Monday, February 4, 2013

2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part III: Secondary


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


State Of The Position
Seattle has the best secondary in the NFL two years running now. They finished #6 in passing yards allowed, #4 in opponent YPA, and #3 in opponent passer rating. And they did it again with a middling pass rush. Richard Sherman was arguably the best defensive player in the NFL not named J.J. Watt. Brandon Browner significantly reduced his penalties, while maintaining his physical style of play. Earl Thomas came on strong down the stretch, and had everyone thinking he may just have a knack for post-season play. Kam Chancellor took a step back, going from All-Pro caliber to merely above average. Even so, Chancellor is a certain target for an extension this off-season as he heads into his contract year.

There is no way John Schneider wants Chancellor to hit the open market. His chemistry with Thomas is tough to manufacture, and his ability to defend tight ends like Vernon Davis is invaluable in today's NFL. The negotiations may be a bit tougher than normal given Chancellor's down year. Seattle may be more stubborn about a big number. It may take until the bye week, but this will get done.

Browner enters his free agent year as well, but he will be 29 next year, and that looms large in the team's decision about whether to re-sign him. There is little chance the team will extend Browner before he hits the market. His value is greater to Seattle than many teams based on the style of defense they play. They also need to make sure they do not overpay at that position. Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor will command premium contracts in the coming years, so that fourth starter will need to be more affordable. Walter Thurmond, Jeremy Lane, and Byron Maxwell all took turns demonstrating their credentials to rise into that spot should Browner leave after this season.

Thurmond is entering his contract year as well, and despite the mass skepticism of his durability, expect him to be in higher demand on the free agent market and more likely to be extended than Browner. In fact, there may be no better time to lock up Thurmond at a reasonable rate than right now. A three year deal with modest guaranteed money that allows the team to walk away after two years would make sense for both parties. What many miss about Thurmond is that he is a better all-around corner than Browner, is younger, and can slide inside as needed. This idea that he is injury-prone largely stems from a single injury. People forget he played in every game his rookie year. He broke his leg last season, re-injured that leg during rehab, and then pulled a hamstring this year that very easily could be related to the leg injury. He will not require surgery this off-season, and should enter camp healthier than he has ever been in the NFL. This guy is going to have a breakout season next year.

Lane surprised me. He was so raw in training camp, and seemed too immature to have the work ethic needed to improve. I preferred Phillip Adams, who went on to have a strong season for the Raiders. Adams could have really helped in the slot this year, something Lane has not shown a knack for yet. Lane does show uncommon burst and is a fiery competitor. Browner and Sherman set records for being the tallest cornerback pair, but a combination of Lane and Sherman could be the mouthiest duo in NFL history. Projecting Lane in 2013 and beyond is difficult. He could make a big leap and become the heir apparent. He could also stagnate and be too unreliable and undisciplined. Lane is the wildcard in this group.

Maxwell has the look of a guy who will always be the bridesmaid. He, far more than Thurmond, has durability concerns. He is in and out of the active roster from week to week with various ailments. Either he needs to rededicate himself to flexibility and fitness in the off-season, or he is too brittle to ever count on as a starter. He is slightly better than Lane in the slot, but not comfortable there. Expect him to battle with whoever the front office brings in for a roster spot. His special teams prowess is a bonus, but Lane has that as well and has a leg up due to age and unique athleticism.

Marcus Trufant was not good enough as a nickel corner. It is a gap that will undoubtedly be addressed by the front office, likely through the draft. Thurmond would walk into that role if the team could be certain of his health, but there is no way they gamble on that. Thurmond, Lane,  and Maxwell will have a serious fight on their hands come training camp.

Jeron Johnson and Winston Guy fall into the same category. Both showed glimpses of what they can add, but neither has a solid grip on a roster spot come 2013. Guy has unique talents that could prove incredibly valuable if the coaching staff could coax some discipline into his play. He can cover tight ends, blitz, and play the run. He has the talent to be a difference maker if he can properly harness it. His rookie season raised more questions than provided any assurances. He was suspended for a PED, coaches rarely chose to activate him, and his timing was off in his big chance against the Falcons. Still, he has more upside than Johnson, and will be harder to replace in terms of skill set.

2012 Seahawks Free Agents Secondary:

  • CB Marcus Trufant
  • S Chris Maragos

Seahawks Secondary Under Contract:

  • CB Richard Sherman
  • CB Brandon Browner
  • CB Walter Thurmond
  • CB Jeremy Lane
  • CB Byron Maxwell
  • CB DeShawn Shead
  • S Earl Thomas
  • S Kam Chancellor
  • S Jeron Johnson
  • S Winston Guy
Free Agents
Maragos will be an interesting decision. There is still nobody on the roster capable of filling in for Thomas should there be an injury. Maragos has elite speed, but we do not know much about his ability as a safety. The team will likely bring him back at a modest price, but continue to look for someone who can provide more insurance for Thomas. Trufant will not be back, and will likely retire.

It is highly unlikely that the team will spend any real money in the free agent market on the secondary. They have proven the ability to draft great secondary talent in every draft so far. It also would send an unwelcome message to the locker room full of guys playing on rookie contracts. I will point out a couple of minor possibilities that could get a look as a nickel corner, but the chances remain low of a signing for this part of the team.


CB D.J. Moore
Moore is young and a decent nickel corner. He is too short to play on the edge, so he is not likely to command a huge contract.

CB Captain Munnerlyn
Also an under-sized corner who shows a knack for making plays. He's only 24, and could be an affordable option.


Draft

The Seahawks are definitely going to spend at least one pick on a corner, possibly two, depending on who falls to them throughout the draft. It is not likely that they spend a first-round pick on the position as the organization has not drafted a corner higher than the fourth-round so far. They value safety far more, and could spend a pick on that position in the first three rounds if the right talent presents itself. Finding a viable back-up for Thomas would be a major coup.

Bottom Line
Seattle is young, affordable and supremely talented in the secondary. The questions for next year are not about who will start, but about who will be re-signed and who will secure back-up roles. Nobody will tell you that there is a battle going on between Browner and Thurmond to see who will be re-signed. There is. And my bet is Thurmond is the last man standing. As it stands, he is the only player on the roster that has proven he can excel in the slot and the edge. The front office will add more competition for nickel corner, and Lane or Maxwell may step up as well. There needs to be at least two viable nickel corners on the roster next year. It is a different position, with different techniques, and different skill requirements. Teams cannot just play their third best corner there and hope to succeed.

Sherman will be a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. Thomas and Chancellor should be primed for more impactful seasons, and Browner will be in a contract year. Add in new strength at nickel corner, and perhaps more play-making from a player like Guy, and the best secondary in the NFL is poised to get significantly better.

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