The 2013 Seahawks were something of a unicorn, the likes of which come around maybe once in a generation. The sheer volume of talent, the number of superstars on their first contracts, the way we were able to stockpile depth on top of depth; the 2013 Seahawks could’ve had an outbreak of smallpox and still come away with enough talent to do some real playoff damage.
Since then, we’ve seen 9 guys get paid, with Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner next on the list. While there was certainly a challenge in getting the talent level to where it was and where it currently is, the REAL challenge begins now: how do we keep producing a winner when we’re forced to pay our top tier quarterback like a top tier quarterback?
It’s going to happen. Maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe the year after that, but EVENTUALLY, we’re going to give Wilson the contract he deserves. And, with Wagner possibly commanding upwards of $10 million per season on average, we have a good idea of who the Haves are in reference to the Have Nots on this team. In essence, we know how this team is being built.
It obviously starts with the quarterback. Elsewhere, we’ve got a large chunk of money going to Marshawn Lynch for as long as he wants to remain a Seahawk. Jimmy Graham – while he won’t cost us a cent in dead money if we cut him – still counts an average of $9 million per year against our cap in base salary. The other major expense is Russell Okung on the final year of his deal. One would think if you’re going to pay ANYONE on the offensive line, it would be your Pro Bowl left tackle. But, with the way this team is constructed, Okung might be too rich for our blood.
For, you see, the defense is really taking the lion’s share of the cap space. Richard Sherman is our top cap hit until Wilson signs. Avril, Bennett, and Thomas all make bank; Chancellor and Wright are more reasonable chunks of money. And, Mebane is on the final year that sees him making $5.5 million. When Wagner ultimately gets his, it’s going to mean a lot of changes in 2016 and beyond.
For starters, you have to imagine Bruce Irvin is gone after 2015. The Seahawks can ill afford to make the same mistake they made under Holmgren, by overpaying for all three linebacker spots. Wagner’s a stud, obviously you lock him down for the long haul. But, as far as I’m concerned, you can go replacement level on the other two linebacker spots and get by just fine. Wright is a luxury who’s not killing us in the cap, but he also might want to watch his back in a year or two, especially if the injury bug strikes again.
To be honest, though, I don’t really have a problem with any of the high-contract guys we’ve got right now. I like pouring money into the secondary and pass rush. I like the idea of replacement guys along the interior of the line, while continuing to develop younger guys on the outside. And on offense, as you can see from the last three years, if you have a truly mobile quarterback who’s also accurate and looking more to throw the ball than tuck & run, you can get by while skimping on the offensive line. What the Cowboys are doing with their O-Line is great and everything, but it tends to all fall apart once the injury bug hits (which it inevitably always does). I’d rather do what the Seahawks do: find value late in the draft, and cheap among free agents, then train them at multiple positions so you have a contingency when guys get hurt.
Beyond that, while I wouldn’t normally be crazy about making the running back one of your biggest cap hits, Marshawn Lynch isn’t just any running back. When he leaves, I think the Seahawks would be better served going with a committee of young, cheap backs. But, as long as Lynch is around, you pay that man until he can’t carry this offense on his back anymore. Separately, I think too much is made of having elite, #1-type receivers. If you go back the last 10 years and look at all the Super Bowl winners, who are the truly elite receivers on those teams? I would argue even with the Packers, Colts, and Saints when they won, it was more about their Hall of Fame quarterbacks than it was about any of the receivers they were throwing to (would the likes of Marvin Harrison, Jordy Nelson, or Marques Colston be as great as we think they are if Kyle Orton was throwing to them?). The bottom line is: if your quarterback is good enough, he should be able to make the receivers around him better than they are. I think Russell Wilson is that type of guy. Hell, he’s helped make the careers of Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Ricardo Lockette, and he almost single-handedly made Chris Matthews the MVP of the Super Bowl had we ended up winning!
So, what should the Seahawks do going forward?
Well, I don’t have as great of a grasp on the cap as others, so I’ll stick with the broad strokes. For starters, pay Russell Wilson his money. I want quarterback locked down for the duration. Keep paying Marshawn Lynch as long as he’s in his prime, then make the tough cut if it looks like he’s done. Same thing goes for Jimmy Graham; keep him until he breaks down. Of the entire veteran wide receiver group, I think Doug Baldwin is the only indispensable one, but at the same time I need him to want to be here on modest contracts. I can’t justify paying Baldwin anywhere near Calvin Johnson money, so if he’s looking to get the type of touches someone requires to show he’s worth #1 receiver money, then he better sign on with the Packers or some other pass-wacky team. But, Baldwin’s leadership and rapport with Wilson is something you just can’t quantify on the stat sheet. If he’s willing, keep him around and keep bringing in undrafted receivers for him to mold in his own image.
Or, keep drafting guys like Tyler Lockett, because I think he’s going to be the stud of studs.
Along the O-Line, as long as Tom Cable is here, I think you try to skimp as much as you can. ((as a quick aside, I really think they need to keep Cable here long term, even if it means guaranteeing him the head coaching job when Pete Carroll eventually retires or moves on)). I’m not against Okung coming back, but his deal better be incentive-based, because he’s ALWAYS missing games! At this point, I’d almost rather the team extend Sweezy with Okung’s future money, because I think when it’s all said and done, Sweezy will be one of the better right guards we’ve ever had. As far as tight end goes, I don’t mind giving your top dog a good-sized contract – if he truly is a top dog. After that, I think you can skimp on your 2nd & 3rd tight ends and get by just fine.
Defensively, if you can hack it, give at least two pass rushers good-sized contracts. Michael Bennett is as good as it gets. Cliff Avril is a solid number 2. What’s interesting here is what Bruce Irvin does in his contract year. I wonder if he’s going to ball-out in hopes of getting a big-money deal. Part of me hopes he does, even though I’m already on record as saying this team can’t afford to pay all three linebackers. See, there’s an outside chance that if the team wants to extend Irvin, they’d have to get rid of Avril – who can be cut without any serious penalty if they drop him within the first few days of the offseason. I’m of the opinion that as long as Irvin really wants it, he can be one of the greats, and his prime is still a few years away yet. We’ve only seen Irvin in years 1-3; I could see his best years being years 5-8 (again, if he really wants to be great; I think it’s all mental with him at this point, because he’s got the physical gifts). Let’s face it, Avril will be 30 next year; will his skillset age all that well? I’m willing to go out on a limb and say Irvin will be vastly more valuable in the next four years.
For the interior, I think the Seahawks need to make a better effort in drafting Mebane’s replacement next year. I don’t mind bringing in veterans on smallish deals to plug & play, and I don’t mind these young projects we’ve got at tackle. But, I think we really need to go after a young stud in the draft very soon to keep our run-stuffing continuity going.
At linebacker, play it out. Wagner deserves to be here for the rest of his career. Wright should never break the bank. Irvin’s spot should be filled by a younger player (especially if Irvin moves back to LEO end should he be extended).
In the secondary, do what you’ve been doing. The L.O.B. is Earl, Kam, and Sherm. Plug that opposite cornerback spot with a modestly-priced veteran or a toolsy draft choice. Let the coaching staff do what it’s been brought here to do and mold young players into starters.
And finally, whatever you do, don’t skimp on your special team specialists. Everyone thinks punter is a great way to shave off some cap space, until you land on an inexperienced guy who keeps giving away huge chunks of field position. Same goes for kicker: Oh, just bring in anybody, it’s fine! Yeah, and then you lose a few heartbreakers because your kicker can’t handle the pressure, then you’re bringing in guys mid-season to compete, and ultimately it costs you come playoff time. I’ve seen it a thousand times.