NFL Free Agency 2014: How the Seahawks can sign everyone

Why is this man smiling? - Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle must now do something they've never done before: defend a world championship. It is possible to bring back the key players this offseason. Here's one way to do just that.

The cameras are off. The confetti has been cleaned up. The lockers have been cleaned out. The victory parade is long over.

The Seahawks won Superbowl XLVIII, but that was so last season.

A lot of grief has been made among fans who worry the Seahawks won't be able to "sign everyone". The worry is that Seattle has benefited from prodigious production from young players on their rookie deals or veterans on cheap "prove it" deals. Eventually, Seattle must pay their stars what is owed them but won't be able to bring other key players back at fair market deals.

I'm here to tell you how we can keep the band together. For one more offseason, anyway.

This plan primarily concerns how Seattle should go about re-signing, tendering and extending their own players and which players they should simply let walk. Danny and Kenneth have themselves some solid offseason plans of their own; check those out here and here.

First, I'll take a look Seattle's offseason priorities, current cap situation and the 2014 salary cap, then make some more cap space for 2014 by projecting cap casualties (cuts). Next, I'll breakdown each transaction by a tiered priority: top, 2nd, 3rd and 4th priorities. Finally, I'll list the remaining needs of the Seahawks that can be addressed via free agency and the draft.

Offseason Player Priorities

The Seattle Seahawks are in a very enviable position heading into the 2014 season; not only are they Super Bowl champions (duh), they have a strong core of talented, young and relatively inexpensive talent. This is a squad with very few holes. They do, however, have a slew of players facing unrestricted free agency and will have a few young stars up for major paydays soon. Here are the top priorities for the Seahawks this offseason:

Top Priority

  • Re-sign DE Michael Bennett

  • Re-sign WR Golden Tate

  • Extend S Earl Thomas

2nd Priority

3rd Priority

  • Re-sign DL Clinton McDonald
  • Re-sign DL Tony McDaniel

  • Re-sign QB Tarvaris Jackson

4th Priority

The 2014 Cap Picture

The reported releases of Sidney Rice and Red Bryant are now official, so the Seattle Seahawks are currently liable for $118,033,807 in player salaries. For our purposes, let's simply round down to $118 million. The final 2014 salary cap number has been set at $133 million, per Albert Breer. Seattle finished 2013 about $2.85 million under the salary cap and will be rolling that amount over to the 2014 salary cap. OverTheCap's cap calculator uses a figure of $135,845,004 for their salary cap figure; that will be the number I use. As a quick aside, go check out the cap calculator; it is both awesome and a total time-suck.

Using those two figures ($118 million and $135.85 million) the Seahawks have at this point in time $17,811,197 in cap space (or $17.8 million). This is a great start for Seattle and gives the organization plenty of flexibility to spend wisely in the offseason.

The Cap Casualties

While having almost $18 million seems like plenty of space as it is, it isn't quite enough to realistically check off every item on the list of priorities and leave room to fill the remaining holes in the team via free agency. That means a few more players must be released from their contracts to create the necessary space. I believe only two more players will need to be released, the salary cap being what it is. They are:

Player

Position

2014 Cap Number

2014 Dead Money

Cap Savings

Chris Clemons

DE

$9,666,668

$2,666,668

$7,500,000

Heath Farwell

LB

$1,666,668

$166,668

$1,500,000

The contract Cliff Avril signed last offseason was written with this offseason in mind. Both Avril and Clemons had similar 2014 cap hits, dead money and cap savings. Coming off a devastating knee injury playing in the sandbox that is Fedex Field, Chris Clemons essentially found himself competing with Cliff Avril for a 2014 roster spot throughout 2013. While Clemons played his tail off in the Superbowl, so did Avril, along with having himself a stronger 2013 campaign than Clemons. Clemons had essentially revived his career in Seattle since being traded from the Eagles for Darryl Tapp. Unfortunately, his time as a Seahawk will shortly come to an end, I believe. We'll always have his masterful first half against the Packers on Monday Night Football.

Heath Farwell has quietly become a favorite of mine this season. His special teams contributions are apparent but it was his goal line stuff of Daryl Richardson on 3rd and goal on Monday Night Football this season that showed me he could be just as physical as anyone else on this defense. I believe age is what will be the reason for Farwell's release; the linebacker is on the wrong side of 32 years old.

The release of both players will save $9 million dollars toward the 2014 salary cap.

Readily apparent is the absence of one Zach Miller from my list. Thanks to the nearly $10 million jump in the salary cap, coupled with his importance along the offensive front and as a complimentary weapon in the passing game, Miller will remain a Seahawk for one more season in my projection.

