NFC West: Earl Thomas

ShermanMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsRichard Sherman says the Seahawks won't let their Super Bowl win affect their work ethic.
RENTON, Wash. -- Earl Thomas loves it now when people call him champ. He also must feel pretty good about a new contract worth $40 million.

Defensive end Michael Bennett has a new deal worth five times what his old contract was worth, and wide receiver Doug Baldwin has 13 million reasons (in dollars) to be content.

Quarterback Russell Wilson soon could become the highest paid player in NFL history.

Even for the lesser known players on the Seattle Seahawks roster, life has changed. The best table at the finest restaurants in town is a guarantee. Hotels offer upgrades to the best suite in the house.

There are new commercial endorsements and requests for public appearances. People who didn’t know their names a year ago now know their life stories and see them as heroes and community leaders.

Then there is the team's supercelebrity, cornerback Richard Sherman. Since winning the Super Bowl, Sherman was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Time magazine, joined Wilson at the White House Correspondent Dinner, was asked to speak at Harvard, will be in a Campbell Soup commercial with his mom and will grace the cover of this season’s "Madden 15" NFL video game.

Oh, and he also has a new contract worth $56 million, after making $600,000 last season.

"It’s been unbelievable and a year to remember," Sherman said this week. "Winning the Super Bowl and all the accolades that came with it are wonderful. You get some perks. You go places where you don’t even expect people to know who you are, but they do.

"It feels good and shows you accomplished something and made an impact. You can never quantify what that means. You take it for what it is and enjoy the moment."

[+] EnlargeDoug Baldwin
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiWide receiver Doug Baldwin is among the Seahawks who received new contracts this offseason.
It has been quite a ride, and it can change a man once he reaches the pinnacle of his profession, receiving attention and riches beyond what he could imagine.

Such an enormous change on the ladder of success leaves one key question: Once you become a star, can you remain true to who you are?

The answer to that will go a long way toward determining whether the Seahawks continue to play the game at a championship level.

Will all the acclaim from winning the Super Bowl make it difficult to stay humble and hungry?

"No, because that never was the end goal," Sherman said. "We have a bunch of guys who want to be in the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame and do more things than just win one Super Bowl.

"I think it’s more about love for the game that allows us not to get complacent. We have Pro Bowl players out here acting like they’re fighting or a job. That’s who we’re always going to be."

The coaches say they haven’t seen a single indication that these players have changed their attitude from a year ago.

"When you see how hard our guys are working, you wouldn't know they just won the Super Bowl," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "The same work ethic is there."

Coach Pete Carroll said Sherman is a prime example because he hasn’t missed a single day of offseason workouts or voluntary practice sessions.

"I’m a ballplayer," Sherman said. "What else am I gonna do? When you’re a ballplayer in your heart, this is what you sleep, breathe and eat. I couldn’t imagine myself being anywhere else."

It’s about remembering where you came from. Sherman and Baldwin were among the overlooked and under-appreciated guys ... until now, of course. Angry Doug, as he is known to his teammates, said he has the same passion to prove himself. Sherman said he is still the kid who made good coming out of a rough Los Angeles neighborhood in Compton.

"I’m still the raggedy dog," Sherman said. "That never goes away. You can’t change how you were raised. You can teach and old dog new tricks, but you can’t change where he’s from."

Baldwin said it’s all about looking beyond where they are now.

"I think the guys we have on this team, all of them, want to leave a legacy that’s bigger than just winning a Super Bowl," Baldwin said when he signed his new contract. "Obviously everyone around us, the fans, the community, the city of Seattle, has shown that they’re extremely excited about us. But we’re just so anxious to get back to work."

In Monday’s practice, Thomas pulled aside a rookie and chastised him because Thomas felt he wasn’t playing at the proper tempo on every play. Then he patted him on the helmet and said, "Show me what you’ve got."

Thomas said one thing is never mentioned: winning the Super Bowl.

"It doesn’t matter now," he said. "It’s all about what’s next."

Carroll has been down this road before, although somewhat of a lesser scale, when his USC team won a national championship. He believes it’s his job to make sure the team’s attitude is in the right place.

"I take total responsibility for it," Carroll said. "We hope that the lessons we’ve been teaching all along will fit the situation that we’re faced with right now. We’re trying to monitor it really carefully. It’s an incredible challenge, but I love the challenge we have."

