Seattle Seahawks Extend Earl Thomas

You hear that?  That’s the sound of 31 other teams banging their heads against the wall in frustration over losing out on a chance to sign the best free safety in the game after the 2014 season.  I don’t care WHO these other teams have at that position, deep down in their hearts, every single team would rather have Earl Thomas manning that position.

4 years, $40 million.  The benchmark for all safety contracts in the history of the NFL.  Earl Thomas may or may not be the greatest of all time, but he’s certainly being paid like he is.

A lot of people like to doubt the Seahawks.  Truth be told, we’re unconventional in the way we build our team.  We took a too-short quarterback in the third round and gave him a legitimate shot to win the starting job … and then he went out and won it!  We took a troubled running back off of Buffalo’s hands and watched him blossom into one of the best two or three running backs in the game.  We dedicated our whole offensive scheme around running the ball, controlling the clock, and limiting turnovers in an era that’s evolving rapidly into a pass-first, Arena League-type system.  We built the best defense in the game largely around players most other teams either didn’t want, or undervalued.

Take a look at that last statement again, and think about the players who’ve made the biggest impact in the last few years:

  • Chris Clemons was received in trade for an underwhelming lineman, after the Eagles gave up on him
  • Bobby Wagner was a second round pick from a small school
  • Kam Chancellor & Richard Sherman were both fifth round picks, deemed too big & too slow to play their respective positions
  • K.J. Wright was a fourth rounder; Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was a seventh rounder
  • The Seahawks were killed for drafting Bruce Irvin in the first round; he went on to lead all rookies in sacks before converting to strong-side linebacker
  • Red Bryant was a defensive tackle converted to 5-technique defensive end

Hell, even Earl Thomas – a first rounder – wasn’t the first safety taken in that draft class!  I don’t think anyone doubted Earl’s abilities to be a potentially elite safety, but the vast majority agreed with the Chiefs in their opinion that Eric Berry was the cream of that draft class at the position.

Oh yes, even the Chiefs would rather have Earl Thomas right about now.

People doubting the Seahawks didn’t just stop with the defense.  We were doubted by the public at large in the Super Bowl; there was NO WAY we’d hold the greatest offense of all time down for very long!  And, then, when we did, the argument shifted to:  there’s NO WAY the Seahawks will be a dynasty.

It’s too difficult!  They’ll lose too many players.  THERE’S NO WAY THE SEAHAWKS WILL BE ABLE TO KEEP ALL THEIR ELITE STARS!

Well, the first domino to fall is Earl Thomas.  Actually, the first domino was Michael Bennett, but from a national perspective, this extension dwarfs Bennett by a large margin.  This offseason saw an increase in the NFL salary cap, which in turn saw a lot of teams go hog-wild with their spending.  As expected, the Seahawks were up against it a little bit, which is why we had to let guys like Clemons & Bryant go (ditto Sidney Rice, who we eventually re-signed to a much friendlier deal).  That opened up miles of cap room we could have used to sign any number of free agents out on the market.  However, we stayed strong and held firm to our convictions; we had a plan:

  • Extend Earl Thomas
  • Extend Richard Sherman
  • Set things up so we’re able to extend Russell Wilson next year
  • Hopefully have enough room to extend one or more of our quality linebackers next year

Now, if we could do all of that AND sign someone like Jared Allen for a song, more power to us.  It didn’t work out that way, and that’s okay.  We’re still set up well to achieve all of our personnel goals.  The Seahawks ARE going to extend Richard Sherman, they ARE going to keep Russell Wilson long term.  And it’s NOT going to cripple us financially.

With future rises in salary cap, it’ll help mitigate some of the additional cost.  In addition, you’re talking about one of the smarter front offices in the league; we’ll find a way to fill out this roster with quality players on the cheap at other positions.  Maybe that means restructuring or cutting ties with Marshawn Lynch after this year.  Maybe that means finding Russell Okung’s replacement sooner rather than later.  Maybe that means replenishing the linebacking corps via the draft every few years.

