The proper order of events following the end of the season is to review what happened, dive into each position group, scout for the draft, look at free agents and then make some well-informed projections about what genius General Manager John Schneider will do. All those things will happen on this blog, but there are some things I already know to be true, so why wait?
There are a few guiding principles to keep in mind when evaluating whether Schneider will pursue a team need through free agency or through the draft:
1. Deals for more than one year will only be offered to players 26 or younger.
That was the case for Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, and Alan Branch. Robert Gallery was the exception.
2. A Seahawks free agent must be considered central to the team's success and young to get a multi-year offer
Red Bryant is an example of a guy who was right on the edge. He was clearly a big part of the team's defense, but was also 28-years old, and sought after on the open market. The team paid above it's comfort level in that deal, and may regret it based on Bryant's performance this year due to injury. Lynch is a better example, and even then, the team was prepared to let him walk before overpaying at that position.
3. Positions that are tougher to find and develop are top free agent targets
Drafting and developing a wide receiver can take 2-3 years. See Golden Tate. That is part of why the team was willing to spend big on Rice, and went after proven wideouts via trade, like Brandon Marshall. They will almost certainly draft a wideout at some point this year, but that doesn't mean he will be a central figure in 2013. Interior pass rushers are among the toughest players to find. Running backs are pretty easy to find. You may never see Schneider make a multi-year offer to another team's free agent running back.
4. What cannot be signed young and early in free agency, may be signed older and late
Leroy Hill, Marcus Trufant, Raheem Brock are all examples of the team addressing a need with a veteran free agent. These deals tend to come late in free agency after other options have been exhausted. Signing a vet for a one-year deal helps the team get through the coming year without threatening the future by reaching on a young guy they don't believe is worth the money.
5. The Seahawks salary cap space is not just for free agents
Look for the Seahawks to sign Kam Chancellor to an extension this off-season. He is among the most important players on the roster, had a modest season, and will become a free agent after next season. Brandon Browner is another possibility, but I expect them to roll the dice there as they have some other options at corner that they will want to see play out. The important point is that the Seahawks front office is thinking their cornerstones first, and then what can be added without threatening that core, so the available cap space for free agents is much less than what it appears.
Possible Free Agent Targets
Alright, so let's talk about a few places where Seahawks need matches up with free agents that could fit within the principles above.
RECEIVING TIGHT END
There is plenty of talk about adding wide receivers, but I believe a pass-catching tight end will be the team's top offensive priority. They tried and failed with John Carlson, Kellen Winslow Jr., and Evan Moore. Zach Miller will be the starter, but they are clearly after a guy who is a borderline receiver with more speed to pair with him. It would make the offense almost impossible to defend, and Russell Wilson loves the middle of the field. There also happen to be some interesting options.
Crazy? Probably. Gonzalez is about to lose in massive fashion to the 49ers. He is coming off a 93-catch season. He just saw first-hand what Wilson and the Seahawks are capable of, and Pete Carroll is one of the best recruiters in the biz. Signing him to a one-year deal to pair with Miller makes sense even if Gonzalez is not the prototype for what the Seahawks are after.
Cook is 25, an unrestricted free agent, and the Titans may have bigger fish to fry in rebuilding that team. They will want him back, but will they want him more than another team? Cook has 4.5 speed, is 6'5" and is just one season removed from nearly 800 yards receiving.
Davis is coming off an injury, which will make his asking price lower. It could be a rare chance to get a quality receiving tight end at a lower price, and Carroll obviously knows Davis from USC. The Redskins probably bring him back, but the Seahawks may sniff around.
Bennett is 26 and caught 55 balls for over 600 yards. He is slower, running around a 4.7 when he came out, but he is 6'6" and can be an appealing target for Wilson. The Giants probably keep him around, but he could get a look from Seattle depending on price.
INTERIOR PASS RUSHER
Jason Jones has an injury history and it showed up again this season. The team loves him, but I'm not sure they are ready to rely on him again. It is crucial that the team finds some inside push.
I talked about Bennett last year as an alternative to Jones, but he was a restricted free agent, and stayed with Tampa. He is unrestricted now, and would be an ideal add for the Seahawks. He tallied 9.0 sacks last year, largely at defensive end, but he can swing inside and be incredibly disruptive. There may be no other player who can add to the Seahawks edge and interior pass rush better than Bennett. He's 27, and could be a player the team spends real money on.
Melton is 26, and was a force inside for the Bears. He will be sought-after, but Seattle could get into the mix if they see a fit.
Seymour is the veteran guy who could get 1-2 year deal to play on a Super Bowl contender like Seattle. Carroll saw what kind of force Seymour was two years ago when he injured half of the Seahawks offensive line in one game. One of the most disruptive interior lineman of his generation, Seymour may have enough left to push the team over the top without breaking the bank.
The team will most likely look to the draft for an edge rusher due to the price of these players on the open market, but if they can't find an interior guy, this is where they might go next. They cannot enter the draft without having any additional pass rush help.
Avril is only 26, and is a proven pass rusher. He is a perfect LEO body type, and could be a guy who replaces Clemons while allowing Bruce Irvin to grow at his own pace, and continue to be the other edge rusher instead of the primary LEO.
Freeney is old, but could be a one-year deal guy that could make one last push for a Super Bowl.
Umenyiora is another guy who has already mentioned he likes the idea of rushing the passer in Seattle, and could take a short-term deal to get a chance at the title again.
Adding a veteran edge rusher on a short-term deal and spending the real money on a younger interior rusher makes more sense. It should be fun to see it all unfold.