After the releases of Sidney Rice, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Heath Farwell, the Seahawks' cap picture is as follows:

Salary Liabilities

Salary Cap

Cap Space

$109,873,807

$135,845,004

$25,971,197

The 2014 Signings and Extensions

Top Priorities

Defensive Lineman Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett hasn't made it any secret that he wants to maximize his earnings potential in free agency this offseason. Why would he? The bottom fell out of his market last offseason even though he entered 2013 free agency as a top DL UFA per Pro Football Focus. He only ended up taking a one year "prove it" dead of a little less than $5 million, $3 million of which was his base salary. He won't want to give any impressions that he'd take similar numbers after putting together a stellar season along the Seattle defensive front. Here's the deal I believe he gets:

Three years, $21 million; $10 million guaranteed; $3 million signing bonus

Year

Base

Guaranteed

Bonus

Cap Hit

Savings

2014

$5 M

$5 M

$1 M

$6 M

($4 M)

2015

$6 M

$2 M

$1 M

$7 M

$3 M

2016

$7 M

-

$1 M

$8 M

$7 M

A similar deal to the one signed with Chris Clemons in 2012. It's essentially a two year deal but if Bennett maintains his performance through 2015, he'll see out the end of his contract.

Wide Receiver Golden Tate

It will be interesting to see how Golden Tate's market develops and what effect the extension signed by Riley Cooper will have on that market. Cooper's deal essentially solidified the WR2 market paced by Danny Amendola's contract (5 years, $28.5 M) last season. Amendola's deal might very well be the floor of Tate's deal, whereas Victor Cruz's deal ($8.6 M/year) could be his ceiling.

Five years, $30 million; $14 million guaranteed; $8 million signing bonus

Year

Base

Guaranteed

Bonus

Cap Hit

Savings

2014

$2.5 M

$2.5 M

$1.6 M

$4.1 M

($9.9 M)

2015

$3 M

$2 M

$1.6 M

$4.6 M

($5.3 M)

2016

$4.5 M

$1.5

$1.6 M

$6.1 M

($200 K)

2017

$6 M

-

$1.6 M

$7.6 M

$4.4 M

2018

$6 M

-

$1.6 M

$7.6 M

$6 M

Tate creeps above Amendola with a deal like this, securing a $6 million average annual value. With the guaranteed salary spread out and a lower cap hit in his first year, Tate won't become a cap casualty until after 2016 having already made $18 million from his deal.

Safety Earl Thomas

Earl Thomas is entering into the final year of his 2010 rookie deal, which calls for him to make about $4.26 million in base salary and hitting the 2014 cap at about $5.5 million. In four seasons, Thomas is a three-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro selection. His amazing speed, athleticism and intelligence allow Seattle's primary Cover 3 defense to work effectively. He improved his tackling in the 2013 offseason and was a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year.

Moreover, Earl Thomas doesn't turn 25 until May; he has several more years of productivity remaining and could even improve his already-otherworldly skills as he continues to get better. Earl Thomas can, should and will become the highest-paid safety in NFL history this offseason but won't sign anything until the ink dries on Jairus Byrd's new contract. With the Bills refraining from using the franchise tag on Byrd, Byrd will hit free agency and field all offers. That caveat in mind, here is what I believe Thomas's extension will look like:

Six years, $51 million; $21 million guaranteed; $11 million signing bonus

Year

Base

Guaranteed

Bonus

Cap Hit

Savings

2014

$5 M

$5 M

$2.95 M

$8.05 M

($13.7 M)

2015

$5 M

$2 M

$2.2 M

$7.2 M

($6.6 M)

2016

$6 M

$2 M

$2.2 M

$8.2 M

($1.4 M)

2017

$7 M

$1 M

$2.2 M

$9.2 M

$3.8 M

2018

$8 M

-

$2.2 M

$10.2 M

$8 M

2019

$9 M

-

-

$9 M

$9 M

This deal currently would easily make Thomas the highest-paid safety in the NFL. Of course, with Byrd hitting free agency instead of being slapped with the franchise tag, Thomas will be waiting to see the sort of deal he gets before signing an extension.

Second Priorities

Cornerback Richard Sherman

Thanks to both his stellar level of play since entering the league in 2011 and his flair for the dramatic both on the field and off, Richard Sherman has elevated himself not only to the upper echelon of  cornerbacks but to the front of the conscious of the nation. The former is due to his amazing skills and strict film study while the latter is due to his declarations shortly after single-handedly (literally) winning the NFC Championship Game.

