The Seattle Seahawks ended minicamp with a feeling ominous for the rest of the NFL: they think they might just be better now than they were a year ago when they won the Super Bowl.
"I definitely believe we are way further ahead and it's exciting," quarterback Russell Wilson said after offseason workouts ended. "It's something that you have an itch because you know how to do it at a very high level. And the best part about it is we can continue to do it better. There are a lot more ways that we can be better."
Coach Pete Carroll agreed, saying, "I'm hoping that in a lot of areas we have improved some."
Maybe you wouldn't expect anything else out of two people who have earned a reputation for perpetually seeing the positive in anything.
But the views of Wilson and Carroll were privately shared by many around the organization, who think the team is perfectly positioned to make another Super Bowl run.
While Seattle suffered some significant losses in the offseason, due largely to decisions made for salary-cap reasons, the Seahawks think they have found suitable replacements for the departed.
And the rest of the roster, they think, may be better than a year ago due to improved health and another year of experience.
A couple of specific areas where Seattle may be better:
--A receiving corps that could be deeper and more explosive with a healthy Percy Harvin and the addition of draft picks Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood.
--An offensive line that could be more consistent with the expected return to health of center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung, the continued maturation of young players such as right tackle Michael Bowie, tackle/guard Alvin Bailey and the addition of second-round pick Justin Britt.
--And a linebacking corps that is entering its prime and might have been a little overlooked last year due to a variety of injuries and issues that rarely allowed the Seahawks to put their projected starting trio on the field at the same time.
Then there is the return of by-now established players such as Wilson, safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, all entering the prime of their careers and seemingly unsatisfied with having one just one Super Bowl title.
The Seahawks do have a few issues to resolve. Their defensive line depth took a hit in the offseason with the loss of veterans Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald, something the team tried to address in June by signing 12-year veteran free agent Kevin Williams. Still, they will need some young players to step up to fully replicate the rotation of a year ago that was such a key to the Super Bowl run.
And minicamp news was dominated by the saga of running back Marshawn Lynch, who was reported to be thinking of holding out in an attempt to get more money. Lynch reported, but did not participate due to an ankle injury. Still, it's unclear if he will report for the opening of training camp or hold out, with the knowledge that the team is grooming Christine Michael and Robert Turbin to eventually take over. Lynch has been the centerpiece of the Seattle offense the last three years, and while the team may be able to survive a slight drop in production, having a happy and healthy Lynch is still the preferred route to a repeat.
Wilson, though, insisted that one thing that won't be an issue is a Super Bowl hangover.
After closing minicamp, the Seahawks received their Super Bowl rings in a private ceremony. Wilson said he expected the moment to only increase the appetite for earning another one.
"When we get that ring, and put that heavy ring on our finger and you realize that we actually won the Super Bowl, it makes you want to do it again," Wilson said. "And that's what we have, that's the itch that we have: how we can do it again and how we can do it that much better."
Players report: July 24
First practice: July 25
--Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday (July 23).
The 27-year-old Rice ends his career with 243 receptions for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns in 81 games played with 57 starts.
"After careful consideration and seven wonderful years playing in the National Football League, including the last three for the Seattle Seahawks, I have decided to retire from playing in the National Football League," Rice said in a statement. "I have enjoyed my experiences with all of my coaches, teammates and passionate Seahawks fans. I take great pride in knowing I was one of the players signed to help build the foundation of the team that ultimately won the Super Bowl."
Rice was originally drafted in the second round (44th overall) in the 2007 draft by the Minnesota Vikings and played four seasons in Minnesota with 26 starts in 48 games played. He totaled 146 receptions for 2,129 yards and 18 touchdowns with the Vikings and was voted to the Pro Bowl after the 2009 season, when he recorded career-highs in receptions (83), yards (1,312) and touchdowns (8).
Rice signed with the Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent on July 29, 2011 and started 31 of 33 games played. Rice started all 16 games for the first time in his career totaling 50 receptions for 748 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012.
