Gearing up for the draft: the purge might not be over.
Your Seahawks thank you for your participation in the annual purge. Blessed be our founding rookies and Seahawks, a squad reborn.
Last time I published an article the Seahawks were on the onset of a massive roster purge. There were rumors of impending turnover…and I expected it to hurt, but not that bad. I mean, wow….that one hurt. Incase you were living under a rock during free agency, Seattle made some franchise altering decisions. These were moves that likely pained the front office, strained relationships, and disappointed fans.
Let’s quickly re-cap Seattle’s moves so far (as of 4/21 at time of writing):
Departures/Trades: WR Paul Richardson, DE Michael Bennett, TE Jimmy Graham, DT Sheldon Richardson, TE Luke Willson, and RB Thomas Rawls.
Releases: CB Richard Sherman, CB Jeremy Lane, and CB Deshawn Shead.
Additions: OLB Barkevious Mingo, TE Ed Dickson, WR Jaron Brown, S Maurice Alexander, OL DJ Fluker, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, and CB Dontae Johnson.
Re-signings: S Bradley McDougald, RB Mike Davis, and DE Marcus Smith.
RFA: DE Dion Jordan, CB Justin Coleman.
……those are a lot of names leaving, and some not so great names entering.
And I couldn’t be more excited about that. Let me explain why: this offseason is about resetting the culture in Seattle.
This offseason is about re-inventing the identity of the Seattle Seahawks. Instead of continuing into another season with false and unrealistic Super Bowl hopes, Seattle needed to perform open heart surgery on their identity as a team. Money and success changed lots of players. Coaching voices became stale. And there were a lot of players who couldn’t forgive coaches, and themselves, for the tragic ending of Super Bowl 49.
Quick update on cap
Per Over the Cap, the Seahawks currently have about ~$8.6M in cap space. This is before accounting for IR, practice squad, any dead money from potential cuts, etc. I’d say their true cap space lands around $3-4M right now. Seattle won’t need to save any space for rookies, as they’ll like trade out of the first round and any players selected beyond that will have roughly similar cap hits as players near the bottom of the roster.
If Seattle wants to open up additional space, here’s a couple levers they could pull:
Extending Earl Thomas ($$ saved depends on extension)
Extending Duane Brown ($$ saved depends on extension)
Releasing Cliff Avril (~$6M saved)
Cutting Jon Ryan, or negotiating a lower salary with him ($1-2M saved)
I don’t foresee Seattle making any bombshell acquisitions (with high salaries) anytime soon, so I think they’re in a healthy cap position especially looking forward to 2019 and beyond. __________
Before the offseason began, I had four main hopes (or goals) that Seattle would pursue this offseason. They were:
Avoid the middle class
If the right offer is there for a veteran, take it.
Get younger, hungrier, and more competitive.
Go win the god damn Super Bowl.
Before we prepare our nacho bowls for the draft this week, I wanted to review where things currently stand this offseason.
Avoiding the middle class
Regarding goal #1 of avoiding the middle class, I don’t think Seattle really followed this principal. However, there is a little bit of gray area to this rule. I define the middle class as players generally in the $3-7Mish range, often depending on position and cap growth. When I say “avoid the middle class”, I’m saying avoid paying for clear middle class talent with a middle class salary. I would rather pay a bottom tier player, or a rookie, the significantly lower pay with the rather insignificant talent difference.
However, there’s an exception to this rule: what if the player might be middle class talent at time of signing, but the team believes he’s nowhere near his ceiling as a player? That’s a different story. Then the team could end up paying middle tier money to a high end player if he develops well. That should be the goal with all signings, anyways.
So which players departing were middle tier players? Paul Richardson comes to mind. He’s on the higher end of NFL salaries, but fairly middle of the road for receivers at only $8M APY. With the Seahawks he only eclipsed 700 yards once (and that was in 2017). Among receivers who started at least 12 games in 2017 and posted a minimum of 500 yards, Prich ranked 34th in catch percentage at 55%. I do believe he maintains a fairly high ceiling, so it’s possible this could end up biting Seattle in the butt. But I think it was probably the right move to let him walk.
