BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 02/10/2014

Aftermath: Seahawks face tough decisions

For GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, the focus turns to keeping the Seahawks’ roster intact. It won’t be easy.

A happy tandem after the NFC Championship: John Schneider and Pete Carroll. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

All championship teams contain seeds of their own ruin. Only a select few survive intact long enough to become dynasties. With one Super Bowl in the books and a roster whose average age is 26.1 years, the Seahawks certainly have that potential for long-term success. Even Russell Wilson stoked such conversation, saying within days of Seattle clobbering Denver 43-8 that he would settle for four Super Bowl rings.

As Wilson also said in post-Super Bowl interviews, why not the Seahawks? Indeed, why not? In him, they employ a franchise quarterback. The defense is already hailed as one of the 10 best of the Super Bowl era, and the franchise possesses a perfect pairing of passion and smarts in coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.

For the next couple of months,  their efforts will focus on manipulating resources to ensure the roster will remain as close as possible to the one feted in last week’s massive parade through downtown Seattle. The Seahawks have $2.2 million worth of cap space available, hardly enough to adequately reward their substantial list of free agents and 2014 draft class.

WR Golden Tate is a top priority, given his durability, production  — he’s caught 144 of 149 catchable balls thown his way since 2011, according to Pro Football Focus — and value as a punt returner. But is Tate worth a huge outlay, given that his skill set is so similar to Percy Harvin’s? Or given that Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, both of whom showed their worth in the playoffs, are still-emerging receivers. On the other hand, Harvin’s frequent visits to the repair shop argue for the Seahawks retaining Tate as well as Baldwin, a restricted free agent.

Michael Bennett arrived from Tampa Bay in spring on a one-year deal and is up for grabs after an 8.5-sack season. Given his ability to play so well as an edge rusher and inside, the Seahawks will almost certainly want to re-up him, his stated preference, except for one thing. Bennett is 28 and this is likely his last chance to cash in with a huge deal. The Seahawks’ future commitments — Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas — may not allow them to offer Bennett the long-term contract he desires and deserves.

Other candidates for re-signing include offensive linemen Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan, defensive linemen Tony McDaniel and Clinton NcDonald, corner Walter Thurmond, kicker Steven Hauschka and linebacker O’Brien Schofield. But where’s the money coming from?

The Seahawks could save $5.5 million if they cut Red Bryant, 30, who is slated to make more money next year than Marshawn Lynch. Bryant is not an effective pass rusher, but is one of the league’s top run defenders, according to Pro Football Focus. Bryant’s age and salary work against him.

Seattle would save $5 million by releasing tight end Zach Miller, whose production dropped again in 2013. Carroll and Schneider will have to weigh Miller’s role in the run game vs. backup TE Luke Willson’s relative inexperience.

Releasing James Carpenter, a former No. 1 pick, would net the Seahawks $1.4 million. It’s likely that Carpenter, rated as the 10th-worst blocking guard in the NFL last season, will not be a full-time starter again.

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Chris Clemons returns. Carroll and Schneider favor youth and Clemons is 32. His production declined, and the Seahawks could save $7.5 million by parting ways. If Clemons returns, he will likely have to accept a huge cut from the $9.6 million he’s scheduled to earn.

Releasing 30-year-old WR Sidney Rice, injured the last half of 2013, would save the Seahawks $7.3 million. But Rice is the kind of big receiver Carroll covets and would become even more important if Tate departs.

Even assuming Schneider and Carroll, who have built one of the most fascinating rosters in recent NFL history, re-allocate their resources in such a way as to avert a drop in quality, forging a dynasty is a tall order, especially considering the talent level in the NFC West.

The word dynasty used to be reserved for teams that excelled over long spans, such as the 1957-69 Boston Celtics, who won 11 championships in 13 seasons, the 1947-62 New York Yankees, who won 10 in 16 years, the 1991-98 Chicago Bulls, who won six in eight seasons, and the 1974-80 Pittsburgh Steelers, with four in six years.

More recently, the dynasty window isn’t open as long. The 1992-95 Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls in a four-year span and the New England Patriots duplicated that achievement from 2002-05. While the Patriots continue to make championship runs, Jerry Jones has meddled the Cowboys into mediocrity.

