Archive for March, 2012

What are Seattle’s quarterback plans in the 2012 draft?

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

A lot of Seahawks fans – maybe more than 50% – expect the team to draft a quarterback of the future next month. It’s considered Seattle’s greatest need, and with good reason. The upcoming draft will be the third conducted by Pete Carroll and John Schneider and so far they haven’t spent a single pick on the position. Fans don’t just expect that to change in 2012, they expect a quarterback to be drafted early. Some people are probably going to be disappointed.

It’s not like the Seahawks haven’t been preparing you for this. In an interview with KING-5′s Chris Egan, John Schneider stated the team wouldn’t ‘panic’ in the search for a long term solution at quarterback. Then just a few days later, Schneider reiterated that message when speaking to Clare Farnsworth: “I just know if you panic at the position, it can set the organization back. So we’re not going to do that. That may disappoint fans, because they want to see an instant guy and have that instant success. But really, you’re better off continuing to build your team.” In translation, it kind of means don’t get your hopes up.

The message is clear – trust us to get this right. So what is the plan?

Team’s tend to work ahead ahead more than we realise. That’s easier to do when you have the kind of experience Pete Carroll has working within the college ranks. By his own admission, that advantage will disappear soon. However, the Seahawks in my estimation have two more drafts (2012 & 2013) to tap into Carroll’s insider knowledge. That includes identifying a long term option at quarterback.

If the Seahawks believe the options will be superior next year, would they really spend an early pick on a quarterback for the sake of it? If you have two or three pass rushers rated very highly who will be available with the #12 pick, reaching on a quarterback would be the kind of ‘panic’ move Schneider says he wants to avoid. A lot of people are high on Ryan Tannehill, others not so much. I suspect the Seahawks will fit into the ‘not so much’ category. He’s the one rising prospect at the moment, but there’s also this great unknown about his potential. He’ll turn 24 in July, yet hasn’t got a great deal of starting experience. If and when the Seahawks do draft a quarterback in round one, I think they want a good feeling of what they’ll be getting at the next level. Tannehill is a tough one to work out and has a lot of growing to do, but he also has a high upside. I’m not sure the Seahawks will bank on pure upside, particularly when there are certain habits in Tannehill’s game that will need to be corrected.

In fact, I think it’s very likely they’ll have other quarterbacks – including Brock Osweiler and Kirk Cousins – graded above Tannehill, with the view that they present better value at the position they’ll be available. Osweiler is two and a half years younger than Tannehill, also has a high upside but isn’t likely to be taken in the top half of round one. You can afford to take your time with a prospect like that, while the investment needed to acquire him will carry less demand for an immediate return. Tannehill – the guy many believe will be the only other quarterback to be drafted in the first round after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III - may not interest Seattle. So they move on, and this is where things get a little more complicated when we try to work out the team’s plan.

Let’s say there are at least two – maybe three – quarterbacks they rate very highly that will be part of next year’s class. Matt Barkley, Logan Thomas and Tyler Wilson are three names that intrigue me more than any other at this stage and the team may have a similar view of things. Let’s narrow it down even further and propose there’s one guy who really stands out. From a team’s perspective, you’ve maybe had your eye on him all along and are willing to do almost anything it takes to make him your quarterback. What’s more, you believe he’s the kind of prospect who can start early in his career and you’ve spent three years building the team in anticipation of acquiring a player just like this. Sure, there’s no guarantee you can get him. But you want the opportunity to at least find out, and you’ll forge a contingency plan just in case it doesn’t work out. In that scenario, do you take a quarterback in round two this year? Knowing that you’ll do whatever it takes to get the guy you really want in 12 months time?

For arguments sake let’s come up with a mock-scenario. You draft a guy in round two next month, high enough for people to believe this is your guy. The league generally considers a round two pick to be an impact player and a contributor, so you’re making a high investment in a quarterback who most people would expect to get a chance to start one day. Even so, he sits as a rookie because he’s a little bit more raw – maybe that’s why he fell to round two in the first place? Then in twelve months time, you draft another quarterback in round one – possibly after a bold trade up the board. People will ask – not unfairly – why did you draft that guy last year? He’s not played a snap as a rookie, and already you’re writing him off? Why didn’t you make better use of that pick?

