Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part III: Secondary

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
By the time all the analysis is done, this will go down as possibly the best secondary in this history of the NFL. Some will disagree. Nobody will be able to credibly dismiss the discussion out of hand. On a team where respect is hard to find outside the Pacific NW, this legion of budding legends needs no introduction. Earl Thomas was the best defender in football at the age of 24, only missing out on the title because he split votes with the best cornerback in football, Richard Sherman, who is 25. And both would call out the best strong safety, Kam Chancellor (also 25), as being the best player in their group down the stretch.

They lost a former Pro Bowl corner in Brandon Browner to a drug suspension, and managed to improve with the play of Byron Maxwell, who had 4 interceptions in five starts. Only five corners in the NFL had more interceptions on the year, and all had hundreds more snaps. Maxwell punctuated his year with memorable punch-fumble against the Broncos in the Super Bowl. His emergence clarified the Seahawks free agent and draft priorities a little, as Maxwell is under contract for the 2014 season.

The most unheralded member of the group was Walter Thurmond III, who is arguably the best cover corner of the bunch. Maxwell and Sherman are fantastic edge press corners. Thurmond is as well, but can also slide inside any cover the Wes Welker's of the world. He can play in any scheme, and it is not clear that a player like Maxwell or Browner can. Thurmond stayed healthy the whole year, but had a 4-game drug suspension that will cost him millions in free agency.

Jeremy Lane proved he deserves to be in the mix at nickel corner. Inside corner is almost a completely different position than edge corner, and requires very different skills. There is no sideline to act as a defender. Lateral quickness, instincts and route recognition are paramount. Lane acquitted himself well in Thurmond's absence, while also being one of the best special teams players in the NFL throughout the year.

Depth at safety is a question. Jeron Johnson was injured much of the year. Chris Maragos is a great special teams player that we do not know much about as a safety. DeShawn Shead is a promising young player who joined the roster late. He can play both corner and safety, but what I saw in training camp was someone who could be a quality free safety backup and good special teams player. He is one to watch.

The team has players like Chandler Fenner, Tharold Simon, Akeem Auguste and Terrance Parks who will get a chance to step forward and keep the depth young, and more importantly, inexpensive.

2014 Seahawks Free Agent Defensive Backs:

  • CB Brandon Browner
  • CB Walter Thurmond
  • S Jeron Johnson (Restricted)
  • S Chris Maragos

Seahawks DBs Under Contract:

  • CB Chandler Fenner
  • CB Jeremy Lane
  • CB Byron Maxwell
  • CB Richard Sherman
  • CB Tharold Simon
  • CB Akeem Auguste (Futures contract)
  • DB Terrance Parks (Futures contract)
  • CB/S DeShawn Shead
  • S Earl Thomas
  • S Kam Chancellor

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.

CB: $3,675,973 (#28)
S: $12,288,212 (#5)

Free Agents
The only free agents the Seahawks will consider in the secondary will be their own. There could be a third-tier safety they kick the tires of, but nothing serious.

Walter Thurmond III
Thurmond was headed toward being the #1 or #2 cornerback on the free agent market before his suspension. Now he faces a year suspension the next time he tests positive. Many teams will not want to take that risk. Thurmond is a high quality person and an elite corner who has been unable to control his pot usage. Someone--my guess is Jacksonville--will get a major bargain with him as a free agent. He can be a Pro Bowl performer and a #1 corner on many defenses. Having him as part of this secondary was perhaps the team's greatest luxury. Ask any player on the team just how good Thurmond is. I wish him all the success on his next stop.

Brandon Browner
Browner joins the ranks of those that cost themselves dearly with pot usage. His suspension is indefinite and his status is unclear. The most likely outcome at this point would seem to be Browner is out of football as missing next season at his age, with a lifetime ban looming as the next strike, just would not be attractive to most teams. The Seahawks would definitely consider him at the veteran's minimum for one year, but far more likely is they turn the page and try to develop the younger players behind Maxwell.

Jeron Johnson
Johnson is a restricted free agent, and I would not expect the Seahawks to tender him, which would make him unrestricted. He is a very good special teams player, and a guy who made some impact plays on defense, but his durability has become an issue. Look for the team to bring him back late in free agency, depending on what they see available in the draft. Johnson is more the backup to Chancellor, where Shead and Maragos play behind Thomas. There is no other backup strong safety on the roster.

Chris Maragos
Maragos is similar to Johnson in terms of special teams prowess, except that he has far less snaps on the defense. Another quality person who also possesses elite speed, Maragos will probably need to find employment elsewhere in 2014 as the team allows the cheaper Shead to step forward.

Draft
The biggest risk to any Seahawks season is an Earl Thomas injury. Russell Wilson is great, but the team could function in much the same way without him. His value really emerges in championship moments where his poise and play stands out. Losing Thomas would cause massive ripple effects through the defensive scheme. It is doubtful that the Seahawks will find a safety that could fill that void in the draft, but they will always be looking. Strong safety is a better bet. Guys like Chancellor do not fit most NFL schemes, where a lot of coordinators now favor two interchangeable safeties. That means they can be had later in the draft, where Schneider works his magic. Seattle is okay at edge corner, but need to add to the pile at slot corner. Do not be surprised when you see the Seahawks take a corner under 6' tall. That is your sign that they expect him to play inside.

Bottom Line
This will be the best secondary in football next year regardless of what they do in the draft or in free agency. The important parts here are replenishing the depth that allowed them to not skip a beat when injury or suspension happened. The options behind Lane at nickel corner are very questionable. Maxwell becomes a free agent after next season. Now is the time to groom the next generation because there is no way the team will pay top dollar at all four secondary spots. Sherman, Chancellor and Thomas will get their money. The other starting corner and the nickel corner need to be young and inexpensive. They also need to be good, if the defense wants to sustain their level of play. The good news is that the edge corner should not be a major issue. Carroll, Kris Richard and Rocky Seto do a good job making the job of an edge cornerback pretty straight-forward. Schneider gets too much credit for finding great corner talent late in the draft or free agency. He is a fantastic GM, but more of the credit in this case should go to a coaching staff that utilizes a scheme and technique that drastically reduces the requirements of those players and instead puts maximum pressure on the safeties.

The biggest risk here will be in finding a nickel corner. Lane looks like he can be the answer, but they need more. The techniques used to lessen the pressure on edge corners in this scheme do not apply to the slot corner. Those players need to be able to cover on their own. They are also players that other teams are more likely to value and draft higher up the board. Finding another good option there is a priority in the draft.

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