Carroll has a list of things he needs to see.

"For us as coaches, it’s about taking in all the information," he said. "How are the guys handling it? What’s their language like? Where’s their focus and are they tuned in? Making sure they’re not somewhere else and thinking about something else.

"If we start doing that, we won’t have a chance to be the type of team we’re capable of being. It takes discipline. I’m watching and listening for that discipline.”

Over the course of two seasons, the Seahawks went from commoners to royalty. Rich and famous has its advantages. It also has its disadvantages if one isn’t careful.

"Like they say, you never stay the same," Sherman said. "Either you’re getting better or you’re getting worse."

Baldwin said there is a reason beyond athletic skill why the Seahawks became champions. It’s the same reason why they will not allow their success to go to their heads.

"We want to show that we belong, that it wasn’t a fluke," he said. "We want to show we can go out and do it again. And we will do it again."
RENTON, Wash. -- The $40 million man may be the new punt returner for the Seattle Seahawks.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas will receive serious consideration to take over the role as the team's punt returner.

"If we had to start today, Earl would be the first guy back there," Carroll said Tuesday after the first organized team activity practice.

Thomas
And Thomas said he wants the job.

"I've been waiting on this opportunity," Thomas said. "I'm an athlete. I've asked Coach Carroll to put me back there for the longest time. I just want to show them who I am. This is my perfect opportunity to score touchdowns. I'm an offensive guy at heart. That's why I don't run out of bounds when I catch interceptions."

Thomas signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension last month, making him the highest paid safety in the NFL. Obviously, Thomas was a huge factor in helping make the Seahawks the best defense in the NFL last season, but Carroll said he would have no hesitation in using Thomas as the team's punt returner.

The job is up from grads after losing wide receiver Golden Tate to the Detroit Lions in free agency. Carroll said Thomas is option No. 1 right now, but a few other players will get a look at taking the job, including receiver Percy Harvin.

"Coach Carroll asked me about it a couple of weeks ago," Harvin said. "I'm just practicing at it right now. I'm hoping once I get comfortable with it, maybe by preseason, I'll get a little action back there.

"I've always been a [kickoff] returner because every team I've been on had a pretty good punt returner. It's completely different [than kick returning]. The ball falls differently and it hangs different in the air, but I'm going to work at it."

Carroll also listed receiver Bryan Walters and cornerback Richard Sherman as possible punt-return options.

"Sherm will tell you he's the best one," Carroll said. "He catches the ball really well."

Thomas said he did some punt returning at the University of Texas.

"My first one [at Texas] I almost scored a touchdown," Thomas said. "But I got tripped up by the punter."

Some people might think it isn't worth the risk to have Seattle's star defensive player return punts.

"I don't care what they think if it's a way for me to help this team," Thomas said. "And I know I can. I want to be able to impact the game as much as possible. It's a great opportunity for me to do that and I just need to capitalize on it."
Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was running a little late for a news conference in his honor Tuesday, so he might have gone a tad over the speed limit on the way there.

A police officer pulled him over just up the street from the Seahawks' facility. The officer took one look at the driver and let him go with a warning, immediately becoming the most popular policeman with all the 12s.

After all, it was Thomas' big day, the official announcement of the contract extension to make him the first $10 million-a-year NFL safety. The exact numbers are a four-year, $40 million deal with $27.75 million guaranteed and a $9.25 million signing bonus.

"This is a family to me," Thomas said. “I love everybody in this organization. It's not about me. It’s about the people that helped me along the way, too. This is where I grew up [as a football player]. I’m excited to keep this going.”

So are the Seahawks. General manager John Schneider called it a “historic day.”

Coach Pete Carroll said of Thomas’ extension: “It's a very proud moment for us.”

Cornerback Richard Sherman, who also is negotiating a contract extension that could be completed soon, sent out this tweet and Instagram photo.

 

Asked about Sherman's contract, Thomas said he's not worried. “Sherm's got it under control.”

Thomas's extension will piggyback on the final year of his current contract, which pays him $4.6 million in 2014. So the extension keeps him in Seattle through the 2018 season when he’ll be 29.

Thomas said the contract negotiations started out of the blue. He wanted to have it done before training camp.

