SEATTLE — Red Bryant, the second-longest tenured member of the Seahawks, might have been the most emotional in the locker room after Seattle’s 43-8 Super Bowl win over Denver.
“I understand how fortunate I am to be in this moment,’’ said Bryant, who was with the Seahawks when they won a combined nine games in 2008 and 2009 before coach Pete Carroll began his resurrection in 2010. “And I don’t take it for granted.”
That moment, though, now also comes tinged with a bittersweet note of finality for Bryant, one of Seattle’s spiritual leaders and a defensive team captain the past two seasons.
In a move that had been rumored for a week, Bryant was released Friday, along with receiver Sidney Rice, the beginning of salary-cap cutting transactions the Seahawks feel they must make to stay at a Super Bowl-caliber level.
Bryant, who turns 30 on April 18, was due to make $4.5 million in 2014 as part of a five-year contract worth a possible $35 million he signed before the 2012 season. The contract included a bonus of $3 million if he was on the roster on March 14.
Rice, meanwhile, was due to make $8.5 million in 2014.
Releasing both players clears up $13 million in salary-cap space for the Seahawks as they face a number of challenges in reshaping the roster.
The NFL announced Friday that the salary cap will be $133 million next season, and Seattle is safely under it as the free-agent season nears in March.
But the Seahawks needed to clear space to re-sign some of their own free agents, notably defensive end Michael Bennett and receiver Golden Tate, as well as pursue others, and also give extensions to some of the core members of the team whose contracts will be up soon, such as safety Earl Thomas.
“Our whole theme is we would like to keep this team together as best we can,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, foreshadowing some of the moves. “There are very difficult decisions you face every year in the league with contracts and money and caps and all that stuff. Every season is like that, so that brings about very challenging decisions for us because we love our team, we love our guys.”
In a statement, Seattle general manager John Schneider said that making the announcement Friday will allow Rice and Bryant to more quickly pursue options.
The release of Bryant means just three players remain who were with the team before Carroll and Schneider taking over in 2010. The others are defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, center Max Unger and punter Jon Ryan.
The cutting of Rice had been rumored for months. Not only was he due to make $17.5 million over the next two years but he is also still recovering from an ACL tear suffered Oct. 28 at St. Louis. He was released with the designation that he failed his physical. Rice ended up making 97 receptions for 1,463 yards, playing in 33 of a possible 48 regular-season games for Seattle, with whom he signed after four years in Minnesota.
Bryant, meanwhile, became a mainstay of the Seattle defensive line in his third season in 2010 after being moved from tackle to a role as an end with the primary duties of stopping the run.
Bryant started 55 games as a Seahawk, including 47 of a possible 48 the past three seasons.
If the team re-signs Bennett, his role could increase to take over some of Bryant’s run-defense role. Younger players such as Greg Scruggs, who missed the 2013 season due to an ACL injury but is said on course to return in 2014, and Jesse Williams, who also missed his rookie season of 2013 with a knee injury, could also help replace Bryant. The team could also add to the line in free agency and the draft.
Similarly, the team could also replace Rice in free agency and the draft.
And with the free-agency period beginning March 11, Seattle could still make moves to increase its cap room.
Rice, who had tweeted a goodbye to Seattle fans a week ago when his expected release was first reported, did so again Friday, writing in part “Thanks for a wonderful experience!’’
Bryant, who was a fourth-round pick in 2008 out of Texas A&M and is the son-in-law of Seahawks Ring of Honor member Jacob Green, could not be reached for comment.
But while the Super Bowl turned out to be his final game as a Seahawk, he also realized in its aftermath that it helped cement his legacy with the team.
“Whenever you think about the Seattle Seahawks, you are going to think about this team,’’ Bryant said. “You are going to think about this win.’’