Sunday, February 24, 2013

2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part VIII: Summary & Recommendations


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

  1. Defensive Tackle (Starter, Run stuffer first, Pass rusher second)
  2. Defensive End - LEO (Starting capable, Pass rusher first, Capable of setting the edge vs run)
  3. Sign Kam Chancellor to an extension
  4. Back-Up QB
  5. Split End (6'0'+ with sub-4.55 speed, Potential to start by 2013 or 2014)
  6. Tight End (Elite receiver, blocking nice-to-have)
  7. Weakside Linebacker (Starting capable, Durability and run defense first, Pass rush nice-to-have)
  8. Offensive Tackle (More likely RT capable, but any young tackle with potential will do)
  9. Offensive Guard 
  10. Nickel Corner
  11. Kicker

#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

TOTALS:
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.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reggie White & The Seahawks

He is a free agent. His career accomplishments already have him in the Pantheon of the NFL. Few pass rushers have terrorized quarterbacks at the rate he has, but he is going to be 32 next season. Free agents get paid for past performance as much as future, and committing big dollars to defensive end on the wrong side of 30 often leads to a new general manager shortly thereafter. But the lure of supreme pass rushers is like a siren's song. All are drawn to them, but only some avoid the craggy shores. One brave man steered his team through the dangerous waters. His name was Ron Wolf. Another man named Reggie White had 124.0 career sacks when he became a 31-year-old free agent in 1993. Wolf was committed to building through the draft, but went out of character to sign White to a 4 year $17M contract, which was unprecedented for a defensive player at the time. White made Wolf look like a genius by helping the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 1996. John Schneider, a Wolf protege, faces a similar decision this off-season with not one, but two thirty-something decorated pass rushers on the free agent market. History may have more lessons to offer Schneider as he attempts to guide his team past the rocky shores to a championship of his own.

The season preceding White's arrival in Green Bay, the Packers welcomed a precocious 23-year-old quarterback by the name of Brett Favre. He helped turn a 4-12 team into a 9-7 winner. The addition of White helped lift the franchise to six straight playoff appearances after only two in the previous twenty-five seasons. They did not sniff a losing record for more than a decade. White retired after the 1998 season, but not before collecting 68.5 sacks after the age of 32.

Schneider, too, has a superstar young quarterback ready to lead his team, and knows a more consistent pass rush could be the missing ingredient for a string of Super Bowl wins. Dwight Freeney, he of 107.5 career sacks, turns 33 this month. Osi Umenyiora has 75 sacks of his own, and will turn 32 in November. Both are unrestricted free agents, and neither will re-sign with their current teams. There are younger choices, but the appeal of older players like Freeney and Umenyiora is the commitment can be for fewer years, and the cost should be significantly less.

The question is whether it is realistic to expect a pass rusher to produce into their mid-30s. Maybe White was just a freak of nature. Maybe not. These are the Top 50 most productive pass rushers after the age of 32:


Rk Player From To G Sk
1 Bruce Smith* 1995 2003 140 84.0
2 Kevin Greene 1994 1999 93 75.0
3 Chris Doleman* 1993 1999 108 74.5
4 Reggie White* 1993 2000 111 74.0
5 Rickey Jackson* 1990 1995 96 55.5
6 Too Tall Jones 1983 1989 111 51.5
7 Trace Armstrong 1997 2003 92 47.5
8 Jason Taylor 2006 2011 93 47.0
9 Michael Strahan 2003 2007 65 46.0
10 Clay Matthews 1988 1996 141 42.0
11 William Fuller 1994 1998 75 41.5
12 John Randle* 1999 2003 75 41.5
13 Steve McMichael 1989 1994 96 39.5
14 Carl Hairston 1984 1990 108 38.5
15 Dave Butz 1982 1988 100 35.5
16 Richard Dent* 1992 1997 68 34.0
17 John Abraham 2010 2012 46 32.5
18 Willie McGinest 2003 2008 87 29.0
19 Jumpy Geathers 1992 1996 78 28.5
20 Clyde Simmons 1996 2000 80 28.5
21 Greg Ellis 2007 2009 43 27.5
22 Leslie O'Neal 1996 1999 63 27.0
23 Leonard Little 2006 2009 50 26.5
24 James Harrison 2010 2012 40 25.5
25 Gary Jeter 1987 1989 41 25.5
26 George Martin 1985 1988 60 25.5
27 Sean Jones 1994 1996 47 24.5
28 Randy White* 1985 1988 63 24.5
29 Bill Romanowski 1998 2003 83 24.0
30 Andre Tippett* 1991 1993 46 24.0
31 Jack Youngblood* 1982 1984 40 24.0
32 Lyle Alzado 1981 1985 66 23.0
33 Rob Burnett 1999 2003 72 23.0
34 Bryant Young 2004 2007 61 23.0
35 Jim Jeffcoat 1993 1997 71 22.0
36 Jacob Green 1989 1992 49 21.5
37 James Farrior 2007 2011 78 21.0
38 James Hall 2009 2011 45 21.0
39 Tony McGee 1981 1984 57 21.0
40 Robert Porcher 2001 2003 45 21.0
41 Henry Thomas 1997 2000 64 21.0
42 Monte Coleman 1989 1994 91 20.0
43 Warren Sapp* 2004 2007 58 19.5
44 Julius Adams 1980 1987 99 19.0
45 Kevin Carter 2005 2008 64 18.5
46 Mike Vrabel 2007 2010 62 18.5
47 Barney Chavous 1983 1985 46 18.0
48 Wayne Martin 1997 1999 48 18.0
49 Karl Mecklenburg 1992 1994 48 18.0
50 Lawrence Taylor* 1991 1993 39 18.0

