Byron Maxwell’s departure shows cost of Seahawks’ success

Mar 9, 2015, 10:24 AM | Updated: 10:57 am
With several other high-priced stars, Seattle couldn’t afford to keep Byron Maxwell at $10 mi...
With several other high-priced stars, Seattle couldn't afford to keep Byron Maxwell at $10 million a year. (AP)
(AP)

The cost of Seattle’s success became evident over the weekend.

Ten million per year. That’s what cornerback Byron Maxwell’s free-agent deal with the Eagles will reportedly average once contracts can be finalized beginning Tuesday at 1 p.m. Pacific.

And as much as the Seahawks would have loved to keep Maxwell – as often as general manager John Schneider said it was a priority – there’s just no way the Seahawks could afford that. Not with a quarterback due a huge raise and a secondary that already includes three players on big-budget deals.

This is reality in a salary-capped league, and in this case, reality bites. The one position that has been the Seahawks’ deepest over the past three years is now among the top question marks, though not through any fault of Seattle’s.

The Seahawks have kept the right guys: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. They have been able to find starting-caliber cornerbacks everywhere from the Canadian Football League (Brandon Browner) to the sixth round of the draft (Maxwell) to finding Jeremy Lane in a school so small that it needs a parenthetical mention of the state it’s in: Northwestern State (Louisiana).

Well, Lane is recovering from surgeries to his arm and his knee, Maxwell is understood to be headed to Philadelphia and the Seahawks are left sifting through veteran castoffs like Tramon Williams from Green Bay or Cary Williams from Philadelphia and waiting to see if Walter Thurmond might be back on a bargain deal.

Before the salary cap, Seattle could have hoarded the collection of talent it had at defensive back for a decade. Not anymore. Not with an overall limit on spending, which means there are now three very different phases of team assembly:

1. Rebuilding. This process began in earnest in Seattle in 2010, a year where the Seahawks made half a dozen moves the week before the regular-season opener, and it continued up through the 2012 draft that will be remembered for the starting quarterback Seattle chose in the third round.

2. Sustaining. This is the retention of the nucleus that constitutes the backbone of success, a process that started with re-signing running back Marshawn Lynch and center Max Unger before the 2012 season began and continued through extensions for players like Sherman, Chancellor and Thomas.

3. Restoring. Finding cost-effective replacement parts for those players who get too expensive for Seattle to keep.

It’s this last stage that Seattle will now begin in earnest with the departure of three starting-caliber cornerbacks over the past 13 months. Browner and Thurmond left as free agents a year ago, and this season it will be Maxwell.

Sustaining success beyond a five-year window in the NFL requires a team to be able to bridge the gaps left by high-priced departures. You can use a younger player on the roster, say, someone like Tharold Simon. Then there’s the draft, where Seattle has not only consistently picked starting-caliber cornerbacks, but has found those starters in the final four rounds. Then there will be the veteran values, guys who don’t get the big-bucks offers they hoped for and choose the best situation as opposed to the highest salary.

Seattle won’t have the most money to offer free agents this offseason. Maxwell’s departure shows that as sometimes the price of success gets too high.

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Byron Maxwell’s departure shows cost of Seahawks’ success