By Danny O’Neil
It’s not imitation that is the highest form of flattery in the NFL, but acquisition.
And after winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history, the Seahawks enter this offseason not concerned with making any additions nearly so much as they will be trying to avoid subtraction.
“We want this team together,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We want to see if we can keep this team together.”
That’s not going to be easy. Not in a league with a hard salary cap like the NFL has, and not for a team that is as talented and as young as these Seahawks.
A year ago, Seattle entered the offseason knowing it needed pass rushers – plural – after coming 31 seconds from advancing to the NFC Championship Game. This offseason, the Seahawks aren’t looking to add anyone nearly so much as they will be concerned about losing personnel.
Receiver Golden Tate is at the end of a four-year contract in which he went from being a rookie disappointment to becoming the team’s leading receiver in this Super Bowl season. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett is also scheduled to return to the open market after leading the team in sacks.
Receiver Doug Baldwin and tackle Breno Giacomini are two starters also unsigned for next season as is cornerback Walter Thurmond.
“Every decision is difficult that we have to face,” Carroll said. “And guys that are at the end of their contracts, those are big issues for us. We love the guys. We love what they do and what they bring, and we’d like it to keep it together the best we can.”
A look at the Seahawks’ 10 most notable players who are unsigned beyond 2013.
|• DL Michael Bennett: Led Seattle with 8.5 sacks while playing defensive end and tackle.||• DT Tony McDaniel: Had a career year after being given his first chance to start.||• DT Clinton McDonald: Third on the team with a career-high 5.5 sacks as a backup.||• CB Walter Thurmond: Showed he’s good enough to start in his first injury-free season.||• WR Golden Tate: Developed into Seattle’s leading receiver and one of the NFL’s best punt returners after a slow start to his career.||• WR Doug Baldwin: Made several key catches while showing he can play on the outside in addition to the slot. (Restricted free agent)||• RT Breno Giacomini: A starter the past three seasons and the offensive line’s enforcer.||• OL Paul McQuistan: Showed versatility while starting 14 games between guard and tackle.||• FB Michael Robinson: Resumed his roles as starting fullback and core special teams player once he was re-signed midseason.||• K Steven Hauschka: Connected on 33 of 35 attempts and showed increased leg strength.||– Brady Henderson|
That hope floated through Seattle’s locker room as well.
“I definitely want to be back,” Bennett said.
“I would love to be a part of it,” Tate said. “I definitely do not want to play against Seattle, I’ll tell you that.”
The reality is that over the next month, the business of the NFL becomes just that.
“It’s a business,” Bennett said.
That doesn’t mean money is the only consideration, but it’s naïve not to think it’s a consideration as Tate made clear when asked about a previous report that he would take a so-called discount to stay in Seattle.
“To an extent,” Tate said. “I’ve still got to take care of myself and my family. I kind of have a number in my mind.”
Seattle undoubtedly has a number, too. It’s getting those numbers to match up that will be the challenge over the next month and a half on up through the start of free agency on March 11.
There is a price to success in the NFL, and that price is the rising labor costs. Not only do players seek to be rewarded for their contributions to championship teams, but opponents are increasingly willing to pay a premium for parts of championship teams.
It is difficult to assemble a nucleus of young talent like Seattle has. It is downright impossible to retain it all.
And the bill for the Seahawks’ success is only beginning to come due. Cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas are entering the final years of their respective contracts and are eligible for extensions. Russell Wilson and Russell Okung will be in that same situation next year.
It puts Seattle in the situation of not just putting a price tag on what the contributions of a player like Tate are worth, but what a contract given out this offseason will prevent the team from doing next year.
The Seahawks aren’t facing the same crunch the Ravens did after winning last year’s Super Bowl when a number of key players were unsigned, foremost among them quarterback Joe Flacco.
That doesn’t mean the Seahawks’ job will be easy, though. The trophy they brought back to Seattle is proof that this team isn’t missing anything.
“We have what we need,” Carroll said.
Now, the Seahawks will try to hold onto it.