Two of the most recent veteran pass rushers to appear on that list are Michael Strahan and Jason Taylor. Neither player showed any real signs of slowing down when they hit 31. Taylor ended up having the 3rd-best sack total of his career at the age of 32, and Strahan had a record 22.5 sacks at 30, and followed that with 18.5 sacks at 32. Julius Peppers just turned 32 and had 11.5 sacks to celebrate. John Abraham has 32.5 sacks in the last three seasons since turning 32.

Freeney posted double-digit sacks in seven of his first nine seasons, but has failed to do so in the last two seasons. There is growing talk that an ankle injury and a 3-4 defensive scheme installed last season had more to do with his dropoff in production than Freeney's age. Yet, he had only 8.5 sacks the year before.

Umenyiora has only three double-digit sack seasons to his credit. Although, he did post 9.0 sacks in 9 games in 2011 before dropping to 6.0 sacks last year. He has been locked in a contract dispute for at least two seasons, and one has to wonder how much that has effected his play.

Freeney is probably the purer pass rusher of the two, but Umenyiora may have more to prove. Toss a coin. There may never have been a better year to be looking for veteran pass rush help.

Schneider will almost certainly have to spend more than he is comfortable with to sign either player. This front office has only signed one sizable free agent contract for a player over 30, Robert Gallery, and he was released a year later. The team may only need one or two great years from this player before Bruce Irvin develops or the draft brings new options. It will be among Schneider's most challenging evaluations to make this off-season, and it would not be surprising if his first call is not to an agent, but to an old mentor from Green Bay.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part VII: Quarterbacks

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
There was a time when Charlie Whitehurst was the big move at quarterback for John Schneider and Pete Carroll. They surrendered more to to get him than maybe any other player currently on the roster. That didn't work out so well. Tarvaris Jackson was the next step. He was a guy clearly brought in to bridge the gap between Matt Hasselbeck and whoever would be the next Big Guy, but if he had excelled, there was a chance for him to take that mantle. Those two players combined to appear in 24 games for the Seahawks in 2010 and 2011. Russell Wilson did in 18 games as a rookie what may have taken 24 more games for the previous two to accomplish.


Wilson gained significantly more total yards, nearly doubled the touchdown output, and threw far fewer interceptions in six fewer games. It is this efficiency that makes Wilson one of the NFL's best quarterbacks after just one season. No rookie quarterback has ever thrown for more touchdowns in his first season. Remember, Peyton Manning never made the playoffs as a rookie. Wilson ended the year with 29 passing scores.

He is a transcendent player that combines unequaled work ethic with uncommon moxie and superior athletic ability. The only quarterback in the NFL I would strongly consider a trade for would be Andrew Luck or possibly Colin Kaepernick. People that limit their evaluation to on-field performance are blinding themselves to a huge part of the game. Wilson's contract-to-performance ratio in unmatched. Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback, but is he really 18X the player Wilson is? Because that's how much more Rodgers will be paid in 2013. I am not sure any player in the NFL is even twice the quarterback Wilson is, and who knows what he will be with a full off-season of practice.

Wilson had a fantastic rookie year, but do not be blinded by the results and numbers. He still has a long way to go as a quarterback. That is a good thing. He can be better, a lot better. Wilson took longer to throw the ball than any other quarterback in the NFL. Some of that was his scrambling, and some of that was his stubbornness to wait for a deep route to develop, but some of it was a lack of anticipation and rhythm. One of the biggest blind spots for Wilson was swinging the ball out to his backs when the primary down-field options were taken away. Many of the sacks he took were due to this shortcoming. Making that check-down automatic will make him harder to defend and keep his offense moving forward more often.

He is greedy in a good way. He wants chunk plays, and trusts his ability to evade the pass rush until those options are available. That confidence is well earned, but defenses will take advantage of rigidity and predictability. It will be much harder to scheme against Wilson if they have to spy on him for scrambling, rush the edges, cover the deep routes and account for the swing pass all on the same play. There are only so many defenders. Repetition should lead to a much more decisive Wilson in 2013.

Matt Flynn handled this past season like few other players in his position would have. The historians will say Wilson clearly beat out Flynn in the pre-season. That simply was not true. He may have equaled Flynn, and some coaches lean toward the younger player in those situations. There is no need to re-hash that fascinating time in Seahawks history, except to say that Flynn did nothing to lose that starting opportunity. He kept his frustrations in the locker room, and according to a number of players, was instrumental in helping Wilson get his head right for the second half of the Falcons playoff game.

Both the team and the player have reason to explore a change of scenery. Flynn is still young, and is better than a number of the starters in the NFL. Seattle would like to reduce the salary associated with their backup quarterback, and get some compensation in terms of draft choices or players. They will not give him away, and will keep him through next season if they do not get offers worthy of the risk associated with revamping that position.