Sherman is now eligible for a massive payment and should receive one this offseason. Seattle should not dare let their two defensive superstars hit free agency in 2015 and can prevent that this offseason. Sherman will get paid and I think it will go like this:

Six years, $57 million; $26 million guaranteed; $12 million signing bonus

Year

Base

Guaranteed

Bonus

Cap Hit

Savings

2014

$1.5 M

$1.5 M

$2.05 M

$3.95 M

($22.1 M)

2015

$3.5 M

$3.5 M

$2 M

$5.9 M

($16.2 M)

2016

$8 M

$4 M

$2 M

$10.4 M

($5.8 M)

2017

$10 M

$3 M

$2 M

$12.4 M

$2.6 M

2018

$10 M

$2 M

$2 M

$12.4 M

$8 M

2019

$12 M

-

-

$12 M

$12 M

Wide Receiver Doug Baldwin

In an organization full of players with chips on their shoulders or something to prove, none come close to Doug Baldwin. Undrafted out of Stanford, Baldwin finds himself as a restricted free agent after coming up with clutch catch after clutch catch throughout 2013.

The Seahawks are able to give Baldwin a raise in the form of an RFA tender, be it a first round or second round tender. With such a deep wide receiver class in this season's draft, I believe most teams will give pause to beating the $2.18 million 2nd round tender. Seattle will need to decide how they are going to pay Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate (or if they even can) in 2015 and beyond.

Kicker Steven Hauschka

You never really worry about having a great kicker until you need one, obviously. Steven Hauschka was as close to automatic as one could get in 2013, garnering him the nickname "Hausch-money". Never was his value more apparent than in the divisional round against the Saints. Hauschka was able to hit his attempts early on in the game, whereas New Orleans' Shayne Graham missed critical field goals that could have changed the game had they split the uprights. While Seattle will sign Hauschka long-term, I don't doubt they will attempt to bring in younger, cheaper competition to push Hausch-money.

Four years, $10 million; $4 million guaranteed; $2 million signing bonus

Year

Base

Guaranteed

Bonus

Cap Hit

Savings

2014

$1 M

$1 M

$500 K

$1.5 M

($2.5 M)

2015

$2 M

$1 M

$500 K

$2.5 M

-

2016

$2 M

-

$500 K

$2.5 M

$1.5 M

2017

$3 M

-

$500 K

$3.5 M

$3 M

Third Priorities

Defensive Lineman Clinton McDonald

McDonald was cut in 2013 then re-signed at a cheaper deal only counting $593,000 against the 2013 cap. McDonald then went out and played pissed off, having a career year as a secondary interior pass rush option alongside Michael Bennett. McDonald should be able to leverage his season into a respectable three year "middle class" deal and stay in Dan Quinn's rotation a few more years.

Three years, $8 million; $3 million guaranteed; $1 million signing bonus

Year

Base

Guaranteed

Bonus

Cap Hit

Savings

2014

$1 M

$1 M

$333 K

$1.33 M

($1.67 M)

2015

$2 M

$1 M

$333 K

$2.33 M

$666 K

2016

$2 M

-

$333 K

$2.33 M

$2 M

There are some interesting developments to watch for with the dramatic increase in the salary cap: how much will the cap rise in the coming years and how that will affect the NFL's "middle class". There are plenty of solid football players out there who can't maximize their value or earning potential. The recent stagnant cap gave teams a limited amount of first class seats (to use an airplane metaphor), even fewer business-class seats and the remaining seats are coach.

Even the Seahawks felt the effects of this: 35 out of the 53 (two-thirds) players on the active roster had a 2013 cap hit of below $1 million, 10 players had cap hits of over $4.75 million and 8 players found themselves in between. I'll be interested to see how the new cap changes things for players like McDonald to be able to move from coach to business class.

Defensive Lineman Tony McDaniel

John Schneider was able to capitalize on a non-existent market for Tony McDaniel in 2013, securing the veteran on a one year minimum deal ($840 K). McDaniel was a solid addition to the run defense this past season, proving capable enough to warrant bringing back on another one year deal.

One year, $1 million; $500 thousand guaranteed

Year

Base

Guaranteed

Bonus

Cap Hit

Savings

2014

$1 M

$500 K

-

$1 M

$500 K

Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson

The Seahawks had the luxury of having one of the most competent backup quarterbacks in the NFL last season and never once had to play him because of an injury to the starter. Jackson presents the same solid value to Seattle this offseason and re-signing him to a veteran's minimum deal will help solidify the roster's Russell Wilson insurance policy (protected by American Family Insurance, of course).

