If the Seattle Seahawks hope to make three straight Super Bowl appearances, general manager John Schneider may need to work out new contracts for quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Byron Maxwell and several defensive second-stringers with a limited amount of salary cap space.
A month away from the start of free agency, the Seahawks already have their star defensive players locked into long-term contracts, but Schneider does have some major concerns on offense and the team’s overall depth before next season.
Seattle will be under the expected $141 million salary cap threshold next season with roughly $123 million already on the books. But Schneider has to find significant room for Wilson and Lynch, as well as the unheralded Maxwell and starting left guard James Carpenter.
For starters, the Seahawks must work out lucrative contract extensions for Wilson and Lynch, but also prepare a contingency should the latter opt for a much speculated retirement. Before their narrow 28-24 letdown to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, reports were trickling out that Wilson could be in line for the richest quarterback contract in the league and Lynch was expected to get a pay bump to $10 million next season.
The current benchmark for quarterbacks is the five-year, $110 million extension the Green Bay Packers gave to Aaron Rodgers, which kicks in next season to the tune of an $18.25 million cap hit.
Wilson, still on his rookie contract, will cost $817,302 against the cap next season, so it seems likely Schneider will try to have the 26-year-old’s new deal begin in the 2016 season.
Seattle reportedly offered Lynch as much as $10 million for next season alone, but according to ProFootballTalk the powerful back nicknamed “Beast Mode” is contemplating not even playing in 2015. However the report indicates the speculation could be the 28-year-old's way of holding out for a bigger pay day.
Carpenter, 25, represented a $2.4 million cap hit this past season while helping the Seahawks boast the NFL’s best rushing attack. And given his age and production he could be one of the more coveted offensive lineman in the league, in the same class as San Francisco’s Mike Iupati and Green Bay’s Bryan Bulaga.
On defense, the Seahawks aren't lacking for star power with defensive backs Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor already locked in, but Schneider likely has some depth concerns with six second stringers all up for new deals.
Maxwell said prior to the Super Bowl that he was excited to test free agency, and Schneider also publicly stated that re-signing the 26-year-old was a top priority. However, the Seahawks must keep cap room open for when linebacker Bobby Wagner becomes a free agent in 2016.
Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll will be able to address some of their needs via free agency, but they’ll have to dip into the draft for others.
Holding the No. 31 overall selection in May’s NFL Draft, and eight total picks, the Seahawks could certainly let a few players walk and plug in some young talent.
Of the second-stringers up for new deals, it’s likely one or more of this group is allowed to walk: defensive ends Demarcus Dobbs and O’Brien Schofield, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, linebackers Heath Farwell and Malcolm Smith, and strong safety Jeron Johnson. And to a lesser extent third-string defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith and fourth-stringer Landon Cohen.
Johnson plays behind Chancellor, a fact likely to play a big role in his negotiations, and Malcolm Smith was the Super Bowl MVP a year ago. Those two are likely to stay, with Seattle hitting the draft for a pass rusher and more linebackers.
With the penultimate pick in the first round, top-rated pass rushers like Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, Missouri’s Shane Ray and Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree are expected to be off the board when Seattle picks.
But according to CBS Sports projections, UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizua and Oregon’s Arik Armstead are teetering between the first and second round where the Seahawks could snatch them up.
Finding hidden gems in the middle to late rounds has worked out very well for Seattle in the past. Wilson was a third round selection in 2012, Chancellor and Sherman were each selected in the fifth round, linebacker K.J. Wright was a fourth round pick and Maxwell went in the sixth round in 2011.