There is a lot of talk about the possibility of the Seattle Seahawks becoming an NFL dynasty, and they certainly had an opportunity to make a serious case for this when they reached back-to-back Super Bowls. However, I feel that it is in fact the New England Patriots who are better suited to have the opportunity of defending their title at Super Bowl 50.
Both teams have championship calibre rosters, there is no doubt about it. The challenge from here on is being able to maintain the key players that the success was built on, while also being able to add the right pieces in free agency and through the draft.
Tough decisions in free agency
As with any team, when free agency rolls around a lot of tough decisions need to be made. Of your own pending free agents, who can you afford to keep? Which free agents from elsewhere are affordable and able to improve the team?
In the salary cap era, keeping a healthy cap when you have as talented as team as both the Patriots and Seahawks have is a tough job.
New England are currently set to be around $4.5 million over the cap, so there are clearly a lot of decisions that will need to take place in order to free up money.
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The biggest decision the Patriots will have to make is on the future of star cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis signed a one-year deal with a second-year option last offseason, but will have a $25 million cap hit in 2015 if the Patriots exercise this option.
In order to keep him, they will most likely need to offer him a long-term, lucrative deal that can push money into future caps. If they can’t strike a deal, Revis won’t struggle to find a new home: a return to the Jets or a reunion with Rex Ryan at the Bills could be a possibility.
Keeping Revis has to be the number one priority for New England in this offseason, and if they can pull off the deal, they will have re-signed one of the stars of their secondary from 2014.
Other free agents include safety Devin McCourty, veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski, linebacker Akeem Ayers and running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots being able to bring back all of them, and it looks likely Ridley will not return to Foxboro in 2015.
Clearing money off the cap is a must for New England, and there are a number of ways they can do this by restructuring current contracts:
Star quarterback Tom Brady recently restructured his deal, giving the Patriots $24 million extra to spend this offseason. It is possible they will look to do the same on a smaller scale with the contracts of the likes of receiver Danny Amendola and cornerback Brandon Browner.
Restructuring contracts can avoid major cap hits in 2015, pushing them into future years. Doing so, along with re-signing the right players, could leave the roster relatively intact heading into 2015.
There a number of huge decisions the Seattle Seahawks face in this offseason:
Quarterback Russell Wilson is set to sign a major deal. Wilson is still on his rookie deal, which has allowed the Seahawks to spend the money saved here on creating an incredibly strong roster. That rare luxury will be gone in 2015, with Wilson expecting a big pay day.
Then there is the issue of Marshawn Lynch. ‘Beast Mode’ has been the key piece, along with Wilson, on offense for the Seahawks, and it is unknown whether he will return in 2015. Should he decide to continue playing in Seattle, he will become another player needing to be paid.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner is irreplaceable, and he will become a free agent after the 2015 season. While they don’t need to re-sign him just yet, it’s a deal they will be wanting to sort as soon as they can, due to how crucial he is on defense.
Pending free agents this year include cornerback Byron Maxwell and left guard James Carpenter.
Whereas the Patriots could well be able to bring back the key pieces of their roster that led them to a victory in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks will struggle to keep all of their most important players.
Daunting schedule for the Seahawks
New England have been a dominant force in the AFC for years. They have reached the AFC Championship game for the past four years in a time where the AFC hasn’t been as strong as the NFC.
It starts by looking at the divisional opponents each side will face: the Pats play a combined six games against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. Neither one of these three teams has made the playoffs since 2010.
The Seahawks have a much more daunting challenge. The Arizona Cardinals were a playoff team in 2014, and came agonisingly close in 2013 with a 10-6 record. The San Francisco 49ers will be looking to bounce back after their first playoff-less season since 2010. They reached the NFC Championship game in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and reached the Super Bowl in 2012. While the St. Louis Rams are the weakest team in the division, they can still be a dangerous threat, posting a victory over the Seahawks in 2014.
Outside of the division, the Patriots face home games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the only 2014 playoff team in that list. On the road it gets tougher; they will travel to Indianapolis, Dallas, Denver, Houston and New York to face off against the Giants.
It looks much scarier for the Seahawks. Outside of their division, they will host Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Cleveland. Three of those five made the 2014 playoffs. On the road they must travel to Green Bay, Dallas, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Minnesota. Four of those five teams made the playoffs this past year.
While it is early to say, it would appear the Patriots have the easier schedule. They will face four 2014 playoff teams, in contrast to the nine that the Seahawks must face.
The NFC could once again be loaded with Super Bowl ready teams, whereas the Patriots will likely remain a step above the competition in the AFC. The Steelers, Colts and Ravens can pose a threat should they make the playoffs, but I’m certainly not convinced on the Broncos, even with a returning Peyton Manning.
In the NFC, Seattle can expect fierce competition from the Packers, Cowboys and Cardinals. Despite disappointing seasons, it is tough to completely write off the 49ers and the Drew Brees led Saints, either.
It is fair to say that the two teams we saw battling it out in Super Bowl XLIX will both be contenders to return to the big game in San Francisco next year. Looking into the offseason ahead, though, I feel that the Patriots will be able to maintain their talented roster and will be too tough for the AFC to stop. Oh, and their quarterback isn’t bad, either.