So many things can stop dead a potential dynasty. Three examples locally:

Dynasty talk enveloped the Seattle SuperSonics after they reached the NBA Finals in 1978 (lost in seven games) and won the title in 1979. That team had a core of players that averaged 24.1 years, led by 23-year-old center Jack Sikma, 24-year-old guard Dennis Johnson and 25-year-old guard Gus Williams.

The Sonics went 52-30 in their championship season and had a more formidable roster the following year (1979-80), winning 56 regular-season games. But the Los Angeles Lakers did the one thing for which the Sonics had no answer: They drafted Magic Johnson. Soon they added James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Norm Nixon to a mix that included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the world champion Sonics couldn’t match up.

Seattle traded Johnson to Phoenix after the 1979-80 season and lost Williams for the entire 1980-81 campaign in a contract dispute. Two years after winning the title, coach Lenny Wilkens’ potential dynasty went 34-48 and missed the playoffs — the fastest fall by a champion in NBA history. By 1985, every player, as well as Wilkens, from that title team was gone.

The 2001 Mariners, constructed largely by GM Pat Gillick, won 116 games. But three years later, Seattle lost 99 and has been irrelevant since. Every player from the 2001 team, except Ichiro, hit the road by mid-2006.

The 2005 Seahawks, losers of Super Bowl XL to Pittsburgh, also seemed to have the makings of a team capable of sustaining. That club had seven Pro Bowl players, four under the age of 30, and an average roster age of 27.1 years.

But the best-laid plans unraveled within weeks of the Super Bowl. FS Marquand Manuel, 26, jumped to Green Bay in free agency, and All-Pro OG Steve Hutchinson, 28, poison-pilled his way out of Seattle in free agency and became a Minnesota Viking.

After much deliberation, the Seahawks awarded NFL MVP Shaun Alexander an eight-year, $62 million contract, starting with $15 million to be paid the first year (2006). But Alexander missed six games with an injury, launching the fastest decline by an MVP in league history. Alexander was out of football two years after Seattle’s first Super Bowl appearance.

Three years after reaching the Super Bowl with a roster built to last, the Seahawks went 4-12. By 2010, the entire Super Bowl team, except for CB Marcus Trufant, had turned over.

Schneider and Carroll performed one of the biggest roster re-makes in NFL history after they assumed command. It worked to the tune of 43-8 on football’s biggest stage. Now the tinkering begins anew. While the GM and coach have clearly mastered the art of controlling moving parts, dynasty talk, while inevitable, is premature, especially given the division gauntlet they will have to run again.


YourThoughts

  • Marcus

    The past comparisons in this post make me feel better. The 1970s Sonics fell afoul of personality conflicts and running into an EPIC player in Magic Johnson. Basketball is the easiest sport to do that in (see how well the Bulls did without Jordan). Football is much more of a team sport (as is baseball). You can argue the QB is the only player in football that might carry that much weight and I like our QB just fine. The 2001 Mariners? Terrible example. The team was old to begin with, but to their credit 2002 and 2003 were still good years. But the Mariners did not retool and kept playing on memories that soon ran out. Carroll-Schneider have made enough hard decisions to merit that comparison insulting. They’re not going to make the team worse because they like a guy or he moves more bobble heads. The last Super Bowl appearing Seahawks is a better example in contrasts. We have already drafted what is likely to be an eventual replacement for Lynch when he’s done. Who did we have behind Alexander really? Players seem to want to be here, which was never quite as true under Holmgrem (see Hutchison).

    Don’t get me wrong, they do face challenges in keeping the team together with the cap. But the article starts off well with those challenges and likely tradeoffs the team will make before diving into past comparisons that are not really relevant in terms of how this team is managed. :)

  • jafabian

    Looking back the Sonics fall from grace is both amazing and frustrating. The top 2 reasons are both named Johnson: Magic and Dennis. I was suprised for a coach who used to play the game and was renowned for his patience and ability to relate to players that he traded DJ when he did. (evidently he figured if they could survive the loss of Marvin Webster they could survive DJ) And for a former playoff MVP at age 24 to trade him within divsion for a 31 year old SG in Paul Westphal? Sure the Lakers getting Magic put them over the top but the Sonics did several poor moves afterwards.