Sure, he could start in year two and be the bridge to the new rookie. But the NFL is a different beast now and it’s something Carroll has touched on – college quarterbacks are more prepared to start, and in many ways they are also expected to start when drafted in the first round. I’m not sure you can necessarily say the same for an inexperienced player such as Brock Osweiler - a realistic second round option for a lot of teams. So if we consider that drafting a quarterback in round two isn’t likely to impact the starter in 2012 – it’ll still likely be Tarvaris Jackson or another veteran acquired during free agency - would it not be wiser to keep building other areas of the team in preparation for the move you intend to make next year?

People could counter by stating a lot of teams probably thought Andrew Luck was ‘the one’ a year ago, yet it took a truly absymal season by the Colts to land him. Nobody ever had the chance to trade up for the Stanford quarterback. It’s a valid point, but let’s also remember – Luck is a generational talent. The player Seattle could be targeting may not have the same reputation and therefore may be more attainable than you think. You might not even have to trade up. There will also be alternatives – as Washington realised in this draft class despite being ‘out of Luck’.

This is a just a situation I wanted to contemplate, a mock proposal. It’s not one I necessarily agree with, it’s not necessarily what the team will do. However, I think there’s a very realistic chance we won’t see a quarterback drafted in the first two rounds and some of the above may play a part in that. Personally I would have no issues with this team spending a second round pick on a player I rate as highly as Brock Osweiler, even if he never plays a down before you again invest in the position. As you can see in the video at the top of the page, there’s legitimate talent to work with. It also takes the pressure off the following year when you look to make the high pick on a quarterback. If you need to move up, having a guy in the stable could work as a leverage tactic in negotiations. If a deal can’t be done, you won’t need to panic. In many ways, I think it should be a no-brainer for Seattle – if Osweiler is there in round two, take the guy. That’s just my opinion.

Erik Galko yesterday speculated that Pete Carroll “loves” Osweiler, while Scott Enyeart noted that Carroll has been keeping a close eye on Kirk Cousins. I’ve heard similar things about both players – and also Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson – although I’d caution against optimistic thoughts any will be drafted within the first two rounds. However much they like Osweiler, they might like somebody else even more – that player just isn’t available yet. And if the grade between quarterback’s is pretty even across the board this year, picking Wilson in the fourth may give the team a chance to address other areas and max out value in each round.

Of course, there also comes a point when Osweiler is too good to pass. If a lack of experience and unique mechanics leads to a fall, in round three you’re not passing up an early Christmas gift like that. Seattle can justify usurping a third rounder 12 months down the line if it comes to that and it’s a par investment for a decent back-up quarterback. There’s also the opportunity to turn that investment into more draft stock (see: San Diego and Charlie Whitehurst) and expectations would be measured as a mid-rounder. It’s only one rounds difference, but Seattle’s ambitions are less likely to compromised or challenged if/when they go big a year later.

And amid all this talk of quarterbacks, we’re forgetting that there are other areas of the team that need addressing too. A plan such as this will also be about improving the team’s pass rush – currently solely reliant on Chris Clemons. It’s about filling holes at linebacker, with Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne still on the open market and perhaps preparing for a new challenge elsewhere. If they know who they want at quarterback – and he’s not available this year – I refer you back to Schneider’s quote from earlier: “Really, you’re better off continuing to build your team.” Get a dynamic pass rusher in round one. Find a starting linebacker. Maybe even consider boosting your run game further with a better compliment for Marshawn Lynch.

