Micah Rice: Seahawks will find titles come at a price

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

Were you glued to your television when the NFL schedule was released live on Wednesday?

Me, neither.

I love the NFL as much as anyone, but there's only so much excitement in filling out a calendar.

But while Seattle Seahawks fans whine about a shortage of primetime games for the defending Super Bowl champs, there's another drama building that's more important to the future of the franchise.

Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson are about to become rich … very rich.

And if the Seahawks want the shiny Lombardi Trophy to be more than a flash in the pan, they should pony up the money to keep three of the team's most important players.

Signing superstars is never simple in the hard-salary-cap world of the NFL. Big contracts can lead to painful "business decisions" that see valuable and respected players shown the door.

But this is a price of success Seattle simply must pay.

Sherman and Thomas are both entering the final year of their rookie deals, which will pay Sherman $1.4 million and Thomas $4.6 million this season.

Regardless of whether you liked his NFC Championship postgame rant, Sherman is the best corner in the game. He'll soon likely be the highest paid corner in the game at more than $12 million a year.

Re-signing Sherman should be the Seahawks first priority. Able to take away one side the field from an opposing quarterback, he's the biggest difference-maker on the league's best defense.

He's also the most likely to turn a contract dispute into an unwelcome distraction, thanks to his outspoken nature.

"Whatever they feel I am due, I will take it as respect," Sherman told NFL Network last week. "It's all about respect in this game, and the only way people show respect is the dollars. We'll see what happens."

Less outspoken but nearly as important is Thomas, widely considered the best free safety in the league. Jairus Byrd just received $9 million a year from the Saints, so Thomas will probably get more.

With Kam Chancellor signed through 2017, locking up Sherman and Thomas would guarantee that the Seahawks' secondary, arguably the team's best asset, would remain intact.

That brings us to Wilson, the 5-foot-11 elephant in the room. You can't win in the NFL without a good quarterback, so they don't come cheap.

After this season, Wilson will become eligible to renegotiate a contract that currently pays him less than his two backups. Seattle likely will be on the hook for about $20 million a season.

That means there won't be much money left for other players entering the last year of their contracts: Doug Baldwin, Cliff Avril, Malcolm Smith and Byron Maxwell. It might mean Marshawn Lynch, due to make $7 million in 2015, could be on the chopping block if his production wanes this season.

Still, Seattle must cut the checks to Sherman, Thomas and Wilson. Too often, big money is paid to players exiting their prime; all three likely still have their best years ahead. Plus, the team doesn't need contract holdouts and acrimony during a championship window, which always closes quicker than anyone anticipates.

Coach/president Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider assembled a Super Bowl winner largely with late-round draft picks who outperformed their meager contracts.

To keep Seattle among the NFL's elite will require more of the same, now that the Seahawks will literally have to pay for their success.