Part of Seattle's strength is the knowledge that they have two players that could lead this team deep in the playoffs at the QB position. Flynn's salary is not so great as to force the Seahawks to make a move. Schneider can afford to be patient.

2012 Seahawks Free Agent Quarterbacks:

  • None

Seahawks Quarterbacks Under Contract:

  • Russell Wilson
  • Matt Flynn

Free Agents
There are a few free agents that could make some sense for the Seahawks to bring into camp. They would be looking for a guy that could potentially offer some of the same things that Wilson does in terms of running, but that is not requirement. Fans seem to think that the backup must be a clone of the starter, but any coach would take a more talented quarterback over a more similar style quarterback. The challenge with a free agent signing is that it could complicate the Flynn trade scenarios if teams assume he will be cheaper to acquire after the team spends more money on a free agent. None of these options are particularly costly, and some would likely sign with very small guarantees that would not cause the team to hesitate if it made sense to release them later, or trade them the way they did with Barrett Ruud last season.

Josh Johnson
This may be the best option of the bunch. Johnson was in the 49ers camp last season and outplayed Scott Tolzien, but was released. There was some speculation that Johnson needed to win the back-up job to stick. Seattle brought him in for a tryout late in the year, but did not sign him. He is just 26, has a good arm and clocked a 4.4. He signed with Cleveland late in the season, but should be an unrestricted free agent.

Chase Daniel
Daniel has been Drew Brees' protege for the last few years, and would likely be looking for a chance to start or at least a spot where the starter is less entrenched than Wilson. Still, he has the competitive spirit, good arm and inventive scrambling ability to be worth a look. He would also make Wilson feel less short. Daniel is only 6'0".

Dennis Dixon - UPDATE: Dixon signed a two-year deal with the Eagles
Dixon is a guy I have brought up the last two off-seasons. He played reasonably well in the pre-season and limited regular season opportunities. He has a good arm, but struggles with accuracy and decision-making at times. He is also a capable runner. He is on a practice squad, but can be signed away to an active roster, something he declined to do at least once last season.

Tarvaris Jackson
A number of folks have brought up the potential of Jackson coming back to Seattle. That ended when he re-signed with the Bills this past week.


Draft
There is only one player I believe is a real option in the draft. If Flynn is really on his way to another team, the Seahawks need a legitimate back-up. Matt Barkley is the only player this front office would trust as a rookie to take that mantle. He is heady, humble and a hard worker. The fact that Barkley is even in the mix is unexpected. He was a likely Top 10 pick last year if he had left school, but he returned and had a less impressive season than most had hoped to see and then was injured late. Many have him getting drafted in the second round at this point. Trading out of the first round could put the Seahawks in perfect position to nab Barkley.

Most will think this is just nuts. Wilson is the franchise quarterback and there are real pressing needs on this roster. Why in the world would the team spend it's first pick on another quarterback? Forget, for a second, the fact that people said similar things about drafting Wilson after spending money on Flynn or taking Kirk Cousins after Robert Griffin III. The reality is the front office is looking for a good match of value-to-cost. Taking a player like Barkley solidifies the back-up role for at least the next 2-3 years, which allows the front office to shift money and picks to other parts of the team. Quarterback is also one of the few positions where investing in a back-up can yield significant returns later. A few stellar pre-seasons for Barkley, and possibly a good spot start here or there, and he could be worth a first-round pick and then some in three years.

It certainly is more appealing than reaching for a need elsewhere. The other guys in the draft just are not advanced enough to feel comfortable taking them with the idea of having them be the back-up right away. Carroll knows what Barkley is capable of. If they spend a later draft choice on a quarterback, it will be because they intend to use one of the veteran free agents in that role, or possibly even keeping Flynn.

Bottom Line
Whew...finally. The Seahawks have been around since 1976, and they have never had a young franchise quarterback of Wilson's caliber. Welcome to the upper crust, Seahawks fans. This is how the other side lives. Wilson can beat teams in so many different ways, that even if he has a sophomore slump, he will still be highly productive. It would be great to see him spend a lot of time with players like Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller to develop a rapport that he has with Golden Tate. That chemistry will lead to anticipation and will translate to key conversions in tight situations.

This is a player that should lead the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title, possibly as soon as next season. He should be a player that leads this team to multiple championships. He is that good, and should get better.

How the Seahawks handle the Flynn situation will have ripple effects through the rest of the off-season. It would be far worse to leave that role under-manned than to pay Flynn $8M in 2013. The most likely scenario will have the team taking conditional 2014 draft picks in return for Flynn. They do not need more picks this year, and should get higher value by deferring the picks a year.

Bringing in a guy like Josh Johnson could give the team the ultimate flexibility as he has back-up potential right away, but will not cost much to sign. They could still draft a player like Barkley and keep Johnson to allow those two to compete for the back-up spot. The cost of Barkley, Wilson and Johnson will still be less than Flynn.

