SEATTLE — The Seahawks mostly kept their checkbook closed during the NFL’s free-agency period, content to save their money to pay some of their own marquee players down the road.
The time to hit up the cash machine, though, could be coming soon.
Various reports Tuesday said Seattle is inching closer to a contract extension with Richard Sherman that could make him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL at more than $13 million per season. CBSSports.com said the Seahawks have made “considerable progress” in contract talks and that an extension could be announced before the NFL draft on May 8-10.
Pro Football Talk countered the CBSSports.com report later in the day, reporting that “it’s not on the verge of being completed.” Seattle general manager John Schneider, in an interview Tuesday with SiriusXM NFL Radio, said the team has “no specific timetable” for making a deal with Sherman.
Regardless, many expect that something will be done with Sherman, likely sooner rather than later.
Sherman will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season, as is strong safety Earl Thomas. Indications for months have been that the Seahawks would like to sign both to new contracts before next season begins.
Coach Pete Carroll hinted as much during a recent news conference to announce his own new contract through the 2016 season, saying “there are other things you will see through offseason here that we are going to continue to work” on. He added that his contract was “a statement that we are here for the long haul and we want our players to come with us.”
That was widely viewed as an acknowledgment that the team was preparing new deals for Sherman and Thomas, who each could command the highest salary at their position in the NFL. Seattle also hopes to re-sign quarterback Russell Wilson to a new contract once he is eligible after the 2014 season.
Seattle’s relative silence during free agency made it apparent it was saving money to be able to sign those three, as well as a few other critical players whose contracts expire after 2015. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and left tackle Russell Okung could each be free agents after that season, though Okung is eligible for an extension immediately.
Seattle released high-salaried players such as Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Sidney Rice, later re-signing Rice to a much cheaper deal. The Seahawks let a few other free agents walk away, notably Golden Tate, in moves designed to clear up the salary-cap space needed to sign some of its core players.
Schneider confirmed that strategy in an radio interview earlier this month on ESPN 710 Seattle. “We are blessed enough to have a young, talented team and we need to be able to plan accordingly to be able to reward those players,’ the Seattle GM said.
Seattle has just under $15 million in cap space for the 2014 season, according to the latest figures from the NFLPlayers.com, more than all but eight other teams and regarded as enough to sign its key players.
Other players slated to be free agents after the 2014 season include defensive end Cliff Avril, receiver Doug Baldwin, linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith and cornerback Byron Maxwell.
The focus for now, though, appears to be on Sherman and Thomas.
Sherman would likely command a salary larger than the recent contract awarded to Darrelle Revis, scheduled to make about $12 million next year with the Patriots.
Safeties typically command slightly smaller contracts than cornerbacks. But Thomas is likely to want a deal that will match or top the $9 million-per-year deal recently given to Jairus Byrd of the New Orleans Saints.
Wilson, meanwhile, will likely command somewhere in the $18 million to $20 million range. But under rules of the 2011 NFL labor agreement, the Seahawks can’t negotiate a new deal for Wilson until after the 2014 season. He will make a base salary of $662,434 in 2014, again making him the biggest bargain in the NFL.