This series will examine seven position groups on the Seahawks, reviewing their 2011 performance, the impending free agents, and the potential for free agent or draft additions. The final part of the series will summarize the recommended plan of attack across the entire team.
State Of The Position
This one is all about perspective. On one hand, Doug Baldwin had a historic season for an undrafted free agent, Golden Tate gave hope that he would not be a bust, Sidney Rice was on pace to be a rare 1,000 yard Seahawks receiver, and Zach Miller proved he is a team guy who will sacrifice his stats for the good of the team without bitching. On the other hand, Mike Williams was a disaster, Rice got injured again, Miller had his worst receiving season as a pro, and Tate’s improvement was modest. How much of the lack of production by receivers and tight ends was due to a poor offensive line or mediocre quarterback play? Let’s look at the individuals.
Rice got injured again. This time it was a couple of concussions that sidelined him, and a torn labrum that he played through before getting an operation this off-season. Some fans and media will jump to the conclusion that he is going to be a free agent bust due to chronic injuries, but that’s overstated. He came back from a hip problem and had a head injury and a shoulder injury. These are completely unrelated to one another. His production when he was on the field was pretty good considering he played when the team was struggling mightily with the line and his quarterbacks were either injured or horrible. He was on pace for a 70-catch, 1,100 yard season. There seemed to be plenty of evidence to suggest he could do more. Rice doesn’t need to play 16-games every year to be worth his contract. He needs to be a dynamic playmaker on the outside, and avoid season-ending injuries. The team was right to be cautious with him this year. Expect him to have a big 2012.
Baldwin deserves to be mentioned with Victor Cruz and Wes Welker. He put up 51 receptions for 788 yards and four touchdowns. Cruz didn’t even get on the field last season, and Welker only managed 29 catches for 434 yards his rookie year. He can be great, and is off to a terrific start. Even Jerry Rice only had 49 catches and three touchdowns his rookie year, and that was with Joe Montana throwing to him.
Williams was misused, under-targeted and performed poorly when he got the chance to make a play. His talent is still unique and undeniable. He needs a quarterback that trusts him to unlock what he has to offer, and he has to believe he is a valued part of the offense. Tarvaris Jackson missed Williams when he was open more than any other receiver. That wears on any player. His injury makes next season make-or-break. He will either come back with a vengeance, or fade away and out of the league again.
Tate put in a professional effort last year. He showed that he can put in the work, pay attention to detail, and keep his mouth shut. His ceiling is not as high as some might have hoped for when he was drafted. There are not Pro Bowls in his future, and he probably will never be a starter. He can be a playmaker on offense, and could be a guy that pops for 7-9 TDs in a season from time-to-time.
Ben Obomanu made the most of his chances this season. He made his catches, and always fought hard for extra yards. He set a career-high with 37 receptions, but will turn 29 next season. It’s possible the team could look to get younger here, but good luck knocking Obomanu off the roster. He’s been on the bubble his whole career, and always finds a way to be there when the season begins.
Kris Durham was shut down with a torn labrum, but looked like he was on his way to being a reliable option. Williams may have no bigger competition than the guy he spent a lot of time tutoring during training camp this year.
Deon Butler made a miraculous comeback from a nasty broken leg. It would be an upset if he is on the roster next season, but frankly, it was a bigger upset that he was on the roster this year.
Ricardo Lockette is quite possibly the most celebrated two-catch receiver in the history of the NFL. He did manage to lead the NFL in yards per catch (52.5), so give the kid some credit. Building a roster around the assumption that a two-catch receiver is going to become your starting split end does not make a lot of sense. Lockette is a guy who will be given every chance to earn a spot on the team, and in the offense, but will not keep the front office from adding to the pile.
What you have here is Rice, Baldwin, and a bunch of not-quite-starters.
Miller was a Pro Bowl-caliber blocker, and he has proven his ability as a receiver in earlier seasons. He will be a great part of the team’s growth after a full off-season of development and adjustments. People expecting him to flash Tony Gonzalez or Anthony Gates physical skills are missing what Miller is. He will be the player who moves the sticks both by clearing the path for the running game and by making key catches. Tight ends are becoming more and more a part of game plans in the NFL. The Seahawks coaches need to pay attention and better utilize their weapons at that position.
Anthony McCoy was the goat much of the season, easily leading the team in dropped passes, despite being targeted 9th-most on the team. He improved as the season went on, and was a solid blocker. Cameron Morrah joined the team off the PUP and was a surprisingly strong blocker who coaches know can run wide receiver routes. The team should be set with the three of those guys as long as they can keep them together. John Carlson was injured before the season started, and is not likely to be back despite Pete Carroll implying otherwise.
Seahawks Wide Receivers & Tight Ends Under Contract:
WR Sidney Rice
WR Mike Williams
WR Golden Tate
WR Doug Baldwin
WR Ben Obomanu
WR Kris Durham
WR Ricardo Lockette
WR Deon Butler
WR Isaiah Williams (Practice Squad)
TE Zach Miller
TE Anthony McCoy
TE Cameron Morrah
Seattle does not need eight wide receivers on the roster. Most teams carry five or six. Obomanu, Butler and Williams should all be on alert. If the team decides to bring in a starting-caliber talent via free agency, even Durham and Tate are at risk. Most likely, the team drops two out of the Obomanu, Butler and Williams trio. Re-signing Carlson would be a shock. He should get better opportunities elsewhere, and the team is in good shape with the talent they already have at tight end.
There are not a lot of clear-cut options in free agency, but a few names are worth consideration.
TE Jermichael Finley
The Packers aren’t big into franchising players, or even re-signing their own free agents once they get expensive. Seattle is set at tight end, but could decide to add play-making at tight end instead of at receiver if a player of Finley’s talents are available.
TE Fred Davis
Davis is a known quantity for Carroll, and offers help blocking as well as receiving. He is probably not enough of an upgrade to spend the extra cash on him.
WR DeSean Jackson
Jackson is saying all the right things after being an ass the whole season. He would be an ideal compliment to Rice if his head is straight. He almost certainly goes back to Philly, but is a player to track.
WR Steve Johnson
Johnson is 6’2″ 210 lbs, exactly the type of receiver Carroll likes. He’s only 25, and has already been productive. The Bills probably would franchise him if needed. He is not a deep threat, which makes him less attractive for Seattle.
WR Vincent Jackson
Carroll showed interest before, but Jackson is too old at 29 to make a long-term investment. If he somehow comes on a short-term deal, he might be an option.
Drafting another receiver would be a mistake. Receivers take time to develop, and the Seahawks are already overflowing with young receiver talent. There might be a prospect the team loves late in the draft, but anyone they draft will have to take a roster spot from Lockette, Durham or Tate. At some point, you need to let your previous draft choices prove themselves. Morrah and McCoy could see some challengers, but not likely.
The biggest goal here is to add more dynamic play-making. That could happen by getting a healthy Rice, a year of growth from Baldwin, Tate, Lockette and Durham, and a better game-plan for Miller and Morrah. That could happen by adding a big-time free agent like Finley or Jackson, or it may just not happen this year. Look for the team to explore their options, but probably stay put. They have a big pile to sort out, and may regret acting to rashly.