All options are really on the table for this position after Wilson. The search for a young star QB has been nearly endless. Nearly. Attention now turns to how high this team can climb. The development of Wilson and the quality of the his back-up will play a large role in determining how high they get and how well they are secured should Wilson fall.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part VI: Running Backs & Fullbacks

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
Marshawn Lynch became just the second Seahawks running back to earn 1st-team All-Pro honors by rushing for 1,590 yards in 2012, the third-highest total in team history. Only three players, Lynch, Chris Warren and Shaun Alexander, have eclipsed the 1,500 yard mark in a single season. He did it at the age of 26, and with only 315 carries. By comparison, Alexander had two seasons over 1,500 yards, but he did it with 353 and 370 carries. Alexander's 2005 season was the only one in team history that involved a higher yards per carry (5.1) than Lynch's 5.0 from 2012.

It takes an explosive and historic season from your rookie quarterback to push a season like Lynch had into the background. One of the things that made his season so special was his consistency. Most running backs that pile up that much yardage have a few breakout games. Lynch never ran for more than 128 yards in a game. He had ten 100-yard rushing games during the regular season, and an eleventh where he finished with 98 yards. He is a legitimately dominant player at his position.

He answered any questions about his will to play with the same ferocity after getting his new contract. The deal keeps him in Seattle through the 2015 season at a reasonable rate. The biggest question with Lynch is his health.

He did not miss a game in 2012, but he was on the injury report every week with a sore back, and it is not just the team creating an excuse for him to miss practice time. He missed a game in 2011 with back spasms, and the team has played it carefully in terms of limiting his touches. Back problems usually stem from compression. A back that runs like Lynch has his spine compressed a lot. It is just a matter of time until his body rebels and keeps him from continuing. The falloff can happen suddenly.

Marion Barber was a similarly bruising runner for the Cowboys who, like Lynch, had a great season at the age of 26. He was out of the NFL two years later. The front office has to plan for this eventuality, even if most fans think it foolish to worry about a 26-year-old running back coming off his best season.

That's where Robert Turbin comes in. He had a promising rookie season, even if he only had limited opportunities. He showed a burst, and welcomed contact. It was hard to evaluate his vision, or his breakaway potential without more carries. He did demonstrate that he could be an asset as a receiver and a blocker.

Leon Washington was terrific, as usual, in the return game, earning a Pro Bowl spot. He was also under-utilized, as usual, on offense. Washington turns 31 this year, and is due around $3M. He is one of my favorite people and players on this roster, but it does not make sense to use a roster spot on an older running back with a higher salary. That has nothing to do with Washington as a person, or his potential to be productive in 2013. The team does not use him enough to merit the cost of keeping him or the risk of not developing a second young running back.

Michael Robinson becomes a free agent after the upcoming season when he will turn 31. He is due $2.5M in 2013, and that should get paid after another strong year in 2012. The role of the fullback continues to be a question for Seattle. Robinson played in only 32% of the snaps. He was effective in the time he had, converting a number of key short yardage runs and catching 13 of the 15 passes thrown his way. The team could decide to bring in an understudy this year. Vai Taua was a promising young fullback in training camp this past season who was injured in the final pre-season game.

2012 Seahawks Free Agent Running Backs & Fullbacks:

  • None

Seahawks Running Backs & Fullback Under Contract:

  • RB Marshawn Lynch
  • RB Robert Turbin
  • RB Leon Washington
  • FB Michael Robinson

Free Agents
Signing free agent running backs is among the worst things a front office can do. This is a position that has the smallest shelf life in the NFL, and is the easiest to replenish through the draft. Spending money on players who have already played at least three or four years just does not make a ton of sense. There are times when a role player like Kregg Lumpkin gets added (and then cut), but nothing worth spending time analyzing.


Draft
It is not clear the Seahawks have a breakaway threat in the backfield. Adding some true speed, even if the player only gets 5-7 snaps per game, could have a real impact on the offense. The Seahawks will not spend a pick above the fourth round on this position. Fullbacks are often available outside the draft, so it is less likely to expect the team to spend a draft choice there.

Bottom Line
The state of the Seahawks backfield is good. They have a young star coming off his best season under contract, a promising young player behind him and a Pro Bowler as the third string option. Their fullback has performed at a near-Pro Bowl level, and shows no signs of slowing down. The team does not need to make any changes to this group for 2013.

The places they may look to upgrade are the third running back spot and the fullback spot. It would be nice to add some more explosiveness to the back-field, but that will only happen if the right player slips to later in the draft. They may already have their next fullback waiting in the wings with Taua. It is not a highly competitive position in today's NFL, so most front offices do not feel an urgent need to find the next guy.

Look for the Seahawks to add at least one young runner to the mix in training camp with a real shot to challenge Washington. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part V: Offensive Line

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 exited 2011 with a makeshift offensive line that featured players like Lemuel Juanpierre, Paul McQuistan at left tackle, and Robert Gallery. Few could have predicted all the pieces were already on the roster to clear the way for a franchise record 2,579 yards rushing in 2012. Russell Okung and Max Unger became Pro Bowl starters, and Unger earned 1st-Team All-Pro honors as the best center in the NFL. Breno Giacomini, Paul McQuistan and Unger made every start, and Okung started 17 of 18 games.

Continuity had been a mythical concept for the Seahawks line, so much so that a year in which they played four different players at guard felt like a healthy season. Tom Cable once again did a masterful job in maximizing the production of a group without a sparkling pedigree. Only two players (Okung and Unger) played significant snaps this year and were drafted in the first two rounds. Compare that to a 49ers line that features three first-round picks, and center with Pro Bowl credentials.

