Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part II: Defensive Line

Part two of this off-season position analysis will focus on the defensive line. Pete Carroll made it clear that both lines were primary areas of focus. Let's take a look at where we are, and where we might be after the off-season.
Brandon Mebane's free agency leaves a major hole in the line

The Seahawks defensive line made nearly miraculous strides in 2010. This was a pitiful excuse for a unit in 2009. Dan Quinn, Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll put together a scheme that maximized the team's talent, while adding key pieces like Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock. Players like Red Bryant and Colin Cole became better than they had ever been, and Brandon Mebane was his normal disruptive self. This was among the best lines in the NFL when healthy, but it was rarely healthy. The starting four only played four games together all year. The depth here was terrible. Finding new starters would be great, but the goal should be to retain the four starters, and add more quality depth so the defense does not collapse with 1-2 injuries.

2011 Seahawks Free Agent Defensive Lineman:
  • DT Brandon Mebane
  • DT Craig Terrill
  • DT Armon Gordon
  • DE Raheem Brock
  • DE Jay Richardson
  • DT/DE Junior Siavii
Seahawks Lineman Under Contract:
  • DE Red Bryant
  • DE Chris Clemons
  • DT Colin Cole
  • DE Dexter Davis
Retaining Mebane is a top priority. He's young, and among the better tackles in the game. He will command a pretty penny on the open market, and is a legitimate flight risk. Raheem Brock is the only other free agent from the 2010 team that deserves attention. At 32, the team needs to be careful not overpay him for a career season he is unlikely to repeat. Brock would make a nice backup for Clemons at the pass-rushing Leo spot, but after recording 9.0 sacks in the regular season and two more in the playoffs, he may convince a team elsewhere to pay him starter's money. With all the needs on this team, overpaying for Brock would be a major mistake. 

Free agent defensive lineman are expensive, and are harder to project than some other free agent pick-ups. Albert Haynesworth was hands-down the best player at his position in the NFL, and yet, he was far from it after changing teams. Some of that was money and personality, but some of it was the system change. We all saw how Red Bryant was a changed player last season. This happens all the time in reverse with free agent lineman. Pass rushers command the most money, and are usually reliable in any system, but teams often get stuck paying for years beyond the player's prime. See Patrick Kerney as an example. The draft is good place to find lineman that fit your team's scheme and come at low cost. Before exploring the talent there, let's look at some top free agents on the defensive line in 2011:

DT Haloti Ngata
Ngata is arguably the best defensive tackle in the game. The Ravens will probably keep him no matter what. If he somehow becomes available, this is a guy you break the bank for. A whole defense can be built around a guy like this.

DT Richard Seymour
Seymour is going to be 32, but is a perfect target for the Seahawks if another team doesn't give him starters money. He could make up a dynamic part of a tackle rotation for the next few years. This is guy that gave offensive lineman concussions. His attitude and effort is questionable at times, so buyer beware.

DT Aubrayo Franklin
Franklin was a 49er, so there is always the connection with Scott Mcloughlin. He is a run-stuffer that was franchised by the 49ers last year. He is 30, and could be a fit depending on the price he commands. He would be more of Colin Cole role, where Seymour would be more disruptive like Mebane.

DE Cullen Jenkins
Jenkins is great player when healthy, and GM John Schneider should know him well. Jenkins is 30, and has been injury-prone. He is good enough that someone will look past that and give him lots of cash. I wouldn't expect it to be the Seahawks.

DE Mathias Kiwanuka
Kiwanuka is a pass-rushing force, who missed much of last year with a herniated disc in his neck. Those aren't problems that go away, and will cause some to avoid him altogether. He would be an interesting addition in rotation with Red Bryant, but will probably be out of the team's price range.

DE Shaun Ellis
Ellis is 33, and could be the perfect target for Seattle. The Jets are said to be unlikely to re-sign him, and he still can be a difference-maker in a rotation.

There are also guys like DE Ray Edwards, DE Charles Johnson, DE Jason Babin and DT Gerard Warren. The smart move in free agency is to keep Mebane around. The team cannot count on Bryant being the same player he was a year ago after major knee surgery. Remember Marcus Tubbs anyone? Ideally, they are able to re-sign Mebane and Bryant recovers, allowing any free agent additions to be rotational additions. This will save the team money that can be spent elsewhere. If they have to pay starter money on the d-line, that's bad news for the rest of team. There are some strong lineman in the draft, and Seattle may have to roll the dice there if free agency gets too rich for them in this area.

Bringing in a player like Richard Seymour would be the one free agent who could be the perfect combination of talent, cost and fit. He could play all along the line, and brings the nastiness the team is trying to cultivate. It's hard to say if he'd work with Carroll all that well, but I'd take the risk.  

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