Friday, February 25, 2011

Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part III: Secondary

A rare day back home, and the scent of the NFL Combine has brought me out of my Winter hibernation for the next in a series of off-season positional analysis. Part three of this series will focus on the secondary. Let's take a look at where we are, and where we might be after the off-season.

The Seahawks are trying to thread the needle with their secondary. It was the least talented and least productive group in the entire NFL in 2009. Drafting Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Walter Thurmond, moving Lawyer Milloy into the starting lineup, and moving away from smaller cornerbacks like Josh Wilson were all important steps. This was far from a solid unit, though, in 2010. Coverage that was supposed to rely on bump-and-run, single-high safety looks, too often was giving up major chunks of yardage to opposing wideouts. Only the Denver Broncos gave up more plays of 20+ yards last season (71 total). Often, big plays are a result of too much time in the pocket, but the Seahawks are Top 15 team in sacks. Lots of this was just inferior CB play, a safety in Milloy that is more linebacker than safety, and a rookie Thomas that had a ridiculous amount of responsibility to cover everyone else's ass. Upgrading the talent in the secondary, especially at CB, is a major need going into 2011.

2011 Seahawks Free Agents: CB, Safety:
  • S Lawyer Milloy
  • S Jordan Babineaux
  • CB Kennard Cox
  • CB Kelly Jennings (hold back the tears...)
  • CB Roy Lewis (recently re-signed)
Seahawks CB, Safety Under Contract:
  • CB Marcus Trufant
  • CB Marcus Brown
  • CB Josh Pinkard
  • CB Walter Thurmond
  • S Kam Chancellor
  • S Earl Thomas
Bring back Roy Lewis was a wise move. He was the special teams captain, plays with fantastic intensity, and is an almost ideal slot defender. I will admit to some bias, as he became one of my favorite players last pre-season when he displayed the kind of aggression I covet. It seems likely Milloy will come back for one more season. He played at a Pro Bowl level for the first half of the season, but wore down as the defensive line eroded, forcing him to take on much larger players. Kam Chancellor's goal has to be to win the starting safety spot opposite Thomas, but don't count Milloy out. Another factor is that Milloy tried the backup thing in 2009, and vowed to never do it again. It would be interesting to see if Carroll could talk him into splitting time with Chancellor, assuming the kid earns the reps. Marcus Trufant is nothing more than an adequate corner. He's not an embarrassment as a starter, but you have trouble if he's your #1 guy.

There will be a small celebration at Qwest Field when Kelly Jennings leaves the team. Nice guy. Blindingly bad cornerback. It would not shock me to see Big Play Babs back again for the vets minimum as he was a valuable fill-in at a cheap price. If the front office can find a younger, cheaper replacement, so be it. Thurmond was one of the big stories of training camp, after making a rapid recovery from a grisly knee injury. I thought Roy Lewis outplayed him, which worried me. After seeing Thurmond step in during the regular season, I left feeling it would be a mistake to anoint him as the heir apparent at starting CB opposite Trufant. Cornerbacks often make large strides from year one to year two, so there is no reason to write Thurmond off either.

Like most positions, free agent cornerbacks are expensive. The good news is their skill sets are relatively portable, regardless of scheme. Sure, some are better playing off the ball and some are better in press coverage, but a good cover corner can play in any defense. Let's look at some top free agents in the secondary in 2011:

CB Nnamdi Asomugha
Asomugha is the apple of every defensive coordinators eye. He is a legit top-end cover corner who unexpectedly hit the free agent market after triggering certain clauses in his contract. He will cost a ton to sign, and will bring All Pro-level cover skills for at least two seasons. The team that signs him will pay a premium for a guy who has unique talent, but is already 30-years-old. Asomugha is not known for his run support or tackling. He just wipes the opposing #1 off the field. He is a guy who should be the final piece in a Super Bowl run, but he'd be a risky addition to a team like the Seahawks who have so many other needs to fill.

CB Antonio Cromartie
His first team meeting with Matt Hasselbeck would almost be worth the price.

CB Jonathan Joseph
Younger than Asomugha at just 27, Joseph is said to be a guy the Bengals will not let go.

CB Ike Taylor
Taylor was a decent starter for the Steelers.

CB Brent Grimes
Grimes is a top talent, but is a restricted free agent. He's highly unlikely to change teams.

There is a pretty deep crop of rookie CBs coming into the draft that fit the Seahawks mold, tall and physical. A quick scan of the free agent market compared to the team needs would suggest the Seahawks will likely put most of their energy into developing players like Thurmond and Chancellor, while adding more youngsters through the draft. Don't be surprised to see more than one DB drafted. If things fall a certain way, I could see the team going for broke with Asomugha, but only after addressing more pressing needs at QB, DL, and OL. If Milloy does not come back, that leaves a lot on Chancellor's broad shoulders, and creates a gaping hole at backup safety. Keeping Milloy for one more season could be exactly what the team needs to bridge the gap. 

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