Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part II: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

The Seahawks are Super Bowl Champs. The best team in football. Players want to be with them, teams want to be like them. So starts the Dynasty Off-Season for one of the youngest teams to ever win the Lombardi Trophy. This series will dig into each position group, look at who we have, who might be available, and what the team may do in each area. It will end with a projected off-season plan. You can check out last season's analysis here. They have been largely accurate, so if you want to know what Seattle will do before they do it, look no further.

Part I: Defensive Line
Part II: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
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
No pedestrians covered more ground in 2013 than the Seahawks wide receivers. Golden Tate set career highs in receptions and yards. Doug Baldwin nearly did the same, while collecting a series of game-changing catches. Jermaine Kearse capped off a promising second season with a play that instantly became one of the best in Super Bowl history. And we haven't even mentioned Percy Harvin yet. No group of receivers in the NFL was more efficient with the opportunities they were given. Many people continue to misjudge them because their numbers do not stand out, but if they had more passes thrown their way, they would have bigger numbers. John Schneider could draft the next Calvin Johnson, and this team will still not throw more than 25-30 times per game.

Tate added punt returning to his responsibilities, and immediately became one of the best punt returners in the league. No receiver who played more than 50% of their team's snaps gained more yards after they caught the ball than Tate, who averaged 7.9 YAC according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Baldwin led the NFL in catch rate much of the season before a late season slump from Russell Wilson and the offense starting sinking those numbers. Baldwin had 50 receptions on 52 "catchable" throws, according to PFF. He is still miscast as "just a slot guy," but he and the Seahawks offense heated up when he took over for Rice on the outside. Baldwin finished with a yards-per-reception (15.6) that rivaled known big-play receivers like DeSean Jackson (16.2), Alshon Jeffrey (16.0), and Vincent Jackson (15.7). He was more explosive than guys like Jordy Nelson (15.5), Demaryius Thomas (15.5), and A.J. Green (14.6). The only thing holding Baldwin back is his lack of targets. Only five players--Anquan Boldin, Jackson, T.Y. Hilton, Brandon Marshall, and Marques Colston--averaged more yards per route run out of the slot (min 50% of their snaps from the slot). He was rewarded by ranking 22 out of 33 receivers in percentage of routes that resulted in a target, of those players who played at least 50% of their snaps in the slot. He was treated like Mohamed Sanu, but was producing like T.Y. Hilton.

Kearse looks like he can take on more, but how much more remains a question. He can be a Roddy White-type player in terms of skill set, if not raw numbers. More physical than fast. Makes catches in traffic. Big play receiver down the field. Somewhat ironically, Kearse reminds me of Chris Carter. That begs the question of whether Carter considered himself an appetizer early on in his career. What we need to see more of from Kearse is short and intermediate routes that require precision and timing. He cannot be satisfied with last season if he wants to be a legitimate starting caliber player in this league.

Harvin is just getting started. He will transform this offense next season. He will be healthy. He will bring Hell with him. Count on it.

Guys like Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters demonstrate there is room on this roster for a young receiver to join the fray and develop over the next season, much the way Benson Mayowa and Christine Michael were stowed away this year.

Zach Miller and Luke Willson had terrific seasons. They did their jobs as blockers and receivers when called upon. Kellen Davis filled in when the team erred in letting Sean McGrath go, and did a fine job as a third tight end.

2014 Seahawks Free Agent Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:

  • WR Golden Tate
  • WR Doug Baldwin (Restricted)
  • TE Kellen Davis
  • TE Anthony McCoy

Seahawks WR/TE Under Contract:

  • Percy Harvin
  • Jermaine Kearse
  • Ricardo Lockette
  • Sidney Rice
  • Bryan Walters
  • Phil Bates (futures contract)
  • Arceto Clark (futures contract)
  • Zach Miller
  • Luke Willson
  • Cooper Helfet (futures contract)
  • Travis Beckum (futures contract)

2014 Positional Spending
These numbers are provided by OverTheCap.com, and represent what the Seahawks currently have on the books to spend at the position in 2014, as well as where that ranks in the NFL. Being ranked #1 means the team is spending more at that position than any other team, and #32 would mean they are spending the least.