Jeremy Lane was another middle tier talent — hell, you could even consider him lower tier talent with a middle tier paycheck. He went the opposite talent direction you hope for after a player gets paid. Luke Willson is another one. He only signed a one year/$2.5M deal with the Lions after receiving fairly little market interest (so on the low end of a middle tier paycheck). Depending on the game you might even consider Sheldon a middle tier talent. Per FO/SIS, Sheldon had 16 pressures on the season (4th highest on the Seahawks). Out of all the NFL’s defensive line players with at least .5 pressures, Sheldon ranked #70 out of 276 in pressures. He’s a notable name with an inconsistent resume to back it up. He ended up signing a one year/$8M deal with the Vikings.
On the other hand, Seattle added a lot of middle tier talent. Mingo at 2 years/$6.8M is a middle tier deal, as he was nothing special with the Colts. Maybe Seattle utilizes him effectively and gets a better return out of him. I spoke with Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap, who had this to say about him:
“That’s a fair price to play for Mingo. He’s decent enough to play a lot, though I’m not sure if anyone really has found a good position for him to play at. Some LB prices went crazy this year but they got a good deal here for a guy who should at least give them a pro during a retooling period. With other good players at LB and in the secondary he could surprise a bit.”
Ed Dickson on a 3 years/$14M is super interesting. He seems to be the polar opposite tight end of Jimmy Graham. He’s a strong blocker but seems to have little impact in the receiving game. I think Seattle might be trying to replace the Zach Miller effect here. Jason was less optimistic:
“This just seems like change for the sake of change. Dickson is 31 years old and from 2012-2016 averaged 173 yards a year. He can block but you should pay less than $3M for that. I don’t really see what the point was of a 3 year deal with $3.6M this year.”
Seattle also re-signed Bradley McDougald, who ended up stepping up in big moments throughout Kam’s absence in 2017. Sometimes I forget that he’s only 27 years old and still has a lot of life left in him. His deal is for $4.5M APY over three years. This is one of those signings where the player has a very real chance to out-perform his contract by a wide margin. With Kam likely to start the year on PUP (and maybe never playing football again), Bradley will have a real opportunity to be a valuable contributor over the next 2-3 years. It’s a middle tier extension with high upside, which I can stomach. My only concern, or hope, is that Seattle still gives Delano Hill an opportunity to compete for the starting spot.
Additionally the Seahawks brought in Jaron Brown, the wide receiver from Arizona. He got a two year deal at $2.75M APY, which feels kind of high. I know they’re trying to replace Prich and Graham’s snaps, but the signing just seems kind of odd. It feels like an overpriced depth signing. I guess I would have rather preferred the snaps given the snaps to Amara Darboh or DJ Moore. Jason was a bit more optimistic than me:
“I think it’s a fair market price for Brown. He has a chance to stretch the field and I guess take Richardson’s role at a fraction of the price. They are basically paying him low 3 or number 4 money so it’s hard to believe that he would not justify the contract.”
Signing the right veterans for the right price
I’ve proudly championed the thought that Seattle needs to get younger and hungrier. But sometimes you make exceptions for overlooked veterans in free agency. This situation presented itself when Seattle essentially let Sheldon walk to acquire teammates Tom Johnson (age 33) and Shamar Stephen (age 27) from the Vikings for half the price of Sheldon. Both Johnson and Stephen got one year/$2.1M deals, but were structured slightly differently. Sheldon’s 2018 deal with the Vikings is $8M.
I couldn’t be happier with how Seattle navigated this situation. I’d much rather possess two solid role players and ~$4M extra in cap space than an uncertain player in Sheldon. Of course Sheldon has a higher upside than both of those players, but I’ll hinge my bets on those two rotational players. Jason elaborated:
“Basically I think what you have here are two guys that cost about $4.2M combined, replacing Richardson. Johnson is a quality veteran so you certainly know what you are getting. Stephen is much younger and less effective. My feeling is if you are looking for one year Johnson is probably a better bet for them over Richardson. He comes from a winning culture and played nearly 70% of the snaps last year and 50% the year before. He can replace a lot of what is lost with Richardson. That said he certainly doesn’t bring Richardsons upside. I think letting richardson walk is the right move. The team is retooling their defense and there is no need to do one year at $8M for him. They got their look at him last year and if he isn’t going to do a long term contract then its best to walk away even though they did trade a lot for him.”