    The same with the M’s. They sacrificed the farm, let the team get old and did poor moves in replacing those players. A team built on pitching and defense was replaced with hitters like Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Jeremy Reed and Rich Aurilla with poor results.

    The same could really be said of the Storm. The team, specifically Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, has gotten old and trading Swin Cash away has hurt the team. You can’t replace quality with quantity which the team tried to do in anticipation of losing Jackson for the season due to injury, then Bird afterwards.

    I’m confidant the Hawks have learned from Super Bowl XL. In many ways they duplicated what the Sonics did before and I bet Paul Allen recognized the parallels. I’m a bit concerned about seeing Russell Wilson with Jay Z. Seeing as how Jay is now a sport agent and he got a huge contract for Robinson Cano that could be something of a concern. In pro sports success can breed opportunists that won’t have the players best interests in mind. Hopefully Russell and the rest of the Seahawks, players and management, will realize that they have an oportunity to create something special. They can create history. That’s what Carroll and Schneider need to do with the players, keep that focus among them but also realize among themselves.

  • poulsbogary

    Yep, so here we go. After a wonderful week of celebration, the cold hard economic realities set in. Of course each guy will and he will want his cut, and he will feel “disrespected” if he doesn’t get it. Always happens.
    The rain has returned to Seattle.

    • Brett

      Not really. The Seahawks can lose numerous free agents and still be considered the favorites to return to the Super Bowl.

      • poulsbogary

        The fine line between the 49ers and hawks is closer than you think brett.

        • Andrew

          No I think it’s really farther than you think poulsbogary.
          If you look back at the beginning of last seasoand ifn the 9ers were missing their key WR in Crabtree and without him it looked like they weren’t going to even make the playoffs, getting blown out in week 2 by the Hawks 29 – 3. And when he came back they got hot.
          Seahawks were in a similar situation without Harvin all season and Rice in the last half, but they never got blown out all year and beat SF without either of them in the.Conference Championship game.

          So what I’m trying to say is that even though it was really close when these 2 teams played last the Hawks were still missing their top 2 WRs. The Saints had the 2nd best passing D in the league last year. look at the difference in how we moved the ball in the first half with Harvin and struggled without him in the 2nd half, in the divisional round.

          But that’s last year.
          Next year I’m positive the Hawks will add some depth at WR so a struggling offense should not be a problem and if the Hawks offense isn’t struggling and the D is playing like they did the last half of the season, no one else will be close

          The Hawks have so much depth and players

  • Mort McSnerd

    Don’t all teams face these issues? Won’t, for example, the entire division have many of the same problems? Or all of football, for that matter?

    This is where a great GM will make the difference. I believe we have one.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    You cannot blame Steve Hutchinson for bailing on us given the obscene money and chance to play in the midwest where he grew up…but you never heard anything uttered from that man like Tate and Bennett uttered after the big win. These guys WANT to come back and it appears (they)might even work with the Hawks in making that happen…. but make no mistake?If they are fortunate enough to resign?Micheal will not have to call a Sea~restaurant pretending to be Russ anymore.

    Nothing new. Winning costs you a chunk of bucks and thats probably why in our lifetimes you will never see a dynasty like the 70s Steelers again. The Salary cap is a necessary cog but is hard to circumvent.

    John S is a wizard , though. God speed in keeping this team mostly intact John.

    Man training camp seems a long way away. Lets hope a real lust by our free agents to remain a Seahawk brings back all of the guys Pete wants. And that we want for that matter…

    Go Hawks!

    • oldfan

      I never blamed Hutchinson. But I do blame the NFL for allowing that ridiculous poison-pill clause that specifically excluded the Hawks from matching the Viking’s offer (and, to an extent, Holmgren and Ruskell for not franchising him).

      If a dynasty is winning multiple championships, then I think it’s possible. In the 90′s the Cowboys won 3 of 4 years. The Patriots did it ten years ago (as well as being relevant to any Super Bowl chase since). Much as I hate to say it, even the 49ers were close to going to three in a row.