As it stands, there are no bad deals on this roster right now.  The only thing that comes close is Percy Harvin, but we still have an out with him after another couple seasons.  Cap Hell isn’t in this franchise’s vocabulary.  By this time next year, we’re going to have the highest paid safety, the highest paid cornerback, one of the top five highest paid quarterbacks, and one of the top five highest paid wide receivers … AND WE’RE STILL GOING TO BE ONE OF THE BEST TEAMS IN FOOTBALL!

This isn’t the Dallas Cowboys.  This isn’t the Washington Redskins.  We’re talking about the elite of the elite.  In that realm with the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Baltimore Ravens.  Where their down years still find them at .500 and their great years find them as champions.

Russell Wilson is the key to the whole thing, but if he’s #1a, Earl Thomas is #1b.  Earl Thomas makes this defense go.  He’s the leader, the heart, the soul of this team.  He makes everyone around him better, and that’s exactly what you expect out of someone making the most money at his position.  It’s not about the numbers with Earl, it’s about the W.  Don’t count the interceptions, don’t add up the points allowed as a unit; just count up the wins.  THAT’S where you find Earl’s value.  THAT’S what makes him worth every penny.

Oh yeah, and a week from tomorrow, he’ll be turning 25.  Best safety in football AND he’s got another decade-plus to go.  You know you want it …

What If This Is It For The Seahawks’ Defensive Line?

I’m of the opinion that the most important aspect of a defense is its secondary.  If you would’ve asked me this five years ago, I would’ve given you a different answer, but after seeing what this secondary is capable of – after witnessing the football genius that is the Legion of Boom – I’m convinced that as long as you’ve got a top-notch secondary, you can fake it everywhere else and at least have a passable defensive effort.

Now, obviously, the secondary’s job is made a lot more difficult if you’re not getting pressure on the quarterback.  The two phases really do go hand in hand.  The quicker you’re able to make the quarterback throw the ball, the less time your corners and linebackers have to cover their receivers and tight ends.  Of course, on the flipside, the longer you’re able to hang with those receivers, the better chance your line has of eventually getting home.  And, of course, if you’re able to generate that pressure with only four guys (and if you’re able to keep the rushing attack at bay), that means you’ve got seven guys out covering the rest of the field (with, at best, five receivers to throw to).

If I had to choose one over the other – an elite secondary with a pedestrian line, or an elite line with a pedestrian secondary – I’m choosing the elite secondary every time.  That’s all there is to it.

In 2013, the Seahawks were blessed like they’ve never been blessed before.  This defense was the best we’ve ever seen in franchise history.  Better than 2005, better than 1984.  Better than most defenses in the history of the NFL!  The 2013 defense had the aforementioned Legion of Boom in all of its glory – a unit that will go down in history as probably the greatest secondary ever.  And, they also had a D-Line that did more than its share of the damage (saying nothing of our linebacking corps, which is as fast and underrated as it gets).

The Seahawks have been more or less blessed on the defensive line for as far back as I can remember.  Jacob Green, Joe Nash, and Jeff Bryant took care of business in the 80s.  Cortez Kennedy, Michael Sinclair, Rufus Porter, and a young Sam Adams held down the 90s.  Rocky Bernard and a bunch of hired guns – John Randle, Patrick Kerney for a season, and Grant Wistrom for a few games in his three years here – did the lion’s share of the work in the 2000’s.  But, by the time Holmgren’s tenure ended, there was a real deficiency in the D-Line.  A lot of those Holmgren teams were lucky to have one guy who could effectively get pressure on the quarterback.  By the time Pete Carroll took over, though, the cupboard was bare.  He immediately went out and traded for Chris Clemons to be our starting LEO defensive end (and primary pass rusher), and that’s who we had for a while.

Knowing the importance of an effective defensive line – and knowing that we already had the secondary on lockdown with L.O.B. – in the offseason prior to the 2013 season, the Seahawks went out and picked up Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.  We’ve talked about it a million times, but it’s no less amazing how we got those guys at the prices we paid.  With Clemons coming off of an ACL tear in the playoffs the previous season, the pass rush was a real concern, and we needed as many guys as we could get.  Had the Seahawks JUST gotten one or the other of the Avril/Bennett duo, I think the fans would’ve been happy.  But, we managed to get both, and a whole new day in Seahawks football came to light.