Fourth Priorities

Center Lemuel Jeanpierre

Safety Chris Maragos

Tight End Anthony McCoy

All three free agents have proved themselves to be solid depth behind critical starters. Lem found himself starting when Unger had to sit with injuries earlier this season. Lem is actually a Restricted Free Agent and I believe Seattle tenders him the right-of-first-refusal offer of $1.4 million. I wouldn't be too surprised if Seattle asks Lem to take less money as training camp starts.

When he's not perfecting his Garo Yepremian impersonation, Chris Maragos has proved to be a solid special teams player. Despite missing all of 2013 with an injury, Anthony McCoy had a solid 2012 season as the second tight end. While the emergence of Luke Willson makes McCoy's full comeback much more difficult, re-signing McCoy for a vet minimum deal gives him a chance to prove he's back to full health and allows Schneider some leeway in drafting a tight end this season.

After checking off each priority on this list, here's the cap picture for the 2014 Seahawks:

Salary Liabilities

Salary Cap

Cap Space

$130,707,211

$135,845,004

$5,137,793

With about $5 million in cap space before signing anyone from another team, Seattle is in a great position to sign a free agent or two with room left to sign the 2014 draft class.

The Unsigned

You can't keep the band together forever and this iteration of the Seahawks is no exception. Here are the Seahawks I don't believe will be re-signed this offseason:

  • OG/LT (giant air quotes on left tackle) Paul McQuistan

  • RT Breno Giacomini

  • OL Jason Spitz

  • TE Kellen Davis

  • LB/LEO O'Brien Schofield

  • CB Walter Thurmond

  • CB Brandon Browner (sad face)

  • LB Mike Morgan

  • S Jeron Johnson*

*It looks as though the Seahawks have offered Johnson a 2nd round RFA tender worth $2.14 million. Let's also assume they tender LB Mike Morgan, but simply to a right-of-first-refusal tender (also referred to as "original round"). That tender is about $1.4 million. The team's cap after adding these two transactions to the above moves leaves the team with $2,591,793 in cap space. That wouldn't be enough space to sign one or two solid veterans. However, Seattle can extend Thomas and Sherman at any point. Look for Seattle to possibly hold off on extending the two defensive stars until one of the following occurs with Johnson and Morgan: a trade to acquire draft picks or forcing both players to take pay cuts before the start of the season (as McDonald and Maragos did last season).

Remaining Needs

After all that work, Seattle would still have a few holes in the following areas: Right Tackle, Left Guard/Left Tackle depth, LEO depth, nickel CB depth, 5-tech, WR.

Some of the solutions to these needs already exist on the current Seahawks roster. After featuring through much of the playoffs as a 6th offensive lineman, I think Alvin Bailey is making positive strides toward starting at right tackle. Michael Bowie and James Carpenter will compete for the starting left guard position in 2014 and I suppose either could fill in for Russell Okung if necessary. I would like to see Seattle draft a versatile, athletic lineman would could play either guard or tackle (preferably with pick #32).

You can never have too many LEOs on your roster and Chris Clemons' departure leaves a hole in that position. I feel fairly confident predicting Seattle to draft a LEO prospect in the later rounds this season but I also hope they sign a veteran to a relatively cheap one year deal (around $3 million to $4 million). Justin Tuck would be one example: too old to receive a huge deal (30) and wouldn't be taking too drastic a pay-cut to play in Seattle (2013 cap hit: $6.15 million).

I believe our nickel corner for Week 1 is Jeremy Lane right now. Tharold Simon should be able to provide depth behind Sherman and Maxwell and I think Schneider drafts one (maybe two!) corners to provide nickel depth.

The release of Red Bryant means a starting job at the five-technique position is ready to be taken. After listening to an awesome interview of Greg Scruggs this past week, I am now officially rooting for him to assume the five-tech role as Red's heir. Of course, I'm also rooting for Seattle to draft Ra'Shede Hageman from Minnesota to also fill the five-tech spot. Until Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll come right out and say they're changing their defense, I'll assume they continue to utilize a big, run stuffing strong-side five-technique.

Even after bringing back Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin (and doing some crazy voodoo magic to ensure a full, healthy 2014 season for Percy Harvin), Seattle still needs a big, long wide receiver to replace Sidney Rice. Luckily, this deep WR draft class plays right into the Seahawks' hands. I'd love to see Seattle select Jordan Matthews out of Vanderbilt to fill that need.

There you have it, my take on Seattle's offseason plan. I don't expect the team to follow this plan but hopefully this can give you a clear idea that yes, Seattle CAN keep their defense intact, they CAN sign and pay their stars and they CAN absolutely win another Superbowl in 2014.

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