Draft & Free Agency: The Complete 2016 Seahawks Offseason Plan
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.
This has the potential to be one of the most dynamic offseasons in Seahawks history. Already a very good football team, the Seahawks areas of need map extraordinarily well to the most deep and varied position in free agency and the draft. John Schneider has countless paths he can take to dramatically improve his roster, and keep the team’s championship window open for a long time.
Ranking the Seahawks needs
Edge Pass Rusher
There should not be many surprises there, although I differ from many people on where I see the running back and wide receiver position. The simplistic view is that Marshawn Lynch retiring means the Seahawks are in desperate need of a running back. It is true that the team needs to add to the competition at that position, but Thomas Rawls is more than capable of being a great starter for Seattle, assuming he recovers fully from his ankle injury.
Receiver continues to be one of the most misunderstood roles on this team. Fans, and apparently the Seahawks front office, continues to chase after a frontline player to add to the mix. One would hope the lessons learned from the massive cost of adding Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Percy Harvin, and Jimmy Graham, combined with the underwhelming results and the outstanding performance of homegrown receiver talent would steer people away from looking to spend more resources here. Yet, with the prospect of Jermaine Kearse leaving, many are assuming the Seahawks have a serious need at the position.
I consider receiver one of the strongest positions on the Seahawks roster, and will be disappointed if any free agent dollars are spent there.
This offseason will have been successful if the Seahawks have added reliable upgrades on the offensive line and young talent to the defensive line. The Seahawks could put 70% of their resources into the first three spots on that list of needs, and be the better for it. Great offseason plans are not about spreading yourself thin across the whole roster. They are about creating an abundance of strength at positions of key importance.
Consider the Seahawks 2013 offseason where they had identified pass rush as their critical priority. Schneider did not stop at signing Cliff Avril. He added Michael Bennett and O’Brien Schofield to the mix, while drafting Jordan Hill. That helped create a strength on the club that directly contributed to their first Super Bowl.
There is enough talent on the offensive line and defensive line in the draft and free agency for Schneider to turn a good 2015 Seahawks team into a dominant 2016 squad. I will go through a few scenarios of how that could happen, and share the most likely spots where Schneider may choose to zig where I am suggesting the Seahawks zag.
Key NFL dates
Things are going to be fast and furious from this point on, so keep these dates in mind.
March 7-9: Clubs are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 1 p.m. PT on March 9. In other words, expect word of signings to start leaking out as soon as Monday.
March 9: 2016 league year begins. Free-agency period begins at 1 p.m. PT.
March 20-23: Annual league meeting, Boca Raton, Florida.
April 4: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2015 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.
April 18: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs.
April 22: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
Mid-to-late April: 2016 schedule release
April 28-30: 2016 NFL Draft, Chicago.
May 6-9 or May 13-16: Clubs may elect to hold their one three-day post-draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday.
May 23-25: NFL spring league meeting, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Seahawks offseason scenarios
The offseason is fluid and your plans have to be as well. The player you thought might be available for price X may end up going for price XX, so you have to be ready to move on. Schneider has a history of attempting to address as many of the glaring team needs as possible during free agency so the draft is unburdened with holes that could lead to reaching for players.
The following are three different ways the Seahawks could attack the offseason. The first two are how I would like to see the team approach things. The last is how I think Schneider will.
Nobody would argue that the Seahawks offensive line is the top priority to address. Where there will be debate is how. Relying on draft picks to come in and contribute next year at that position would be a mistake.
Everyone seems to agree that college lineman are entering the league less prepared than in the past, and the Seahawks have attempted to go young on the line too often and paid the price. The logical path forward is to spend money on at least two veteran free agent lineman who can come in and contribute right away. Here’s how that could look:
Offensive Tackle (Donald Penn plus 3rd or 4th round pick)
Defensive Tackle (1st or 2nd round pick plus Ahtyba Rubin)
Offensive Guard (Kelechi Osemele)
Edge Pass Rusher (1st or 2nd round pick)
Cornerback (Leon Hall plus draft pick)
Linebacker (Courtney Upshaw)
Center (3rd or 4th round pick)
Running Back (Draft)
Tight End (Marcedes Lewis)
Backup Quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck)
Punter (Undrafted Free Agent or 7th round pick)
Wide Receiver (Draft)
Fullback (Will Tukuafu)
This plan would lead to an offensive line that would put Penn at left tackle for probably the next two seasons, Osemele at left guard, Patrick Lewis at center, Mark Glowinski at right guard and Garry Gilliam at right tackle. That left side would be immediately reliable and imposing.