He said it was important to him to become the highest paid safety, not for the money, but to show his separation as a competitor.

When the news conference ended, Thomas asked all the Seattle defensive coaches to join him on stage because he wanted them to be a part of it.

That says a lot about why the Seahawks were willing to make Thomas’s salary reflect the fact he is the best safety in football.

And being a Seattle hero and good guy might also help you get by with a warning -- this time around -- when you're caught speeding.

If reports Tuesday are accurate, cornerback Richard Sherman is about to become a very wealthy man.

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports first reported the Seahawks are close to reaching a contract extension with Sherman that likely will pay him more than $13 million a year.

Technically, that would make Sherman the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL at the moment. Darrelle Revis, Sherman’s rival, signed a two-year deal with New England worth $32 million overall, but it pays him $12 million this season.

Revis was released by Tampa Bay earlier this year. He had a $16-million-a-year deal with the Bucs.

Sherman is the best corner in the game, so it’s no surprise he will be paid in a fashion to reflect it. However, it will be a bit of a surprise if this deal gets done ahead of a contract extension for Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas.

It was thought the Seahawks would work an extension with Thomas first, then move to Sherman. Or they might wait to use a franchise tag on Sherman at the end of the 2014 season.

But reports Tuesday claim Seattle could reach an extension with Sherman before the NFL draft, which starts May 8.

Thomas, in the final year of a deal that pays him $5.5 million this season, is looking for a deal that will make him the first $10 million-a-year safety. Sherman is in the last year of his original rookie contract and is scheduled to make $1.5 million this year.

The best-case scenario for the Seahawks is to have both Sherman and Thomas signed to extensions before training camp starts this summer.

The Seahawks have been conservative in the free-agent market this spring. Along with releasing a few veteran players, to free up salary-cap space, Seattle knew it needed to look to the future on top players it wanted to re-sign.

Another one of those is quarterback Russell Wilson, who has a bargain-basement base salary this season of $662,000. Wilson can re-negotiate his deal at the end of this season, and could command over $20 million a year.

So Sherman could be the first of the trio to hit the contract jackpot, if today’s reports are accurate, but it’s wise to be cautiously optimistic.

The Seahawks haven't commented on this, and they probably won't. That’s the right policy when negotiating with star players and their agents on deals worth so much money.

Things can change, but all indications are the Seahawks are doing everything they can to show Sherman how much he means to them and how they want him to be here for many years to come.

Franchise/transition tags: Seahawks

February, 17, 2014
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The Seattle Seahawks have three top-priority free agents they want to keep: defensive end Michael Bennett, receiver Golden Tate and kicker Steven Hauschka.

But considering where the team is headed with it salary-cap issues one year from now, it appears unlikely Seattle would use a franchise tag on any of them.

There are three possible franchise designations -- exclusive tender, non-exclusive tender and transition player. All three are explained here.

The Seahawks know a day of reckoning is coming after next season when the contracts are up for cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, and quarterback Russell Wilson is eligible to renegotiate his original contract.

That’s going to cost $35 million to $40 million to keep all three of them. A franchise designation could make sense next year for Sherman or Thomas.

But for now, the cost is just too steep for Bennett or Tate. Bennett would receive a raise of almost $8 million, going from $4.8 million to $12.6 million. Tate’s salary would be an astronomical increase from $880,000 against the salary cap to $11.6 million.

That’s just too steep a price to pay for a team that has to plan ahead for the enormous salary issues coming soon.

However, a franchise tag for Hauschka isn’t completely out of the question. It would cost the Seahawks a comparatively low $3 million, moving Hauschka from $620,000 to $3.6 million.

It may seem a little far-fetched to use the franchise tag on a kicker, but the Seahawks have done it before. General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll opted to use it on kicker Olindo Mare in 2010, but they haven’t used it since.

Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the league last season, missing only two attempts, and one of those was blocked. He also improved his distance on kickoffs with touchbacks on 52 percent on those kicks.

Nevertheless, it’s more likely the Seahawks will try to sign Hauschka to a multiyear deal than use the franchise tag.

