Coach Pete Carroll may have put it best in his post-game press conference on Sunday when he said the loss to the Carolina Panthers was a “microcosm of (the) season” for the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks started off 2-4, yet made the playoffs. The team was down 31-0 at half against the Panthers, but made a comeback and lost 31-24.
Though the Seahawks failed to make the Super Bowl for the first time in three years, the group still has a “young core,” which is the term cornerback Richard Sherman used postgame Sunday. Quarterback Russell Wilson, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, linebacker Bobby Wagner, running back Thomas Rawls and receiver Tyler Lockett are scheduled to be in Seattle at least through 2017 and all will be 28 years of age or younger when the season starts next year. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett will be only 30 when 2016 begins, and should still be productive for a few years. Plus, if defensive lineman Frank Clark, who is only 22, can build on the promise he showed in this his rookie season he will add to the several productive Seahawks players who are either in or about to enter their prime for the next two to three seasons.
Receiver Doug Baldwin will be a free agent after the 2016 season, but it would not be surprising to see Seattle offer him an extension this offseason. Running back Marshawn Lynch most likely will not return, and if the Seahawks cut him they will save $6.5 million. That money could potentially be spent on a good offensive lineman in free agency. Chancellor could also be cut, and he certainly did himself no favors by holding out before the season. Cutting Chancellor would save the team $4.1 million.
Seattle does have several players who played important roles the last few years who will become unrestricted free agents after this season. Who they choose to re-sign and how they replace the players they lose will obviously be an important part of whether the young core can get back to playing a championship level. Here is a look at the top five unrestricted Seahawks free agents and who might be worth making a priority for Seattle to re-sign, ranked from highest priority to lowest.
1. Russell Okung, left tackle
Okung has made one Pro Bowl (2012) and has been injured in a few seasons. Still, he is the Seahawks most consistent and productive lineman. While not one of the best in the league, he is at least a known commodity in Seattle. In a year when the Seahawks will not be losing any of their most important players through free agency, Okung could be the one the Seahawks focus on. Seattle will have a limit, though, so if Okung is offered more by another team, like James Carpenter was by the New York Jets last season, then the Seahawks will let Okung go.
2. Bruce Irvin, linebacker
Irvin might even rank first on this list, but due to how much he will probably make on the open market most likely will not be returning to Seattle. He has hinted, though, that he would be willing to take a little less money to stay with the Seahawks. If he does choose to re-sign with Seattle he keeps the linebacker unit intact and keeps the speed of the defense at a high level. He is not the best defensive player Seattle has, but he has a unique skill set because of his size and speed and is an important part of their scheme.
3. Ahtyba Rubin and Brandon Mebane, defensive tackles
The Seahawks were number one in the National Football League against the run this year. A big reason for that was tackles Rubin and Mebane. Most likely, the Seahawks will only re-sign one of these players, so really this is Rubin or Mebane. It is difficult to see Seattle letting both players leave. Rubin is one year younger than Mebane, and he has been a bit healthier over his career. Mebane has been a good player for Seattle for a number of years. It would surprising to see the Seahawks be able to afford both players, but keeping one is a must.
4. Jeremy Lane, cornerback
Lane, along with DeShawn Shead, helped solidify a struggling Seahawks secondary after he returned from injury this year. One could argue that his injury in last year’s Super Bowl helped the New England Patriots win the game; there was simply no replacement for him and he had already intercepted Tom Brady. It will be interesting to see what the market will be like for Lane, but he is a player Seattle should make an effort to retain.
5. Jermaine Kearse, wide receiver
Kearse is not a number one receiver and never will be. He does not, though, drop passes (he dropped one in 2015) and has excellent chemistry with Wilson on deep passes. He had a very good game against the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs, and there could be a team that saw performance and is willing to take a chance and overpay for him. Unlike Irvin, Kearse has already stated he will not take a hometown discount to stay in Seattle. The issue in Seattle for Kearse, though, is that Baldwin and Lockett are productive players and the Seahawks will hopefully get a healthy Paul Richardson back next season. That potentially means Kearse is less important next year than this one, and that is never good for a player attempting to get a raise.