With the exit of Percy Harvin and the dominance of Marshawn Lynch this season, the idea of Lynch leaving Seattle in 2015 is seriously in doubt.
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Here's the good news -- the Seahawks can keep Lynch and meet their other offseason goals. Here is how:
BIG PICTURE FOR SALARY CAP
The salary cap is going north of $140M in 2015, and I am using $143M as a proxy for now. In my cap models for the Seahawks, I am setting aside $13M for practice squad players, players on the Injured Reserve, and the three specialists (kicker, long snapper and punter).
This leaves about $130M for both Offense and Defense, or about $65M for each side of the ball.
Fans should not worry about the $7M or so in dead money for Percy Harvin in 2015, because the savings from his base salary in 2014 will be rolled over to next season and cover that. There is no other significant dead money facing the Seahawks in 2015 as of now (Sidney Rice, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons will all be off the books in 2015).
I think Seattle will actually spend more on the defensive side of the ball in 2015. In this scenario, I have $67M for Defense and $63M for the Offense. I could see $60M Offense and $70M Defense, or also $65M Offense and $65M Defense).
I think the Seahawks will go after a big-time outside free-agent defensive tackle, re-sign K.J. Wright, extend Bobby Wagner and either re-sign Cliff Avril or get an outside free agent edge player for his spot.
And yes, $67M can buy you all that (but the details on that is for another day). In this $67M scenario, Byron Maxwell, Jeron Johnson and Malcolm Smith walk as 2015 UFAs.
I have written extensively on the type of contract Russell Wilson will receive this offseason in previous posts, but to recap -- I believe he will make north of $21M APY (average per year) and have a signing bonus north of $25M (maybe $28M).
That being said, first year cap hits are low, and when all the headlines are done, I think his "Year 1 Cap Hit" will be around $9M.
(As a Reminder- Richard Sherman has an APY around $12M but a Year 1 Cap Hit of $3.7M).
In Year Two, I can see Wilson being closer to $15-$16M and in Year 3, closer to the $20M mark.
I have Tarvaris Jackson coming back to Seattle on a one-year deal at a generous 12% raise off his $1.25M in 2014. I have his cap hit and salary at $1.4M.
I actually have 26 players in this offensive cap, which is one more than Seattle will normally carry, but my mock roster has 5 RB and 4 TE. A lot of times, Seattle carries 3 TE and only 4 RB. The other two spots go to Defense and the OL.
I do think Seattle will draft a running back this year, but not as early as I had originally thought a few weeks ago. Regardless, they should draft a running back in 2015 and in 2016 because after 2015, both Lynch and Robert Turbin will be Unrestricted Free Agents.
Lynch is due $5M in base and $2M in "per-game" roster bonuses in 2015. He also has his pro-ration of $1.5M ($6M signing bonus divided by 4 years). His total cap hit is $8.5M.
How can Seattle afford this? Because they have no big money player at wide receiver.
Tight Ends are relatively cheap in the NFL pecking order. Jimmy Graham's cap hit in Year 1 of his monster deal is only $4M (like Richard Sherman's Year 1). Seattle could go get a Jermaine Gresham or Jordan Cameron and have his Year 1 cap hit be $3.5M or less. They could also keep Zach Miller at his $4M in this scenario.
Again, tight ends are cheap, and this is reportedly a bad year for TE in the Draft. Wilson needs at least two to three reliable targets in the middle of the field. I do think Seattle should draft a TE, but it won't change the cap much from either Luke Willson or Cooper Helfet's projected numbers, so not a big impact on this analysis.
Doug Baldwin is relatively cheap at $4.4M and I have Jermaine Kearse on a 2015 2nd Round Restricted Tender at $2.35M. The same tender was $2.187M in 2014.
I have Seattle going wide receiver in Round 2 next year, as I don't think Seattle should (or could) try to wow an outside player to Seattle with bags of money in a system that does not produce big numbers for any one target (outside of a bell-cow running back).
I think Seattle needs to bite the bullet and develop their own guy(s), even though you may not get great production in Year 1. Then again, and I know 2014 was the best WR class ever, but rookie WR are producing around the league. Seattle can attract outside Free Agents on the D-Line and have a system and money that make that a "win-win".
Lastly, Ricardo Lockette should play on a relatively cheap Exclusive Rights Free Agent contract of perhaps $660,000.
I have Seattle drafting two offensive lineman in 2015, but more as depth interior players. I think replacing a Left Tackle may be better served in 2016. Okung's cap hit drops from $11M+ in 2014 to $7.28M in 2015. He may not be playing great, but I think Seattle may replace him with their first pick in 2016. Perhaps let him ride out his deal.
I have Seattle re-signing James Carpenter at around $5-6M per year, and have a Year 1 Cap hit of $3.5M. I also have Sweezy doing an extension, a year before he is a UFA, and getting a similar contract as Carpenter, perhaps a tad higher.
For comparison, Roger Saffold's Year 1 Cap hit was $4M and he was almost paid "Tackle" money by the Rams.
MY DRAFT ORDER POSITION PREDICTION:
Obviously, the board dictates the players left, and it will not go as follows, but just for cap projection purposes, I have Seattle going this way in the 2015 Draft:
ROUND 1- Edge Rusher
ROUND 2- Wide Receiver
ROUND 3- Defensive Line
ROUND 4 (I can see three picks here with comps/trades)- Cornerback, Offensive Line (G/C), Running Back
ROUND 5-6 (5 picks- some combo of OL, TE, LB, S and perhaps lastly, a S/CB hybrid, another CB, or another DL)
As you can see, even with all these contracts, Seattle is only at $63M in this scenario, and they have many options to trim more if Wilson's contract balloons past this projection.
-- They can cut Zach Miller and save $2.5M net.
-- They can move on from Kearse a year early and probably save $1.5M net*.
-- They could move on from Carpenter or Okung for big savings, or they can wait to do an extension with Sweezy until 2016.
-- They could also reach into the "Defensive Cap" pot if there was a compelling reason.
Again, I am actually allocating more money for defense in this scenario.
*(When I say "net" I include any dead money and the minimum salary of some other player taking their roster spot).
$8.5M is expensive in terms of cap hits for a 29-year old running back (Marshawn Lynch never hits 30 years old in his current contract with Seattle by the way), but Seattle can keep Lynch one more year. And, they probably should.
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