A Seattle blueprint worth following

February, 10, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the week-plus following the Seattle Seahawks' victory in the Super Bowl, there has been much discussion about a paradigm shift. The idea is that building a dominant defense to pair with a power running game and doing it mostly through the draft is the way to go rather than continuing to add weapons to build a dynamic aerial attack in the so-called "passing league."

Probably too much has been made of that considering that following Seattle's blueprint to perfection is a lot easier said than done. Draft and develop is the right idea but it's far more difficult in execution than elocution.

[+] EnlargeEarl Thomas
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams have a chance to draft someone like safety Earl Thomas with their two first-round picks this year.
In many ways, the Rams have followed a similar path to Seattle in their rebuilding, investing heavily in the defensive line and the defense as a whole. The NFC West division is built on a foundation of defense and the Rams have put resources into keeping up with Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco in that regard.

That isn't to say the Rams are trying to duplicate exactly what Seattle has done. Not that it's the wrong path to follow but with two picks in the top half of the 2014 NFL draft, there's one blueprint absolutely worth following for the Rams: doing everything possible to come up with a facsimile of Seattle's 2010 first-round haul.

For all the talk of what a find quarterback Russell Wilson was or what a steal the trade for Marshawn Lynch became, Seattle's path to the championship was largely set in motion by a pair of home run selections in the first round of the 2010 draft.

That year, the Seahawks had pick Nos. 6 and 14 and had needs at offensive tackle and free safety, among other spots. They had the additional pick from a trade the season before in which they fleeced Denver out of a future first-round pick in exchange for a second-round choice which became cornerback Alphonso Smith.

Seattle had a pair of fastballs right down the middle and hit them both of the park, selecting tackle Russell Okung at No. 6 and safety Earl Thomas at No. 14.

Okung has battled injuries but when healthy is one of the elite tackles in the game. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2012.

Thomas is the heart and soul of the "Legion of Boom" and has established himself as one of the game's elite players regardless of position. He has earned three Pro Bowl trips and been named first-team All Pro three consecutive years.

Coincidentally, of the Rams' needs heading into this year's draft, a big, physical offensive tackle and a rangy free safety rank pretty high in the pecking order. Although the sample size is too small to make sweeping declarations, the Rams did well with two first-round picks last year when they grabbed receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree.

General manager Les Snead is well aware of just how much having two first-round picks can alter a team's future.

"I even have a little chart hanging on my grease board that basically has every team that had 2 picks in the first round in the history of the draft and who they drafted," Snead said. "So basically what you're telling me is we've got to pick Hall of Fame players. We'd better prepare as thoroughly as possible."

Seattle landing Okung and Thomas is just one example of a franchise-altering first round. Perhaps the most famous two-pack of picks in league history is the 1996 NFL draft when Baltimore used the fourth pick on tackle Jonathan Ogden and the 26th selection on linebacker Ray Lewis. Ogden is already in the Hall of Fame and Lewis will join him soon after he becomes eligible.

Of course, Rams fans with a good memory might still have nightmares about that same draft. Armed with picks 6 and 18, the Rams took running back Lawrence Phillips and receiver Eddie Kennison. Those two whiffs certainly did nothing to help the Rams get back to respectability, especially considering they could have potentially had Eddie George and Marvin Harrison instead.

At first glance, this year's tackle class appears to have some elite talent with players like Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews. It remains to be seen whether any of the top safeties would merit a pick in the range of the Rams' 13th pick or if the Rams would even select one in the first round. Other positions will obviously be under consideration as well.

Expecting to land a pair of Hall of Famers like Ogden and Lewis is probably asking too much. But there's no doubt the Rams could do a lot worse than adding a duo like Okung and Thomas to fill positions of need.
Robert Mathis, Richard Sherman and NaVorro BowmanAP Photo, USA TODAY SportsIndianapolis' Robert Mathis, Seattle's Richard Sherman and San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman have all put up numbers that could result in defensive player of the year honors.
Denver's Peyton Manning broke passing records with his arm. Kanas City's Jamaal Charles was a treat to watch running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Detroit's Megatron (Calvin Johnson) was simply incredible with his freakishly athletic skills at wide receiver.

But there were some players on the other side of the ball who deserve to be honored for their play this season.

The problem is deciding who deserves it more than the other players.

The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year will be named this weekend.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss the top candidates for the award.