I’m not sure if you count a 27 year old player in his 6th season as a veteran, but we need to talk about DJ Fluker. Fluker spent his first four seasons with the Chargers and then 2017 with the Giants, under new Seahawks OL Coach Mike Solari. The deal for DJ Fluker is a one year deal worth $1.5M. He may not be a great pass blocker, but he’s known for being an extremely effective run blocker. In the Pete Carroll offensive system, running matters. And run blocking matters a lot.
Per Alistair Corp, “The Giants averaged 110.6 yards per game on the ground with DJFluker in the lineup last year, 96.9 without him (and that number drops to 64.4 ypg if you exclude a 260-yard rushing performance in wk. 17)”.
When comparing it to the disastrous Luke Joeckel deal signed last offseason, this appears to be a much better signing for Seattle. Jason spoke on the signing:
“He’ll fight for a roster spot but $1.5M is a pretty good number especially when you consider how badly the Seahawks overvalued linemen last year in free agency. Fluker probably has potential to give you $3-4M play if he gets on the field.”
If Seattle wants to get back to a dominant running game, Fluker will help them get there. Russell’s agent might not be super happy, but I’m sure Chris Carson and future Seahawks RB Derrius Guice are.
Getting younger, hungrier, and more competitive
In an effort to get younger and hungrier, Seattle made some extremely divisive moves in releasing Richard Sherman and trading Michael Bennett. Although the Sherman move came as a shock to many fans, the move made sense. He carried an expensive cap hit for a soon to be 30 year old coming off a major knee injury. The Seahawks gained $11.2M in cap space by cutting him.
At the time of the Bennett trade, many fans were upset. He was the team’s most productive pass rusher on a very reasonable deal — and trading him only saved the team $2M in cap space. But later rumors surfaced that Michael had become uninterested in listening to coaches, reportedly reading “books during team meetings in 2017, because Bennett already had heard the things that coach Pete Carroll was saying.” Regardless of your feelings on his social beliefs, those aren’t the actions of a leader — a player who is paid a lot to lead his teammates both on and off the field. However, it’s important to note that similar feelings regarding the oldness of Pete’s messages were echoed by Sherman. That’s another problem that needs to be addressed.
At the end of the day, if Seattle wants to win another Super Bowl, they’re going to need young stars to start contributing. They’ll need to reinvent their identity. Whether you like it or not, the Legion of Boom we grew to love is on the way out. Earl might be traded during the draft and Kam is unlikely to ever play football again. Now is the time for Seattle to build a younger and hungrier foundation for the future.
As we approach the draft, Seattle will have the opportunity to aggressively retool and reinvent their identity. Players we’ve grown to love might leave, but at the end of the day, I still trust Pete Carroll and John Schneider to put together a championship football team. They have my full support. The most concerning aspect of the draft is the lack of capital Seattle possess. They currently sit at the following:
Round 1, Pick 18, No. 18 overall,
Round 4, Pick 20, No. 120 overall
Round 5, Pick 4, No. 141 overall
Round 5, Pick 9, No. 146 overall
Round 5, Pick 19, No. 156 overall
Round 5, Pick 31, No. 168 overall
Round 7, Pick 8, No. 226 overall
Round 7, Pick 30, No. 248 overall
With Earl Thomas as trade ammo a trade-down from 18 likely, it’s very possible Seattle could end up picking 3-4 times in day two. You know, I’m not a draft guy — so I can’t accurately suggest who the Seahawks should target from a talent and scheme perspective. But I do know the type of personalities I want them to pursue: pissed off, hungry, underrated, gritty, trash talkers. Give me the Jalen Ramsey and young Richard Shermans of the world. Give me those players.
If Pete Carroll wants a bully, he’ll need to start drafting some bullies. And to do so, the purge might continue.