Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks, who soundly defeated the Denver Broncos by a score of 43 to 8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. After such impressive and commanding performances on offense, defense, and special teams, it’s a great time to be a Seahawks fan. But when the proverbial smoke clears, should the 12th man expect a repeat performance in 2014? What about 2015 and beyond? Are these Seattle Seahawks sustainable?
A concept curiously borrowed from historical royal families inbreeding to ensure constant familial rule over a sovereign, in professional sports a team that utterly dominates its competition over the course of several years is referred to as a “dynasty.” Since the 1960′s, there have arguably been only five dynasties in the National Football League:
- 1960s Green Bay Packers (five championships in seven years)
- 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers (four Super Bowl titles in six years)
- 1980s San Francisco 49ers (four Super Bowls; eight division titles)
- 1990s Dallas Cowboys (three Super Bowls in four years)
- 2000s New England Patriots (three Super Bowls in four years)
While a myriad of different variables are shared amongst the aforementioned dynasties, one in particular is probably most important: the presence of a young, superstar quarterback. Having that young stud QB that learns how to win early on in his career seems essential for longterm, dynastic success in the NFL. The ’60s Packers had Bart Starr; the ’70s Steelers had Terry Bradshaw; the ’80s 49ers had Joe Montana; the ’90s Cowboys had Troy Aikman; and the ’00s Patriots have Tom Brady. In Russell Wilson’s first professional football season, he led the Seahawks to the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs; in his second season, he won Super Bowl XLVIII. Given Wilson’s incredibly high level of play and significant and seemingly unrivaled early successes, is it possible that the Seattle Seahawks will become the dynasty of the ’10s?
In the words of the inimitable Kevin Garnett, anything is possible. Possible? Sure. Probable? Absolutely not. Over the past three seasons, the Seattle Seahawks have largely been a product of a mass influx of underpaid yet high-performing young talent.
NFL success is in large part dictated by how well a team manages its talent under the salary cap, set at $123 million for 2013. For those sports fans who do not obsess over Ari Gold of Entourage and Arliss Michaels of Arli$$, and who do not watch football as if they were a sports agent, all that the salary cap means is that each NFL franchise can only spend $123 million per year on all of its players combined. When a team like the Chicago Bears decides to cut ties with likely Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher as opposed to re-sign him, they are doing so because of the realities of the salary cap—not out of some bastardized understanding of loyalty. In contrast, when the Baltimore Ravens chose to pay Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco about $20 million per year, they conscientiously decided that Flacco was worth tying up about 16% of their annual salary allotment on one individual. With regard to the Seattle Seahawks, they almost assuredly have too many guys needing paychecks and not enough money to legally spend on each of them. Consequently, 2013 could be Seattle’s peak year in the ’10s in terms of overall team talent.
Sack master Cliff Avril will make $7 million in 2014 before becoming a free agent in 2015. At just 29-years-old when he hits free agency, it will be difficult for both the Seattle front office and Seattle fans to consider parting ways with a talent the likes of Avril.
Stud defensive end Michael Bennett is a free agent after the Super Bowl, and unless Seahawks owner Paul Allen overpays for him by way of millions of his Microsoft money, Bennett will likely be on his way to the Chicago Bears to play alongside his equally eccentric brother, Tight End Martellus Bennett.
Sure-handed wide receiver Doug Baldwin becomes a restricted free agent in 2014. After Baldwin’s admirable 2013 campaign filling in for the oft-injured Percy Harvin, it would be incredibly hard to part ways with him. Better get that check book out, Mr. Allen.
Another standout defensive end, Chris Clemons, becomes a free agent after the 2014 season. When he becomes a free agent, Clemons will be 34-years-old—making him a likely candidate for not being re-signed due to age alone, much like what happened with the aforementioned Brian Urlacher, as well as pro bowl caliber players of years past such as Jason Taylor, Joey Porter, and Richard Seymour. Clemons will present the Seahawks with another tough choice salary choice under the salary cap.
Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson becomes a free agent after the Super Bowl. While hardly incredible on paper, the mobile Jackson possesses inflated value for the Seahawks, as Pete Carroll—in order to run the same plays and schemes—clearly desires a comparably mobile backup quarterback to replace Russell Wilson in case of injury. The Seahawks will need to pay Tarvaris Jackson in the coming months.
The Seahawks, if desiring to retain two of their important defensive tackles, will need to pay free agent Tony McDaniel and restricted free agent Clinton McDonald. Are you sensing a trend?
Starting guard Paul McQuistan is also a free agent in 2014. Franchises around the league are notorious for marginalizing guards and letting them walk, falsely assuming some sort of naive and often nonexistent replaceability. Will this happen to McQuistan?
Richard Sherman, objectively the best cornerback in the National Football League, will make only $1.389 million in 2014. He will then become a free agent in 2015, at just 27-years-old. Assuming Sherman is not catastrophically injured between today and 2015, he will be in line for a record setting cornerback contract. And given Sherman’s skill and popularity, as well as the realities of inflation, the Seahawks will be virtually forced to make him the highest paid cornerback of all time.
And let’s not forget about Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, who will make $645,000 in 2014 before becoming a free agent in 2015. Currently just 24-years-old, will the Seahawks be willing to part ways with such an important cog in their vaunted defense?
In a similar situation as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas—already the best safety in the NFL—will only make $4.625 million in 2014. He will then become a free agent in 2015 at the age of 26. Expect the Seahawks to ink Thomas to another record setting deal, solidifying their secondary for the remainder of the decade.
Impactful linebacker K.J. Wright is in the same boat. He will make just $645,000 in 2014 before become a free agent at 26-years-old. If Wright does not receive a multi-million dollar deal in 2015, he will no longer be a Seattle Seahawk.
And then we get to Russell Wilson, who will make less than $1 million in both 2014 and 2015 before becoming a free agent. If I am Russell Wilson’s agent, after witnessing my client’s early career successes, I am currently pondering a holdout for more guaranteed money today. But if Wilson does not wish to hold out, come my client’s free agency in 2016, I will be making the case to the rest of the league that Russell Wilson’s resume makes him the best young quarterback in the NFL—far ahead of the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck. In turn, you better believe Russell Wilson is going to be entitled to a contract greater than or equal to that of Joe Flacco, over $20 million dollars per year.
So what does this all mean for the Seattle Seahawks moving forward? Assuming it is a lock that Wilson, Sherman, and Thomas are all re-signed for contracts close to record value, and given the amount of money already invested in young assets like wide receiver Percy Harvin, center Max Unger, safety Cam Chancellor, and defensive tackle Red Bryant, it will be next to impossible to keep the same level of talented depth on the roster in future years as exists today in 2014.
The Seattle Seahawks likely will not become a dynasty—just a really damn good football team for the rest of the ’10s. I’m sure the 12th man can live with that. And if they can’t, I’ve learned at least one thing over the last two NFL seasons: never count out Russell Wilson.