The flame of Sochi’s Winter Olympics torch has been extinguished, the NBA and NHL seasons are well underway, and MLB Spring Training is next on the sports docket but take it from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in that there is “no time to sleep”, on NFL coverage that is.
The 2014 NFL draft class just finished up showcasing their talents and abilities in various positional drills to scouts, coaches, general managers and other personnel at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. That means each participating university’s individual Pro Day serves as the last first-hand look teams will get on the players appearing on their big board before the NFL Draft goes live from Radio City Music Hall in New York on May 8.
The NFL’s free agency period does not officially begin until March 11, when current contracts expire and players are free to sign with the NFL team of their choosing. The pre-signing period beginning on March 8 grants teams the ability to make contact with free agents and negotiate contractual terms but no deals can be agreed on during this time.
As we creep closer and closer to the start of free agency, teams are already going through the early stages of the process in making important player personnel adjustments based on the unfortunate reality of today’s NFL salary cap. This comes as the toughest time of the year for not only some of the players, but for the fans who will see some of their team’s players don a new uniform during the off-season.
Seahawks Offseason Outlook:
The Seattle Seahawks have made plenty of headlines since winning the franchise’s first ever Vince Lombardi Trophy following their 43-8 shellacking of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at the start of the month. In a battle of 2013’s No. 1 ranked DVOA’s (Seahawks in defensive efficiency, Broncos in offensive efficiency), Super Bowl XLVIII was truly the perfect matchup. Seattle’s dominance on the biggest stage came as no surprise to those who followed the team and firmly subscribe to the theory that defense wins championships.
The immovable object that was the NFL’s top pass defending team served as a brick-wall and stymied Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ once considered unstoppable passing attack. If the sporting world did not know it before, they certainly know now that since taking over the team in 2010, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have steadily constructed a juggernaut of a roster that features an elite defense with its very own subset in the secondary, the vaunted “Legion of Boom”.
Despite Aaron Rodgers’ recent comments that the Seahawks’ defense could not be mimicked, that does not mean that at least a portion of the other 31 NFL teams aren’t going to try. It likely begins with rival teams looking at drafting lengthy defensive backs in attempts to find the next Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, or Kam Chancellor.
With that, the Seahawks have some important and tough decisions to make in free agency before we even get to the draft. We’ve already seen some of these decisions trickle in with the reports (neither has become official as of now) that the Seahawks will cut both wide receiver Sidney Rice and defensive end Red Bryant.
Sidney Rice came to Seattle with questions about his durability after signing a four-year $41 million deal in 2011. He did very little to alleviate those concerns after missing 15 regular season games in just three seasons for the Seahawks.
After missing time in 2011, Seattle was able to see Rice’s impact in 2012 as he played a full season and caught 50 passes for 748 yards and seven touchdowns.
Rice recorded 15 receptions for 231 yards and three touchdowns in 2013 before tearing his ACL on October 28.
Cutting Rice will save the Seahawks $7.5 million in cap room. His medical history, the signing of Percy Harvin, and emergence of Jermaine Kearse made him expendable.
Seattle needs more size in the receiving corps so its possible Carroll and Schneider look to bring back the 6’4 wideout on a team-friendly contract but the signing of 2012’s Canadian Football Player of the Year, Chris Matthews (6’5, 227) might suggest otherwise.
Red Bryant was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Seahawks and thus is one of the last remaining players hand-picked from the previous regime still on the active roster. (The other player is Brandon Mebane)
At 6’4, and a whopping 323 lbs, Bryant has never been your typical defensive end. This idea is reflected in the box scores as well seeing how Bryant has just 3.5 sacks in his six-year career, all with the Seahawks.
He does not get to the quarterback often but his mammoth presence commands attention and his ability to stop the run has made him a fixture on Seattle’s defensive front through three different coaching staffs.
