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Managing an NFL roster is no easy task. Finding talent is paramount, but is only the first step. A savvy general manager must look ahead and weigh a variety of factors to determine who to build around and who he needs to prepared to replace. These factors go well beyond what fans see on the field. Seattle is an enviable situation with the second-youngest team in the NFL, and one that was statistically the strongest in 2012. These moments, however, are fleeting. A loaded young roster quickly becomes untenable when rookie contracts expire and massive raises flood the team’s salary cap. The Seahawks are in great shape for 2013, but how the front office handles this off-season, and the three years that follow, will determine whether this is five-year championship window or one that could last a decade.
The only way to make sound decisions about the roster is to have a firm grasp of which players are foundational. These are the rocks in the river that all other decisions must flow around. Seattle had no players that qualified for this high bar when Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over in 2010. They do now.
I have devised a formula that gives each player on the Seahawks roster a numerical value based on the factors I believe are most important to managing a roster. The result is a 1-57 stack ranking of every player that played for Seattle in 2012. The factors are as follows:
AGE – The younger, the better. Some positions, like RB, are more harshly rated as age is a larger factor.
HEALTH – This could also be called dependability as it encompasses injury and absences for other reasons like suspension. A player with a current injury is rated more harshly as their recovery is unknown.
IMPACT TO DATE – This is about how the player has performed on the field thus far through their career. What level of performance have they already demonstrated?
POTENTIAL GROWTH – How much better can they be than they are right now? A great player may not have much more room to grow.
HARD TO REPLACE – This combines a variety of considerations including: salary for that position type, scheme demands on that position, uniqueness of skill set for the player, and typical ability to find fill that position played in to that level in the NFL.
Not all of these factors are equal. It is far more important, for example, to have demonstrated your impact on the field than it is to be young or have potential. I weighted the factors to address this:
IMPACT TO DATE = 30%
HARD TO REPLACE = 25%
POTENTIAL GROWTH = 20%
AGE = 15%
The formula looked like this:
(AGE*0.15) + (HEALTH*0.10) + (IMPACT TO DATE*0.30) + (POTENTIAL GROWTH*0.20) + (HARD TO REPLACE*0.25) = PLAYER SCORE
And here are the results:
You can see that players have been grouped into categories based on their scores. Scores of 8.0 or higher are classified as “Core Players.” These are your rocks in the river. Fans that are trying to decide which jersey is safe to purchase may want to start with this group. There were a few surprises in this group.
Bruce Irvin does not feel like a core player at this point after having an uneven rookie season. His Impact To Date score is the lowest of the core players by far. Where he makes his case is in Potential For Growth and Hard To Replace. He set the Seahawks rookie record for sacks, and led all rookies, and will be on his rookie contract for the next four years. Pass rushers are not easy to find, and players with his speed are certainly not easy to find. He does get marked down a little for Age, being a 25-year-old rookie. You can count on Irvin being here for at least the next few years, and probably through his rookie deal at least.
Bobby Wagner also came out a little higher than expected. He outscores fellow young linebacker K.J. Wright based largely on the challenge of replacing a player like Wagner. There is a good chance Wagner will be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and he has demonstrated above average skills in coverage and in tackling. He has also shown flashes of pass rush ability. It is generally easier to find an outside linebacker than a middle linebacker.
Kam Chancellor is a player that has the potential to climb into the 9.0+ category, but he needs make a bigger impact on 2013 in terms of impact plays like turnovers and tackles for loss.
The next category of players is what I am calling “High Value Players.” This is a mixed bag of young players trying to claw their way into the Core group, older players that might be Core they had more years ahead of them, and players that are high on potential while low on proving it.
The most controversial player in this group is Marshawn Lynch. He is not even knocking on the doorstep, and will probably slide more in the coming years. Lynch is the only High Value player that gets a 10 for Impact To Date. There is no questioning what he has done on the field. He loses value on Potential For Growth as he appears to be in his prime right now, and he loses points on Health and Hard To Replace because his chronic back problem could become a serious issue for a player that runs with his ferocity and running backs simply are not that tough to replace. Yes, it is tough to find another Lynch, but Robert Turbin might be able to do 85% of Lynch, and he’s already on the roster. It would not shock me if Lynch was off this roster in 2-3 years.
Brandon Browner and Chris Clemons may also be surprises in this group. Clemons was a guy I modified my formula for a few different times because he seemed artificially low. The truth is, he’s on the wrong side of 30, is coming off an ACL injury that could dramatically effect his performance, and does not have much room to grow. His outstanding on-field performance and the challenges of replacing him give him the highest combined score in those categories among this group.
Browner loses points for potential growth, as he already is the player he can be. He also is far less difficult to replace than most may realize. People look at his size and think he cannot be replaced. The truth is that this scheme does not require as much of the corners as one might think, and there are already players on the roster that can perform near Browner’s level. That was proven when the team had its best run of the season with Browner serving his suspension. I am a huge fan of his style of play, but roster math ain’t easy.
The wide receiver rankings may not match the average expectations, especially Baldwin being a reasonable distance ahead of Tate. I will take on this topic in more detail in an upcoming post. For now, Baldwin gets higher marks for growth potential and being more difficult to replace. Finding slot receivers is tough, and I remain unconvinced that Tate is the answer at split end for the long-term. He is the definition of play-maker, but the repeatability of his style is much lower than someone like Baldwin. If Baldwin does not have a healthy and productive season next year, this all changes.
Of the 31 players that are classified as High Value or Core on the roster, only #29 and #31 are free agents. It is likely the team will move on from player #30 (Matt Flynn) as well. In a future post, I will share some potential surprise moves that involve players in that Top 31. From a position group perspective, it is encouraging that two-fifths of the offensive line are Core, as are two-thirds of the linebacking corps.
The obvious missing area that list of core players is a dynamic playmaker on offense. Sidney Rice is on the edge, but is not a dominant player in this offense yet. The other group that needs some young talent is the defensive line.
Only nine of the Top 31 were free agents, and only two of those (Zach Miller and Rice) were significant deals. A full 19 of the 31 were drafted in the last three seasons.
The roster is in terrific shape from a variety of perspectives. These numbers are completely subjective, but are a fair representation of the way I expect the roster to be handled in the upcoming off-seasons. Injury and change in performance can cause drastic shifts. I will attempt to update this list at various points through the year to reflect these changes.