By Danny O’Neil
A Super Bowl team generally spends the offseason trying to avoid subtractions.
The difference in Seattle is the Seahawks appear poised to make them.
Receiver Sidney Rice and defensive end Red Bryant have been released while speculation continues regarding defensive end Chris Clemons and tight end Zach Miller.
The possibility that a championship team would lose key contributors is not in itself all that surprising. A year ago, the Ravens had to deal with the departures of defensive starters Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Danell Ellerbe not to mention the retirement of Ray Lewis.
The fact Seattle’s first personnel losses may be self-inflicted is a fact both a bit startling and instructive about the Seahawks’ approach to their roster.
In the NFL, teams spend years trying to configure a championship roster, whether it’s searching for a franchise quarterback or outfitting that franchise quarterback with sufficient offensive firepower or building a defense that is capable of wading hip deep into the playoffs. Once a team manages to find that championship concoction it does everything it can to hang on to as many core members of the group for as long as possible.
This is the “Window of Opportunity” approach, which can be boiled down to the belief that a specific nucleus of players – the quarterback being the most important component – constitutes the bedrock for a championship team. The DNA, so to speak. And once you find that specific nucleus, you hold on to as many members of it for as long as possible in an effort to win as many games and titles as possible while that nucleus is intact.
If this was the approach Seattle was taking, then Bryant wouldn’t be going anywhere. He’s a leader on this team, someone who has started all but one game for the Seahawks over the previous three seasons and played well in 2013 as a captain on a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league for the second consecutive year.
But Bryant is also an early-down run-stuffer on a defensive line that features frequent rotations, and his current contract would count $8.5 million against the cap. Seattle could afford a higher price the past two seasons when so much of its nucleus was on the more affordable rookie contracts. It’s a little more difficult to digest that cost if Seattle wants to re-sign defensive lineman Michael Bennett – a free agent – or extend the contracts of All-Pro defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
As is the case with Red Bryant at defensive end, Seattle doesn’t have an heir apparent at tight end should the team release starter Zach Miller in a cost-saving move. (AP)
It takes guts, what Seattle is doing. Bryant is a captain, a leader and still an effective player who’s on this side of 30. But the Seahawks don’t appear to be operating out of the fear of what will happen if they lose a specific player – even one as important as Bryant.
There’s no heir apparent on hand for Bryant. Jesse Williams is a big-bodied defensive lineman, but he has yet to play a down in the NFL after being drafted by Seattle a year ago, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Greg Scruggs was emerging at the end of his rookie season in 2012, and he’s currently up to 310 pounds, but he’s also coming back from a torn knee ligament that kept him out all of last season.
Seattle doesn’t have any ready alternatives at tight end, either. Miller has started for three years and was the team’s top paid player in 2013. He was on the field for 58 of the team’s 60 offensive snaps in the Super Bowl, the leading man at one of the barest positions on Seattle’s roster. Luke Willson was one of Seattle’s most productive rookies last season, but as effective a receiving threat as he may be, he’s not anywhere close to the blocker Miller is, and may never be. Anthony McCoy is a free agent, coming off a torn Achilles, but even when healthy, he was inconsistent during his first three seasons as a Seahawk.
So what’s a championship team to do? Couldn’t blame it for holding on for dear life to veteran leaders like Bryant and Miller especially given the lack of depth at those positions. And maybe that’s what Seattle will do, trying to extend the window of opportunity by preserving players who have constituted the core of its rise to the top of the league.
Or maybe Seattle will look at its team – and more specifically its payroll – with an eye toward the future as opposed to strictly preserving what it can from its nucleus.
Subtraction is a part of life in the NFL, especially for successful teams. The difference in Seattle’s case, the Seahawks appear to be inflicting some of those losses upon themselves in the expectation it will help down the road.