Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seahawks 2012 Season Preview Part III: Grading The Off-Season

HAWK BLOGGER 2012 SEASON PREVIEW PART III: Grading The Off-Season
Procrastination is the sneakiest of all personal demons. It can disguise itself as practical thinking, "I should really wait to clean up the kitchen until after the kids are in bed." It can put people in a perpetual trance where they lose track of the amount of time that has gone by since they said, "I'll get to it soon." Pete Carroll and John Schneider have spent the last two off-seasons completely remaking their roster. Well, almost completely. The two most critical aspects of championship teams, quarterbacks and pass rush, were left unresolved. Everywhere else on the team, fans saw the front office bring in young talent with the potential to start. It was like watching a mansion get built where everything is shiny and new except for the kitchen and master bathroom look like they belong in the rambler a few neighborhoods over. There is a practical argument to be made for why the organization went with the likes of Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Chris Clemons, Anthony Hargrove and Raheem Brock (among others). Time in the NFL, however, is faster than dog years. Find a general manager and coach that waited more than three years to identify their franchise quarterback, and you most likely found them with the word "former" at the beginning of their title. Seattle's front office entered this off-season with major questions around the quarterback position and the pass rush. It cannot be said with certainty that they addressed those needs, but they can no longer be accused of procrastination. Their futures will be determined by the choices they made.

2012 FREE AGENTS (Italics = re-signed)
Breno Giacomini
Marshawn Lynch
Red Bryant
Heath Farwell
Roy Lewis*
Marcus Trufant
Leroy Hill
Matt McCoy
Jason Jones
Matt Flynn
Deuce Lutui*
Barrett Ruud*
Kregg Lumpkin
Frank Omiyale

*No longer on the roster

Here's a snippet of analysis prior to free agency beginning that ranked Seahawks free agents. Things on that front played out largely as expected:

I decided to take a stab at prioritizing the Seahawks free agents using a formula. It is not meant to be exact, but provides some classification of the value of each player. Here's how it works: 
Each attribute is given an equally-weighted score of 1-10. 
TEAM NEED - How important is it for the Seahawks to address that position? Linebacker was treated as one need, as opposed to nickel LB vs. back-up WILL vs. starting MIKE. Linebacker is major team need, so it gets a 10. 
PLAYER FIT - How well does that player fill the need for the team? 
TALENT - How talented is the player? 
TOUGH TO REPLACE - Are there easy free agent options or draft options or players on the roster that can fill the role? 
PLAYER POTENTIAL - Can this player still get better, or have they reached their max already? 
Each attribute was multiplied by the other for a total score. Here are the results:



Giacomini rates right up near the top. He gets the highest score for being tough to replace. He also is tied for highest potential for growth from this current Seahawks free agent crop. The team re-signed him to a contract that indicated he would be the future right tackle, and that is exactly the way things have played out. Former 1st round pick James Carpenter will move to left guard when he returns.

David Hawthorne shows up high on the list, but his Player Fit score is the lowest in the top six players. Both he and Leroy Hill are not exactly what the team is looking for. That, along with injury concerns, is why Hawthorne was not re-signed.

Paul McQuistan also shows up higher on the list than most might expect for the exact opposite reason. His ability to sub at LT and both guard spots while being a veteran of Cable's system makes him a near-perfect fit. And given the propensity for injury on the offensive line, that was a big need to address.

It is easy to forget Lynch was a free agent. The team managed to re-sign him at a reasonable contract that they can wash their hands of in a couple of years if he shows signs of decline.

The big new names on the free agent list were Flynn and Jones. Schneider and Carroll deserve huge kudos for how they handled both of those signings. Many front offices in their situation would have overreached on contracts. Chad Brown saw a general manager in Seattle raise the offer over and over until Brown signed. Jim Mora Jr. famously made T.J. Houshmandzadeh leave his watch to promise he would come back. There was no sign of such desperation from this Seahawks group in the case of Flynn or Jones. Their frantic pursuit of Peyton Manning qualified as desperate, but that charade was ridiculous for all involved. Flynn and Jones were both allowed to leave town, and in Flynn's case, visit another team. Both ultimately signed with Seattle.