Penn is not a world beater, but he is very competent left tackle, and should not break the bank at age 32. Osemele would command a price tag outside the Seahawks comfort zone, but the team needs to add Pro Bowl talent to that group instead of hoping and praying for young players to develop. Osemele is already playing at a Pro Bowl level, and at just 26 years old, could become even better. He also provides some insurance at tackle since he can play both positions.
Addressing the most pressing OL needs in free agency would let the Seahawks go hard after DL in the draft. I would like to see them spend their first two picks dipping into the ultra-talented defensive line group. They should have enough cap space to add at least one veteran DT like Rubin or Brandon Mebane or Haloti Ngata so the interior line is not just left up to youngsters.
It is far less concerning, though, to play young players on the defensive line than it is on the offensive line. That position group tends to have immediate impact.
I like the idea of adding a player like Upshaw through free agency because he is unlikely to be highly valued by other teams since he is purely an edge setter in the running game. Still just 26, Upshaw could slide right into Bruce Irvin’s starting spot at SAM linebacker. The team would address Irvin’s nickel pass rush role with another player. Upshaw is a brute, and would fit in well with the Seahawks defensive identity.
You may be surprised to see the name Leon Hall instead of Jeremy Lane. This was a tough call. Lane could command more money on the market from a team like Jacksonville, Washington, or Atlanta than what we are currently thinking. He is only 25, and if a few teams are interested, he could quickly get out of the Seahawks price range.
Hall is a tough-as-nails veteran who is long and still a quality starter. He is the perfect player to add to the mix to challenge the likes of DeShawn Shead and Tharold Simon for the starting corner position opposite Richard Sherman. His cost should be kept in check by his age (31).
Marcedes Lewis (31) would be a nice get in free agency as one of the premiere blocking tight ends in football who can also catch a pass for you. Should Jimmy Graham miss the season or part of the season, the team could run Luke Willson and Lewis out there and feel very comfortable. The team needs to add a strong blocking tight end to the group, and Lewis fits that bill at an affordable price.
Hasselbeck continues to be an ideal option to backup Russell Wilson, assuming he would play for the veteran’s minimum, or at least something comparable to Tarvaris Jackson’s rate.
Jon Ryan’s name does not appear here because the Seahawks would be wise to pool their dollars for other positions, and at 34, Ryan is no longer the long-term answer for Seattle.
Here is a different way things could break for the Seahawks.
Offensive Tackle (Mitchell Schwartz plus 3rd or 4th round pick)
Defensive Tackle (1st or 2nd round pick plus Ian Williams)
Offensive Guard (Jahri Evans plus draft pick)
Edge Pass Rusher (Quinton Coples plus 1st or 2nd round pick)
Cornerback (Brandon Browner plus draft pick)
Linebacker (Mason Foster plus Draft pick)
Center (3rd or 4th round pick)
Running Back (Donald Brown plus draft pick)
Tight End (Jermaine Gresham)
Backup Quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson)
Punter (Undrafted Free Agent or 7th round pick)
Wide Receiver (Draft)
Fullback (Mike Tolbert)
This path would have the Seahawks getting their young cornerstone on the right side of the line at tackle instead of Osemele at guard. This would shift Gilliam over to left tackle to compete with a draft pick. Evans would be added to the mix at guard with Glowinski and Britt while another young player is added through the draft.
Williams would be the answer at nose tackle for years to come. The cost of that position, even for a young player in free agency, is remarkably low. Some projections have him coming in at around 3 years for $13.5M with $5M guaranteed. That is reasonable money to spend on a young starter with upside.
I like the idea of adding a guy like Coples to the pass rush mix because he is just 25, and has had some production getting to the passer. A former 1st round pick, Pete Carroll might be just the guy to turn his career around, and he would come cheap.
