It is now time for the annual question: can the 'insert Super Bowl champion here' build a dynasty? The Seattle Seahawks have barely had a chance to celebrate the franchise's first Super Bowl title and already people are discussing the possibility of the Seahawks doing what the Patriots, Cowboys, 49ers and Steelers have all done in the past. In today's NFL it's harder than ever to build a dynasty. There's a little something called the salary cap that teams have to worry about. That makes it hard to hang on to all key players from a Super Bowl team like Seattle's. The 2014 salary cap is projected to be somewhere between $123 and $128 million.
The huge advantages that the Seahawks had in building their championship team was a young roster (fourth-youngest in the league) and drafting their franchise quarterback in the third round of the 2012 draft. That has allowed them to pay a young star like Russell Wilson minimum rookie wages, allowing them to focus on other areas of the team. They've also done a masterful job in the draft's later rounds. Seattle's performance in Super Bowl XLVIII was arguably the greatest defensive performance in Super Bowl history, considering they went up against the game's most prolific offence.
That defence is loaded with a bunch of late-round draft picks. Players whose values were only recognized by one team, the team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Eight of Seattle's 11 defensive starters were drafted in the fourth round or later. They've built something the rest of the league will try to emulate. The problem is there is nothing more difficult than finding gems in the late rounds of the draft.
The gems Seattle found include Richard Sherman, an elite cornerback, taken in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. Their fifth round pick the year before was Kam Chancellor, a monster of a safety at 6'3" and 232 pounds. The argument could've been made that Chancellor deserved to be Super Bowl MVP, recording nine tackles, one interception and delivering hard hits, which seemed to intimidate Denver's receivers. The game's official MVP was Malcolm Smith, who was a seventh round pick in 2011. It keeps on going. Cornerback Byron Maxwell was a sixth round pick in 2011 and DE Red Bryant a fourth rounder in 2009. There were players drafted in earlier rounds as well. Earl Thomas, an All-Pro safety was drafted in the first round of 2010 draft, as was outside linebacker Bruce Irvin in 2012. Bobby Wagner was taken in the second round that year. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane was taken in the third round in 2008, while Chris Clemons and Tony McDaniel were undrafted. In fact, their only big free agent signings weren't even starters. Cliff Avril was signed from Detroit last year and carried a $6 million cap hit this year.
It's similar on offence, as Percy Harvin, who was acquired in a trade with Minnesota last year, barely saw the field this year. Harvin was acquired for a first-round pick, but his performance in the Super Bowl sure looks like it was worth it. The only starters who were first round picks of the Seahawks on offence were on the offensive line. That has allowed Seattle to stack their roster while paying players significantly less than what they're worth. That luxury earned them a Super Bowl win, but another significant challenge now begins for GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. That is, keeping this group intact and going for more.
Thanks to the CBA, Russell Wilson has to play another year under his lowly rookie contract before he can renegotiate for a well-earned raise. That's another year in which the Seahawks can pay their franchise quarterback under a million and focus on building around him. That's the trade-off for Wilson. He'll make less than what he's worth, but his GM will give him a team with a chance to repeat. Not only does Wilson have a great team around him, but a great young team. He can continue growing with them.
There are players though, who may want a raise after this remarkable season. Players usually like to cash in after a Super Bowl win. The Seahawks' ability to form a dynasty will depend on how much their players are willing to sacrifice. Some players have the opportunity to hit free agency, including Michael Bennett, whose cap hit was $4.8 million. He had 8.5 sacks in the regular season, as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He was not a starter, due to Seattle's depth on the defensive line, but he may be a starter somewhere else. Teams love to cherry pick players off of the champs and Bennett is one guy who is in position for a raise. There is the possibility he takes a hometown discount to stay where he's comfortable.
Breno Giacomini was viewed as an overpaid tackle, but his solid playoff run has earned him some leverage with an expiring contract. Someone could see him as a solution, but he may be expendable for the Seahawks who have other priorities. If there is an impending free agent they want to lock up, it may be Golden Tate, whose cap number was $800,000 this past season. Tate recorded 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdowns this season. His numbers were pedestrian in the playoffs, with just eight catches for 61 yards, however that could dip his value to a price the Seahawks would be willing to pay.
Steven Hauschka's reliability as a kicker can't be overlooked either. He's an impending free agent, but the Seahawks should have no trouble re-signing him.
Walter Thurmond was a no.3 corner in Seattle's Legion of Boom secondary, but maybe another team out there is willing to give him a shot as a starter. The suspension of Brandon Browner gave Thurmond some more playing time, and another team could be willing to grant him more. He carried a cap hit of just $607,000 in 2013, so perhaps a team will give him a significant raise from that total. There's a reason Seattle's depth is talked about so much. They have backups who would be starters elsewhere and Thurmond is one of those guys.