Because in 2013, we had guys coming from everywhere.  Avril and Bennett, of course.  But, Chris Clemons also came back and played the bulk of the year.  Bruce Irvin was converted to a strong-side linebacker for another element.  Bobby Wagner didn’t rush a lot, but when he did he seemed to always wreak havoc.  Clinton McDonald was a revelation on the interior.  Tony McDaniel was another free agent signing who was a manimal at times.  Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant were their usual massive, immovable selves.  When you put them all together, I’m sorry to say, it’s probably the best defensive line rotation we’re ever going to see ’round these parts.  Every man had a role, and every man played his role to the hilt.  And, without a clear weak link, we were able to rotate guys constantly to keep them fresh not only during games, but throughout the season.  They were just as disruptive in Game 19 as they were in Game 1.  Simply amazing.

As all good things do, of course, this incarnation of the defensive line had to come to an end.  Red Bryant and Chris Clemons were let go for obvious cap-related reasons (and for not-so-obvious age-related reasons).  Clinton McDonald found more money elsewhere.  That’s two key pass rushers and three key guys against the run, playing for other teams.  In their places … we don’t know yet.  Michael Bennett is back long-term, and Tony McDaniel is back shorter-term.  But, there are still a couple openings to fill.

As has been the case in this free agency period, the Seahawks are seemingly tied to just about everyone.  I wouldn’t think the Seahawks are finished adding to this roster, but it’s pretty clear – with Jared Allen coming off the board – there aren’t a lot of major upgrade options out there on the free market.  I can’t imagine there’s a guy left who’s worthy of a major long-term extension.  You’ve got a couple of over-30 types in Will Smith (who missed all of 2013) and Shaun Phillips, and you’ve got Anthony Spencer, who’s never been all that great and ALSO missed most of 2013.  These guys can and should be had for a small fraction of what it would’ve taken to get Jared Allen (and for good reason, because they’re not as good, nor as reliably healthy).

So, maybe the Seahawks grab one (or more) of these guys, or maybe they get someone else we’ve never heard of.  OR, maybe they stand pat and look to draft some linemen.  Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that what you see is pretty much what you’re going to get in 2014.

Well, if that’s the case, I would direct you not to the 2013 Seahawks, but the 2012 Seahawks.  Remember that team?  The one without Avril and Bennett?  The one that was pretty much just Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin (whenever he wasn’t getting lost in the shuffle for long stretches of season)?  That defense was built a lot like this hypothetical 2014 defense is shaping up to look like, and they did all right for themselves.  Number 1 in scoring defense, number 4 in total yards.  11-5 record overall and 30 seconds away from the NFC Championship Game and a possible Super Bowl appearance.  WITHOUT Bennett and Avril, that defense was pretty fucking good.

I would argue that, on paper, this 2014 defensive line as it sits right now is superior to the one in 2012 that did so well on its own.  And you KNOW we’re not actually done, but if we were, I don’t think there’s all that much to worry about.

When you look at that 2013 defensive line, you saw Clemons, Avril, and Bennett all working together to destroy opposing offensive lines.  Well, we lost Clemons, but the other two are still here.  I would argue that Clemons is due to start declining any time now (if he hasn’t already, considering his diminished output in 2013 as he recovered from ACL surgery).  I would also argue that, when we traded for Clemons, he was a relative unknown in the NFL.  When he came to Seattle and started playing within our system, THAT’S when he broke out as an 11-sack-a-year guy.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  I think the Seahawks saw in Clemons the type of guy who fit their LEO defensive end quite well.  That braintrust didn’t automatically start drinking Stupid Juice once they won the Super Bowl.  They can find another relative unknown to replace their last relative unknown and be just fine.  They haven’t done that yet because they thought they’d take some fliers out on guys like Jared Allen and Co.  Why not?  If you can get a proven stud for a fraction of his worth, why wouldn’t you at least try?  It didn’t work out this year, but that doesn’t mean we’re stuck.  It just means the guy we DO bring in will be far less heralded (yet, I’m sure, no less effective).