Breno Giacomini may be the heart of this line. Fans and media tend to focus on his post-whistle activities that cost the team dearly in 2012, but ask any coach or player on that line who the toughest player is, and none will hesitate to name Giacomini. They all love him. Head out to a Seahawks Weekly during the season, and odds are you will find Giacomini there with John Moffitt or Unger. Ask Cable who he would want to have his back in an alley fight, and he will choose Giacomini. He is not a gifted pass blocker, but he is a supremely gifted scrapper. Everyone celebrates the impact of Marshawn Lynch battling for extra yardage. Do not underestimate the value of a lineman like Giacomini that fights every bit as hard as Lynch. He also is an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season. He will be 29 this year. The team does not have a viable starter they are developing behind Giacomini. He may be a candidate for an early extension of modest size, and drafting another young tackle would make sense. The front office would be comfortable with him manning the right tackle position for the next few years, but it would be wise to increase the competition there as well.

Okung finally stayed healthy long enough to validate what my eyes always told me--this is a guy with a rare combination of strength, athleticism and work ethic. He was one of the games best left tackles in 2012, and now he must prove he can string together a few seasons.

Unger was a guy I never loved at guard, but is a natural at center. If Giacomini is the heart of the line, Unger is the head. It was an easy decision to extend him before the season began, but to pay him like the 4th-best center in the game raised some eyebrows. That is, until he was voted best center in the game following the season.

The guard position is where things get a little more debatable. McQuistan has proven he can play multiple positions at a starting level. He is truly the Jack of all trades, master of none. The team would like two of the younger players to earn the starting guard spots so that McQuistan could become a valuable reserve, but that has not happened yet. He, like Giacomini, becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season. He will be 31 by that point. He will not command large free agent dollars from another team, so it will likely be up to the Seahawks to determine whether it is worth bringing him back. Odds are that he will be re-signed as a reserve, but that means two other players must clearly step up next season.

James Carpenter is the only other first-round pick on the line, but he has never fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered late in his rookie season. The team chose to put him on the active roster out of training camp when they had the option to put him on PUP that would allow him to return later in the season. Carpenter returned to the field ahead of when he would have been eligible to come back on PUP, and it looked brilliant at first. His size and strength was a major upgrade at left guard, and made for a powerful combination with Okung. The excitement soon fizzled as Carpenter began to struggle, and eventually was put on IR with problems affecting the same knee. No surgery was required, but it was clear he came back too soon. Carpenter's work ethic will be a major storyline this off-season. A fully healthy Carpenter would solidify one of the guard spots, potentially for many seasons to come. If he reports out of shape and overweight, the team becomes far more dependent on both of the other young guard prospects to work out.

Moffitt struggled as a rookie, and then had a serious knee injury of his own. Credit him for staying healthy most of last season, but his effectiveness was still not up-to-par. He is a smart player, who generally carries out his assignments, but he is physically overwhelmed at times. His run blocking was not good enough in 2012. His pass blocking was only average. The hope is that another off-season of strength conditioning and recovery from his injury will allow him to demonstrate true starting potential. It is hard to figure out whether Moffitt takes his craft seriously. He is a great guy. He is funny. He is smart. How hard will he work to become great? The class clown often jokes because he is not confident that people will like him for who he is. Moffitt definitely makes us all laugh. Let's see if he can make a few opponents cry next year instead.

It is debatable whether J.R. Sweezy's rookie story was more remarkable than Russell Wilson's. Wilson was lauded by a good chunk of us after he was drafted. His achievements as a rookie were things some of us expected to see at some point in his career. Sweezy was a seventh-round pick who played defensive line, and wound up starting multiple games at right guard as a rookie. There have been rookie QBs drafted after the 2nd round that have started games their first season. I'm not sure there has ever been a seventh-round defensive pick that started on the offensive line as a rookie. Many fans focus on his struggles in pass protection, but that loses sight of the fact that this guy rose to the top of the depth chart in a matter of weeks during training camp. Give him a full off-season with strength training and the coaching staff guiding him, and there is plenty of reason to be bullish on Sweezy's chances to earn a starting guard spot in camp. He was an above average run blocker, who flashed the ability to block linebackers in space. He still is undersized, and often got bull-rushed back into the quarterback. He struggled with communication on the line when opponents ran stunts or other games inside, which led to free runners at the quarterback. Strength can be improved. Communication can be improved. Given Carpenter's injury challenges, Moffitt's lack of clear gift as either a run blocker or a pass blocker, and Sweezy's trajectory to date, the safe money may be on Sweezy to emerge as a fixture at guard out.

Lemuel Juanpierre is a nice back-up, who showed in extended time in 2011 that he can be an adequate fill-in on the interior at guard or center. Rishaw Johnson was a rookie pick-up that earned his way onto the active roster late in the year. He is a strong man that is getting most of his time at guard. The team loved what they saw from in rookie camp, and brought him along slowly on the practice squad. There may be upside there, as Johnson was originally an SEC recruit before finding some trouble that knocked him into a secondary university.

