Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks face tough decisions with free agents Bennett, Tate

Unrestricted free agent Michael Bennett is not walking around with a 30 percent off sticker affixed to his forehead.

As he said after the season, this is not Costco. This is real life. There will be no discounts.

Welcome to NFL free agency.

After a potent year at defensive tackle and end for the Seattle Seahawks — Bennett was moved as needed to be a funky matchup — he has become their most sought after unrestricted free agent. Official talks between his agent and the Seahawks can start Saturday morning. The backdoor conversations have been going on for weeks.

Players cannot sign new contracts until Tuesday. In between, teams will have an exclusive three-day window to talk to their unrestricted free agents. Multiple reports have said Bennett will become a free agent instead of signing early with the Seahawks.

He’s one part of the Seahawks’ effort to keep together their Super Bowl-winning team as much as

possible. Wide receiver Golden Tate is the other notable unrestricted free agent. He led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season.

On Friday, Seattle took its first mild steps toward roster retention. A second-round tender offer was made to wide receiver and restricted free agent Doug Baldwin. If Baldwin signs the tender, that means he is under contract in 2014, at least initially, for about $2.19 million.

These tenders often are holdover offers. Baldwin can sign the tender offer, then see the Seahawks restructure his contract closer to the season. In most cases, the restructuring comes with a threat of being cut by the team if the player does not accept less money than the initial tender offer. It’s unlikely Baldwin would find himself in that situation, but a good reminder that NFL teams are able to operate ruthlessly.

If Baldwin chooses not to sign the tender, he can negotiate with any team through May 2. If Baldwin signs with a new team, the Seahawks can match the offer and retain him. If the Seahawks choose not to match the offer, they receive a compensatory second-round pick for another team signing him.

When it comes to dealing with free agents, this is a piecemeal offseason for Seattle. The Seahawks signed backup center Lemuel Jeanpierre and backup safety Jeron Johnson to one-year contract extensions. Each was a restricted free agent.

Bennett and Tate are two important starters, but they don’t carry the panache of free safety Earl Thomas or cornerback Richard Sherman, who can become free agents after the 2014 season. While the Seahawks manage this year’s salary cap and roster needs, they are balancing the future.

NFL teams received more room in their waistbands last week when the salary cap for the 2014 season was raised $10 million to $133 million. The cap is expected to rise during the next three years, something that could be a huge benefit for the Seahawks in their attempt to remain on top of the league.

“We’re going to try to do whatever we can … to try to keep this core together,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said at the NFL combine last week. “We have days ahead that are going to be hard because they are going to be tough decisions. If you want to be a championship-caliber football team, you have to make those tough decisions. You can’t keep everybody.”