Injuries Highlight Some Rare Seahawks Personnel Missteps
“It’s Allen Bradford [who can deliver the hardest hit]. It’s not even close. He’s the most explosive guy in the group. He will run right through you,” Ken Norton Jr said. “I will say, ‘Allen, bring me his head. Detach his body parts and bring them to me.’ He will do it, by any means necessary. He’s the guy.” – Source
There are a precious few decisions that John Schneider and Pete Carroll have made with their personnel that have come back to bite them. Their success rate is remarkable given the variety, volume, and often contrarian aspects of their moves. Nobody is perfect, and some choices the Seahawks front office made early in the season has left them more vulnerable than necessary when it matters most.
Two players: Allen Bradford and Sean McGrath had strong training camps. Only one made the week one roster before being waived, but there is reason to believe both should still be here. In fact, the decision to leave one of them off the week one roster almost certainly cost the other his job in Seattle.
McGrath was a solid, if not spectacular, tight end that was undrafted last season and was promoted from the practice squad late in the year. He battled with rookie Luke Willson for time as the second tight end during camp, but they had different strengths. Willson was the more gifted receiver and McGrath was a more gifted blocker. Seattle quietly had a strong trio of well-rounded tight ends that could be mixed and matched based on match-up and situation.
Late in the pre-season, the Seahawks started to experiment with tackle Mike Person as a blocking tight end. They thought they saw enough in the final two weeks to take a risk that would allow them to keep a player in Person who could swing to tackle so they would have depth at multiple spots. That decision led to the surprise cut of McGrath out of camp.
It took all of one week for the Seahawks to realize they had made a mistake. An injury to one of their tight ends in the season opener left them unable to run the plays they wanted because Person was not really a third tight end. He was a tackle that could come in as an extra blocker. McGrath had been claimed right away by the Kansas City Chiefs, so the front office scrambled to find a third tight end.
They landed on veteran Kellen Davis. Davis is two years older than McGrath and makes about $300K more money. The team was still attached to Person, so instead of cutting their losses, they compounded the problem by trimming elsewhere on the roster: Bradford. The Giants were quick to scoop up the talented linebacker off of waivers.
Bradford was the best option to back-up middle linebacker Bobby Wagner should he go down with injury. K.J. Wright was more than capable of doing the work, but Bradford was the emerging as a starting-caliber middle linebacker in the Seahawks system. He was also capable of playing the other two linebacker positions. In particular, he had experience as a weakside linebacker, the position Wright plays.
It did not have be a decision between Person and Bradford. Mike Morgan was another linebacker, same age as Bradford, and ahead of him on the special teams depth chart. Morgan does not have the value of Bradford as a linebacker, but the team had convinced itself that he was helpful depth at the LEO position while Bruce Irvin was suspended, Cliff Avril was injured for the first week, and Chris Clemons was still not back from his knee injury. The upside of Bradford is higher than that of Morgan. Bradford was rumored to be one of the best special teams players USC had seen under Carroll, and was a plus backup for at least two of the linebacker positions who could start. Morgan is a plus special teams player who is a subpar backup at each position he has been utilized in this far.
Heath Farwell was another option. The special teams captain is a big part of what appears to be the best special teams unit in the NFL. He is also 31, and making a seven figure salary. He is a capable middle linebacker against the run, but would be a major liability in pass coverage. Seattle has excelled in turning over their roster by allowing younger, cheaper, players to push older and more expensive veterans. Because the team chose to follow that route with Derrick Coleman over Michael Robinson, they likely felt handcuffed when it came to letting any more of their experienced special teamers go in favor of more youth.
Stephen Williams, the wide receiver, was let go just two weeks after Bradford when Irvin was activated. Ricardo Lockette has been a fine addition to the team, but Williams provided elements the receiving corps just does not have that would be pretty darn valuable right about now. That aside, if the team was that close to being ready to move on from Williams, it is curious that they decided not to jettison him earlier instead of Bradford.
D’Anthony Smith was a spot-play defensive tackle the team had added from the Jaguars right before the season started. He was waived a couple weeks after Bradford, and was another player the team could have parted with before Bradford.
Person was waived as well, and was scooped up by the Rams. Ironically, the team probably would have loved to have him back days later when Russell Okung was injured, and they were forced to go with Paul McQuistan for a few months at left tackle.
Meanwhile, the player they had waived in favor of Person, McGrath, was enjoying a strong season in Kansas City. Before starter Anthony Fasano returned from injury a month ago, McGrath had better receiving numbers than any tight end on the Seahawks roster. Had the front office decided to just play it straight–something they struggle to do at times–McGrath would still be a Seahawk under club control for another two years and Bradford very well might still be in Seattle, reducing the angst about linebacker depth with the Wright injury.
Managing the back-end of a roster is like walking a tight rope. Those players need to versatile to help fill gaps that appear as unavoidable attrition occurs through the brutal NFL season. The best front offices find a way to stock that back of their roster with players who not only can be jacks-of-all-trades, but also have the potential to be masters of one in time. There is little-to-no chance that a veteran like Farwell or limited linebacker like Morgan will ever become a starting-caliber player. Players like Allen Bradford and John Lotulelei have that upside, and have the ability to contribute on special teams, while also being affordable. Seahawks fans remember well the pain of needing to stick in a player like Etric Pruitt at the worst possible time because the team did not have proper depth at the position. Seattle is now razor-thin at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker. There is no debate that having talent like Bradford and Lotulelei still around would change that, while it is debatable how much of a drop-off there would have been in special teams play without guys like Morgan and Farwell. These are the choices general managers are faced with as they assemble rosters for today that must endure tomorrow. Schneider and Carroll have been among the best in the league at doing exactly that, but even the best make mistakes.