So, in conclusion, I want you to remember two things:  if this is it for the Seahawks’ defensive line, we’re still in very good shape.  But, since this is likely NOT it for the Seahawks’ defensive line, just remember who’s running the show.  The Seahawks will be fine in 2014.  The only thing that can stop us is a slew of injuries at key positions (and even then, you have to think the depth we’ve still got will be enough to carry us through).

News Of The Day: Jared Allen Signs With The Bears

I don’t know a lot about the Bears, so I’m not going to get into how this makes things better for the Bears.  All I know is he signed for 4 years, $32 million (or 3 years, $24 million; or just $15.5 million guaranteed) and he ostensibly replaces Julius Peppers.

What this means for the Seahawks is:  we didn’t just waive Chris Clemons so we could turn around and give up all that money to someone like Jared Allen.

For the most part, I’m turned off by the whole “heart” argument when critiquing an athlete’s game.  How much heart does a guy have?  Does he care enough to be a winner?  And so on and so forth.  But, I’ll tell you this much:  living in Seattle, rooting for Seattle teams, you tend to get used to seeing guys who are just playing for a paycheck.  They’re different than the guys who care so much they keep sticking around the game long past their primes.  These guys still have a marginal level of talent left in the tank, and in spite of earning huge multi-millions of dollars in their careers, they’re still all about selling themselves to the highest bidder.  Winning doesn’t mean a thing to these people.

That’s why you hear about Jared Allen saying things like he’d rather retire if he’s not going to get the contract he feels he deserves.  Some guys will take a little less to be in the perfect situation.  Some guys actually care about contending for a Super Bowl and want to win that ring before they retire.  Some guys will take less money on a short-term deal in order to earn themselves a bigger payday while still getting that shot at glory (knowing the better their team does around them, the better it will reflect upon them if they put up the season they’re capable of).

I’m not sitting here begrudging all guys their chance at getting a big score.  I want deserving players to have enough money to provide for their children and their children’s children.  But, as an athlete, shouldn’t your number one priority be winning a championship?  Isn’t that what we all dreamed of as kids when we were out there playing touch football or pick-up basketball?  Maybe that’s unrealistic for everyone.  For instance, I can’t imagine a world where Jay Cutler is ever a world champion.  And maybe, if you’re just a lower-tier player, you’ve got to think about providing for your family and can’t simply pick and choose which team you get to play for.

But, this is Jared Allen.  He’s earned over $75 million in his NFL career.  I should think he’s set for life and then some, but what do I know?  Well, I know that Jared Allen has played for a non-stop parade of losers his entire career.  I know that this is the first time he has ever been a free agent, and probably the allure of that got the better of him.  But, Jared Allen had a chance to pick his destination.  If he’d chosen the Seahawks, he would have earned a fraction of what he’ll make with the Bears.  But, if he’d chosen the Seahawks, he’d be on one of the two best teams in all of football.  I don’t care how tough our division is, the Seahawks STILL have a better chance of winning another Super Bowl in the next two years than the Bears do in the next three or four.

He also had a better chance of bolstering his stats.  If winning a ring doesn’t do it for you, how about making the Hall of Fame?  I dunno, maybe he’s a Hall of Famer right now, without playing another down.  But, he certainly would have cleaned up on this team, given the talent on the line around him.

I have to wonder, though, is our division hindering our ability to bring guys in?  Even a little bit?  I know we have to be frugal with our money, with all the studs we have to re-sign soon.  But, is there a particular reason (besides the increase in salary cap) that we’re not getting the type of discounts we were getting last year?

Yes, if you come to the Seahawks, you’re coming to a champion; but look at that road to get there!  You have to go through the second-best team in football in the San Francisco 49ers.  You’ll have to play the Panthers and Packers and Eagles.  You’ll have to play the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers (all playoff teams from a year ago)!  And, you’ve got the 10-win Cardinals and the up-and-coming Rams twice apiece as well.

Winning back-to-back Super Bowls isn’t easy.  It’s especially not easy when you’re in the best division in football (NFC West), you’re playing the second-best division in football (AFC West), and you’re playing a champion’s schedule.