Rice's 2013 season was cut short after eight games when he suffered a knee injury at St. Louis on Oct. 28. He recorded 15 receptions for 231 yards and three touchdowns during Seattle's Super Bowl-winning season.
Rice recently invested in Wingstop and opened the first of five franchises in the Seattle area in June.
"The entire organization would like to thank Sidney for his leadership over the past three seasons," general manager John Schneider said in a statement. "His time as a Seahawks player displayed the core values that Pete and I aimed to bring to the program and Sidney is a true champion. We wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors."
--The Super Bowl win hasn't changed the team's desire to have lots of open practices during training camp. The Seahawks will have 12 open practices, each expected to draw 2,500 or more fans. Coach Pete Carroll says he likes the game-like atmosphere that the open practices create. The team trains at its regular complex in Renton, Wash.
--Prior to minicamp, the team solved one apparent roster logjam by releasing free agent quarterback Keith Price. That cut the number of quarterback on the roster to four: Russell Wilson, Tarvaris Jackson, Terrelle Pryor and B.J. Daniels. Jackson and Pryor are battling for the backup job while Daniels could again be destined to practice-squad duty.
--Team strength: Secondary.
Everything Seattle does on a defense that last year ranked as the best in the NFL starts with its Legion of Boom secondary. Cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor are each among the best at their position in the NFL. That is particularly so in the case of Thomas, whose ability to cover so much ground in the back end keys everything, and Sherman. Byron Maxwell, who emerged as the other starter at cornerback opposite Sherman late in the season, was a revelation who also may soon get a big payday.
--Breakout player: Running back Christine Michael.
Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell created a little of a stir when he said at a Town Hall meeting with the fans that the team might go with a running-back-by-committee approach this season. He later clarified that he was referring to how players were being used in practice. Still, there seems little doubt that the Seahawks would like to get the ball a lot more this season to second-year tailback Christine Michael, the team's first pick in 2013 in the second round out of Texas A&M. Michael got carries in mop-up duty of just three games last season. But he is being groomed to be the eventual successor to Marshawn Lynch, and depending on his progress in training camp with pass blocking and knowledge of the playbook, could get regular carries throughout the season. First, though, he has to beat out third-year player Robert Turbin for the backup tailback spot.
--Fantasy football reality check: Wide receiver Percy Harvin.
A year ago, Harvin might have been a top-five pick in just about any league. This year, most fantasy players may be hesitant about Harvin given that he played in just three of a possible 19 games last season, including playoffs, and just one in the regular season. But Harvin could prove to be a steal. During OTAs and minicamp, Harvin appeared recovered from the hip surgery of a year ago and with Golden Tate gone to Detroit, looms as the Seahawks' No. 1 receiving target. He also is almost certain to return kickoffs and might return punts as well. His injury history means there may always be some risk with Harvin. But the payoff could also be huge for a player entering his prime.
No question about the starter, with Wilson returning for his third season, already having established himself as one of the best in the NFL. Wilson will work in training camp on refining his game on third downs and the red zone, and building chemistry with a receiving corps that includes two rookies who could play key roles. Jackson and Pryor will wage a battle for the backup job that looms as one of the most intriguing on the team. Jackson is a veteran well-respected in the locker room, having been the starter in 2011 when he played through a painful pec injury. Pryor, though, has enticing athleticism and if he shows some improvement in the consistency of his passing, he could win the job. Daniels could be on the practice squad again.
