Written by Julian Rogers
It’s much easier to reach the top of the mountain than it is to stay on top of the mountain. Given the Seattle Seahawks’ most recent two-year run, NFL observers consider the Seahawks to be on the top of the heap. Or at least within about one yard of it.
Offseason prognostications unanimously list the Seahawks as one of the top, it not the topmost, team to beat in the 2015 NFL season. The outlook for the blue birds’ immediate future is quite rosy. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. The Seahawks’ organizational prowess will be put to the test in ways they haven’t yet been tested.
There are guys who get the job done. And then there are difference-makers. On offense, you need at least three.
Right now, the Seahawks have secured what they believe to be the necessary difference-maker trinity on offense: quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch and elite receiving threat tight end Jimmy Graham. With those three in hand, plus the continuing production from the rest of the offensive core, the Seahawks look poised to sport the most balanced offensive attack they’ve had since before Lynch arrived in 2010.
Assuming the Seahawks are able to successfully plug two holes in the starting lineup of the offensive line (LG, C), Seahawks opponents are faced with a new dilemma when the trinity is on the field: nickel defense to stop the Wilson-to-Graham combo, or load the box to stop Beast Mode?
Recent Seahawks history shows failing to load up against Lynch is the surest way to defeat. Recent NFL history reveals failing to match up either a brutish defensive back hefty enough to manhandle Graham or a linebacker fleet of foot enough to keep up with Graham is also a fast track to surrendering six scoreboard points. Those types of defenders are not common.
Wilson, for all his gifts, has yet to be able to lift the Seahawks’ passing offense out of the lower third of the NFL rankings in his three seasons. Without question, the Seahawks now expect that to change. A tight end in name only, Graham will line up all over the field, as he did when he had Drew Brees pulling the trigger in New Orleans. While Wilson has not yet produced at the same passing level as Brees, with Graham in the fold, there’s every expectation that he will as he enters the prime of his career.
Why it’s going to get harder
In the NFL, when you have a top-tier quarterback, you usually have to allocate a vast sum of money both to his bank account and your cap space. The Seattle Seahawks have been getting a free ride in that realm for the past three seasons. That’s about to end.
Now that Wilson has accrued three NFL seasons, his rookie contract (which has paid a total to date of around $2.2 million and is scheduled to pay out $1.542 million in 2015) can be renegotiated. Both parties want to negotiate a new long-term deal.
Estimates vary, but it’s a safe bet Wilson’s new deal will be north of $20 million per season. When that happens, be it May, June, August or after this season (the Seahawks could refuse a new deal for this year and use the franchise tag in 2016 and 2017) 31 NFL general managers will do a little dance. The Seahawks will now finally be working on a level playing field.
Wilson’s new contract is going to eat roughly $20 million-plus of cap space they previously had to play with. Several current Seahawks are richer because Wilson isn’t. Most recent estimates show the Seahawks have around $11 million of space currently. It’s going to get tricky.
Wilson isn’t the only complicating factor. As for the other two members of the offensive trinity, Graham is locked up through 2017 (and paid quite handsomely, thanks to the Saints) so he should be a cap factor that the Seahawks will work around. Lynch, on the other hand, is an expensive wild card with almost certainly a short-term future in Seattle.
Some are surprised he’s still here for 2015. He’s demanded renegotiations and threatened retirement enough that it’s a very unsafe bet he’ll play out any contract. The Seahawks strategically re-signed Lynch in March to a three-year, $31 million contract (the final two years are year-to-year). So Beast Mode has been paid. Again. He will have no standing with any more contract complaints.
The Seahawks’ salary cap is buckling under the weight of new money for Lynch, Graham and soon-to-be big bucks for Wilson and deserving defensive stalwart linebacker Bobby Wagner. Defensive end Michael Bennett wants a raise, which he almost certainly won’t get. But then I said that about Lynch, too and they re-negotiated with him. Twice. It’s the Seahawks, after all.
Worst case / best case
Worst case scenario for the Seahawks’ trinity is that only one (Graham) is on board beyond 2015. Lynch may be gone (retired, traded, cut because he hits the mileage wall) and Wilson might be at odds with the Seahawks to the degree that they cannot meet his demands or he sits out.
This ugly scenario signals an organization that will be in total rebuild mode. Will 64-year-old Pete Carroll stick around for that? This might be more “win now” than Seahawks fans realize.
Most likely scenario: Graham and Wilson are on board for multiple years. Lynch is probably a memory beyond 2015. The Seahawks can work around that. But misfire on locking up Wilson, which forces veteran Graham to break in another new quarterback, and the Seahawks’ offensive future is as unknown as Michael Bennett’s thought process.
On the surface, it’s odd that the Seahawks, who recently have tossed around dollar bills like they’re daisies in the wind, are at loggerheads with their franchise quarterback. But then again, maybe those profligate ways have finally caught up to them. The rest of the NFL hopes so. They’re also very interested in seeing how the Seahawks will attempt to maintain a championship-level roster now that they have to pay fair market value for a franchise quarterback. They got to the top. How does this team plan to stay there in the salary cap era?
Few get there. Even fewer stay there. It will be a lesson for all: How long can a team afford the view from the top of the mountain?