How much should you pay a free agent?
It’s not always obvious.
Sometimes you just have to get it done. It’s why quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco all got huge contracts. At some point in the next few months I’d expect J.J. Watt to get a titanic-sized deal.
But other times it just makes financial sense to let the market come to you.
In an ideal the world the Seahawks keep Michael Bennett and Golden Tate.
But they might be forced into letting both find their true worth.
Amid all the talk of discounts and a desire to stay in Seattle, they’ll never get a better chance to cash in.
They just won a Super Bowl. Both players are fairly high profile. In Bennett’s case he’s coming off a monster post-season where he had a huge impact as a pass rusher.
They can walk into a meeting with the Seahawks and name a high price — and it wouldn’t be out of order.
Bennett’s agent can point to the 5-year, $40.5m contract signed by Paul Kruger — a Super Bowl winner last year who also enjoyed a huge post season in Baltimore. Kruger left the Ravens to go to Cleveland, and will earn $8.2m in three of the next four years.
He’s also only three months younger than Bennett.
Tate’s agent can use Brian Hartline as an example. He signed a 5-year contract in Miami worth nearly $31m and for the next four years he’ll earn between $6.2m and $7.5m.
Whether we like it or not, that is the kind of money Tate can expect to command.
To accept smaller offers to stay in Seattle, without testing free agency, would be a huge gift to the Seahawks worthy of the phrase ‘hometown discount’.
So unless the Seahawks are willing to pony up that kind of cash (and they might) both players could easily become free agents.
That in itself would bring about an interesting chess game.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider have allowed players to test the market before. Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane were re-signed after an anxious wait in free agency, with New England and Denver sniffing around.
The reward can be substantial if you get a cheaper deal, but you also run the serious risk of losing key players — or even paying more.
In the end neither Bryant or Mebane came back at a reduced price. Seattle had to pay up.
Yet we only have to look at last year to realise you can save money too.
Everyone expected Bennett and Cliff Avril to get paid. The Seahawks weren’t mentioned as potential suitors — nobody expected either to last long in free agency.
Yet after a battle for Paul Kruger’s signature, the market went flat.
Suddenly Avril was signing a two-year deal in Seattle, and Bennett penned a one year contract. This was all about improving their future market potential. Both players were young enough to have another crack at free agency down the line.
But is the money definitely going to be there now they’ve won a Championship?
Could they actually be considered cogs in an an uber-talented, balanced unit? After all, it’s the secondary that gets most of the attention in Seattle. They’re the ones with the nickname.
Will teams, incorrectly, look at Bennett as just an 8.5-sack guy on a great defense?
It’s not completely unlikely.
Greg Hardy (26 sacks in 2012/13) will be the premium pass rusher in free agency and he’s likely to get the big money offers and the most early interest. Carolina have cap issues, so Hardy won’t be franchised.
When he leaves the board, does it go cold again? Just like a year ago?
Not helping matters is the relative depth available. Michael Johnson, Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, Justin Tuck — other players who will follow Hardy’s lead.
If Bennett is being quoted offers less than the total he was requesting from the Seahawks, you’d have to fancy Seattle’s chances of keeping him at a slightly better price.
Of course the alternative scenario is a team just offers up a nice big contract and Bennett’s packing his bags.
Gus Bradley and the Jaguars have $47.7m in free cap space and should be making him one of their top targets.
Atlanta has $19.2m free even and could make a strong bid as they need a pass rusher.
Bennett’s former Head Coach in Tampa Bay — Raheem Morris — is now the defensive coordinator in Washington. They’ve got $24.9m to play with.
This is the kind of risk facing Seattle if they let Bennett talk to other teams.
Unlike the pass rush market, receivers are hot property in free agency. The ones who don’t get huge, over-inflated contracts (Mike Wallace) at least get decent money.
Any team breaking in a young quarterback could use Golden Tate.
He’s reliable, he’s a playmaker, he’s physical for his size and he’s a good return man.
Numbers can be deceptive. Anyone who ‘gets’ the Seahawks understands they’ll probably never have one receiver who puts up monster stats.
This offense is about big plays and running the ball. Carroll refers to Wilson throwing around 25 times as perfection. We’ll not see 350-400 yard games with any regularity, and we may never see a Seahawks receiver leading the yardage charts.
Tate’s best year statistically was the 898 yards he recorded in 2013. He managed that from 64 catches. None of the top-ten receivers had less than 82 receptions, while the likes of Antonio Brown had nearly twice as many (110) to put up his 1499 yards.
