Seattle fans have come to expect a bonanza every off-season since Pete Carroll and John Schneider have taken over. A full 19 of the 22 starters on offense and defense for the 2013 Seahawks will have been added since those two took over. But this off-season will be different. Few starting jobs are up for grabs. Rookies will struggle to make the roster. Free agents will have to fight for playing time. I will be dissecting the roster position-by-position in an eight-part series, culminating in a recommended off-season recipe for the Seahawks.
Part I: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Part II: Defensive Line
Part III: Secondary
Part IV: Linebackers
Part V: Offensive Line
Part VI: Running Backs & Fullbacks
Part VII: Quarterbacks
Part VIII: Summary & Recommendations
The off-season plan for the Seahawks is coming into focus with just over two weeks until the opening of free agency. Lots of chips are falling the Seahawks way, with the potential for another major step forward by a team already in the mix to challenge for the Super Bowl. The areas where Seattle needs to improve have plenty of options. John Schneider should be able to take multiple shots at improving the pass rush and adding more speed to the offense. There may never be a better time to find a suitor for Matt Flynn, and there is ample cap space available to lock up key players that are nearing the ends of their initial contracts. Schneider is operating with a safety net for the first time. He could completely strike out on all fronts, and still have a team that will challenge for the division title just by returning the young team the exited 2012 with. Schneider, though, does not strike out.
The Priority List
- Defensive Tackle (Starter, Run stuffer first, Pass rusher second)
- Defensive End - LEO (Starting capable, Pass rusher first, Capable of setting the edge vs run)
- Sign Kam Chancellor to an extension
- Back-Up QB
- Split End (6'0'+ with sub-4.55 speed, Potential to start by 2013 or 2014)
- Tight End (Elite receiver, blocking nice-to-have)
- Weakside Linebacker (Starting capable, Durability and run defense first, Pass rush nice-to-have)
- Offensive Tackle (More likely RT capable, but any young tackle with potential will do)
- Offensive Guard
- Nickel Corner
#1 - Defensive Tackle
Alan Branch is an option to bring back, but the Seahawks will likely take a look at free agency to see if they can upgrade. This is the best free agent class in recent memory for defensive lineman. There are older players that could help at a reduced cost, as well as some younger players who could become a core part of the team for years to come. Desmond Bryant was a great option here, but who knows what his recent run-in with the law will mean. Richard Seymour remains a primary possibility that should combine terrific production with a reasonable salary due to his age.
The team will add two defensive lineman, but may target one in the draft. A guy like Datone Jones would be a great addition in place of Jason Jones, but it is hard to project who will be available for the Seahawks later in the first round. The nice part about a guy like Seymour is that he can hold up against the run, collapse the pocket versus the pass, and can even swing out to end in a pinch. A guy like that give the front office maximum flexibility to find the best young addition in the draft, regardless of whether the kid is a run stuffer or pass rusher.
Projection: 1 free agent, 1-2 drafted
#2 - Defensive End
Again, this is a great year to be looking for help on the edge. Seattle does not know what they will have with Chris Clemons. There is a chance he won't even play in 2013. When you have that kind of uncertainty at a crucial position, free agency is the way to go. I continue to love Michael Bennett, and the Bucs have said they will not use the franchise tag on him. Schneider knows how much money he needs to have under the cap to sign some of his impending young stars on defense, so going big after a younger defensive end is less likely. That goes for Michael Johnson and Paul Kruger as well.
Fortunately, there are players like Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora that could be a great fit in terms of price and duration of contract. Freeney has shown little ability to set the edge against the run, so Umenyiora would appear to be the more probable option. The team could try to find a guy in the draft, but there is no way they can count on it falling their way.
Here's a crazy thing to consider that is not as crazy as it sounds. Seattle could go after Freeney and Umenyiora and a defensive tackle like Seymour in free agency. The guaranteed money would not go beyond 2014 at their ages. They can afford to spend the money. It would reduce risk that one of them is no longer productive. The biggest problem would be the amount of roster spots it would take away from younger players the team would want to develop. Perhaps the old guys will command far bigger deals than I am anticipating, but with the amount of young and talented defensive line talent on the market, that should not happen.
Projection: 1-2 free agents
#3 - Kam
Chancellor is due to become a free agent after the upcoming season. He is young, and has already made the Pro Bowl. He is capable of being Adrian Wilson, or better, and the team should not risk the cost of letting him play out the 2013 season. They could take advantage of a low franchise tag number for safeties to negotiate a reasonable deal. Chancellor, and his agent, know that the Seahawks will franchise him if they don't reach a deal since there are no other franchise-quality players hitting the free agent market in 2014. They could probably get $15-20M guaranteed, and still have him hit the market again by his late 20s. This is a core player that the front office needs to take off the market before the decisions get far messier when guys like Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright, Doug Baldwin, and Malcolm Smith all hit in 2015.