Lynch threatened a holdout prior to minicamp, seeing the writing on the wall that the team might release him following the 2014 season with a $9 million cap hit coming in 2015 and Michael and Turbin being groomed as replacements. He might still hold out in training camp, looking for some more upfront money. But the expectation is that he will again be the, well, Lynch pin around which the Seattle offense revolves. He's 28 and his yards per carry dropped last year from 5.0 to 4.2. But most around the team credit that more to issues with the offensive line than Lynch. Michael is explosive, but mostly sat last year while learning how to be an NFL player, and refining his pass blocking. Turbin, the backup a year ago, looked better in OTAs and minicamp after having offseason knee surgery. Coleman again looms as the starting fullback. This is a big training camp for Ware, who can play both spots, but missed most of last season with an ankle injury. Small, the team's seventh-round pick, could make a run at a roster spot depending on how well he blocks.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Zach Miller. Backups - Luke Willson, Anthony McCoy, Cooper Helfet, RaShaun Allen, Chase Dixon.
Miller, an eight-year vet, restructured his deal to stay with the Seahawks. His 33 catches were the second-lowest of his NFL career, but he had five touchdowns and remains a trusted target in critical situations. He also remains the best blocking tight end the team has. Willson, a second-year player, is one of the fastest tight ends in the league, but will have to show better blocking to be an every-down player. McCoy missed last year with an Achilles injury, but has some big-play ability. Helfet hung around the practice squad last year and shows consistent hands. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Allen, an undrafted free agent signed after trying out at rookie minicamp, looks the part.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin. Backups - Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Kevin Norwood, Ricardo Lockette, Bryan Walters, Chris Matthews, Arceto Clark, Taylor Price, Phil Bates, Kevin Smith.
While Seattle lost Golden Tate in free agency, many around the team think this unit could be better than it was a year ago. The key is keeping Harvin, who missed all but one regular-season game last year, healthy. So far so good as he was a consistent standout during OTAs and minicamp. Baldwin signed a new three-year deal after catching 50 passes last season and emerging as the team's best third-down threat, and will play more on the outside this year to fill in for Tate. Richardson, the team's first pick in the second round, could emerge as the third starter in three-receiver sets, when Harvin or Baldwin could move inside. Richardson may have the best straight-line speed of any of the receivers who seem a given to make the team. Kearse, an undrafted free agent in 2012, made some of the team's biggest plays of the season in a reserve role and has a rare ability to adjust to the ball in the air. Norwood, a fourth-round pick, appears likely to make the team as a possession-type receiver, a good complement to Richardson's explosiveness. But there are lots of intriguing talents behind those players. Lockette may be the fastest player on the roster and came up big on special teams late last season. Matthews, signed out of the CFL, is 6-foot-5 and could be a big-target option if Rice isn't healthy. Walters has some of the best hands on the team and also was getting looks at punt returner during the offseason (as were Harvin and Baldwin).
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Russell Okung, LG James Carpenter, C Max Unger, RG J.R. Sweezy, RT Michael Bowie. Backups - LT Alvin Bailey, LT Garry Gilliam, LG Caylin Hauptmann, LG Jared Smith, C Lemuel Jeanpierre, C Greg Van Roten, RG Stephen Schilling, RT Justin Britt, G Bronson Irwin, T Nate Isles.
While the Seahawks lost RT Breno Giacomini and G/T Paul McQuistan in free agency, they also return four of the starters from the Super Bowl in Okung, Carpenter, Unger and Sweezy. Those four appear set as the starters at their spots in 2014, assuming Okung recovers fully from offseason surgery to fix a toe injury that cost him eight games in 2013. Unger also battled through an assortment of injuries in 2013 and the Seahawks hope that a return to health of Unger and Okung will fix some of the issues the team had a year ago, particularly in pass blocking -- Seattle allowed 44 sacks. Carpenter was a pleasant surprise in the offseason with his conditioning and stamina, and the team thinks he may finally fulfill the potential that compelled the Seahawks to take him with their first pick in 2011. Sweezy is one of the team's steadier players, and among the most athletic on the line. Maybe the biggest position battle on the entire roster in training camp looms at right tackle behind second-year player Bowie and rookie Britt, taken with the second of the team's two second-round picks. Bowie started nine games last season and was regarded as the heir apparent, but showed up to the offseason program a little overweight. Britt impressed during minicamp and OTAs with his quick feet and grasp of the playbook. Bailey looms as the backup at left tackle, but like Bowie came back a little out of shape. Jeanpierre is a trusted backup who also appears likely to make the team. Hauptmann, who can play just about everywhere, also looks in good shape to make the roster as a versatile reserve. Schilling was an intriguing offseason pickup. He played sparingly in three seasons with the Chargers, but the Seahawks think he may be a good fit for their zone blocking scheme. Van Roten, who most recently played for Green Bay, could wage a battle for the backup center job. And the team is high on Gilliam, an undrafted free agent who saw lots of time at left tackle in OTAs and minicamp with Okung sidelined.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Michael Bennett, LDT Tony McDaniel, RDT/NT Brandon Mebane, RDE Cliff Avril. Backups - LDT Jordan Hill, LDE Cassius Marsh, T Kevin Williams, T Michael Brooks, T Jimmy Staten, NT Dewayne Cherrington, T D'Anthony Smith, T Jesse Williams, E Greg Scruggs, DE Benson Mayowa.
