Making a big splash in free agency is fun. Big names. Big money. Big expectations. The thrill of the hunt causes many fans and media to forget that there is only one cardinal sin in building a championship roster, and that is overspending on a free agent. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost a free agent than to sign him at a cap-crippling rate. John Schneider has taken a measured and disciplined approach to the start of this free agency period. Letting Byron Maxwell go for a massive payday in Philadelphia and signing two affordable veterans is exactly what the team needed.
It became a foregone conclusion that the Seahawks would need to do thrift store shopping at cornerback as soon as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor all signed large contracts. Having all four starters in one position group making top dollar means you are robbing another position group of a chance to achieve sustained greatness. Keeping Maxwell while losing Bobby Wagner is not a trade most wise teams would make.
Schneider is, instead, employing a strategy he has effectively used at another spot on the defense. Seattle has fielded great defenses with a rent-a-veteran starting defensive tackle each of the last four years. First, it was Alan Branch. Then, it was Tony McDaniel. And next, Kevin Williams. The other positions on the line were held by core players like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Brandon Mebane. That last starter simply needs to be a solid player, not a star. Now if you can draft a future star for that role, terrific, but this affordable veteran approach can continue as long as needed.
Seahawks fans should expect the same at the corner position opposite Sherman. Signing two veterans creates a pile of players at the position that can come to camp and compete. A youngster earning the starting role would be great, but now there is no rush or dependency on that ascension happening right away. The other bonus with this approach comes in terms of compensatory picks. These veterans are often cut from the previous teams for cap or other reasons, which means they do not count against Seattle when determining compensatory picks the following year.
Cary Williams comes with controversy
Doug Farrar, of Sports Illustrated, has taken a fair number of pot shots at Cary Williams on Twitter since it was reported that he was signing with Seattle. Cian Fahey, whose work I greatly respect, has his own reservations.
I will not sit here and tell you Williams is the next great Seahawks cornerback, but of all the positions on the football field, the one I would be most wary of criticizing Pete Carroll and Schneider for would be cornerback. Carroll has built some of the best secondaries in the history of football, including those he erected in Seattle, and has done so with players nobody else valued. He knows exactly what he is looking for, and don’t forget the new defensive coordinator is a former secondary coach.
They know what they are looking for. Forget, for a second, the big hits in the draft like Sherman, Maxwell, and Walter Thurmond. Even ignore additions like Brandon Browner. Seattle regularly cuts players who end up playing significant roles on other teams. Will Blackmon started for two seasons in Jacksonville. Ron Parker played an important role for the Chiefs. Phillip Adams had a very good year for the Raiders after he was let go in Seattle. Even A.J. Jefferson looked great in camp last year before getting hurt.
There are not many examples of Seattle bringing a total bust onto their roster at the cornerback position. Their hit rate is insane. And the Seahawks were not the only team after Williams. He reportedly chose between four teams, including his former organization in Baltimore that wanted him back. Ozzie Newsome has a pretty decent rep in team building and defense building as well.
Williams may not work out, but I’d be far more surprised about Carroll being wrong about Williams than a guy like Farrar.
Blackmon is a great add
The 2013 Seahawks secondary was arguably the deepest in the history of football. Sherman and Browner were backed up by Maxwell, Thurmond, and Jeremy Lane. Blackmon could not crack that unit and spent the last two years in Jacksonville. There is no shame in that.
He is a great guy and competitor. His 2014 season was not a great one. The last half of the season was lost to a broken index finger, and the games he did play were not particularly fantastic. It was the first year he was asked to exclusively play slot corner. He graded out far better in 2013 when he mostly played outside.
The good news is he has experience in both roles and Seattle has Marcus Burley, Lane and Tharold Simon to compete for time. Blackmon will be given nothing, but I expect him to earn a spot this time around.