By Danny O’Neil
For nearly a week now, Seattle has paid the price for its success.
That cost is calculated not only in the departures of receiver Golden Tate and right tackle Breno Giacomini – who cashed in elsewhere as free agents – but the money it took to retain Michael Bennett and to a lesser extent Tony McDaniel.
Success doesn’t breed contempt in the free-agent era of the NFL. It breeds competition in the market place, and those players who’ve proven they can play a role on a championship team tend to command a premium in the open market.
But while Seattle spent the first few days of free agency paying that Super Bowl premium, the Seahawks may be about to get the advantage that comes from their position in the league’s pecking order. And yes, there are benefits beyond what gets display in a trophy case.
That benefit is the reason why Seattle has a chance of landing defensive tackle Henry Melton of the Bears or Vance Walker of the Raiders.
The big-budget deals have been handed out across the league, and neither Melton nor Walker were part of that first-wave of signings. That means their price wasn’t met, their best-case scenario failing to come through. They’re still standing in the NFL’s game of musical chairs, looking for the best spot to settle down.
This is where Seattle starts to look pretty enticing. Some of that is the Seahawks’ success, having won more than 10 games in back-to-back seasons. Even more may be the fact that Seattle just won a Super Bowl. And then there’s the fact that a defensive lineman need look no further than Bennett to see just what a season in Seattle can do to kickstart earning potential.
Bennett signed a $4.8 million contract in 2013, certainly less than he hoped for coming off a season in which he had nine sacks for Tampa Bay. But when that big-money offer never materialized, he went to Seattle, where he knew defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and where he knew the home-field advantage was truly that for a pass rusher. All Bennett did last season was lead Seattle in sacks, earning an invitation back to Seattle with a four-year deal that is certain to pay him $16 million and could top out at more $28 million.
Could Melton follow a similar approach? He was tagged as the Bears’ franchise player a year ago, a relentless active defensive tackle with great speed. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game, which has undoubtedly chilled his earning potential on the free-agent market this year.
Seahawks free-agency tracker
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Melton still has options. It’s just those options aren’t as lucrative as he first hoped, a fact that plays to Seattle’s advantage. The Seahawks can’t afford to pay another defensive lineman as much as they signed Bennett for. Not with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas eligible for extensions and a new deal for Russell Wilson looming on the horizon.
What Seattle can offer is a tremendous opportunity to be part of a defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL and whose crowd offers perhaps the best home-field advantage in the league. A year ago, that sales pitch was enough to lure first Cliff Avril and then Bennett to Seattle. Neither one of those players got the long-term offers they hoped for in free agency. Both opted instead for short-term deals on a contending team in a venue that would give them the best case to showcase themselves.
So while success may cost you in the NFL, it can also pay dividends. The Seahawks certainly hope it does again.