The Seattle Seahawks capped off a near-perfect season with a dominant Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos. Ticker-tape parades and adulation will last for weeks, but the difficult task of sustaining this success is right around the corner.
It's easy to say "success will last," but recent history shows that the Lombardi Trophy and winning long-term don't always go hand in hand. Super Bowl victors over the last three years have combined to post an overall winning record of 58-37-1 in the year(s) since their championships, but neither the Giants nor the Ravens were able to return to the playoffs after winning their titles.
Seattle is constructed very differently than those squads, boasting an impressive combination of youth and rookie contracts which should help the team maintain both talent and financial solvency. There aren't many risks of key players retiring or leaving via free agency, with a few focal points remaining to keep the Seahawks competitive.
The first priority for Seattle needs to be the retention of Tate. It was unclear whether the Seahawks would look to keep him following the expiration of his rookie deal, but a breakout season from the 25-year-old paired with the inconsistent availability of Percy Harvin made Tate a critical piece of the puzzle.
Tate finished 2013 as the team's leading receiver, catching 64 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns. His ability to gain yards after the catch is compounded with an ability to add value on special teams. The team's defense is strong, so now the focus should be on adding more offensive weapons. This makes Tate a key piece.
Baldwin finished second on the team in receiving in 2013. He's a restricted free agent, and there will be plenty of attention from teams in need of a receiver. Bringing him back is a decision complicated by Harvin, who is likely to take a lot of Baldwin's reps if fully healed in 2014.
Baldwin is more of a traditional deep-threat receiver than the team's other options, and he doesn't live on yards after the catch quite as much as some of his teammates do. This positioned him as a clutch weapon for Russell Wilson on key passing downs, particularly when plays broke down due to pressure.
28-year-old defensive end Michael Bennett led the Seahawks in sacks in 2013, proving to be a vital edge rusher in an already dangerous defense. He is an unrestricted free agent this year, but Seattle could catch a break thanks to a strong market at defensive end.
Competition at the position could soften a potential offer, with most outlets projecting Bennett will be the fourth- or fifth-most desirable free agent at defensive end. At this point, the Seahawks defense embodies the "next man up" principle, which could cause the team to look to the draft rather than retaining Bennett.
Seattle has the luxury of going in a variety of directions with the team's first-round pick, and it just so happens that the deepest areas in the draft coincide with potential free agent losses.
Matthew Fairburn has mocked versatile defensive lineman Aaron Donald to the Seahawks with the last pick in the first round, citing a belief that several teams will be shortsighted and overlook him due to lack of size.
Seattle has proven to have a willingness to ignore size on both sides of the ball, favoring quickness. It's a sensible choice that could mitigate the potential loss of Bennett via free agency.
Winning the Super Bowl had an ancillary benefit of buying the Seahawks time. Head coaching vacancies around the NFL were filled prior to the game, ensuring that Seattle's coaching staff will remain largely untouched.
It was once believed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell could find a home in a new city, but it now appears the worst losses would be position coaches.
The state of the Seahawks is strong. A combination of smart team-building, youth and fiscal solvency means that it's largely full steam ahead in 2014. There are a few positions that need to be patched and several potential free agents, but it's nothing that will threaten Seattle's ability to be a force once again.