Five Personnel Decisions That Will Define 2011 Seahawks

50 yard line on an american football field
We are mere hours away from the 2011 NFL off-season officially kicking off. The CBA terms have been agreed to by both owners and the NFLPA, and free agency, trades, waiver claims all imminent. Seahawks fans have been debating a variety of personnel moves for the last few months, and for good reason. Despite the enjoyable ride to the playoffs last year, nobody doubts this is a team in transition. Pete Carroll and John Schneider inherited quite possibly the worst roster in the NFL last season, and got glowing reviews for the talent they added and their ability to maximize the talent they had. They face a far tougher task this off-season with raised expectations and almost as dire a situation in terms of talent on the roster. The team has $39M in cap room. How they spend it will play a major role in determining the next few years of the franchise and the success of Carroll’s tenure. Here are five key decisions that will shape where that money gets spent, and what kind of team the Seahawks become:

1. Quarterback
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. There are so many layers to this decision, the fan base and surrounding media have spent 6+ months debating it, and are still not close to either building a consensus or finding an end to it. Forget the names and the emotions for a second. Seriously…no…I don’t want to talk about Hasselbe…c’mon…Whitehurst is what?…STOP. Take a clinical approach. Carroll and Schneider can:

  • Sign a free agent to start or backup
  • Make a trade for the same
The absolutely have to do one of those two things. There is only one QB on the roster. If they bring someone in to start, they could decide to build around that guy, or they could just use him as a bridge to get to their true QB.NEXT. The prevailing logic is that they will bring in a guy to bridge the time between now and when they get their future franchise QB (ETA 2012 draft). Pete has never shown much concern for “prevailing logic.” He sees uniqueness as a valuable trait. Valuing the same things as other people makes for a lot of competition for those things. Taking the road less traveled can help you stand apart…or get completely lost. Trading for a QB would likely require draft choice compensation. The Seahawks are arguably in this QB quandary because they are still recovering from their last trade for a QB (Colt McCoy was drafted  after the Seahawks would have selected in the 3rd round if they hadn’t traded it to the Chargers). 
Carroll is said to believe that the QB position is not as valuable in his offense as in other systems. Tom Cable certainly never invested in a decent QB. I, for one, really hope Carroll is not building his QB strategy around the belief that you don’t need an elite QB to win the Super Bowl. Teams have done it, but it is exceedingly rare. The Carroll/Schneider regime will be judged on a variety of factors (e.g., cost, QB performance, team performance, etc.) when it comes to this decision. Interestingly, if they draft a QB next year, almost nothing they do this off-season at this position matters. If they don’t draft a QB next year…God help them.
2. Defensive Line
Pete Carroll declared after the 2010 season that his top priority for the off-season was building up the offensive line and the defensive line. He spent his first two draft choices on offensive lineman, and is widely rumored to be adding a veteran left guard to complete the new line. The team only drafted one d-lineman, and that was at the end of the draft. Remember, this team’s fortunes turned when the defensive line sustained multiple injuries. The offense was not great for the first six games, but he defense was (especially the line), and  the team was 4-2 in those games. There are very few defensive tackles that are on par with Brandon Mebane in free agency. Mebane is not a Pro Bowl performer, though, and getting into a bidding war that prices him at a “star” level could handcuff the franchise for years. Colin Cole is said to be recovering from another ankle surgery and Red Bryant is recovering from a knee injury. It this position group does not get some serious love, there is little that could be done elsewhere to make up for it. Going hard after this defensive tackles or ends in free agency is expensive, so it might not leave much money to spend on other holes. Decisions, decisions…
3. Wide Receiver
This is the glamour position of the NFL. Seattle has some talent on the roster at this spot, but there is no true #1 receiver that can dominate all over the field. Adding one opposite Mike Williams is tempting. It would also be very expensive. Getting a top tier guy like Sidney Rice or Santonio Holmes could gobble up 30-40% of your cap space. It would be a little odd to spend that kind of money at WR when the team lacks a quality QB. If you trade for a Kevin Kolb, who would be your franchise QB, it would seem much more logical to provide him weapons he needs to succeed. Signing a mediocre vet would make adding a star WR harder, and less sensible. Carroll and Schneider went hard after Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson last season, so they clearly value #1 receiving threats. Spending a ton on this position, this year, would be questionable. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
4. Offensive Line
Whether or not Seattle signs a veteran left guard is not a question. The only question is who, and how much. If the bidding goes too high for a player like Robert Gallery, the front office will face a choice of whether to steal free agent dollars from other positions of need to grab him. Decisions in free agency will come at warp speed. If the team prioritizes going after left guard first, they’ll likely have to settle for the second-choice at positions like defensive tackle, defensive end and possibly quarterback. Going after their first choice elsewhere, could cost them their first choice here. The right signing here could solidify the offensive line for the next 5+ years. Losing key guys at positions on the defensive line could leave the team in dire straits for equally long.
5. Fullback
Surprise! Cornerback would be the obvious alternative, but I think the choice will be harder at fullback. Rumors are out there that the Seahawks have shown interest in Pro Bowl fullbacks like Vonta Leach. He wants to be the highest paid fullback in the NFL. Tom Cable didn’t even carry a fullback on the roster last season. Marshawn Lynch is best with a fullback in front of him. Leon Washington and Justin Forsett are better as single-backs. The team’s philosophy here will determine whether there is money to spend on a veteran kicker like Olindo Mare, or roll the dice on an undrafted free agent. It may also determine how many tight ends are on the roster. 
Almost as exciting as the actual moves that get made, will be observing how Carroll and Schneider handle these serious of decisions. It will tell us a lot about what they value, and will go a long ways toward either solidifying fan trust in their personnel choices or greatly increasing the angst-level among the fans.