Wells: Bill, it appears that defensive player of the year is a wide-open race this season. There are a number of different players who deserve to win it. Robert Mathis in Indianapolis, Carolina's Luke Kuechly, St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Seattle's Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, who you cover on a regular basis. Who do you think deserves the award?

SportsNation

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Williamson: Yes, Mike, there are some very solid candidates. But I have to go with the player I saw dominate for 19 weeks. Bowman is simply unbelievable. He stood out in every game. He set the tone for one of the NFL's finest defenses with his dominant play from a 3-4 inside linebacker position. Bowman had 143 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, one he returned 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers' playoff-clinching win. Bowman excelled against both the run and the pass. He's a football player's player. Sadly, his season ended in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game when he suffered a torn ACL. In typical Bowman fashion, he was hurt by stripping the ball at the goal line. Mike, a player you cover, Mathis, is considered the favorite to win the DPOY. Do you think he deserves it?

Wells: I'm sure some people will call you and I homers, but I've got to give the edge to Mathis because he was a one-man wrecking crew on defense. It was personal and team oriented for Mathis. He wanted to prove the he could still be a force without playing alongside of Dwight Freeney. Mathis had no problem talking about how that added fuel to his already flaming fire. He backed it up by leading the league in sacks with 19.5. He ended up accounting for 46.4 percent of the Colts' sacks this season because they only had 42 as a team. Mathis used his infamous chop down on the quarterback's passing arm to force a league-leading eight fumbles. Those eight forced fumbles led to 35 points for Indianapolis. The Colts struggled at times defensively during the season. They would have been really bad if they didn't have Mathis on the roster. You covered games involving Seattle's Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman three times, including the NFC Championship Game. Is there a legitimate argument for either one of them to be DPOY?

Williamson: Oh, certainly on both Seattle players. Again, lots of great candidates here. Sherman and Thomas are among the best defensive players in the league and they are a big reason why the Seahawks are preparing to play in the Super Bowl. Thomas is a tone-setter at the back end of a special defense. Sherman is probably the best cornerback in the NFL and one of the best players in the game regardless of position. The 49ers tested him with the game on the line in the NFC title game and they lost because of it. There are really no wrong answers here. I can't knock Mathis or any of the other candidates. But I just think Bowman deserves to win the award because of his overall impact on the game. There's really no way for offenses to avoid him. Mike, do you think Mathis is a complete player or is he a top candidate solely on his pass-rush prowess?

Wells: This is where the argument doesn't favor Mathis. He rarely dropped back into coverage because he's a pass-rushing linebacker. I'm not saying he isn't capable of being in pass coverage, but I haven't seen him do it enough because coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense is all about getting after the quarterback with Mathis. His ability to pressure the quarterback trickles down to players like linebacker Jerrell Freeman and the entire secondary. It allows them to gamble on the ball more defensively. Some may consider Mathis a one-dimensional defensive player, but he does that one thing well. Seattle's Russell Wilson and Manning, the two starting quarterbacks in this weekend's Super Bowl, can validate that because Mathis sacked both of them during the regular season.

Is Bowman's ability to defend pass coverage the main reason you give him the edge over Mathis?

Williamson: No, it's just his overall game. Again, he impacts it in every way. Look at his stat line: There's nothing he didn't do. He was making plays on first, second and third down. And, yes, he was just as apt to make a play 15 yards downfield as he was at the line of scrimmage. In fact, on his interception return for a touchdown, he was supposed to blitz but he read the play and darted back into coverage. He had 118 solo tackles, the second most in the NFL this season. Again, there are no wrong answers here, but for me Bowman is the best answer.

Manning's Omaha? Seahawks don't care

January, 24, 2014
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RENTON, Wash. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning can bark out "Omaha" or any other middle America city he wants to use in his signal calling.

The Seattle Seahawks don't care. They won't be listening in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Seattle defense knows Manning says a lot of things while he's making his play-calling decisions before each snap, but the Seahawks won't try to translate it like some on-the-field United Nations interpreter.

"You can't be a genie and think what he's thinking," Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said. "Obviously, you don't know what's coming. That's why you just have to be ready for anything. You just have to think principled ball. Why are you out there? It's best to just line up and do what you do."

What they do, in becoming the No. 1 defense in the NFL, is play aggressively and be physical at the point of attack with press coverage. The Seahawks aren't going to change things to try to second-guess Manning's constant audibles.