      When you include the Niners of the 80′s, every decade since the 60′s (Packers) has had that signature team.

      Sustained excellence is possible in the modern, salary-capped era. It takes good quarterbacking, great coaching, and smart management. Call me a homer but I think the Seahawks have all three. We could be the team of the 20-teens.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Yes to goof on that thought?The poison pill scenario is a bitter pill to swallow indeed…it took til the Percy Harvin trade for me to stop disliking the Vikings so much (and Im not even sure that is true cuz i whooped it up plenty when we shellacked em good the last 2 games)…

        I said this in another post when i predicted for 2 weeks that the Hawks would win the SuperBowl 31~17 never in my wildest dreams thinking we could hold Manning to his lowest total of ONE TD in a Denver uniform that i liked Drew Brees confidence when asked how his team could deal(win) against such a dominant defense as Seattle’s in the play offs?

        He said ” it will be tough but if there’s a team that can do this it is us.”
        I think this can apply to Seattle too…if there’s a team out there that can absorb the loss of some key players due to salary cap issues and return to the SB? Its us. I like your premise and vision and i think we are all in on that line of reasoning. As Russ said the only way to win multiple SBs is to win the 1st one.
        Done.
        Go Hawks!

        • oldfan

          Well, to quote Russell further, “Why not us? Go Hawks!”

  • RadioGuy

    It’s a given that players on a championship team want and deserve more money. This is a business, and what can these players achieve above and beyond the Lombardi Trophy? The challenge with the Seahawks is not Paul Allen’s ability, or even willingness, to give the players raises, it’s about how it all fits in under the salary cap. Carmen Policy was a genius at working the cap with the 49ers and John Schneider seems to be the kind of guy who can figure it out how to make it work (if he hasn’t already).

    My thinking is that there will be people missing this fall. There will be guys who want more than the team is willing to pay them…that’s just the nature of the NFL. I do think there are players who’ll take less to stay with something as special as the Seahawks have created. I can’t think of a situation in the league that’s better to be a part of than the one in Seattle. The brilliance of Schneider and Carroll the past few seasons has been their ability to identify often-overlooked talent that fits within their system, then figure out how to plug them in. If the “Next Man Up” philosophy works anywhere, it’s here.

    If reason prevails, the Seahawks should be very good for a long, long time.

    • poulsbogary

      Tate must be one of the dimmest bulbs on the planet to publicly give away a negotiating stance. But man he sure can catch a football.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Rumor has it that they will buy him a Top Pot donut franchise as a little under the table money to stay here….if he is a dim bulb we need to get him to teach that manner to a few more of these multi ~millionaires so most of ‘em can stay… I personally think he showed more loyalty than i would have given him credit for given his massive (but healthy) ego. He is willing to stay for less…and i know Carroll loves him.

        • poulsbogary

          Ha ha, a donut franchise! I like it. More so, I can picture when golden announced he would take less salary, the hawk front office salary cap negotiators immediately broke into whooping and hollering high fives.

          • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

            pulling out the 40 year old scotch and taking straight shots and doing the victory dance..snoopy dance…whatever
            …yup…they had to like that rhetoric….

  • oldfan

    I suppose it is time for us all to come back to earth. You only need to look at the last couple of Super Bowl winners to see how fast it can all fall apart. Keeping it going is tougher than getting there.
    But I feel no reason to doubt Carroll and Schneider. Winning a Super Bowl was only part of the plan.
    Personally I’m looking forward to seeing how they go about it. I can look at the list of free agents and guys who need to be extended and know who I’d go after. It’ll be interesting to see who the brain trust (who know more about the players and football than I do) think are the priorities, who who they can work around, and who is already on this roster that are ready to step up. There were intriguing guys from last year’s draft that haven’t had the chance to contribute much yet.
    Every team is in the same boat now, but most of those teams are headed by the same coaches and GMs that built their teams last year. Pete and John out shone them last year, why not next year?

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Feb 17th to march 3rd you can apply the franchise tag…do you think it will be steven hauschka ?