Are The Seahawks Ready For Life Without Michael Bennett?

As the season wound down and the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, fans everywhere pointed to one man and said, “Now THAT’S a guy we need to bring back!”  That man is Michael Bennett, because duh.

In many ways, the 2013 Seahawks – by the end of the season – were playing at an all-time elite level that even the 2014 Seahawks couldn’t achieve until the final game of the post-season.  But, if you had to pinpoint one difference between the two squads – the one reason why the 2013 Seahawks failed whereas the 2014 Seahawks succeeded – it’s obviously the pass rush.

The 2013 Seahawks were good, but the 2014 Seahawks were great.  The 2013 Seahawks had a Chris Clemons at the height of his powers and nobody else, which is why we struggled so mightily against Atlanta after Clemons was injured on that Washington D.C. “turf” the week prior.  The 2014 Seahawks had a slightly less-effective Clemons, but also had a Cliff Avril and a Michael Bennett.  We were able to come at the quarterback from all sides, which in turn propped up the numbers of some other guys, like Clinton McDonald and Bobby Wagner.

The key piece in all of this was Michael Bennett.  Because he could line up at defensive end opposite Chris Clemons when we were in a Nickel and still hold his own against the run.  And he could also slide to defensive tackle to let Cliff Avril onto the field, making that left side of the defensive line a non-stop killing machine.  While he didn’t play a whole lot on our base defense, he still showed up on the field more than quasi-starter Red Bryant.

If the Seahawks only had Avril and Clemons, they probably would have been okay, and it probably would have been good enough.  But, without Bennett, we wouldn’t have been as dominant.  That’s why people are so afraid of seeing him walk away.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but there’s probably a good chance he walks away.

I want him back as much as anyone, but this is the exact scenario I’m worried about:  you’ve got a guy who’s getting a little up there in age, looking for his first really huge contract, AND he’s got his Super Bowl ring, so he’s all set.  There are teams out there with more money to spend, who are willing to out-spend us for the rights to have Michael Bennett along their defensive lines.  Michael Bennett’s not trying to do the Seattle Seahawks any favors.  That having been said, there are some things the Seahawks can offer him that few other teams can.

For starters, we have an opening on our base defense.  Red Bryant was cut for salary purposes, but I wonder if it wasn’t also a symbolic move, letting Michael Bennett know that if he comes back here, he’s The Guy.  We also have an abundance of talent along the line, so we’re better able to give a guy some rest throughout the season.  Michael Bennett doesn’t HAVE to play every down.  And, over time, it’s going to keep him fresher late into the season when we need him the most.  That rest is also going to quell any injury concerns we may have.  Other teams will likely have to lean on him too much, which increases the likelihood that his shoulder problem comes back.  We have the luxury of playing him just enough, to maximize his potential.  Finally, we’re just a great fucking team.  Yes, the money you make is an important aspect of any job.  But, there’s also the matter of job satisfaction.  Do you REALLY think you’re going to be in a position to win a Super Bowl in Chicago?  Do you REALLY see Jay Cutler as a guy who’s going to lead you to a championship?  Because when I look at Jay Cutler, I see a guy who is going to throw a ton of interceptions, making more work for an over-burdened defense; no offense to Michael Bennett’s brother.

But, like I said, he’s got his ring.  How often do you get a chance to play with your own brother?  Furthermore, how often do you get to be wooed by a dozen different teams?  When will he ever get the chance to pick his own destination again?  I’m sure he doesn’t have any family in Seattle; maybe that’s something he’s into at this point in his life.  Maybe a team in a more weather-friendly city has an opening and a desire for his services.  Maybe he wants to live in a big city like New York or Washington D.C.  There are LOTS of reasons to not play in Seattle.  And, if I’m a betting man, I’m putting my money on “The Field” rather than “Seattle”.

So, are the Seahawks ready?  Can they handle not getting their man?  I’ll tell you one thing:  it’s exactly the reason why Chris Clemons is still on the roster.  Word is, Michael Bennett will cost anywhere from $6.5 million to $8 million per year.  You’re probably looking at a 4-5 year deal with maybe a $12 million signing bonus.  If we did bring him back on that type of deal, it probably means the end of Chris Clemons.  Which leads to the question:  are we better off with Michael Bennett, or a combination of Chris Clemons and a free agent veteran?