Projection: New deal during training camp or earlier
#4 - Back-Up QB
Some will be surprised to see this listed so high on the priority list. It belongs here. Flynn is making a sizable salary, and what happens with that will have an impact on everything else the team does. They would likely need to sign another veteran back-up since there is only one player in the draft (Matt Barkley) that the team could reasonably start the season with as a the back-up, and he is now being discussed as a possible Top 10 pick. The priority here is to resolve the situation.
Projection: Flynn stays another year in Seattle
#5-6 - Split End/Tight End
The bigger priority is to find a split end that can ascend to the starting spot if Golden Tate proves too expensive on the open market after this season. There are a plethora of candidates in the draft. In fact, there are so many candidates, the Seahawks may wind up taking two and hoping that one hits. However, the team may decide to go after a tight end first. A prime candidate in Jared Cook looks to be off the market as the Titans are said to be ready to franchise him, although Cook could challenge his TE designation and ask for a WR tag given he lined up in the slot 56% of the time.
Delanie Walker is another terrific free agent option. There are some strong tight end options in the draft, but it is hard to say that any of them are fast enough to make the desired impact. Expect the Seahawks to play in the free agent market for a tight end, but without any sense of desperation. They know they can get someone in the draft, but finding a good fit in free agency would increase their draft flexibility to go after the best players that fall to them.
It is highly unlikely that the team will go after a free agent receiver. They will draft at least one, and very possibly two. These will be tall, fast players, and they won't be drafted before the second round. Taking a WR in the first round would make it far harder to have a true open competition with Tate. Taking a guy in the 2nd or 3rd round allows for the possibility that Tate wins a new contract and the younger guy could continue to be developed for depth.
Projection: 1 free agent tight end, 2 WRs in the draft, Possibly 1 TE in the draft as well
#7-10 - LB, OT, OG, CB
There is very little chance the team will do anything but draft at these positions. The linebacker market is weak, and the team has found a starting linebacker in each of the last two drafts. There are always young studs at linebacker that can be found in later rounds and step in. Plus, Malcolm Smith has given the team reason to think he could be ready to start.
The tackle depth is concerning. That is the only reason it gets the nod over guard, even though guard was a far bigger problem in 2012. The fact remains, the team set a franchise rushing record with the guards that are on the roster. They can certainly be better, but an injury at tackle could be devastating.
Nickel corner has some strong candidates already on the roster in Walter Thurmond, Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell. The team will definitely add one through the draft if they find one to their liking, but do not fall into the trap of thinking this is a huge hole on the roster simply because Marcus Trufant struggled last year. There is talent here that needs to be developed.
Projection: 1 LB in the draft, 1 OT in the draft, 0-1 OG in the draft, 0-1 CB in the draft
#11 - Kicker
Steven Hauschka is a free agent. He's been a good kicker, with consistent depth on his kickoffs and accuracy on field goals. He probably comes back, but if not, there is always a kicker out there.
Projection: Hauschka is re-signed
1 Free Agent DT
1-2 Free Agent DE
1 Free Agent TE
1-2 Drafted DT
2 Drafted WRs
1 Drafted LB
1 Drafted OT
1 Drafted OG
I would be shocked if the Seahawks draft more than seven players. They don't have the roster spots, and very well may in a year or two. They will do everything possible to parlay 2013 picks into 2014 or later higher selections. They may also be more willing to package some picks to move up in the middle rounds. Everyone loves to talk about a big move up the board in the first round, but that won't happen. The top talent in this year's draft is not worth the cost, and it's generally bad business. Packaging some seventh-round picks to move up in the 4th or 5th is more realistic. Still, that will be the last thing on Schneider's mind. He will want to pay it forward wherever possible. Turn those two seventh round picks into an extra fifth in 2013. Trade back and include some extra picks to get higher ones next year.
The team is desperate for nothing, and the draft is not particularly stocked with stellar talent. Those are the times to put money in the bank for a future time when things are far more dicey or when a draft board is teeming with difference makers.
If navigated properly, the Seahawks could dramatically improve their pass rush and their offensive weapons without destroying their cap space. There is no excuse for exiting this off-season without solid additions at defensive tackle, defensive end, tight end and wide receiver. The right players are there for the right cost. Now, it's time for Schneider to work his magic.
For a bit of fun, you may enjoy checking out my off-season predictions from last season. You might notice a certain short quarterback getting a mention ahead of the draft.