Hawk Blogger 2013 Season Preview Part III: Grading the off-season
HAWK BLOGGER 2013 SEASON PREVIEW PART III: Grading The Off-Season
John Schneider has reached rock star status among Seahawks fans. Most teams use the late rounds of the draft to find depth and special teams players. Schneider has added seven players that have started games for the team in three years that were drafted in the fifth round or later. That does not include undrafted free agents like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. His free agent track record is not quite as sterling. Sidney Rice and Zach Miller have been important additions to the team, but their production has not quite matched their price tags. Again, though, it has been the less heralded parts of free agency that have yielded notable results. Players like Breno Giamcomini, Paul McQuistan, and Brandon Browner have turned into key starters on a Super Bowl contending team without getting a mention when originally signed. The 2012 off-season presented a new challenge for Schneider. He had already built a championship-level roster. Finding a way to add new talent, shore up key positions, and maintain cap flexibility to re-sign young stars down the line made for an obstacle course with plenty of pitfalls. The results will take a while to sort out, but there are some early indicators to sort through.
Here’s a snippet of analysis I wrote prior to free agency beginning that ranked Seahawks off-season priorities. Things on that front played out largely as expected:
The Priority List
Defensive Tackle (Starter, Run stuffer first, Pass rusher second)
Defensive End – LEO (Starting capable, Pass rusher first, Capable of setting the edge vs run)
Sign Kam Chancellor to an extension
Split End (6’0’+ with sub-4.55 speed, Potential to start by 2013 or 2014)
Tight End (Elite receiver, blocking nice-to-have)
Weakside Linebacker (Starting capable, Durability and run defense first, Pass rush nice-to-have)
Offensive Tackle (More likely RT capable, but any young tackle with potential will do)
2012 FREE AGENTS (Italics = re-signed)
DT Clinton McDonald K Steven Hauschka
CB Will Blackmon*
WR Stephen Williams
DE Cliff Avril
DL Michael Bennett
DT Tony McDaniel
CB Antoine Winfield
Schneider added Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett to overflow the defensive tackle spot. He brought in Cliff Avril, Bennett, Ty Powell, Benson Mayowa and eventually O’Brien Schofield at the defensive end spot. Kam Chancellor was extended. Tarvaris Jackson and Brady Quinn were brought in to compete for the back-up quarterback position. Chris Harper and Stephen Williams fit the profile of tall and fast receivers. Luke Willson and Darren Fells were the pass-catching tight ends. The way the team addressed weakside linebacker was one of their more creative maneuvers. Moving K.J Wright to WILL and Bruce Irvin to strongside linebacker meant they did not have to go hard after linebacker in the draft or free agency. Finding an offensive tackle and guard came through Schneider’s typical late-round magic with Michael Bowie and undrafted Alvin Bailey. Antoine Winfield ended up as the cherry on top when he pushed to become a Seahawk.
OFF-SEASON GRADE: B
This was the flashiest off-season of the Pete Carroll and Schneider era. They made the NFL’s biggest move in trading for Percy Harvin, and then followed it up with marquee names like Avril, Bennett and Winfield. Those moves put the hype machine in overdrive. Fast forward a few months and questions abound. Harvin is out most, if not all, of the season. Avril has barely practiced with a hamstring injury, and Winfield has been quiet enough through the pre-season to at least raise the possibility that he is not the same player.
The draft is what makes or breaks any off-season. A franchise that wants to be a consistent winner cannot afford to swing and miss in the draft. The 49ers had what appears to be a dead draft last year. Some are predicting the same for the Seahawks 2013 draft class. Harper does not appear likely to make the team. Jesse Williams is on injured reserve with a knee injury that may not ever get better. Tharold Simon is also out of the year with a stress fracture. Hill looks like a decent rotation player, but has limited upside and is also injured. The saving grace could be Christine Michael, Willson, and the undrafted class.
Michael has the look of not just a future starting tailback, but a top five back in the NFL. He is explosive and tough. Durability and fumbling are the only concerns. His talent is easy to project. Willson is quickly turning into a starting caliber tight end who is the most likely of the players taken to have a real impact this year. Bowie and Bailey are possible future starters at right tackle and guard. That will become crucial next year when Breno Giacomini becomes a free agent and Paul McQuistan moves on. John Lotulelei is a future starting linebacker, demonstrating a fearlessness and instincts that cannot be taught. He is still raw and overeager at times, but the potential for play-making is off-the-charts. Mayowa is on the roster bubble, but could develop into another diamond in the rough.
Schneider knocked it out of the park in free agency, both in terms of talent and cost. Even if Bennett, Winfield, McDaniel, Avril and Winfield flame out, the cost and years are far from restrictive. This off-season will be determined by the draft and Harvin. Adding Harvin was the boldest and costliest endeavor to this point in the Carroll and Schneider era. Their short history has indicated their best moves are not the flashy ones. Swinging and missing on Harvin would be the biggest mistake this front office has made. Luckily, there is plenty of reason to think things will still work out there with the youthful Harvin and the team is good enough to contend even if they do not. It is not out of the question that Stephen Williams will emerge as the most important receiver added to the roster. He could become a starter as early as 2014 depending on a variety of factors.
The team needs some rookies to emerge for this off-season to be successful. A few players have that potential, but the injury situation of Williams and lackluster play of Harper takes a lot of the top-end off this class.