Browner failed miserably in New Orleans last year, and really only works in a few systems. Seattle is one of them. There is mutual admiration there, and he would go a long way toward adding some of the nasty back to the defense. I would not expect much in the way of guaranteed money, and should Simon beat him out for the starting role, he might not even make it out of training camp. It would be worth a shot to see.
I considered Walter Thurmond for that spot, as his ability to play inside and out would be an ideal addition, but I’m guessing his price tag will be too high.
Adding Foster to the linebacker mix would give the Seahawks some options. He would compete with Kevin Pierre-Louis, Eric Pinkins, and a draft pick for a starting spot. Foster might be better suited to WILL, as is Pierre-Louis, if he wins the competition, which would shift K.J. Wright back to SAM.
Brown was just released by the Chargers. He is young enough (28) to be a potential multi-year contributor, and is a value option as a 3rd down back. He has been a high yards per carry runner when used properly (5.3 in 2013 and 4.8 in 2011) and is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield. He would come cheap, and reduce the pressure on drafting at the position.
Adding Tolbert would be another way to kill two birds with one stone. Tolbert is a productive fullback who can be a 3rd down back, and also step in as running back in a pinch. His age (30) and position should keep his price way down.
Gresham is a force in the run game as a blocker, and a decent receiver as well. Getting him would be a coup, and is probably wishful thinking.
Scenario 3 – WWJSD (What would John Schneider do?)
I could list a dozen other scenarios for the Seahawks that I believe in. This scenario covers some places where Schneider may do things differently, based on what I have observed from him in the past.
Offensive Tackle (1st round pick plus Will Beatty)
Defensive Tackle (3rd round pick plus Rubin)
Offensive Guard (J.R. Sweezy plus Zane Beadles)
Edge Pass Rusher (2nd round pick)
Cornerback (Jeremy Lane plus draft pick)
Linebacker (Draft pick)
Center (Stefen Wisniewski)
Running Back (James Starks plus draft pick)
Tight End (Andrew Quarless)
Backup Quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson)
Punter (Jon Ryan)
Wide Receiver (Mohamed Sanu)
Schneider’s draft strategy is often dictated by the depth available at a given position. He took Frank Clark in the second round because there was a massive dropoff in pass rushers after Clark, and they wanted to get at least one. They drafted Britt in the second round because they saw a massive dropoff in lineman after him.
I believe that will make the Seahawks more likely to select an offensive tackle in the first round because there is such depth at the defensive tackle spot that they know they will get someone of high quality even if they wait. I understand the logic. I disagree with it.
I would much rather see the team get the best possible player in the first round, and I have significant doubts that will be an offensive lineman. For all the reasons mentioned earlier, plus the Seahawks track record for choosing offensive lineman, spending a first round pick on a lineman would be a mistake. Seattle would likely be passing on an impact starter to add a decent player who may not even be ready to start next year.
Adding a player like Beatty (30) to the roster would give Schneider some wiggle room. Beatty has battled injuries, but is a slightly better than average starter when on the field.
I see Schneider valuing run-stuffing defensive tackles too low to take one in either the first or second round. More likely, he will take the best pass rusher he can find in the second.
Sweezy is loved by Tom Cable, and the team likely values him far more than the rest of the league. Beadles was waived and will not be counted in any calculations for compensatory picks.
Seattle likes to bring back their players, and will likely try to get Lane back in the fold. They spent too much money on Cary Williams last year. I hope the don’t overspend on Lane this year.
The team has shown interest in Wisniewski as recently as last year, and it would not surprise me if they want to add a veteran to the competition with Lewis and Kristjan Sokoli. I consider Wisniewski an average player, and would be concerned if the team spent any meaningful money to bring him in.
Starks is a player Schneider has familiarity with from Green Bay, and he is accustomed to be the alternate runner. His age (30) will keep his price tag low.
Quarless is another Packer player. His young enough (27) to be around for a few years and is a solid blocker. He should come very cheap.
The team loves Ryan. Who doesn’t? They have had chances to go cheaper at that position before and have not taken it.
Sanu is on there because the team continues to see a need there where I do not. Losing Jermaine Kearse could lead to them trying to replace him through free agency. They have spent money there in the past. It is not outlandish to think they will do it again.