"Certainly for us, we have a real style about how we play," Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "We have to focus on our style and our football. We know that part of those checks [Manning's signals] are dummy calls at the line of scrimmage.

"So for us, it's more about how we play than the checks and the information that they're doing on the other side."

Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor said it comes down to the communications between the guys on defense more than deciphering Manning's codes.

"It's not worth it trying to figure out what he's saying," Chancellor said. "Just play your defense, play your coverage, know what you have to do on your side of the ball and just be sound at it."

And, for the record, what's does Chancellor think "Omaha" means?

"I have no clue," he said.
RENTON, Wash. -- While the Seahawks prepare for the biggest moment of their career, one man who helped them get there is outside looking in.

Cornerback Brandon Browner is serving a one-year suspension, reportedly for marijuana use, a suspension that started, officially, last month. Browner is planning legal action against the NFL to fight his suspension.

But for now, the Super Bowl is something Browner will have to watch on TV. In some ways, Browner is the forgotten man, but not with teammate Earl Thomas.

"I check on him all the time," Thomas said Thursday. "He’s still my brother. He has shed blood like everybody else on this team. You never forget the guys you sweat with and had so many good times with. You love him like a brother.

"Of course he wants to be a part of this, but we don’t throw that in his face. He knows this team is special. We’re playing for him now. We all talk about how much we miss him. We wish he was here."

The next big thing: Seahawks

January, 23, 2014
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RENTON, Wash. -- Obviously, the next big thing for the Seahawks is the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. Nothing else matters at the moment.

However, when the big game is over, the Seahawks have difficult contract decisions to make because they know a day of reckoning is coming when they will need to pay some star players big bucks in the near future.

It won't be this year, but soon for cornerback Richard Sherman and quarterback Russell Wilson. Sherman has one year left on a deal that counts only $690,000 against the salary cap next season. He will soon command a salary of well over $10 million a year.

Wilson will make only $662,000, next season, but after that, some big-time renegotiating is going to happen. And the day will come when the Seahawks will have to pay Wilson at least $20 million more per year than he's making now.

All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas also has only a year left on a deal that pays him $3.7 million in 2014.

So some maneuvering will be in order soon, and some players currently on the roster will have to move on because of salary-cap limits.

The immediate concerns are wide receiver. Golden Tate is a free agent who made only $880,000 this season. Doug Baldwin is a restricted free agent with a salary that counts only $560,000 against the cap. Can Seattle keep both of them and pay Percy Harvin's six-year, $67 million deal?

Maybe, but certainly not if receiver Sidney Rice stays. He has two years left on five-year, $41 million contract. It's unlikely he will return.

No doubt the Seahawks wish they had signed defensive lineman Michael Bennett to more than a one-year deal at $4.8 million. He won't be easy to keep after the sensational year he's had.

Seattle also must make a decision on starting right tackle Breno Giacomini, a free agent who counted $4.7 million against the cap this season.

Seahawks wanted Manning all along

January, 22, 2014
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks didn’t take any time last week thinking about whom they might play in the Super Bowl. Taking on the rival 49ers was a big enough task. Super Bowl questions would have to wait.

Manning
But now that it’s here, the Seahawks players say this is what they wanted all along, a showdown with possibly the best quarterback ever to play the game in Denver's Peyton Manning.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “They’re an unbelievable, record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s as good as it gets. And that’s as tough a game as you can get in the Super Bowl.

“The No. 1 defense [Seattle] against the No. 1 offense [Denver]. It doesn’t happen like this too often where both No. 1 seeds make it. It’s a testament to the hard work on both teams. I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic game."

It may be the first snowy game in a Super Bowl. Temperatures in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 could be in the teens, and snow always is a possibility that time of year in New Jersey.

“We’re ready for it,” Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “Whatever happens, we don’t care about the weather. We just want to go out there and win the game."

And winning against one of the all-time greats would add to the moment for many of the Seahawks.

“Going heads-up with Peyton Manning is special," Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith said. “Just knowing all the things he’s done for football, it’s really an exciting opportunity.”

Free safety Earl Thomas can't wait to test his skills against Manning.

