After being awarded the maximum four compensatory picks by the league, Seattle will enter the 2015 draft with the most picks of any team — 11.
PHOENIX — A few hours before the NFL announced 2015 compensatory draft picks Monday, Seahawks general manager John Schneider was asked if he’d heard anything.
“No,’’ he said. “I can’t wait. Did you?’’
The excitement in his voice made clear that finding out the specifics of compensatory picks is akin to Christmas morning for Schneider.
Later that day came word that the Seahawks would receive the maximum four picks — which are awarded as compensation to teams that had a net loss in players who departed via free agency the previous year (which for the Seahawks meant Golden Tate, Brandon Browner, etc).
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That means the Seahawks will enter the 2015 draft with 11 picks, the most of any team. The Seahawks will get one compensatory pick at the end of the fourth round, one at the end of the fifth round, and two at the end of the sixth round.
And that also means that barring trades, the Seahawks still will have had the most picks in the NFL since Schneider took over as general manager in 2010 — 48 and counting entering the this year’s draft, which will be April 30-May 2 in Chicago.
“You always want as many picks as you can,’’ Schneider once said in explaining his habit of making trades to move down to acquire more picks.
That’s an obvious point no one would argue.
But hoarding picks, and making the most of them, might be more important than ever for the Seahawks, and it helps explain how the team has navigated the 2015 free-agency signing period.
The Seahawks a year ago entered a period in which they had to begin paying big dollars to keep their players. That includes extensions last year with safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, an extension this year with running back Marshawn Lynch and expected new contracts soon with quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Having to pay top dollar at the top of the roster means the Seahawks need to find as much cheap labor as they can to fill roles elsewhere. And the cheapest labor can be mined in the draft — consider that the minimum salary in the NFL for a rookie in 2015 will be $435,000, and the minimum salary for a player who is a four- to six-year veteran is $745,000.
Next year’s draft — when the team could have contracts for Wilson and Wagner fully hit the books for huge amounts — will be just as vital.
And once again, the Seahawks could find out at the league meetings a year from now that they will be one of the bigger winners of compensatory picks. The formula for the picks is based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. But the specifics are not released, so it’s cloaked in a little bit of mystery.
But by any account, the Seahawks at the moment could be in line for at least three picks next year after losing free agents such as Byron Maxwell (Philadelphia), James Carpenter (New York Jets), Malcolm Smith (Raiders) and Jeron Johnson (Washington).
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have signed just one unrestricted free agent who might require compensation for his previous team — defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin of Cleveland.
The Seahawks also still have all of their 2016 draft picks, meaning they again could have 10 or more picks.
Hoping to be on the plus side of compensatory picks for 2016 undoubtedly was on the Seahawks’ minds as they went through this year’s free-agency period. Recall that the Seahawks’ biggest signee is cornerback Cary Williams (three years, $18 million). But because Williams already had been released by the Eagles, his signing is not subject to compensation.
Including Williams’ deal, the Seahawks have spent $23.3 million in free agents in the first two weeks of the signing period, which ranks 27th in the NFL according to Spotrac.com. That leaves them with just over $12 million in cap space for 2015, according to the NFLPA’s public salary-cap report as of Tuesday.
The Seahawks weren’t expected to be a huge player in free agency due to having a young roster and desiring to keep as many of their players as possible.
The Seahawks made a big push for free-agent tight end Julius Thomas but were able to solve their needs there with the trade for Jimmy Graham.
Free agency has moved into what Schneider this week called “Phase two,’’ the time in which the big-money players are gone, leaving mostly players who would fill specific roles.
The Seahawks still might sign a player or two, such as center Stefen Wisniewski,who visited the Seahawks earlier.
But Schneider said that at this point, signing a free agent from another team has to be worth it, both in terms of salary and how it could impact the Seahawks’ potential to get compensatory picks next year.
“Especially with players who are added from the outside as unrestricted free agents, it has to be at a price that makes sense for us,’’ Schneider said.
For this year, and down the road.