Like most teams, the Seahawks value versatility, and most players will be asked to play multiple positions. While Seattle lost three valued players in salary-cap moves after the season -- DEs Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and DT Clinton McDonald --- Seattle returns a solid starting four in Bennett, McDaniel, Mebane and Avril. Bennett will be asked to play more in early-down run situations this year. McDaniel could move outside some to take up some of the slack created by the loss of Bryant. Mebane is back in the middle after having his best season in 2013. And Avril is likely to play more snaps this season as he takes over as the starter for Clemons at the team's rush end, or LEO, position. The big question entering the offseason was the loss of some of the experienced depth of last season. But the Seahawks took a big step toward replacing some of that with the signing of Williams, a 12-year vet. He will compete for time at both tackle spots. Hill and Williams are each 2013 draftees who missed much or all of last season due to injuries but are healthy now and expected to contribute on the interior. Scruggs, who missed last year with a knee injury, is expected to vie for time at both end and tackle. Mayowa, a rush end, has added roughly 15 pounds and could become a situational pass rusher at the least. Also worth mentioning is that the team has plans to use strong-side linebacker Bruce Irvin more in pass-rush situations this season, though it's unclear when he will be available after having recent hip surgery. He was the team's first pick in 2012 as a defensive end but played primarily linebacker last season. Marsh, one of the team's fourth-round picks, could also have a big role as essentially Bennett's backup. He was a 250-pound end last year at UCLA but is said to be up to 270 or so now and able to play some inside.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB K.J. Wright, MLB Bobby Wagner, WLB Malcolm Smith. Backups - SLB Bruce Irvin, SLB O'Brien Schofield, MLB Heath Farwell, SLB Mike Morgan, SLB Korey Toomer, WLB Kevin Pierre-Louis, MLB Mike Taylor, WLB Brock Coyle, WLB Horace Miller.
The thinking around the team is that this is the year Wagner becomes acknowledged as one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. His speed, awareness and lateral movement set him apart, and all that held him back last year was an ankle injury early that cost him two games and had him less than 100 percent for a few others. Few think it a coincidence that the team played its best defense when Wagner got healthy for the stretch run. Wright could also break out this year as one of the best in the NFL, boasting 6-foot-4 size and enormous wingspan that makes him one of the better pass defending linebackers in the NFL. He could end up on either the weak side or strong side. Same with Smith, who won the MVP of the Super Bowl, symbolic of his knack last season for always seeming to be around the ball -- he was the one who caught Richard Sherman's tip that clinched the NFC title. Irvin, a first-round pick in 2012, could be sort of a hybrid, playing on the strong side on early downs and defensive end end on passing downs. Pierre-Louis, a fourth-round pick, should make the team as a backup weak-side linebacker and special-teams demon. Toomer was one of the surprises of mini-camp, finally healthy after missing the last two years due to injury, and could make a run at a roster spot. Farwell doesn't play much linebacker, but is a respected special teams player and that alone might get him on the roster for one more season. Schofield is used similarly to Irvin, and if healthy also will be hard to keep off the roster. The team is also high on Miller, an undrafted free agent who has the kind of athleticism the team values.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Richard Sherman, RCB Byron Maxwell, FS Earl Thomas, SS Kam Chancellor. Backups -- CB Jeremy Lane, CB/S Deshawn Shead, CB Tharold Simon, CB Phillip Adams, CB A.J. Jefferson, CB Akeem Auguste, CB Chandler Fenner, SS Jeron Johnson, SS Dion Bailey, FS Terrance Parks, FS Eric Pinkins.