WR: $25,650,000 (#2)
TE: $7,959,633 (#10)

Even if you cut Rice to save $7.3M, the spending would be right back to this level if the team signed Tate and Baldwin.

Free Agents
As with every position, the Seahawks will start with their own free agents and work outward.

Golden Tate
I have expected Tate to hit the open market all along because the team cannot afford to pay him a premium. Both he and the team need to know what he can command from other clubs. The Seahawks want him back, but this is a Win Forever moment for Carroll. He loves Tate. We all do. He is also not a player the team can afford to be paying $5M/year for if they want to sustain the talent elsewhere on the roster. This will be one of the toughest calls of the off-season, but the right thing for the club is to save some money at the split end spot. I'm just not sure Carroll has it in him to let Tate play elsewhere.

Doug Baldwin
It is a real question mark why Baldwin was not featured more given his off-the-charts efficiency and demonstrated ability to make the big catch. I can find a dozen clips of Pete Carroll talking about how the team needs to get Tate more involved in the passing game, or even Rice last year. He has never uttered those words about Baldwin. He has praised him, but his lack of enthusiasm ,and the evidence in the form of targets, shows who he favors. Baldwin is a tougher skill set to replace than Tate's, but I expect the team to sign Tate and look to see if there are any takers for Baldwin in the trade market. By placing a 2nd-round tender on him, they can set his value and see if a team would part with a 3rd. Teams called about Baldwin last year after a down season. Seattle should have some people interested this year. It is not the decision I would make, but it the decision I expect Carroll to roll with.

Anquan Boldin
Boldin made $8.3M last year, and earned every penny. He would be an ideal addition in terms of skill set, mentality and duration of contract. The amount will likely be too steep for one season.

Anthony McCoy
McCoy is a solid tight end, with the potential to do much more than he has done in the past. There is a high likelihood that Seattle will sign him to a prove it deal that will allow him to go back on the market next season while he is still young and not coming off a lost season due to injury. To think the team can cut Miller and just plug in McCoy is fantasy. McCoy would come in to replace Davis.

Kellen Davis
There will be no rush to sign Davis, but he is a fine safety net if the team does not find a younger, cheaper option elsewhere. Blocking is key for the third tight end.

Fred Davis
Davis is a former Trojan with real talent. He has fought injuries and Mike Shanahan, which has reduced his market value. He could get a short-term deal with his old coach to resuscitate his career and earning potential.

Andrew Quarless
A solid blocking tight end who could be another 3rd tight end option.


Draft
Wide receiver and tight end are deep positions in this draft. Seattle needs to add size and strength to their receiving corps. They struck out on Chris Harper last year, and have not hit on any receivers in the draft other than Tate. This is a good year to invest a little there. If the team can add 1-2 receivers and at least one tight end through the draft, they will be in good shape.

Bottom Line
It makes little sense for Rice to be back with the club. Baldwin would cost the team $2M if tendered at the second-round level. Tate could cost anywhere from $4M-$6.5M/year. As good as this receiving group was, Carroll wants to mix in more height. Returning a receiving groups whose top three players are all under 6' does not mesh well with Carroll's history when selecting receivers. It feels like an "or" not an "and" situation with Tate and Baldwin, and while the more cost-effective and logical personnel decision would be Baldwin (cheaper, harder skill set to replace), I expect the team to be more invested in Tate's future. The team will not be desperate to trade Baldwin, but will be more open to it than they were last year.

The team needs a young receiving prospect with some size, who can be developed. That will come via the draft. The only free agents they would logically look at would be Tate and Boldin. And really, just Tate. Harvin becomes the equivalent of a major free agent addition, both in terms of production potential and cost.

Everyone wants to can Zach Miller because of his $7M salary. It is true that he would not get that on the open market. He probably would not get $5M on the open market. I'm just not sure I see the team approaching a player who had a great season and is integral to their offense to ask for a restructured deal. I also do not see why they would cut him if they can find the money they need under the cap elsewhere. Tight end was a thin position last year. Going into the year with Willson as the #1 and either McCoy or a rookie as the #2 would be a big leap of faith that the team simply does not need to risk. The most likely outcome here is Miller, Willson and McCoy form an improved trio at the tight end spot. Second most likely is Miller, Willson and a draft choice.

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