The question isn’t whether the Seahawks will spend to keep their roster together.
The team has written $138.5 million into contracts to retain four of its players this offseason. But while re-signing Michael Bennett and then extending the contracts of Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin shows the Seahawks will spend and spend big, there is still a question about just where they will spend.
It’s the position that has changed more dramatically than any other since the arrival of coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. It’s also the position that Seattle has made the most limited long-term financial commitments. At least that’s true so far, but with K.J. Wright and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith eligible for contract extensions now and Bobby Wagner potentially in line next season, we’re about to see just how much Seattle values that position.
Wait. Value is a poor choice of words because we’re not talking strictly about importance. No one doubts the significance of a player like Wright or Wagner or Smith. It’s the level of the future salary, however, that is a bit uncertain.
We’re talking about cash, homey, and so far there is no position whose value has changed more in Seattle over the past four years than linebacker. When Schneider and Carroll arrived in Seattle four years ago, they inherited a linebacker group that was considered among the league’s most talented. It was also one of the most expensive.
Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu were two veterans signed to big-budget contracts while Aaron Curry was entering the second season of a six-year deal that was the third-largest in franchise history. Two years later, only Hill remained and he was playing on a one-year deal after renegotiating his big-bucks agreement following a series of legal transgressions.
In the past four years, Seattle’s linebackers have gotten younger and they have gotten faster and they have been decidedly cheaper as the Seahawks drafted Wright, Smith and Wagner as well as Bruce Irvin, who made the shift from defensive end in his second NFL season.
K.J. Wright has started all three of his seasons with Seattle and is entering the final year of his rookie deal. (AP)
Now, we’re about to see if they get paid because linebacker is the one position that has been absent from the long-range financial investments.
It’s not just Tatupu, who was released before the 2011 season when he declined a paycut. It’s more than Curry, who was traded midway through that season after falling out of the rotation. The Seahawks let David Hawthorne walk away in 2012 after he led the team in tackles for three successive seasons, and in four years they have retained exactly one linebacker with a multi-year contract: Heath Farwell, a special-teams ace who’s entering the final season of a three-year deal.
That’s not a criticism. Seattle is better off being younger and faster, but given the limits the salary cap imposes on a team’s spending, it does create the question of whether Seattle will be spending on its linebackers.
In that way, Wright may be a test. He is a player versatile enough to have started at all three linebacker positions in his three seasons in Seattle, and that versatility was showcased in the Monday night meeting against New Orleans last season. Wright wanted to match up with tight end Jimmy Graham, and the Seahawks’ regular-season route of the Saints showed that he could.
Whether he gets a new contract will be one of the first chances to see how much Seattle values its linebackers not just in terms of importance, but in terms of payroll.