2012 Seahawks Free Agents Offensive Lineman:

  • T Frank Omiyale

Seahawks Offensive Lineman Under Contract:

  • T Russell Okung
  • T Breno Giacomini
  • T Mike Person
  • C Max Unger
  • T/G Paul McQuistan
  • G James Carpenter
  • G John Moffitt
  • G J.R. Sweezy
  • G Rishaw Johnson
  • G/C Lemuel Juanpierre
Free Agents
Omiyale did fine in his one game filling in for Okung, but is only important to re-sign if the team cannot find a more promising option. It is unclear how the team feels about Person, but the tackle position feels thin. Going out and spending money on a young free agent offensive lineman that could develop into a starter is not likely. They may go out and get another Omiyale-caliber veteran for depth, or bring in the next Giacomini from another team's trash heap, but I won't claim to know the names of who that might be.


Draft

It would not surprise me to see the team spend one of their first three picks on a guard or a tackle, with a guard being more likely. It doesn't matter that the team already spent a first and a third on the guard position two years ago. What matters is that the team got mostly poor guard play last season, and there are not many sure solutions on the roster. There are some mauler-style prospects like D.J. Fluker that could be an interesting option as both a challenge to Giacomini at right tackle and an option at guard. It is okay to create on overload on the roster at a position. The best players will rise, and the team will be better for it.

Bottom Line
The 2012 offensive line began to realize the potential Pete Carroll sought when he came to Seattle. It was a physical group that worked well as a unit, and stood up to the most physical defenses in the NFL. The 49ers defense allowed an average of 86 yards rushing in the 17 games when they faced opponents not named Seattle. The Seahawks averaged 156 yards rushing in their two games against the 49ers, and have broken 100 yards rushing in each of their last three games against a team that is generally considered to have the most intimidating front seven in the league.

There is no reason to panic about McQuistan getting older or becoming a free agent, or Giacomini getting to his free agent year. It is important to replenish the depth and talent on the line so the team can continue to grow. Counting on two out of the three to emerge from the Carpenter, Moffitt, Sweezy scrum feels unwise. The team can do better than McQuistan at guard, and would be better if he could supply flexible depth in reserve. Adding at least one more promising name to the pile at guard makes sense, and the draft is the best place to do it.

Tackle is another concern, with no clear players who could step up and start for any period of time. That could be duct taped another year with a veteran, but it would not be a surprise to see another young tackle drafted.

This group will always handle their business with Cable as coach. The most important aspect will continue to be health and continuity.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part IV: Linebackers

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
Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry and Leroy Hill were the starting linebackers when Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in 2010. Two of those players were gone before the 2012 season started, and the third will be replaced by the time 2013 starts. In their place is youth, speed and talent.

Bobby Wagner was the latest addition, and finished second in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He broke the Seahawks rookie tackle record with 140, had 2.0 sacks, 3 interceptions and an impressive 6 tackles for loss. By comparison, Tatupu never had more than 123 tackles in a season, only had more than 1.5 sacks his rookie season, and only had more than 5 tackles for loss once. The numbers were nice for Wagner, but he is not yet a dominant force on the field. It was telling that the coaching staff failed to enthusiastically support him for rookie of the year, often mentioning that he still has some things to learn.

The indication was that Wagner was filling up the stat sheet, but was hurting the team at times by being out of position or blowing a coverage. Wagner is a gifted athlete and is as down-to-Earth as pro players get. It is a safe bet that he will take his off-season seriously, and come back even better. Having a player with his speed going sideline-to-sideline gives the Seahawks a rare commodity when facing a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick twice each season. Wagner comes in at #7 on my latest roster rankings, and is a CORE player that should be around for a number of years.

His lanky partner in crime, K.J. Wright, was the only player on the team to have more tackles for loss (7) than Wagner and came in as #10 in my roster rankings. Wright looked like a man possessed in training camp. He was bigger, stronger and playing with a speed fueled by confidence. He knew the defense, and he knew his role. I expected an impact season. He started strong, with 65 tackles and 5 TFL in his first eight games. He finished the regular season with a whimper, collecting only 33 tackles and 2 TFL over his final seven games. His game elevated in the playoffs some, and he had a decent showing against the Falcons with 2 TFL.

Wright is not a speed merchant. He is long, smart, and aggressive. His wingspan is insane, reminding me a little of Julian Peterson, which can make throwing windows even tighter for opposing quarterbacks. His long arms also help shed blockers and reach running backs. This is a guy who led the team in tackles for loss during his rookie season despite only starting part of the year. It should have been a breakout year in 2012, but it was not. He needs to come back with the same purpose he entered training camp with this past season. The 2013 season will go a long way toward determining Wright's ceiling. Is he a future Pro Bowl candidate, or just an above average starting linebacker?

Hill began the season as the starting WILL linebacker, and ended the season splitting time with second-year linebacker Malcolm Smith (#26 on the roster rankings). Hill took the role of thumper versus the run, but it was obvious that he no longer can stay with younger players in coverage. Smith brings elite speed to the linebacker position, but has had some challenges with durability due to lack of size. He showed more discipline than most young linebackers, staying home on misdirection plays and forcing runners back inside. His coverage skills are above average. Smith will get a shot at the starting role heading into 2013, but he will certainly have some competition from additional linebackers added to the roster.

