Seattle Is A Team Built To Win Now, And Then Some
By Corbin Smith
When pundits call the NFL the "Not For Long" league, they're traditionally calling it that because the average career length for players is only four seasons.
But an astute observer could also call the league by that name in regards to short championship windows. Building a title-contending team can take several years, but a talented roster can be dismantled in a matter of months.
Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, who brought home the Lombardi Trophy last February and then lost several key players such as Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. Handing the league's most expensive contract to quarterback Joe Flacco played a key role in the number of defections for Baltimore's roster this past spring, and what happened to the Ravens serves as a prime example of a cautionary tale that other teams must adhere to. Even though the team found younger replacements on the open market like pass rushing specialist Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens stumbled out of the gate this year and have a 4-5 record entering the stretch run. Though not out of the playoff hunt yet, the team has fallen on hard times thanks to a major roster overhaul and may need several years of strong drafting coupled with thrifty spending in free agency to rise back to the cream of the crop.
The Seattle Seahawks have one of the youngest rosters in the league, which has led many to believe that this team will be a contender for many years to come. General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll deserve credit for building this talented young squad, but they must understand how quickly title windows can close in this league. Standing at the top of the NFC West with a 9-1 record, it would be real easy to bask in present day glory and overlook potential problems that could quickly lead to a similar situation like Baltimore encountered following last season. More specifically, Seattle will eventually have to deal with many of its top young players asking for a major pay raise, which will most certainly lead to some of them heading elsewhere.
In a perfect world, the Seahawks could afford to keep every player they have on the current roster and give them all lucrative contracts. But that's not how the NFL world works. The team has benefited greatly from having several key starters on both sides of the ball on the payroll with rookie contracts, but in the near future, those players will need to be re-signed and inevitably will demand big bucks. Thanks to players like Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, and Bobby Wagner all making less than a million dollars per year, Seattle had the ability to use extra cap space this offseason to bring in free agents like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to bolster an already strong defensive line. Having great financial values scattered throughout the roster due to middle and low round draft pick contracts has helped the team build an incredibly deep roster, which is one of the biggest reasons why the Seahawks are considered heavy favorites to make the Super Bowl this season.
But what happens when those players are able to negotiate for new deals?
Following the NFL labor strike in 2011, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement significantly lowered guaranteed money for rookies. The league made this change because of players like JaMarcus Russell walking away with millions of dollars after failing to make it as professional football players. The new agreement also prevented rookies from re-negotiating with their respective teams until after their third season in the league, which helps explain why young stars like Wilson and Sherman haven't been able to enter the negotiating table yet. But in the next few seasons, both of these players along with a slew of others on the Seahawks current roster will be able to push for new contracts, and that will force management to make potentially franchise-altering decisions.
With that in mind, who does the team keep and who does the team decide to let go?
Wilson and Sherman will both get massive extensions, as they're both viewed as long-term building blocks for the team. And surely the Seahawks will open up the checkbook for superstar safety Earl Thomas, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract next season. It would also be surprising to see Carroll let a defensive stalwart like Wagner walk during free agency. Once you get beyond that group of untouchables, however, management will have to pick and choose who else they want to lock up for extensions. Money doesn't grow on trees, and the team will only be able to give substantial raises to so many players before cap room no longer exists.
Letting go of high-priced veterans such as Sidney Rice this upcoming offseason will open up extra room to keep a few more promising talents on board, but Seattle will still have to cut ties with someone. Keeping the roster as it sits currently won't be an option, but that doesn't necessarily spell doom if Carroll and his staff can continue to draft well and develop low draft choices into contributors. Teams like the Patriots, Steelers, and Packers have enjoyed sustained success by being able to successfully replace departed veterans in-house through the draft, and Seattle will need to do the same to stay a perennial contender. If veterans like Brandon Browner and Chris Clemons end up becoming cap casualties at the expense of younger players, Carroll and Schneider will need to find adequate replacements with much cheaper price tags to keep this momentum rolling beyond the next few seasons.
There are no guarantees in this league, which is why this current Seahawks team needs to focus on the moment at hand and take advantage of the presented opportunity. As teams continue to restock shelves with fresh new talent year in and year out, staying on top can be a major challenge. Seattle needs to enjoy this ride while it lasts and there needs to be a renewed sense of urgency, starting with this week's contest against Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. It's time to start preparing for the playoffs now. If this team can't bring the Lombardi Trophy to the Emerald City this season, the franchise might not have a better shot in the future.