It’d be interesting to see how he’d fair in a prolific passing offense such as New England’s. Julian Edelman had 1056 yards from 105 receptions. With Tate’s ability in space I wonder how productive he’d be in the Patriots system?
At the same time he’s pretty much perfect for the Seahawks offense. Make the most of your chances, be consistent, compete every day and be an X-Factor. He has a lot of value to Seattle and it’s why John Schneider will make a big push to keep him.
And yet there’s one huge elephant in the room if he wants big money….
It’s a FANTASTIC year for receivers in the draft. Truly exceptional.
If you need a receiver, whatever the type, you’ll find them in this class.
And while Tate, Eric Decker and Jeremy Maclin all have some value — they’re not must-have players. Not when you can get an Odell Beckham Jr or Jarvis Landry for a fraction of the cost.
So while the Seahawks risk losing Tate if he hits the market, they also know an other-wordly receiver class could work in their favour.
If Tate expects to get Hartline-money, he might be unlucky. There’s enough talent in the draft to hammer his value — potentially taking a couple of million off the table.
Essentially it comes down to this — how much can you afford to gamble on either player?
Bennett for me is a must-sign. He’s just too important to the defense and for the sake of trying to save $2-3m, you just get it done.
Unless his agent constantly moves the goalposts and asks for more, there needs to be a meeting point on a contract to make sure he’s playing the peak years of his career in Seattle.
I truly believe Bennett is a top-10 defensive lineman in the league — and his lack of a defined position and gaudy numbers is making him devastatingly underrated.
No messing around here, I think this could be a formality. These were Ian Rapoport’s words on Super Bowl Sunday:
“Michael Bennett will be re-signed”
His words on Tate?
“They’ll try… if they have space”
I suspect Seattle is thoroughly determined to keep Tate. He gets under the skin of opponents, has consistently won games with big plays and has a lot of chemistry with quarterback Russell Wilson.
Unlike Bennett, however, you can imagine a successful Seahawks team without Tate. They somewhat made their bed by paying Percy Harvin a massive contract. I’d be surprised if they don’t make receiver an early target in the draft just because of the quality available. And we have to assume they’re going to tender Doug Baldwin.
With some heartbreaking decisions forthcoming, Tate might be a player they end up allowing to test the market. And unless they can get him back on a deal worth $3-4m a year, he might be playing elsewhere.
But as we discussed above — don’t rule out that kind of deal because the receiver-rich draft could hurt him.
For me — Bennett gets done before free agency begins on March 11th. Tate tests the market, but could still remain in Seattle.
Speaking of heartbreaking decisions…
Sportrac have put together a list of 60 potential cap casualties. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Chris Clemons and Red Bryant are all named for Seattle.
Here’s the potential saving for each:
Rice — $7.3m
Miller — $5m
Clemons — $7.5m
Bryant — $7.5m
Total — $27.3m
I watched some post-season highlights this weekend. Part of Seattle’s effectiveness with the pass rush was being able to team Bennett and Avril on one side, with Clemons on the opposite edge.
Whatever you think about Clemons’ performance during the regular season, he appeared back to his effective best in the playoffs.
Bryant is assumed as a luxury by most fans, and yet I get the feeling Carroll sees him as integral on early downs. It’s not as simple as plugging a more orthodox 5-tech guy in that position. Bryant’s massive size would also need to be replaced.
Miller has acted more as a terrific blocker in Seattle but he’s made his fair share of catches too. Ideally you keep him, but whatever anyone says he shouldn’t be earning $18m for his efforts in 2013/14. Luke Willson is more of a joker than a blocker and not a natural replacement.
Rice is the nearest thing Seattle has to a #1 receiver. Even with a good group, they need a #1. Out of the four though, I think Rice is the only sure-fire cut.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility Clemons could be cut and then re-signed at an incredibly low price. The market for 32-year-old pass rushers isn’t great.
I think the team would look to work on Bryant’s and Miller’s contracts simply because they are vital players. But they aren’t irreplaceable like Russell Wilson or Earl Thomas.
If they cleared house and cut all four it’d make for an interesting off-season.
In that scenario they’d have the necessary funds to extend Thomas’ contract, pay Bennett, re-sign the likes of Breno Giacomini and Steven Hauschka, possibly keep Tony McDaniel and/or Clinton McDonald and have a look at what value they can find in free agency.
A new deal for Richard Sherman is also very much on the table.
Of course, you’d also be losing four players who’ve been part of the heart and soul of this team for the last few seasons.
They’d need to be replaced. And it wouldn’t be easy.