RENTON, Wash. (AP) — The vast majority of what the Seattle Seahawks needed to do in churning through its roster and clearing out a handful of players with big contracts later in their careers took place last offseason.
The moves helped accelerate what coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider were hoping to do in "refreshing" Seattle's roster and set up the franchise for having salary cap flexibility in the future.
But the difficult decisions didn't end with the departures of Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and choosing not to extend safety Earl Thomas. After completing an unexpected season of 10 wins and a playoff berth, the Seahawks still have a few significant free agent decisions to make heading into the offseason.
And the two most important would appear to be on the defensive side with linebacker K.J. Wright coming off an injured-filled season and pass rusher Frank Clark looking to cash in on the best season of his young career.
"This time of year, we always cite that it's a really difficult time," Carroll said. "There's a lot of stuff that has to take place, there's a lot of business. John (Schneider) has a master plan of carrying this thing out. He's got a schedule and calendar of all kinds of stuff that he's working. Already, we're well into it. There's a strategy and a plan to carry this out and our guys know. We've communicated with everybody."
Seattle has 14 unrestricted free agents heading into offseason, with Clark and Wright headlining the list because of their specific situations. Thomas is also an unrestricted free agent, but after a contentious holdout last offseason and a season-ending leg injury suffered in Week 4, the likelihood of Thomas continuing his career with Seattle appears slim at best.
Clark and Wright both played this past season in the final year of their contracts, choosing to take the risk of not having contract certainty going into 2019. The results touched both ends of the spectrum of possibilities and leaves Seattle with intriguing decisions to make.
Clark proved his worth as an elite pass rusher with a career-high 14 sacks in his first season playing without Bennett and fellow veteran Cliff Avril around. It was the most sacks by any Seattle player since 2007 and put Clark in line for a massive payday should he hit the open market.
But that possibility may drive Seattle to use its franchise tag for the first time since 2010 when it was used on kicker Olindo Mare. While Carroll and others have made it clear they want Clark as part of the future, it may be easier for Seattle to pay Clark around $18 million for 2019 and try to work out something long term in the interim.
While Clark seemed to prove his future worth, this season only raised questions about whether Wright should be part of Seattle's future. It wasn't because of his play as when he was on the field, Wright continued to show his value to Seattle's defense, highlighted by his juggling end zone interception against Dallas in the playoff loss. But Wright will turn 30 in July and had knee issues derail most of his 2018 season.
"I'm pretty sure he's going to be telling me everything that is going on," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said of Wright. "I'll pay attention to it. He's my brother and I hope everything works out, but I understand it's a business."
Aside from Wright and Clark, Seattle must make decisions on two key offensive linemen with guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker having played 2018 on one-year deals and helped the Seahawks have the best run game in the NFL.
Other key unrestricted free agents who played important roles in 2018 include cornerback Justin Coleman, running back Mike Davis, kicker Sebastian Janikowski and linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
And hanging over all of Seattle's decisions are how any of them will play into potential contract extensions for quarterback Russell Wilson and Wagner, who both have deals that expire after the 2019 season.
"Russ and I met and we talked about the future. We are talking about where we are going and what we want to get done. And, you know, that's very much in our plans," Carroll said.