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Football / Sports

Seahawks expect personnel changes

INDIANAPOLIS -- Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider bounced from national TV to national radio back to national TV. In between, he answered questions about how to find the right quarterback, the blueprint behind the league's best defense, mining late-round gems and building a young, inexpensive team that can win big.

In other words, he was the conquering hero just returned home (A Super Bowl ring will do that).

Most of the questions lobbed at Schneider during the opening day of the NFL combine hit on bigger-picture items trying to tap into the same idea: How did you do it, John?

Yet the Seahawks have their own internal questions to answer, and no one understands that more than Schneider.

Will the Seahawks re-sign versatile defensive linemen Michael Bennett? Will they re-sign explosive receiver and punt returner Golden Tate? What will they do at right tackle (Breno Giacomini is a free agent) and defensive tackle (Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald are also free agents)? And that's not including veterans with large contracts who could be cut or have their contracts restructured (receiver Sidney Rice and defensive end Chris Clemons).

In fact, after the Super Bowl, coach Pete Carroll reminded his team of a cold reality: That would be the last time that group would ever be intact.

"We are going to try to do whatever we can possible to try to keep this core together and there are going to be tough decisions," Schneider said. "There are a lot of days ahead that are going to be hard because there are going to be tough decisions.

"But if you want to be a consistent, championship-caliber football team, you have to have those tough decisions made. You can't keep everybody. And it's actually a sad thing. But if you play sports you know that last game, you are always thinking to yourself, 'This is the last time we are all going to be together.' Whether you won the Super Bowl or not you always have that feeling."

The Seahawks are not in a position of dire need. Not like in 2010 when they needed a left tackle to replace Hall of Famer Walter Jones. And not like when they were searching for a quarterback in the years before landing Russell Wilson.

The core of Seattle's Super Bowl team will largely return next year, but several key pieces are now in the open pastures of free agency.

Schneider called re-signing Bennett a "top priority" and said re-signing Tate was a "big priority." But the Seahawks will also see what the market is for those two and whether both sides can agree on a price that makes sense (As Bennett reminded everyone during a radio interview recently when asked about much-discussed hometown discounts, "This isn't Costco").

But the questions Seattle is facing extend beyond this offseason. The Seahawks are one of the youngest teams in the league and many of their players are still under rookie contracts.

Safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman are due big raises soon; their rookie contracts run through the 2014 season. Schneider was vague when asked about trying to reach an extension with either this offseason. And the Seahawks can and likely will renegotiate with Wilson after the 2014 season.

Wilson's rookie contract in particular has been a source of hidden bonus. The Seahawks were able to bring in veteran defensive linemen like Bennett and Cliff Avril in large part because Wilson was so cost-effective at a position that typically commands premium money.

"It's a big deal for us," Schneider said. "We've been able to acquire other players, and they were definitely players we were able to acquire that helped us get over the top this year."

The Seahawks have been planning for this moment for some time. Schneider said he and his staff were putting together models for next year even as the playoffs were unfolding.

"We don't look forward to those decisions, but it's more long-term," Schneider said. "We've talked about trying to be a consistent championship-caliber football team and not just one that cruises in for a year and cruises out. We have to work through those issues."

(c)2014 The Seattle Times

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