A reasonable Plan B to this whole thing would be keeping Clemons, signing Justin Tuck or Jared Allen to a short-term deal, and extending Clinton McDonald.  McDonald really made a step forward in his progress this past season.  He could be that interior pass rusher that we’ve been lacking all this time.  Reminds me of a Rocky Bernard type who could be good for years to come.  If we do this – which is really just a quick reload for the 2014 season and ONLY the 2014 season – we’ll need to draft someone fairly high to be a pass rusher of the future.  On top of that, though, it could shape up REAL nice for us to make a big splash NEXT offseason.

After 2014, Clemons, Avril, and any veteran free agent we pick up will come off the books.  That’s what, maybe $25 million in free money?  I don’t know which contracts are set to expire after the 2014 season, but I bet there will be a young free agent defensive end coming off of a monster season who will be ripe for the picking.  Maybe instead of investing in Michael Bennett, we slap some duct tape and super glue on the 2014 defensive line and make a huge push for 2015’s white whale of a free agent.

But, that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.  Pump the brakes, pal!

For now, I’d say Yes, the Seahawks are ready for life without Michael Bennett.  All will not be lost if he decides to go somewhere else.  There will always be veteran talent out there willing to accept a modest 1-year deal to play for a championship contender.  And who knows?  Maybe not signing Bennett will be a blessing in disguise.

Why Is The 2014 Salary Cap A Problem For The Seahawks?

I’m asking you, because honestly I don’t get it.

Before, when we were looking at a modest increase to the 2013 cap figure ($123 million), people were freaking out because the Seahawks were right up against it.  As soon as the Super Bowl ended, people were coming out with articles telling us what the Seahawks needed to do (read:  who they needed to cut) to be enough under the salary cap to fit in all of the guys we needed to fit in.  Michael Bennett.  An Earl Thomas & Richard Sherman extension.  Another edge rusher, another interior lineman or two.  Maybe some help for the offensive line.  And, of course, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.  Would it even be POSSIBLE to do all the things we needed to do to go back to the Super Bowl next year?  Or, would we have to make sacrifices that would ultimately hurt our depth going forward, making our chances of a repeat title a little less solid?

So, what happened?  Well, we’ve been graced with this gift!  Instead of a modest increase (in the $125 or $126 million range), we have been given a very big increase, to around $133 million.  That’s an extra $10 million to throw around that we weren’t able to last year!  What’s the big fucking deal?  How is having MORE money for an ostensibly cash-strapped franchise a BAD thing?

Because everyone else has more money too.

Ol’ Deep Pockets Raiders down there in Oakland just got a little more healthy in their ability to throw money bins at free agents.  And they’re not the only team like that.  All over the league, you’ve got teams with tons of cap room looking to make immediate splashes to get back in the good graces of their fans.

Here’s the deal, though.  The Seahawks have two guys we should be legitimately worried about losing:  Michael Bennett and Golden Tate.  Does this higher salary cap increase the chances of another team over-paying for either of these guys?  I suppose.  But, I would contend that if a team is willing to over-spend for these two guys, they would have done so regardless of where the cap ended up.  Michael Bennett isn’t going to be offered $7-$8 million more than he would have under a lesser cap, just because!  Furthermore, the Seahawks shouldn’t be worried about what other teams are willing to shell out anyway!

We didn’t get to where we are by playing ball the way other teams play ball.  We have a bunch of very smart guys in our front office, headed by John Schneider and Pete Carroll.  This influx of extra cap space isn’t going to make them lose their minds in free agency.  They have a price in mind for guys like Michael Bennett, Golden Tate, and everyone else in the league.  They may be willing to SLIGHTLY alter that price if it means bringing back a proven contributor, but they’re never going to get into a bidding war.  They’ll just go out and get someone else to fill the void.  There may not be another Michael Bennett out there on the market, because he’s really a one-of-a-kind talent.  But, there could be a couple of lesser guys out there that we could bring in at a similar price that might add up to 80% of what Michael Bennett can produce.  With the rest of the team set up, I’ll take 80% of Michael Bennett and I’ll like our chances to repeat very much.  Same goes with Golden Tate.  Same goes with everyone else.