There are two sleepers on the roster to keep an eye on. Allen Bradford is a 5'11" 235 lb wrecking ball. Bradford made some memorable hits during training camp and especially in his final pre-season game. He never saw game-time, which is why is all the way down at #50 on the roster rankings, and is still in transition from playing running back, but do not be surprised to see him force his way into the linebacker equation for 2013.

Korey Toomer was the team's fifth-round pick this year, but was released before the season started. He had a lot of trouble defending the run, but showed some promise as a pass rusher. The team thought enough of him to sign him back to a Futures contract a couple weeks ago. Toomer was a project of linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr, so he could make a big step forward in his second season.

Mike Morgan got some snaps this past season, but he struggled with gap discipline and tackling at times. His roster spot will be challenged in 2013. He needs to take this off-season very seriously.

2012 Seahawks Free Agents Linebackers:

  • Leroy Hill

Seahawks Linebackers Under Contract:

  • Bobby Wagner
  • K.J. Wright
  • Malcolm Smith
  • Mike Morgan
  • Heath Farwell
  • Allen Bradford
  • Mike Morgan
  • Korey Toomer
  • Kyle Knox

Free Agents
Hill was not going to be back before his latest run-in with the law, but that may have forced him into a slightly early retirement.

Linebacker is a spot that can be filled cheaply and immediately via the draft. It is a position that does not require a lot of transition time from college to the NFL. Teams will generally know if they hit on a linebacker prospect in the first season, and certainly by the second. Spending free agent dollars on a position like that makes less sense. That said, it can make sense to add some depth, which the Seahawks have done in recent years with players like Barrett Ruud, or a stop-gap starter like they did with Hill. Expensive long-term deals are most likely out of the question, and this is a very thin free agent class.


Dannell Ellerbe
Ellerbe has already got some attention on local sports radio, but he will be too costly for Seattle.

Larry Grant
Grant is a guy who filled in for a injured Patrick Willis last season and played quite well. At 250 lbs, he is not a candidate for the Hill vacancy, but could be a good depth addition that could backup Wagner and possibly push Wright at the SAM. He will be looking for a starting job somewhere, so this is not a likely marriage.


Draft

Seattle will add at least one, and possibly two, additional linebackers in the draft. It is important that they find a viable backup middle linebacker. The current plan involves Wright shifting to the middle, which is not ideal. Expect them to draft a starter at the WIL spot, or at least a player that will challenge for that position.

Bottom Line
The Seahawks young defense is about to get younger when Hill is swapped out for either a rookie or a player like Smith or Bradford. Hill was reliable and a leader in his own way. He also was no longer an impact player. The front office has to look at his vacancy as a chance to upgrade the play-making ability on a defense that needs better pass rush and more turnovers. The weakside linebacker is key in Carroll's hybrid 4-3/3-4 scheme as teams are tempted to run their direction, away from Red Bryant and Wright. Finding a player that can hold up against the run is priority number one. Ideally, that player would also be fast enough to offer options as an occasional blitzer and competent in coverage.

Smith could be the guy, but there is no way the team can rely on that given his durability questions. Bradford is a guy to watch. He is certainly durable, and has the speed and physical nature that would be well-suited to the role. Only the team knows how well he developed over the course of the season. He may be lost in pass coverage or undisciplined in run defense. All I have seen so far is his physical skills, and they are enough to pique my interest.

It would not be shocking to see the team go linebacker with one of their first three picks. They nearly got the rookie of the year in the second round. Another strong addition would give this unit the chance to among the youngest and most talented starting linebacker corps in the NFL. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

UPDATED Seahawks Roster Stack Ranking 1-57

I published a roster ranking last week that sparked some great conversation among Seahawks fans. I devised a formula that gave each player on the Seahawks roster a numerical value based on the factors I believe are most important to managing a roster. The result was a 1-57 stack ranking of every player that played for Seattle in 2012. Many of you had feedback on the formula, and some of it swayed my perspective, so I updated my formula to reflect these changes.

As a reminder, the factors are as follows:

AGE - The younger, the better. Some positions, like RB, are more harshly rated as age is a larger factor.

HEALTH - This could also be called dependability as it encompasses injury and absences for other reasons like suspension. A player with a current injury is rated more harshly as their recovery is unknown.

IMPACT TO DATE - This is about how the player has performed on the field thus far through their career. What level of performance have they already demonstrated?

POTENTIAL GROWTH - How much better can they be than they are right now? A great player may not have much more room to grow.

HARD TO REPLACE - This combines a variety of considerations including: salary for that position type, scheme demands on that position, uniqueness of skill set for the player, and typical ability to find fill that position played in to that level in the NFL.

Not all of these factors are equal. It is far more important, for example, to have demonstrated your impact on the field than it is to be young or have potential. I weighted the factors to address this, and it is the weighting where I made the changes:

IMPACT TO DATE = 45% (was 30%)
HARD TO REPLACE = 25% (no change)
POTENTIAL GROWTH = 15% (was 20%)
AGE = 10% (was 15%)
HEALTH 5% (10%)

The big change is putting a much heavier emphasis on performance to date. The old formula placed too great an emphasis on being young and healthy, a full 25% of the score. That has been reduced to 15%. Potential for improvement was also a little heavy. A player who is already great should not be knocked down much for having less potential be even better. The resulting 15% was added to the Impact To Date category, making it nearly half the total score.

