Doug Baldwin recently got engaged.
So he was already thinking of his future beyond this year.
Then Jermaine Kearse unexpectedly re-signed with the Seahawks. Now Baldwin’s absolutely considering what’s next for him.
Seattle’s biggest surprise of March was re-signing Kearse to a three-year deal worth a total of $13.5 million when even he expected he’d be gone because of costing too much on the open market. That deal on March 10 gives the No. 2 wide receiver $4.5 million per season in 2016, ‘17 and ‘18. That’s $500,000 more than the Seahawks’ No. 1 guy is scheduled to make this year.
Rest assured, that’s not how they will begin the season in September.
One of the reasons Kearse seemed unlikely to return to his hometown team was the fact what the native of Lakewood seemed destined to command in unrestricted free agency would upset Seattle’s salary hierarchy at wide receiver.
And now it has.
Baldwin will be in the final year of his contract in 2016, with a base salary of $4 million. He set the franchise record with his NFL co-leading 14 touchdown catches in 2015. Baldwin, like Kearse, signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent and became a mainstay in the offense that last season set a Seattle record in passing yards.
No one on the team is more prideful, fiery or motivated than Baldwin. Though he is also as much a team guy as there is in Seattle, and though you can see above he’s had some real-world changes to ponder lately, you can bet your favorite “Angry Doug Baldwin” outburst he’s noticing his understudy is now making more than he is.
And you can bet Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll didn’t re-sign Kearse without having a plan in mind to either take care of or at least consider Baldwin.
All the talk of what the Seahawks didn’t do in free agency this month overlooks the fact they couldn’t spend everything because of what they know they must do, and soon.
The need to take care of Baldwin is partly why the Seahawks didn’t make an offer to keep left tackle Russell Okung from leaving in free agency to Denver this month. It’s why J.R. Sweezy, Seattle’s starting right guard the last four seasons, is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Okung and Sweezy are averaging $5 million and $6.5 million per season on their new deals with the Broncos and Bucs.
That’s $5 million and $6.5 million per season saved by Seattle, some of which to use on Baldwin. Other parts of that saved cash went to the needy offensive line this month: to sign free agent Bradley Sowell from Arizona (one year, $1.5 million) to compete with incumbant Garry Gilliam at left tackle; and to sign J’Marcus Webb from Oakland (two years, $6.25 million, $2.5 million guaranteed) to potentially start at right tackle.
The Seahawks are believed to be entering April at just under $7 million in space within their salary cap for 2016, according to overthecap.com. That’s 25th in the 32-team league in available cap cash. That estimate includes, for now, the $11.5 million Marshawn Lynch still is officially counting against Seattle’s cap for 2016. That charge won’t go away until the Seahawks officially receive Lynch’s retirement paperwork and decide to put him on their reserve/retired list. It’s looking more likely that will happen after June 1, for accounting purposes.
Per league rules, after June 1 the Seahawks could split the $5 million prorated charge from Lynch’s signing bonus equally over the final two years of the contract extension he signed before last season. That would mean Lynch would only cost the team $2.5 million this year against the cap instead of $5 million.
That’s $2.5 million more the Seahawks could give to Baldwin to fix their now-skewed contract heirarchy at wide receiver. Schneider said last week at the league’s meetings in Florida that team hasn’t decided yet whether Lynch’s retirement will be a post-June 1 move.
Expect that fix of wide-receiver money to happen -- eventually. First, the Seahawks will likely acquire another offensive lineman or three in next month’s draft. They will pay the few million for what right now will be nine draft choices plus subsequent undrafted free agents. Theu will probably import some more defensive linemen for depth there plus a running back or two to compete behind new No. 1 back Thomas Rawls. And they will see if any veterans around the league cut after June 1 --- former All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady by Denver while recovering from knee reconstruction, perhaps? -- again, for accounting purposes, are attractive and inexpensive enough to sign to low-cost, short-term deals.
All the while Seattle will have its top three wide receivers plus its record-setting quarterback returning for its reborn passing offense in 2016.
Now, if the team can settle on some offensive lineman to block for them.