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Clayton: Earl Thomas’ future among top priorities for Seahawks to figure out this offseason

All-Pro safety Earl Thomas has one season left on his current deal with the Seahawks. (AP)

Clearly, this will be an offseason of major change for the Seattle Seahawks.

The defense will remove several core members. On offense, the team will have to rebuild the running game and continue to figure out what is needed to improve the line. And on special teams, they will auditioning new kickers.

Clayton: What went missing from Seahawks’ winning formula in 2017

Over the next month, we’ll be discussing the upcoming changes and options. For now, though, let’s look at a few things to keep in mind for the offseason rebuild.

The Seahawks can’t afford to be too active in unrestricted free agency. Because the 2017 Seahawks free agent class wasn’t going to generate a lot of lost players that would generate compensatory picks, the Seahawks hit the free agent market and signed eight unrestricted free agents to short-term deals before the season. That option will be limited this year because the Seahawks could lose several free agents who can generate decent draft choices. Here is how the compensatory game is played: a team gets as many as four compensatory picks, based on how many more free agents it loses than signs. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will be considered one of the best free agents this offseason. If the Seahawks can’t get him to sign a new contract, they would get a third round compensatory in 2019. Jimmy Graham, Bradley McDougald, Paul Richardson and Byron Maxwell are also on the list of unrestricted free agents who could also net decent contracts and quality compensatory picks. Having made so many trades in 2017 to upgrade the roster, the Seahawks need to add draft choices – and by the way, teams now have the luxury to trade 2019 compensatory picks and gain picks in 2018.

John Schneider is more valuable than ever. In Schneider’s old contract, the Seahawks general manager had a clause in his contract that would have allowed him to go to Green Bay if Packers GM Ted Thompson retired. Growing up in Wisconsin, that was a dream job for Schneider, but those options ended when he signed his most recent contract extension. His value to Seattle exceeds any thoughts of letting him go to the Packers. He has to stay. Schneider is one of the best in the game at maneuvering in the draft. With no choices in the second and third rounds, Schneider could trade down from the No. 18 overall selection of this year’s draft to add more picks and help fill holes. Schneider did that last year with draft day trades that helped get four prospects for the secondary. The next general manager wouldn’t have those skills.

Figuring out Earl Thomas’ future will be important. Thomas would be the best free agent in the game in 2019. The longer he plays, the closer he moves toward Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration. But there might be a temptation before he hits the open market to trade him for high value. Like Richard Sherman last year, the Seahawks can’t think about dealing Thomas for anything less than a first round and fourth round pick. Still, it would be better to keep him because he is in his prime. Thomas makes $10 million a year, but he’s going to ask for top dollar after the 2018 season. Kansas City’s Eric Berry is the highest paid safety in the NFL at $13 million a year. It would probably takes $14-15 million per year to get a long-term deal done by 2019 with Thomas.

The team has decisions to make with some young players. To keep as many high-paid players on the roster going forward as they have, the Seahawks have to determine whether some recent draft choices could be starting options. Heading the list are safety Delano Hill, defensive tackle Nazair Jones, guard Jordan Roos and wide receiver Amara Darboh. Darboh’s name is important if the Seahawks can’t keep Paul Richardson. Tyler Lockett would be the starter opposite of Doug Baldwin, but Darboh would need to be ready to advance in the receiver rotation if Richardson leaves.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on

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