To start off, I have been using a figure of $143M when projecting the NFL Salary Cap in 2015. It may be slightly higher or lower than that, but that's the number I'm going with.
Noteables: I don't worry about Percy Harvin's dead money too much in 2015, because there is rollover from Harvin's 2014 savings (he had a very low year one cap hit) to cover his 2015 cost.
Additionally, I have been using a figure of $11M to account for the players on the IR, Practice Squad, and the three specialists (Jon Ryan, Steven Hauschka, Clint Gresham). By the way, Gresham is an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2015, but I am sure the Seahawks can get him back at a reasonable rate near the $800k per year they pay him now.
So, factoring out dead money, IR/Practice Squad, and the Specialists from the $143M cap number leaves us with $132M to spend on the Offense and Defense, combined.
I start by splitting it down the middle -- and allotting $66M per side. Even before the K.J. Wright and Cliff Avril extensions, it was looking like the Seahawks would be spending more on defense in 2015 than offense, even with Wilson's new contract coming. With the deals for Wright and Avril, and the fact that they front-loaded Avril's deal, I actually think the cap will be structured more in the $72M-on-defense and $60M-on-offense range.
I believe a Bobby Wagner extension (he is not an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2015) is a higher priority than retaining Byron Maxwell, so I have allotted $3M additional in cap for him in 2015 (he is already earning $1.37M in cap in 2015 currently). Key factors with Wagner that I think are worth mentioning:
(1) He is the best linebacker Seattle has, most everyone would agree.
(2) He is worth franchising if things never get worked out (Wright was not worth the tag in my opinion).
(3) He is younger (24 years old) than Wright by one year (both in actual years and Draft year).
(4) Seattle tends to do shorter deals with their players (4 years), but in this case, I could see a five year deal (or five year extension).
(5) Once Seattle inks Wilson, they would have the franchise tag free (no other players are both "due" or worthy) when they negotiate with Wagner, which gives them another tool, and more freedom, to fit the deal in the cap long-term and create a win-win.
(6) Wagner will probably earn north of $8M APY in his new deal.
On Defense, Seattle now has about seven 2015 Free Agents of Note:
(1) Byron Maxwell: When the Broncos' Chris Harris inked his deal in the low $8M APY, I figured Maxwell would get a deal in the high $6's. The more I think about it, I now say "Low 7's," and I don't think Seattle has room. I will detail why below...
(2) Kevin Williams: Kevin has been a great signing, but I could see Seattle holding on doing another deal until they "shake out" some things, like extensions for Wilson and Wagner, take a look at NFL cap casualties, and run their Draft. I think Kevin may actually be fine waiting it out -- just like he did last year. He is already wealthy, and really wants to win; he isn't insecure about securing his "2nd contract" like many UFA hitting the market for the first, and typically only, crack at big money. I didn't include him in the spreadsheet for simplicity sake, and he is not a long-term solution, but I would not rule him out in 2015.
(3) Malcolm Smith: Is really just a special teams guy in the last dominant five game winning streak, with no defensive snaps. Some other 4-3 Defense will pay him next year. Kevin Pierre-Louis' main role in 2015 will be taking over Smith's presence as a core special teams player.
(4) Jeron Johnson: Another big special teams player, but may finally get his chance to compete for a starting role somewhere else in 2015. Has acknowledged on radio that while he's loved being in Seattle, he'll be looking to be a starter next year on another team.
(5) O'Brien Schofield: A great Seahawk, but I think Seattle wants to upgrade and get a young "difference maker" to add to the pass rush (likely in Round 1 of this year's Draft). Schofield is also a big contributor on special teams.
(6) Mike Morgan: Morgan is a Restricted Free Agent much like Jeron Johnson and Lem Jeanpierre were in 2014. I can see Seattle putting a low end tender on Morgan, and then renegotiating his money down to about $900k. Seattle did a similar strategy to Chris Maragos in 2013.
(7) Demarcus Dobbs: Dobbs earned about $1.4M in 2014. Could Seattle offer him $1.5M in 2015 and keep him around? I think so. Dobb's entire body of work with SF and short stint in Seattle make him a more interesting 6th DL to me than a Greg Scruggs. Seattle did not IR him either with very few games left, meaning -- he had some value to them to keep around for the playoffs. Seattle could also "double-up" on DL in the Draft.
All in all, when you add it up, there is really no room to fit Byron Maxwell in now without a cap casualty.
If you extend Wagner, the Defense cap is full at around $72M for 2015. The only cap casualty you could possibly do on defense, in my opinion, would by Tony McDaniel. Parting ways with Tony would net you about $2.5M in room on the cap. You would have to really get tight and start cap-cutting players on offense to pay for Maxwell, and I think at some point you have to draw the line -- $72M for just defense is a ton of money -- even for the best defense in the league.
I also think 2016 would have other problems as Wright, Wagner, Sherman, and Thomas' deals all balloon even bigger beyond their 2015 levels. Bruce Irvin would also possibly play on the 5th year option at around $7-8M, further loading your 2016 defensive cap.
The fact that Seattle front-loaded Avril (and did not do a "low Year-1" like they did with Bennett) makes the play for an outside DT free agent more difficult. I would not say impossible, but again -- more difficult.
Here's the chart I have created that shows my prediction for next year's defensive cap, along with how Seattle will replace departing free agents, how much money the new players and extensions will cost, and factoring in Avril and Wright's new deals.
Seattle needs about one of everything on Defense -- which is ideal. They need one corner for Maxwell. They need a safety to compete with Eric Pinkins to replace Jeron Johnson. They need a linebacker to fill out KPL's role, with KPL filling Smith's role. They need a pass rusher to replace Schofield and need to add more talent to the whole edge rushing endevour (weak-side preferably). They need an interior DL player, and multiple long-term solutions on DL both in 2015 and 2016.
Personally, I picture The Draft something akin to:
Rd 1: Edge Rusher
Rd 3: Defensive Line
Rd 4: Cornerback,
Late Rounds: Safety and Linebacker
If you spend six picks on that side of the ball, and Seattle can do that with 11 picks total, you probably add either another DL or another CB to the mix, and you can never have too many of those types of players.
Next week- I will write PART 3 and tackle the Offense and detail why they may go with a $60M cap budget in 2015.