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Originally published March 7, 2014 at 2:32 PM | Page modified March 8, 2014 at 11:46 PM

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For Seahawks, free agency is about keeping team together

Rather than make a big splash in free agency, Seahawks will focus on signing as many of their own players as they can and keeping the core of the team together.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seahawks free agents

DE Michael Bennett: Seahawks’ No. 1 priority in free agency. Seahawks shed salaries of Sidney Rice and Red Bryant to have money for Bennett. But he will test free agency first rather than sign early with the Seahawks.

CB Brandon Browner: You can put him back on the list now that he’s reinstated. Seems there’s little chance the Seahawks will be interested, though.

TE Kellen Davis: Seattle likely to test other options at tight end in 2014.

OT Breno Giacomini: Had a $4.75 million cap hit in 2013 and Seahawks are high on potential of Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey. But Giacomini played well down the stretch and figures to have options.

K Steven Hauschka: Made $750,000 last season, and will command more now. Seahawks, though, didn’t deem him worth a franchise tag at $3.556 million. Look for Seattle to try to bring him back somewhere between those numbers.

QB Tarvaris Jackson: At this point, as dependable and cheap an option as the Seahawks can get at backup QB. Seems a sure thing he’ll be back.

S Chris Maragos: Maragos agreed to a late restructuring of his deal in 2013 from $1.3 million to $855,000. Backup to Earl Thomas and a special-teams demon, he’s hoping for more now.

TE Anthony McCoy: Missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, but figures to re-sign with Seahawks.

DT Tony McDaniel: Making just $890,000 on a one-year deal, McDaniel was a bargain last season. He’ll cost more this year.

DT Clinton McDonald: Another who was a big bargain for Seattle, returning to play for just $630,000 for the last 15 games after being released in the cutdown to 53 players. Like McDaniel, seems certain to command and want more now after surprisingly productive season.

OL Paul McQuistan: Made $3.75 million. But as with Giacomini, Seahawks might feel like they have younger, cheaper options.

FB Michael Robinson: Veteran locker-room leader just turned 31. Has indicated he’d like to keep playing.

LB O’Brien Schofield: Helped greatly early when team had depth issues on the DL, and could be a dependable and relatively cheap depth option again this year.

WR Golden Tate: Figures to want more than $5 million a season. He said he sees himself in a far different situation than that of Eagles’ Riley Cooper, who just signed a five-year deal for a reported $4.5 million. Will Seahawks want to go that high?

CB Walter Thurmond: Didn’t help himself with late four-game suspension, during which Seahawks found out just how well they can get along with Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. But Thurmond returned to start the Super Bowl when the Seahawks went with a lot of nickel packages, and will undoubtedly get a lot of attention on the market.

Bob Condotta

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One NFL fact of life Bill Polian said he learned during his time running the Indianapolis Colts from 1998 to 2011: The outside fascination with free agency is almost always greater than the payoff.

“Fans want you to go out and play fantasy football now,” Polian, an analyst with ESPN, said this week. “But that’s the last thing you should be doing. That money, if you miss, is gone and never comes back.”

Polian says the Seahawks have generally been able to successfully restrict themselves in free agency to filling specific needs while focusing on building from within.

“I think they do a great job of recognizing the fits,’’ Polian said. “Who fits for them, what specific role that guy will play. And then they do a good job of allocating their money.

“And that’s what you have to do in free agency. That’s the blueprint for success in free agency, recognizing where the player fits, what he will do, does he fit your system, can he make a relatively seamless transition. And then making sure the money is right.’’

As another free-agency period begins this weekend, Polian is among those who expect the Seahawks to again concentrate on using free agency to fill a few needs while trying to keep its roster as intact as possible.

The free-agency period gets under way at 9 a.m. Saturday, when teams can begin negotiations with unrestricted free agents (though in another accepted NFL fact of life, talks have already been going on behind the scenes). Teams can sign players to contracts beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Seattle has 15 players who will be unrestricted free agents, highlighted by defensive lineman Michael Bennett and receiver Golden Tate. Other key players entering free agency include cornerback Walter Thurmond, defensive linemen Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel, offensive linemen Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan, and kicker Steven Hauschka.

Seattle, like all teams, found out last week it will have a little more money to work with when the salary cap for 2014 was set at $133 million (it was $123 million in 2013).

Combined with the release last week of high-salaried veterans Sidney Rice and Red Bryant, the Seahawks are roughly $18 million under the cap.

The rise in the cap, though, also means other teams have more money, which theoretically will create a better market for the most attractive free agents.

“History tells you there will be more deals out there for big money than there were last year,’’ Polian said.

That could make it particularly challenging to keep Bennett, who last year made $5 million on a one-year deal but is regarded now as one of the top defensive linemen available and will command much more.

Bennett will test the free-agent market rather than sign early with the Seahawks. That doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign with Seattle, just that he wants to see what other offers are out there first. Some think Bennett, whose agent is Drew Rosenhaus, could be seeking around $10 million per year and a long-term deal.

Tate is a harder read. He said last week he does not see himself as similar to Philadelphia’s Riley Cooper, who recently signed a five-year deal worth an estimated $4.5 million a year, indicating he expects a bigger deal. Some expect Tate might want as much as $6 million per season (he made a reported $880,000 in 2013).

Tate is considered one of the top receivers available and could receive tempting offers.

Receiver Doug Baldwin is a restricted free agent, meaning other teams can make him offers but Seattle would have the chance to keep him by matching. The Seahawks recently tagged Baldwin with a second-round tender. If Baldwin signs the tender offer, he would receive $2.187 million for next season. If Baldwin were to sign with another team instead, Seattle would be compensated with a second-round pick. Baldwin is looking for a longer-term deal with the Seahawks. (The team’s two other restricted free agents, offensive lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre and safety Jeron Johnson, signed tenders and are under contract for one more year.)

The receivers group available in the NFL draft is deep, and the Seahawks could let Tate go and assume they can get cheaper replacements in free agency or the draft.

And while the attention on Seattle’s free agents inevitably falls on the big names of Bennett and Tate, keeping — or replacing the production of — McDaniel, McDonald, Thurmond and Hauschka will be important.

Seattle, though, also has to balance what it spends now with what it knows it will have to spend later to retain some of its core players whose contracts will need extending in the next year or so, specifically safety Earl Thomas, cornerback Richard Sherman and quarterback Russell Wilson.

Seattle has been rumored ready to extend Thomas before the 2014 season and likely to try to get Sherman and Wilson done before 2015 (which is the earliest the Seahawks can give Wilson an extension).

Still, Seattle figures to explore free agency, particularly on the defensive line if it loses a few of its players, and at tight end.

Mostly, though, Polian says Seattle’s task is to navigate free agency while retaining the ability to keep its core together.

“Keep in mind, the best players are not in free agency,” he said. “They are already tagged (given a franchise or transition tag) or signed. … These are essentially B players whose agents are looking for A money.’’

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699

or On Twitter @bcondotta

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