.
Lost free agents (the notable ones):
Paul McQuistan, we are loaded at guard and Alvin Bailey looks very promising as a swing lineman.
Brandon Browner. I think Browner is in the same boat that John Carlson was in a couple years back. Seattle appeared to have long term plans for Carlson, but Minnesota ended up overpaying and that was that. Matt Hasselbeck was a similar case. Somebody will pay Browner (what he deserves). I don't see it being us. The pay raise made me more suspicious that the team will have Browner test FA next year- buying a little loyalty now could pay off if Browner ends up being affordable on the market. I don't think he'll be overlooked though. I think somebody (maybe Jerry Jones or a similarly aggressive GM) opens the pocketbook.
Golden Tate. If I was the GM, I would have extended Tate the instant the 2012 season ended. I sense that the entire league is undervaluing Tate, and perhaps the Seahawks sense that and are trying to get cute because of it. I think Tate's going to snap Seattle's streak without a 1000 yard receiver this season and command more money in 2014 free agency then PC/JS are anticipating. And we'll lose him because of it. It sucks, but it is what it is. Thankfully, PC/JS have an awesome track record with WR talent, so I'm not worried. Also, Wilson is the kind of QB that looks elite throwing to scrubs. I hope they keep Tate, but if they lose him, I'll eventually get over it. It will suck. A lot. But I'll get over it.
A few players in the draft I think Seattle might have a watchful eye on:
Brandon Coleman. Coleman has top 10 pick upside, but his tape can resemble Chris Harper's at times. He doesn't really know how to fight for the football or work back for the catch, and his catching technique needs a lot of work. Even with those problems though, Coleman has been putting up monster numbers. That combination of traits could make him a bit like next year's draft stock version of Cordarrelle Patterson, where nobody doubts the talent, but question marks cause him to slide into the late 1st. Seattle desperately needs a big multi-purpose outside WR to replace Rice.
Austin Seferian Jenkins. With Zach Miller's long term health a question mark and his contract a burden, Seattle needs to find a new #1 tight end. Unfortunately, good tight ends are almost as uncommon as good defensive tackles, and the promising ones almost always go in the first four rounds. Fortunately, a recent draft trend has the top tight ends leaving the board in the late 1st round, which means Seattle might have a shot at getting ASJ, especially if his DUI/suspension impacts his season or draft stock. ASJ is very good blocker, a very sure set of hands, a terrific route runner, and also, he's very big. I don't really see him having Tony Gonzalez type production in the NFL, but I do think he's about as good as you could ask for in a station to station offense like Seattle's.
Anthony Barr. This is probably a pipe dream. Barr will probably hear his name called hours before Seattle picks. But then again, wasn't Matt Barkley supposed to hear his name called hours before Seattle picked in 2013? A lot can change in a year. Barr would be a monster in Seattle's SAM/LEO setup, and that looks to be an area of need next offseason.
Colt Lyerla: Seattle likes weird players, and they also like beastly YAC machines who run through people. Lyerla is not a TE you see every day. I'm not nearly as upbeat on Lyerla as some, but his appeal to Seattle figures to be strong.
Will Sutton: A disruptive 3-tech, I'm guessing that Sutton ends up a 2nd round pick, but I think he has 1st round talent, and he fits what Seattle needs pretty well.
Overall, I see Seattle as targeting pass rush or WR/TE next season. Pass rush because it's an area that's still a work in progress, and WR/TE because Seattle is too expensive there but doesn't yet have the means to move on from Rice and Miller without creating new problems.