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Walter Thurmond’s return to the active roster has raised the question of who will end up playing nickel corner the rest of the way for Seattle. Marcus Trufant has the role for now, but Thurmond is younger, and better suited for the position. Trufant is a free agent next year who is almost certainly not in the team’s plans, so it would make sense to work Thurmond in 2012. That line of thinking raises the question which of the current Seahawk’s starters have a strong hold on their spot on the depth chart, and which are projected to be part of the team’s future plans? The key aspects of making those decisions include: talent, culture fit, contract, production, age, and potential replacements on the roster. Seattle is set for a largely stable set of starters on both sides of the ball for the next two years, and then things get a little more interesting.
Below is a table of every current Seahawks starter, including important sub-package roles like Bruce Irvin’s back-up LEO spot, and Trufant’s Nickel CB. Each cell is color-coded according to my confidence that they will retain their starting role for that year based on the aspects mentioned above. The player’s free agent year is highlighted with a dashed red border. The player’s age is included in each cell.
Russell Wilson is the guy. He becomes a free agent in 2015, and will be re-signed unless things turn sour on the field.
Marshawn Lynch has the job as long as he is healthy and productive. He will be the latter as long as he is the former. His back has been an issue the last two years. That is not going to get better. Another season as a starter seems reasonable, but I’d expect Robert Turbin to challenge for the starting role as early as 2014.
Michael Robinson is a free agent in 2014. Vai Taua was showing a lot of promise before he was injured in the last pre-season game, and he is much younger. Robinson is an important part of special teams and the locker room, so he likely sticks around next year, but not after that.
Miller has a big contract. That could effect things more than any other aspect. He will be a solid starter, and key part of the running game as long as he is around. I expect the team to keep him around for his full contract. Anthony McCoy has played very well this year. There simply have not been enough pass attempts to get him involved. That said, the team may choose to add a more dynamic receiver at the tight end position next season, and that could reduce McCoy’s role, and likely take Moore’s spot entirely.
Rice has a big contract as well. He is doing almost everything asked of him. It is hard to imagine the team will find a more affordable player who is near Rice’s age that can produce at a higher level. He will be around as long as he is healthy.
Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are tougher. Tate has started scoring touchdowns this season, but continues to be an inconsistent part of the offense. He becomes a free agent in 2014, so next year will be do-or-die. Tate is not suited to be a slot receiver, so he needs to prove he can play split end. I fully expect the team to add one or two receivers in the draft that would be split ends. They will be tall and fast. As much as Tate has improved, I’m just not sure the team will commit the dollars required to keep him around after 2013.
Baldwin is probably a head-scratcher to some since he had an injury-riddled 2012 so far. He is the only player on the team that is well-suited to play slot. He has the smarts, instincts and quickness to find open spots. He is also the perfect compliment to Wilson in terms of work ethic. Nobody will work harder this off-season to get in sync with his new quarterback and have a stand-out 2013. I expect Baldwin to be around when this team wins its championship.
The only question over the next couple of years is whether John Moffitt will force his way into the starting lineup. Paul McQuistan becomes a free agent in 2014, and will 31 by then, so he almost certainly would be ousted from his starting role in favor of Moffitt by then, but could be re-signed as a back-up depending on the market for his services. Remember, the red in the table above simply means the player is not expected to be starting. It does not necessarily mean the player will not be on the roster.
Giacomini will become a free agent in 2014. The team will have a tough decision to make as he is definitely an integral part of that unit on, and off, the field. He will be 29, and could command a hefty salary on the market. There are a lot of key players on the defense that will be up for new contracts that year as well, so this will come down to budget.
This is the only part of the team without a starter younger than 27. Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant both have contracts that take them through the next few seasons, with Mebane hitting the market in 2016 and Bryant in 2017. I have questions about Bryant’s durability in the long run. He does not strike me as a player who will be able to maintain his level of play into his 30s. Alan Branch is a free agent next season, and will be a budget decision. The team could choose to go with cheaper alternatives, knowing they have some core defensive player they need to lock up. Chris Clemons signed his extension and is producing this year. He should be able to hold up his production next year as well, but all bets are off after that.
Jason Jones is a free agent next year as well, and continues to have trouble staying healthy. He is only 26, but there is no way the team will spend big money on him if they do not think he can stay on the field. Ironically, his only chance of being around next year is if his injury problems knock his value down enough to get another one-year deal with Seattle. Greg Scruggs has already shown he has potential on the interior, and is younger and cheaper. He has, however, had his own injury problems.
Leroy Hill probably holds onto his starting role the rest of this year, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. His play has dropped off this season. The lack of strong challengers for his role is the only thing keeping him as a starter for now. The team will add another linebacker in the draft next year, and could see if someone like Malcolm Smith is ready to ascend. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright will be your starting linebackers for the foreseeable future.
Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner hit free agency in 2014. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas hit free agency in 2015. The team is certain to dole out the money necessary to sign three of those four players. Browner is the wildcard. He will be 30 when he is a free agent, and the team has a stable of young corners including Thurmond, Byron Maxwell, and Jeremy Lane that could take over the starting position by then, if needed. The team will likely want Browner back, but he could get big money on the open market, and it will simply come down to priorities. Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor will never get to free agency because the team will extend them or franchise them.
Thurmond will be the third corner as long as he is healthy. Jeron Johnson has played well this year, but his grip on that role is tenuous.
Steven Hauschka is a free agent next year. He has been a good kicker, and probably gets re-signed. The team will be frugal there, so if he gets a better offer, they will let him leave. Clint Gresham will also be a free agent, but he should be a certain re-sign with his reliable snapping and affordable contract.
Leon Washington is a fantastic guy, and can still make plays, but the team has other options to return and can spend that money elsewhere.
It remarkable to look across the starters on this team, and see the amount of talent and youth across so many positions. The contract situations are almost all favorable, and the team likely won’t face really tough salary decisions until 2014. Quarterback, offensive line, running back, linebacker, and secondary are all largely set. The most variable situations will be the split end, base defensive tackle (Branch’s spot), rush defensive tackle, and second tight end spots. Making the team will be a real challenge for next year’s rookie class.