DRAFT PICKS
RDSEL #PLAYERPOSITIONSCHOOL
115Bruce IrvinDEWest Virginia
247Bobby WagnerLBUtah State
375Russell WilsonQBWisconsin
4106Robert TurbinRBUtah State
4114Jaye HowardDTFlorida
5154Korey ToomerLBIdaho
6172Jeremy LaneCBNorthwestern State-Louisiana
6181Winston GuyDBKentucky
7225J.R. SweezyGNorth Carolina State
7232Greg ScruggsDELouisville
Source: NFL.com

Seattle entered the draft with three major needs: quarterback of the future, edge pass rusher, linebacker (middle or strong-side). They addressed those needs with their first three picks. Bruce Irvin was a controversial pick. Seattle fans didn't know him, and national analysts were convinced it was a major reach. To the credit of Seahawks fans, they became quickly excited by the pick. Wagner was picked after a trade back that netted 5th and 7th round picks that turned into Korey Toomer and Greg Scruggs. Those three players will forever be linked to Mychal Kendricks, who was drafted one pick ahead of Wagner. That is the guy the Seahawks wanted. Only time will tell if the combined value of Toomer, Scruggs and Wagner eclipse Kendricks. Scruggs may be the most valuable of the three when it is all said and done. He has shown real promise as an interior pass rusher.

The pick that will go down in Seahawks history came in the 3rd round, when the team took Russell Wilson. It was clear that the front office believed Wilson could be the future franchise quarterback. He forced the team to drop "future," from that title with a sterling pre-season. The legacy of Carroll and Schneider are now inextricably tied to how Wilson performs.

Schneider was not done. Robert Turbin is a major upgrade over Justin Forsett. Jaye Howard shows signs of being a disruptive interior player. Winston Guy replaced Atari Bigby with a younger and more athletic player who Carroll has said will play a large 3rd down role. J.R. Sweezy was flipped from defense to offense, and may end up starting when all is said and done. Toomer and Lane are lesser lights, but you can forgive them for being normal rookies that could take more than a few weeks to emerge.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: A+
It is easy to be bullish about new players. This off-season was more about shiny new additions. Carroll and Schneider made shrewd investments and showed the courage necessary to make big bets. This is a front office that spends a lot of time limiting their downside. They sign veterans to shorter contracts with little guaranteed money. They preach competition, in part, to limit the risk of getting stuck with a bad investment. They are keenly aware that mistakes are made. They also know that quarterback is one position that cannot be in constant flux. Picking a player and sticking with him will be among the most difficult things for these two men to do. It is also the most crucial aspect of championship teams. Wilson has many characteristics of championship quarterback. The most important of which may be the unwavering support and buy-in from the general manager and coach. He will need that in the valleys in order to reach the peaks.

Irvin, Jones, Scruggs, and possibly Howard could reinvent this pass rush from the inside and out. Even the affordable extension to Chris Clemons was a wise move with little downside. Few Seahawks front offices have demonstrated the understanding for how a push rush is built. It is never just one player. The best pass rush teams leave offensive lines with a variety of headaches from the interior line and the edge, as well as from skilled blitzers. Schneider and Carroll again lowered their risk in this area by creating a pile of players. Maybe Irvin does not become the Pro Bowl pass rusher fans hope for, but maybe Scruggs gives the team five sacks a year they never expected. The team improves either way.

The biggest challenge facing this front-office in the future will be choosing which players to keep, and which to let walk. There will be far more painful choices than watching Hawthorne switch teams. It won't matter if Schneider continues his miraculous draft record. Win forever, indeed.

We will take a look at what the expectations for this revamped offense should be in the next installment of the Seahawks 2012 Season Preview.

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