One of the Seahawks' major offseason objectives was to extend Sherman and Thomas. Mission accomplished, and Seattle now has the bulk of the Legion of Boom -- Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor -- under contract through 2017. Those three also rank as among the best at their positions in the NFL and the strength of the Seattle defense. Thomas has rare speed and awareness to play deeper than many safeties, and makes it hard for offenses to get big plays on the Seahawks. Sherman has shown he can back up all his talk. Chancellor doesn't talk much, but speaks loudly on the field, as Denver's Demaryius Thomas found out when he was laid out early by a Chancellor hit that set the tone for the Super Bowl. Seattle let Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner go in the offseason but wasn't worried due to the late-season emergence of Maxwell, whose 6-foot-1, 207-pound size fits the Seattle big-corner prototype. Lane projects as the starting nickel to replace Thurmond, who signed with the Giants. Lane played extensively down the stretch, quelling any fears about his readiness to step into a major role this season. Simon, a fifth-round pick in 2013 who sat out last year due to injuries, was one of the offseason stars and could become the backup outside corner. The team is also high on Jefferson, who spent the last four years with the Vikings and could also help in the return game. Shead is valued for his versatility, which could earn him a roster spot as a backup at just about every spot. Johnson projects as the backup to Chancellor, but needs to stay healthy. Parks was a revelation during the offseason and could also become a backup safety. Pinkins, the team's sixth-round pick in 2014, was drafted as a corner but is playing now at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Steven Hauschka, P Jon Ryan, LS Clint Gresham, KOR Percy Harvin, KOR Doug Baldwin, PR Earl Thomas.
The kicking spots are so stable that Seattle doesn't even have another kicker or punter on its roster at the moment. Hauschka had a breakthrough season in 2013, making 41-of-43 field-goal attempts including the playoffs -- one miss was blocked -- and signed a three-year deal in the offseason. Ryan's average of 42.7 doesn't accurately reflect his value in directional kicking -- Seattle for most of 2013 threatened a decades-old record for fewest punt return yards allowed, for which Ryan got a lot of credit for his hang time and ability to put the ball where the team wanted it. The hope is the finally healthy Harvin can take over as the fulltime kickoff returner; he showed his potential there again in the Super Bowl by running the opening return of the second half back for a touchdown. The punt return spot remains in question; it was held last year by the now-departed Tate. The team insists Thomas is a legit option to be the starter, but Baldwin, Sherman, Richardson and a few others also were getting turns during minicamp. Gresham is also back as the snapper and like the kicking spots, at the moment has no competition.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--FB Michael Robinson (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--LB Mike Morgan (tendered at $570,000) was a valuable special teams player in 2013 but played little at linebacker. He'll likely be back.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--WR Paul Richardson (2/45): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Justin Britt (2/64): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Cassius Marsh (4/108): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Kevin Norwood (4/123): 4 yrs terms unknown.
--LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (4/132): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Jimmy Staten (5/172): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Garrett Scott (6/199): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Eric Pinkins (6/208): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--FB Kiero Small (7/227): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Doug Baldwin: RFA tendered at $2.187M with second-round pick as compensation); 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Michael Bennett: Potential UFA; $28.5M/4 yrs, $16M guaranteed.
--K Steven Hauschka: UFA; $9.15M/3 yrs, $3.35M guaranteed.