“As a competitor, you always want to play the best,” Thomas said. “We know what’s at stake. We know a chance like this is rare.”
RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas knows the Arizona offense he will see Sunday is much better than the one he saw two months ago in the 34-22 Seahawks’ victory on the road.

Thomas said the biggest difference is the improvement in quarterback Carson Palmer.

“He’s just gotten more familiar with the offense,” Thomas said. “He’s playing at his peak right now, and their offense is doing some intricate details they didn’t do the first time we played them.”

Thomas
Palmer completed only 10 of 20 passes and had two interceptions in Week 7 against the Seahawks. But he was under constant pressure from the Seattle pass-rushers, who sacked him seven times.

The offensive line has improved for the Cardinals over the past two months and given Palmer more time to throw. Arizona has won six of its past seven games since the Seattle loss, improving to 9-5, and the better blocking up front has led to some big plays from receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

But stopping big plays is what the Seattle defense does best. The NFL categorizes it as explosive plays or GAP -- game altering plays. It’s any pass of 16 yards or more, and any run of 12 yards or more.

“I pay attention to the explosives,” said Thomas, when asked which defensive statistic is most important to him. “That’s my job as the free safety. I want to be the best in the league at stopping those.”

The Seahawks are No 1 in fewest GAPs allowed this season with 76. And they easily are the league best in passing explosives, having allowed only 47 in 14 games.

Seattle leads the league in interceptions with 22, but the Seahawks also lead the NFL with 13 interceptions on passes outside the numbers. Seattle has allowed only five touchdown passes this season on throws outside the numbers.

Sherman picks Thomas as the best

December, 20, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is tied for the league lead with six interceptions. His teammate Earl Thomas is one behind with five interceptions. So who would Sherman vote for right now at the NFL's defensive player of the year?

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"I would have to give it to Earl," Sherman said. "I think if there is anywhere that the defensive player of year should be, it should be in Seattle, whether it's myself or Earl. But Earl is having a fantastic year. He's flying around tackling everywhere, forcing fumbles, getting interceptions. I don't think there is anybody out there playing better defense, and our defense is number one in the league. So I think he should get it."

Sunday could be a big game for both players. One of Thomas' interceptions this season came in the Arizona game two months ago, and Sherman is at his best when the Seahawks play the Cardinals. Sherman's 18 interceptions over the past three seasons are the best in the NFL, something the Cardinals have seen all too often. Sherman's four interceptions against Arizona are the most against any opponent.

Sherman is coming off his second career multi-interception game, picking off two passes in the 23-0 win against the New York Giants last weekend at MetLife Stadium. But Sherman feels the Cardinals are a much better team now than the one Seattle beat in October. Arizona has won six of seven games since that loss.

"I believe they are a more confident team now," Sherman said. "They believe in what they're doing. They have executed their game plan more effectively. I think they have gotten [wide receivers] Larry Fitzgerald along with Michael Floyd a little more involved in the offense, and they have been able to get some explosive plays. And I think [quarterback] Carson Palmer is throwing with some confidence."
Seattle Seahawks Ron Antonelli/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks made five interceptions, including two apiece by Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If the Seattle Seahawks return to this stellar, and likely frigid, facility in a few weeks for the game of games, it will be because of a defense with depth, talent and skills like no other.

Quarterback Russell Wilson is the glamour boy of this team, and deservedly so, as he showed once again in a 23-0 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday at MetLife stadium.

But posting a shutout for the first time this season, along with picking off five Eli Manning passes, at the venue where the Super Bowl takes place in seven weeks is something to remember.

This defense is the other thing that sets the Seahawks apart.

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said of playing at the Super Bowl site. “Of course it did. And it feels good to play like this here. If the time comes and we take care of business to get back here, it will matter. No doubt about it.”

Seattle, with the NFL’s best record at 12-2, entered the game with the No. 1 defense in the league in yards allowed. It won’t change after this one. The Seahawks gave up only 181 yards, including just 25 yards rushing on 14 carries.

Look at it like this: The Seahawks gave up 26 fewer yards rushing Sunday than they did on one big play to Frank Gore in the 19-17 loss at San Francisco last week, a day on which Seattle allowed 163 yards rushing to the 49ers.

“We had a chip on our shoulders about that,” said Wagner, who led the team Sunday with 10 tackles and 1 sacks. “We wanted to show that’s not who we are.”