In 2011, Bryant endeared himself in the hearts of Seattle fans after he shattered the single-season franchise record with four blocked kicks on special teams and intercepted two passes the same year, returning one for a touchdown against Chicago. He also was presented with the club’s Steve Largent Award, given to the Seahawks player who best reflects Largent’s work both on and off the gridiron.
Named the defensive team captain for the 2012-13 seasons, Bryant is a charming and engaging personality both in the locker room and to fans.
Cutting Bryant would save the team roughly $5.5 million on a $8.5 million cap hit. The Seahawks would look towards the draft in order to replace Bryant’s girth up the middle or use incumbent second-year defensive tackles Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill as cheaper alternatives to plug the inside.
In danger: DE Chris Clemons, TE Zach Miller
Stay tuned for further coverage on Seattle’s potential cuts as they make the final push towards free agency.
Critical/Priority Free Agents:
Michael Bennett, DE
An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, Bennett flashed serious potential for the Seahawks during the ’09 preseason but was ultimately one of Seattle’s final camp casualties. Bennett latched on with the Buccaneers and recorded 15 sacks in four seasons seeing snaps as both an edge rusher and interior lineman in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 defense.
Despite a nine sack campaign in 2012, injury concerns allowed the Seahawks to bring Bennett back to the Emerald City on a one-year “prove it” deal at a bargain basement rate. Flashing his versatility as an every down type player, Bennett was dominant against the run and became the Seahawks’ most disruptive pass-rusher notching 8.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a touchdown on a fumble recovery in Seattle’s rotational front line.
Now an unrestricted free agent, Super Bowl champion, and one of the biggest names on the free agent market, Bennett wants it to be known that he proved his worth and his days in the bargain bin are over.
“There is no such thing as a discount,” Bennett told NFL Network shortly after the Super Bowl. “This isn’t Costco. This isn’t Walmart. This is real life.”
Bennett cited that he can’t give the Seahawks a discount because he gave the team his all on every play and wants to be compensated for it. His versatility was a major asset for a Seahawks team that brought in Bennett and Cliff Avril in order to improve its pass rush after a stunning 30-28 playoff loss to the Falcons in 2012. After losing defensive end Chris Clemons to an ACL injury against Washington a week before, Seattle struggled to pressure Matt Ryan as he completed 24 of 35 pass attempts for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
The moment of truth has come in which the Seahawks must determine if Bennett fits into their future plans by signing him to a long-term deal. Keep an eye on Chicago as a possible landing spot for Bennett if he does not re-sign with the Seahawks. His younger brother Martellus is a tight end for the Bears and the two have said they’d like to play together some day.
The former golden-domer (no pun intended, he played for Notre Dame) didn’t quite have the breakout season the Seahawks had hoped for in his fourth season and contract year. However, Seattle is a run-heavy offense and Tate still managed to record career-highs in catches (64) and receiving yards (898) while adding five touchdowns.
Tate, the No. 60 overall pick in 2010, also proved his worth on special teams, averaging 11.5 yards on punt returns and as a solid downfield blocker, one of Pete Carroll’s requirements of Seahawks’ receivers.
Despite a 5’10” frame that does little to separate him vertically from a Seahawks’ receiving corps that employs the 6’1 Jermaine Kearse as its tallest wideout, Tate has made up for it by showing an affinity for the big play. His knack for winning the battle on jump balls, making tough catches in traffic, and juking away from would be tacklers might explain the “Showtime” moniker he earned as a member of the Fighting Irish.
Tate’s elusive ball-carrying and strong hands make him an asset to the Seahawks. His 515 yards after catch (YAC) and 8.0 YAC per reception put him in some truly elite company in 2013.
In 2012, Tate ranked fifth in the NFL with 14 broken tackles. He shook off defenders on 29.2 percent of his touches, a mark that led the NFL. Bringing Tate back to a team with a healthy Percy Harvin would mean the Seahawks were lining up two of the hardest to take down receivers in the game on one offense. Defensive coordinators would surely panic at the idea.
