By Brady Henderson
After the Seahawks cleared nearly $13 million in salary-cap space last week by releasing defensive end Red Bryant and wide receiver Sidney Rice, the attention has turned to another high-cost player who could be on the chopping block.
Zach Miller is scheduled to count $7 million against the salary cap in 2014, and while none of the other tight ends Seattle has under contract for next season have experience as a full-time starter, Bryant's release showed the Seahawks' willingness to part ways with a player despite not having a clear heir apparent.
Miller's uncertain future in Seattle was among the topics during the latest edition of "Hawk Talk" with Danny O'Neil. The full transcript can be found here. Highlights are below.
Brad H asked where Miller and the Seahawks stand.
O'Neil: We don't know anything about the specifics of any discussions with Zach Miller. At least I don't. Being fully transparent: The Seahawks are very tight-lipped about players' status. It's out of respect. And especially following the Super Bowl, there is an intense focus on communicating directly to the player and his camp and no one else. I have not heard anything from Zach Miller or his agent to make me think he has been asked to take a pay cut. Most of the discussion is based on the speculation that because he had the highest salary-cap cost on the team a year ago (more than $11 million) and he is scheduled to count $7 million against it this season, the team is going to revisit that. Fiscally, it makes sense. Zach Miller came here as one of the top three receiving tight ends in the league and as valuable as he has been as a blocker, he hasn't been anywhere near the pass catcher.
TrickyNicky asked whether the Seahawks would be more inclined to find a tight end in the draft or free agency if they release Miller.
O'Neil: Both. I think they'll seek out alternatives, and if Zach Miller is gone, well, then Jermichael Finley certainly could be in play, but that's speculation on my part.
BlatantChipmunk asked if the Seahawks could re-sign Rice and/or Bryant at more team-friendly deals or if those bridges were burned by their releases.
O'Neil: I don't think it's a matter of bridges being burned so much as where those players would fit. Sidney Rice might ever be offered anything more than the vet minimum by the Seahawks. Ditto for Red Bryant when you consider the team is taking on $3 million of dead money by releasing him. I think both can get more than that on the market.
Brad H asked whether Greg Scruggs could be an option to replace Bryant, noting that the former had a strong rookie season in 2012 and has reportedly bulked up to over 300 pounds after missing last season while recovering from a torn ACL.
O'Neil: He's got a chance, but the one thing you've got to see with these Seahawks, is they don't fear the possibility of not having a clear successor. Otherwise, Red Bryant would still be on this team. You can hope Greg Scruggs fills that role. You may even believe he can. But no one can expect him to do that. Not as a seventh-round pick who has yet to start a game let alone a seventh-round pick coming off a year he missed for knee surgery.
TrickyNicky asked if the 6-foot-1 Jermaine Kearse could replace the 6-4 Rice as Seattle's big-bodied receiver.
O'Neil: He's not as tall as Sidney Rice nor as good with the jump ball, but he's got an ability to battle in traffic, and to answer your question, he's going to be a big target going forward.
Gaeleck Eylander asked if the Seahawks might extend linebacker K.J. Wright's contract, noting all the money Seattle either has committed or is expected to commit to its defensive line and secondary.
O'Neil: The salary structure at linebacker is a total freaking mystery to me. On the one hand, general manager John Schneider was in Green Bay when the Packers chose A.J. Hawk No. 5 overall and re-signed Nick Barnett back when he was a beast of a middle linebacker. On the other hand, in Seattle we have seen him cut Lofa Tatupu, trade Aaron Curry and let David Hawthorne walk in free agency, replacing them with a litany of draft picks – only one of whom was drafted in the first half of the draft. Well, two linebackers in the first half if you include Bruce Irvin, but he was drafted to be a pass rusher. I honestly don't have a great feel on whether the Seahawks are going to sign these linebackers to second contracts or try to replace through the draft.
DB asked if the Seahawks will bring back backup nose tackle Clinton McDonald, who was third on the team in sacks last season with 5.5.
O'Neil: Interesting question. They obviously didn't value him too highly at the beginning of the year when they released him for what amounted to be about $500,000. But he was one of the team's top pass rushers. Not sure if that changes his value in the eyes of the team.
A reader posing as Steven Hauschka asked whether the Seahawks' kicker will be back in 2014.
O'Neil: Well, depends if another team offers significant years or dollars. The fact Seattle didn't use the franchise tag would mean the Seahawks are looking to spend less than $3 million.