2016 Offseason Planning Part III: Receivers & Tight Ends
This series will examine seven position groups on the Seahawks, reviewing their 2015 performance, and how the front office may make changes, including free agency or the draft. The final part of the series will propose a cumulative plan.
[dropcap size=small]R[/dropcap]emember when the Seahawks receiving corps was derided as the weak link on the team? If they could just add a dynamic playmaker, the story went, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense could take off. Turns out, they already had one.
Doug Baldwin finished the year tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns with fourteen. That’s not the leader in receiving touchdowns (which he also tied for the lead). That’s the overall leader in touchdowns in the league.
Baldwin combined with Wilson to go on a tear not seen in the NFL since Jerry Rice was in the league. Baldwin set the Seahawks franchise record for receiving touchdowns and became the first player to reach the 1,000 yard mark since Bobby Engram in 2007. In a snub sure to stoke his fire, Baldwin still was left off the Pro Bowl roster, keeping a streak alive where no Seahawks receiver has made the Pro Bowl since 1989 (Brian Blades).
Baldwin was not alone. Rookie Tyler Lockett had an outstanding season, and appears to be destined for greatness as a central part of this offense for years to come. Lockett hammered home the reality many in the NFL still do not appreciate when it comes to judging receivers. Height and weight are only part of the equation for finding a good receiver. Lockett excels at route running, getting a good release at the line of scrimmage, and has top-shelf speed and hands.
Jermaine Kearse had his best season and flashed reliable hands as mostly a possession receiver on catches over the middle. He is an unrestricted free agent this year, and the team will have to decide how much they are willing to spend on a player who fits well in their offense, but has a limited ceiling.
Waiting in the wings are three promising young players. Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith and Paul Richardson all could be viable replacements for Kearse, should he move on. Williams is a plus athlete with great size, who also has potential as a gunner and punt blocker on special teams. Smith is a solid all-around receiver who can play all three positions (flanker, split end, and slot) and has a knack for making plays. Richardson has the second round pick pedigree and electric speed, but has battled injury.
The Seahawks could sit tight with their receiver group, and they would still be in solid position. If a great option falls to them in the draft, they could grab him, but this is not an area of pressing need.
Jimmy Graham was having a solid season before injuring his patellar tendon against the Steelers. The offense performed well without him, but that was overplayed. The offense had started playing well with him. They simply continued to hum along after the injury.
Graham’s availability next year is in question.Victor Cruz has missed more than a season recovering from the same injury. The team has said they plan to keep him on the roster. While commendable, it would be a mistake to spend $9M on Graham next year if he is not going to play. The team could make significant improvements to other parts of their team with that money. Don’t be fooled by Carroll’s optimistic accounts of Graham’s status. He has a history of being overestimating injury recovery from key players.
If Graham is able to play, the decision to keep him would make sense. He was a good weapon who was becoming a great one for the Seahawks. His blocking was even improving. As it stands, Luke Willson would be the starter at tight end, and that is it.
Cooper Helfet is a restricted free agent, and there are some players on futures contracts. No matter how you slice it, tight end is a position of need entering this offseason, and the Seahawks plans very well may involve paying $9M to a player at that position who will not contribute in 2016.
2016 Seahawks Free Agent Receivers & Tight Ends:
WR Jermaine Kearse
WR Ricardo Lockette
TE Anthony McCoy
TE Chase Coffman
TE Cooper Helfet (Restricted)
Seahawks Receivers & Tight Ends Under Contract:
WR Doug Baldwin
WR Tyler Lockett
WR Paul Richardson
WR Kevin Smith
WR Kasen Williams
WR Jeff Fuller (CFL)
WR Deshon Fox (Futures Contract)
WR Antwan Goodley (Futures Contract)
WR Douglas McNeil (Futures Contract)
WR Tyler Slavin (Futures Contract)
TE Luke Willson
TE Ronnie Shields (Futures Contract)
Possible Free Agents To Consider
Kearse has been a terrific Seahawk, but it would be a mistake to spend fair market value for a position the team can fill for less and get comparable production. Kearse will always be underappreciated in Seattle for what he has done. The team simply has greater needs elsewhere.
Boldin will probably stay in San Francisco, but there is no tougher player at the position in the league. He would make a terrific Seahawk, even in his mid-30s. This would only make sense if Boldin would take a small contract to chase a ring.
Gresham is a monster blocker and a capable receiver. His price tag will probably be too high, but he would be a great upgrade to the position, and a hedge against Graham.
Crazy? Not necessarily. Gates is 35 and could be interested in a cheap contract to chase a ring. A short term gamble on an elite older player could be the perfect situation for the Seahawks. Craig Stevens
Stevens is a 31-year-old blocking tight end. He will not be a factor in the passing game, but the team could add a proven blocker to help the line, and for a small amount of cash.
Lewis is a terrific blocker and a decent receiver. He is 31, and could be an affordable option.
Harbor played for the Jags, like Lewis, and has been seen as more of a receiving target, but has proven to be a capable blocker as well. This is the type of under-the-radar signing that could bolster the position without breaking the bank.