The way Seattle will be able to keep the impending free agents they want will take some tough decision making on other parts of their roster. Tight end Zach Miller may be one casualty. His cap hit will dip to $7 million next year from $11 million in 2013, but it still may be more than the Seahawks are willing to pay. Miller had just 33 receptions for 387 yards and five touchdowns. Either Miller will have to be willing to restructure his contract or Seattle may just part ways with him. The team has very few needs, so they could find a tight end early on in the draft. Judging from the job Schneider's done, I'd trust him in finding a quality starting tight end for Wilson.
The Seahawks won't part ways with Harvin, no matter how much time he missed in 2013. They just gave up a first-round pick for him last year and his performance in the Super Bowl justified Seattle's move to obtain him. When on the field, he's the definition of an X-factor. His cap number next year is $13.9 million. If he's able to stay healthy, he's worth it.
Sidney Rice is another top receiver the Seahawks were missing in their Super Bowl run, as he tore his ACL midway through the season. Perhaps their ability to get by without him will make him expendable for Seattle. His cap hits the next two seasons will be $9.7 and $10.2 million. They would save $7.3 million in cap space by cutting him this offseason. In eight games, Rice had 15 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns. He missed seven games in 2011 as well. His only full season with Seattle was 2012, where he recorded 50 catches for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. While those are respectable numbers, you need a little more from a receiver with that high a price tag. Again, a team with this much depth can afford to take these kind of measures.
The Seahawks' priorities will be to lock up All-Pro Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to long-term deals. Thomas has one year remaining on his contract, as does Sherman.
Thomas will likely be the highest-paid safety in the game come next season. His cap hit in 2013 was $2.9 million. That number will be over $5 million next season and his new contract will climb higher than that. He's Seattle's no.1 priority.
Right behind Thomas on Seattle's list of priorities has to be Richard Sherman. Sherman carried a cap hit of $600,000 in 2013, yet was arguably the best corner in the game, leading the league with eight interceptions. Since entering the NFl, Sherman has given opposing QBs more trouble than any other defensive back in the league. Opposing quarterback's ratings against him are 39.4 when throwing to his side of the field. Cornerbacks are now paid top flight dollars. In a passing league, corners are more valued than ever. Darrelle Revis is another whom you could argue is the best at his position. His contract with Tampa Bay is at six years and $96 million. Sherman's new contract may be in that neighbourhood. I get the feeling that Thomas and Sherman will make it a little easier on the Seahawks to pay them, allowing management to keep Seattle's core intact.
Left tackle Russell Okung will likely be locked up as well. A top-five pick in 2010, Okung's cap number climbs to $11.2 million in 2014. He was paid under the old CBA with no rookie wage scales. Extending Okung would be wise and would allow the Seahawks to lower his average cap hit. Plus, Seattle has a franchise quarterback to protect, so it would be wise to invest in their left tackle.
No team in the NFL has gotten more value from their draft picks than the Seahawks, and they took that value all the way to a dominant victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. Their time to pay for that value is coming, though. When you look at the roster, the order of salaries does not measure up with the players' value to the organization. This offseason will be all about correcting that if the Seahawks want to keep their dominant players around for a chance to build a dynasty. Some tough decisions will have to be made. Cap space will have to be cleared up somewhere in order for the Seahawks to keep their franchise cornerstones. Pete Carroll seems to have a very close relationship with his players, so I could see players taking less to stay in Seattle where they'll have a chance to win and have an amazing home-field advantage.
However, we can't overlook the fact that this team plays in the league's toughest division, the NFC West. All four of these teams would likely be a playoff team in the AFC and any of the four would have a chance to be a division winner elsewhere. The San Francisco 49ers aren't going away anytime soon and will continue to challenge Seattle. Judging from this year's playoffs, they were arguably the second-best team in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals missed the playoffs, despite winning 10 games. The St.Louis Rams are the NFL's youngest team and were very competitive in a 7-9 season. They have many great young players and hold two first-round picks this year. They're on their way too. This division is going to be fun to watch over the next few seasons. Assuming Seattle's front office continues to do the amazing job they've done the last five years, the only thing that can derail their dynasty hopes is the ferocious competitiveness of this division.
The common denominator of all dynasties is that the team wins while they're young and that their players stick around for less money for a chance to win multiple titles. Seattle has got the youth part right, now they'll need their players to sacrifice dollars for wins. For their part, they'll have to part ways with certain players to keep their blue-chippers around.
The prime benefit of Seattle winning it all this year is that free agents may now view Seattle as an ideal destination. It's a great place to play, boasting the loudest fans in the NFL, plus the team is set to win now, and in the future. Pete Carroll was voted by players as the coach they'd most like to play for. The organization is smelling like roses now and we shouldn't expect them to just fade away. It'll certainly be tough for Seattle to repeat, but they have a much better chance than most defending Super Bowl champions do.
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