With that said, the priority big-ticket free agent signing for the Seahawks this offseason should be retaining Michael Bennett. After that, Schneider and Carroll should focus on extensions for All-Pro safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman with eyes on Russell Okung and the inevitable mega deal for Russell Wilson.
While losing Tate would certainly negatively affect the Seahawks’ depth, the draft is extremely deep in wide receiver talent this year. The Seahawks have made it clear that they’d love to have Tate back in the fold but chances are the asking price will be too high, despite his assertion that he’d give a hometown discount to remain an important role player on a championship caliber team.
Tate is a good young player, but he is not a No. 1 receiver in this league. He deserves to be paid but a team with as much talent as the Seahawks cannot and will not overpay for his services, especially at a position that is generally easy to replace.
If not Seattle, possible landing spots for Tate include New England, New York (Jets), Denver, and Kansas City.
Other Seahawks Unrestricted Free Agents of Note: OL Breno Giacomini, CB Walter Thurmond, K Stephen Hauschka, DT Tony McDaniel, DT Clinton McDonald, LB O’Brien Schofield, S Chris Maragos, TE Anthony McCoy, QB Tarvaris Jackson, FB Michael Robinson
Restricted Free Agents: WR Doug Baldwin, CB Brandon Browner, OL Lemuel Jeanpierre, S Jeron Johnson
Free Agent Summary:
Seattle can afford to bring back Bennett or Tate, if not both. However, re-signing both would make things difficult and creates future risks that may not be worth gambling with. Releasing Chris Clemons is likely and Zach Miller could be asked to take a pay-cut or be released.
The Seahawks need to figure out if Bennett and Tate can be brought back while safely putting away money for the near-future extensions of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, and Russell Okung.
Seattle’s outlook this offseason will be to retain their own and keep the talented young nucleus in place for as long as possible. With that, I do not foresee any big-ticket additions no matter how enticing names like DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, and Greg Hardy are.
It is doubtful Seattle uses the franchise tag on Bennett and Tate but Hauschka would be in play if a long-term deal is not replaced even if it provides a high price to pay for a kicker.
Early Mock (First two selections):
The Seahawks’s most glaring weakness is in the offensive line but it is very possible that the front office sees the last pick in the first round as a best player available type situation. While OT, WR, DE, and maybe TE are the most likely positions to look at for Seattle’s first round pick, don’t be surprised if Carroll and Schneider throw everyone for a loop once again.
Rd. 1, Pick #32— Joel Bitonio, OT- Nevada State
The offensive line is clearly the weakest link on a strong Seahawks team. Breno Giacomini is unlikely to be resigned. Bitonio had an impressive showing at the NFL Combine and showcased serious athleticism and physical attributes. Seattle needs to get serious about finding reliable protection for Russell Wilson and Tom Cable will have a few options to look at here. Bitonio could be the versatile offensive lineman the Seahawks employ.
Other Possibilities: TE Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), WR Odell Beckham (LSU), WR Allen Robinson (Penn State), WR Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State), DE Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame)
Rd. 2, Pick #64— C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
Maybe a bit early here but Seattle does not have a third round pick (at least going into the draft) and being large, mobile, and a solid blocker makes Fiedorowicz the prototypical tight end the Seahawks like. Unless the Seahawks trust Anthony McCoy as the third tight end after a year spent on IR or the freshly signed Travis Beckum, they will be looking to add depth at tight end, and especially if Zach Miller becomes a cap casualty.
Seferian-Jenkins is the local kid and has the higher ceiling as an offensive weapon but his blocking ability is questionable at best and the foot injury drops his stock just enough for Seattle to pass on him in the first round and potentially miss out on him in the second. Losing Miller’s blocking prowess would sting but Fiedorowicz gives the Seahawks a good chance to recoup some of that. If Miller stays, Fiedorowicz can learn from one of the best.
Other possibilities: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington), TE Coly Lyeria (Oregon), WR Davante Adams (Fresno State), OT Brandon Thomas (Clemson), OG David Yankey (Stanford), DE Kony Early (Missouri)