Who they are is a defense with such extraordinary depth that a third-string cornerback can intercept two passes against Manning. Byron Maxwell now has three interceptions in the past two games starting at right cornerback. Manning found out the hard way that Maxwell isn’t your typical backup.

“Yeah, he tested me on the very first play,” Maxwell said, referring to an incomplete pass intended for Victor Cruz. “But I feel like I’m just as good as our starters and I want people to know it.”

Manning had been playing much better in recent weeks after a horrible start to the season, but he was no match for the Seattle secondary. He made the senseless decision to challenge cornerback Richard Sherman on a sideline go-route, which Sherman picked off so easily he might as well have called a fair catch.

Sherman had two picks and assisted on another when he tipped a pass into the end zone in the fourth quarter that free safety Earl Thomas caught to preserve the shutout.

“He owed me one after I let him have that pick on the [Hail Mary] pass at the end of the half,” Thomas said. “We came prepared [Sunday]. We had a bad outing last week, but that doesn’t define us.

“You saw what happened [Sunday]. We need to keep this same mentality, because when we’re [angry] like this, we’re hard to beat. We did a lot of things right today and really disguised our coverage.”

Thomas said the Seahawks changed things up a little against the Giants by starting most plays with two safeties deep, but then one of them would close in near the line of scrimmage right before the snap. The Giants didn’t know who it would be -- Thomas or strong safety Kam Chancellor.

“Did you see some of those hits Kam made today?” Maxwell asked. “Wow. One guy for [the Giants], I won’t say who, came up to me and said, ‘That’s a man right there,’ talking about Kam.”

Almost everyone on the Seattle defense looked like men among boys Sunday. The Giants didn’t even cross midfield until midway through the fourth quarter, long after the outcome was decided.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin called New York’s offensive performance “pathetic.” The Seahawks have made a lot of offenses look that way this season, but this game stood out.

“That’s as good a defensive coverage day for us as I can remember,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “Guys really stepped up. It’s as complete a game as we’ve had.”

That includes receiver Doug Baldwin, who caught six passes for 71 yards and 12-yard touchdown on which he fought he way to the goal line. It includes running back Marshawn Lynch, who had six receptions for 73 yards, along with a 2-yard TD run that saw him break four tackles and will his way into the end zone.

And, of course, it includes Wilson, who was 18-of-27 passing for 206 yards and one touchdown, along with 50 yards rushing.

Let’s give Wilson his due. He became the only quarterback in NFL history to win 23 games in his first two seasons. He also is one of only three quarterbacks in league history -- joining Dan Marino and Peyton Manning -- to throw 50 TDs in his first two seasons.

The Seahawks would not be where they are without Wilson. But the new golden boy of the NFL would not be where he is without this remarkable defense that just played lights-out on the field where they hope to return soon.

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RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said he thought the San Francisco 49ers deliberately tried to avoid him last weekend and didn’t run many pass plays over the middle in his direction.

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Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, when told of Thomas’ comments, was asked what he thought of that theory.

“Good idea,” Quinn said with a chuckle.

Cornerback Richard Sherman said he has noticed teams are changing the way they attack the Seattle secondary.

“We’re seeing a lot of adjustments,” Sherman said. “You can’t just play us head-up. That’s playing to our strengths if you play us straight up. If you just bang heads with us, that’s a good matchup for us. Teams are finding ways to get around that and avoid the physicality.”

For the most part, Sherman doesn’t think it’s working.

“We still played good defense [at San Francisco],” Sherman said, and we had a good game.”

Even coming off the 19-17 loss, the Seahawks improved to No. 1 in the league in yards allowed per game at 287.1. They also are first in pass defense, allowing only 175.6 yards a game through the air.

Losing cornerback Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond hasn’t appeared to hurt the Legion of Boom. Byron Maxwell, who is starting at cornerback now, had an interception that stopped a possible scoring drive for the 49ers. Jeremy Lane had three pass breakups from the nickel back spot Sunday.

‘I think they’ve done great for us,” Carroll said of Maxell and Lane. “Our expectations were they would hold up their end of it, and have done that. The ball is going away from Sherman, so they’re getting some extra turns, but they’re doing a terrific job.”

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