The formula now looks like this:

(AGE*0.10) + (HEALTH*0.05) + (IMPACT TO DATE*0.45) + (POTENTIAL GROWTH*0.15) + (HARD TO REPLACE*0.25) = PLAYER SCORE

And here are the results (the change in the rankings shows in the +/- column):



The changes had the biggest positive impact on players like Marshawn Lynch and Chris Clemons that have been terrific on the field, but have injury concerns, and less potential for improvement. It predictably had the biggest negative effect on young players that have not yet proved themselves enough on the field like Jeremy Lane, Greg Scruggs and J.R. Sweezy. It also lowered some players scores enough to move them out of the CORE category, like K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin.

I like these results better, but I may continue to tweak the formula as I reflect on it. What say you?

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.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Suck It, 49ers




Seahawks Pass Attempts Drop By 100+ In 2012

Everyone is busy. We are increasingly an "at-a-glance" culture that struggles to find time explore anything beyond the obvious. The simple narrative with the Seahawks wide receivers is that they are lacking premier talent. After all, the team's leading receiver finished with only 50 receptions for less than 800 yards. The team's leading receiver in 2011 had just 51 receptions. Nobody goes to the Pro Bowl with those numbers. Another simple narrative is that Doug Baldwin had a down year after a terrific rookie campaign. Take a look a little deeper. You may be surprised what you find. I certainly was.

Receiving is among the most dependent positions in the NFL. You can run the perfect route, make the perfect read of the defense, be wide open, and still not get the ball thrown your way because of the play call or the quarterback's decision. It is easy for Seahawks fans to day dream about bringing in a 100 catch receiver that goes for 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns. That player does not exist. At least, not in this offense.

The Seahawks passed the ball 405 times this season. That is a full 104 fewer pass attempts, or 6.5 per game than the year before. Thanks to the efficiency of Russell Wilson, they completed only 47 fewer passes. Still, that is three fewer completions per game to go around. Take a look at how the reduction in attempts and completions effects the distribution of receptions between the two seasons:



Notice how quickly the distribution drops off in 2012. Four receivers caught more than 30 balls in 2011, but only three in 2012. Seven receivers caught more than 20 balls in 2011, but only five in 2012. Doug Baldwin is a particularly interesting study.

Nobody would argue that he had less of an impact in 2012 than in 2011. Just look at his production:

2012: 29 receptions 366 yards 3 TDs
2011: 51 receptions 788 yards 4 TDs

The key missing statistic in those two lines is targets, or how many times the ball came his way. Here are those two years again with targets included:


2012: 29 receptions 49 targets 366 yards 3 TDs
2011: 51 receptions 86 targets 788 yards 4 TDs

He had a 43% fewer opportunities to make a play in 2012. That will tend to have an impact on your numbers. It is useful to look at catch rate when evaluating a receiver. Catch rate is the percentage of times you catch a ball thrown your way (receptions / targets). Let's see if Baldwin dropped off there.

2012 Catch Rate: 59.2%
2011 Catch Rate: 59.3%

That would seem to paint a far different picture than his raw numbers. A look at ProFootballFocus.com, where players are graded after having each snap watched numerous times, shows Baldwin's rating in 2012 was only slightly lower than 2011 (7.3 vs. 9.0). 

Now, this is not to say receivers cannot affect their own fate. Zach Miller, for example, was targeted only nine more times in 2012, but caught 13 more passes. His accomplished this by increasing his catch rate from 56% in 2011 to a whopping 72% in 2012. He was a primary beneficiary of Wilson's knack for throwing down the middle of the field, and made the most of those chances. 

There is only so much production that can be squeezed out of efficiency. New Hampshire can get 99% of their residents to vote for one candidate or another in the presidential election, but it still only counts as 4 electoral votes. The volume of attempts must increase to really have an impact. Knowing that the Seahawks are going to add a speedy pass-catching tight end into the mix, one has to wonder if there is room for a "premier" receiver. 

The team is likely going to pass more next year, but even if they throw the ball 100 more times, the offense is not built to support another two primary targets. Teams like the Falcons, Packers, Patriots, or Lions that throw the ball well over 600 times can feature four or five receiving options on a regular basis. They can produce 100 catch players and 1,500 yard seasons. Seattle will always look for a player that can be more efficient than the ones they have. Someone with a high catch rate and a high yards per catch, or more simply, a high yards per target would make a lot of sense. That is why a guy like Mike Wallace (10 yards/target for his career) gets a longer look than a guy like Dwayne Bowe (7.6 yards/target). Still, Golden Tate was the starting split end in 2012 and finished with a Wallace-like 10.1 yards/target. It seems highly unlikely the team would spend millions of dollars extra to secure a player that is no more efficient than the one they already have.

The idea of a dominating wide receiver will continue to entrance many fans and local radio. The reality is it will be far harder to improve on the production of this receiving corps than most will ever know. And if the team does want to improve the receiving numbers, the most reliable and cost-effective way to do so is throw more often.