There were teams out there with more money than us before this cap increase.  Our odds of re-signing the guys we want to re-sign have not changed one bit.  In fact, they may have increased.  We have more money now, and we don’t have very many holes.  We’ve got 57 guys signed up right now, and remember how many roster spots we’ll have in the pre-season.  About 40 of those guys are more-or-less people you’d expect to be on our 53-man roster when we break camp.  Sprinkle in some draft picks, and whoever we bring in/bring back from free agency, and there’s your team.  So, it’s not like we have to go out there and beat out all the teams for a bunch of different guys.  We just need a couple of important pieces, and maybe a few other depth pieces to compete for a roster spot.  That’s it.

Also, people seem to be forgetting that Seattle is a destination now.  All things considered, if the deals are close, would you rather play for a sure winner?  Now, maybe if you’re Michael Bennett and this is your last big contract, you’re willing to go just about anywhere as long as they’re giving you the most money.  Hell, you got your ring, right?  But, if the money is CLOSE, then you’re most likely coming here.  And, if not, then guess what?  We’ll find some other veteran who’s never won a ring and get HIM to take less money to roll with us (Jared Allen, anyone?).

And this argument that Seattle won’t be able to sign anyone to a big contract because of Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, and the like who are due hefty raises soon, just remember this:  the salary cap will be going up by another $10 million or so in 2015 and again in 2016!  The money will be there!  The league is more popular than it has ever been; the revenue won’t STOP coming in!  Quite frankly, I’m surprised the cap figures are only increasing by ten million a year.  Seems like it should be more than that.  But, either way, signing Bennett and Golden and Baldwin will NOT prevent us from signing Earl and Sherman and Russell.

#12 – Chris Clemons

To see the full list of the 30 most important Seahawks in 2012, click here.

Speaking of pass rush, here we are with Chris Clemons.

In his first five seasons in the NFL, Clemons had a total of 20 sacks.  In his last two seasons, both with the Seahawks, Clemons has had 22 sacks.  In 2011, he was tied for 11th in the NFL with 11 sacks.  In 2010, he was tied for 10th in the NFL with 11 sacks.  Over the past two years, there have been seven players in all of the NFL – including Clemons – who have had double-digit sack totals in each season (the others:  Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Babin, Terrell Suggs, Tamba Hali, and Trent Cole).

That’s some pretty good company.

One season:  you can write off as a fluke.  Back-to-back seasons:  that’s a trend, and in this case, a delightful trend.  If nothing else, he has proven to be healthy thus far in his Seahawks career (knock on wood).

I’m on record as patently against Clemons holding out to get a new deal, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s a bad player.  Quite the contrary; on a team like this, where pass-rush is at a premium, I think Clemons is fabulous!  I’m glad he’s on the team and I’m glad he’s going to be playing for us without incident in the 2012 season.

Moreover, I’m even more glad we addressed pass rush in the draft this year.  I’m hoping that Bruce Irvin proves his worth as a first round pick, because that will be good for the Seahawks in two ways.  The most obvious:  because he will be good, and it will vindicate the drafting job that John Schneider and Pete Carroll have done thus far.  And also:  because if Irvin is good, that should theoretically open things up for Clemons on the opposite side.

Let’s face it, most offenses are only going to keep one extra tight end to pass-protect, at most.  They’re not going to put a tight end on both sides to block our ends, that would be insane.  Therefore, either Clemons or Irvin SHOULD have a single man blocking him on most downs.  With their talent, you have to like those odds more often than not.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Seahawks’ pass rush will be markedly improved in 2012.  Last year, the Seahawks had 33 sacks as a team on defense.  This year:  I’m predicting at least 43, a 10-sack improvement.  That would have put us squarely in the Top 10 in the NFL last season; I don’t think that’s out of the question this year.  And, if we reach that goal, I would expect Chris Clemons to be a big part of that.