If what we’ve talked about here plays out, it shouldn’t be constituted as neglecting the quarterback position. If anything, it’s a real understanding of just how important it is to get this right. Carroll and Schneider may only get one chance to go ‘all-in’ on the position. Fail, and it’ll be costly on a team and individual level. If the guy you really want is going to be there next year and you have a firm belief that he’s the one, then who are we to argue if they’re trying to hit for the fences? Continue to build other areas of the team. This is a rebuild being crafted one step at a time, without forcing the issue and becoming careless. It could mean another year of patience, but the Carroll/Schneider story has started well enough, let’s see what the next chapter brings.

Seattle’s off-season going according to plan

Friday, March 16th, 2012

These two men aren't moving to Seattle, but they're still helping the Seahawks

This free agency period couldn’t have gone much better for the Seahawks. While a certain degree of fist clenching occurred as Peyton Manning drifted away and Mario Williams shacked up in Buffalo, the reality is neither were ever likely to land in Seattle.

The front office understandably wanted to meet with Manning because, ultimately, it’s Peyton Manning. But there were reportedly 12 teams who reached out to the future Hall-of-Famer and that number probably got higher as time went on. He met with just four teams – the four most serious contenders. Seattle’s checklist for the off-season may have included ‘try and arrange meeting with Peyton Manning’, but it didn’t necessarily include ‘sign Peyton Manning’.

Williams has signed a deal including over $50m in guarantees and Buffalo are on the hook for around $16m per year. The Seahawks are not going to be signing contracts like that any time soon. This front office evidently wants to build around a core of players who fit the competition mantra – young, hungry and different (in a good way). They also want to be able to reward those who succeed, keeping the key members of the team. When the time comes to re-sign Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Max Unger – some fans may appreciate why it pays to have cap room in the bank. Rest assured, any angst over failing to compete for Williams this week would be doubled if  Thomas or Okung are forced to walk in the future.

Seattle’s front office is playing it cool, not rushing into the feeding frenzy and searching for value. Yes, it may be a bit boring for fans who clamour for the big splash. Ultimately though, this is how championship teams are built and how they prosper for multiple years. Although significant holes remain (including one well advertised hole under center), after four drafts under Carroll and Schneider I have a feeling most people will be content with the work done. You may have to wait twelve months for your quarterback fix, but it’ll probably be worth the wait. Those are the cards that have been dealt.

Meanwhile, the team has gone about it’s business efficiently this year. They’ve made key re-signings such as Red Bryant, Marshawn Lynch and Paul McQuistan. They’ve looked into the veteran quarterback market and will almost certainly add a signal caller on a competitive rate that won’t restrict the team from a big splash in the future. But it’s not just the work conducted by Carroll and Schneider that has been a major positive. Elsewhere, other teams are also helping the Seahawks in a big way before next month’s draft.

There’s no need to mess around here – the Seahawks are drafting a pass rusher in round one. Not another offensive lineman, not a receiver. Not even a quarterback. They’ve publically highlighted the pass rush as an area for improvement and they’re not trying to deceive anyone. There is a top tier of three defensive end prospects who will leave the board early, followed by a decent looking second tier. We’ve debated who might also be looking for defensive line help before the #12 pick, but it’s a list that possibly gets shorter with every passing day of free agency.

- The Jacksonville Jaguars needed to hit the free agent receiver market, but were surprisingly quiet while Vincent Jackson, Robert Meachem and others were making visits. They secured a deal for Dallas’ Laurent Robinson, but it’s hardly the big splash fans were hoping for. Blaine Gabbert needs help if he’s going to make it in the NFL and Jacksonville’s group of receivers is among the worst in the league. They re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey and a strong second tier of pass rushers may encourage the Jags to go in a different direction in round one. Moving up to draft Justin Blackmon can’t be ruled out, while Michael Floyd is a strong alternative. They need to find  a quality target for Gabbert, it’s the #1 priority.

- Miami owns the next pick after Jacksonville and they’re losing the battle for Peyton Manning. It’s not a good sign for a franchise with so much history to strike out on Jim Harbaugh (strike one), Jeff Fisher (strike two) and now Peyton Manning (strike three). The end result is a team with a new coaching staff, but no quarterback and now no top receiver following the Brandon Marshall trade. Joe Philbin worked in a system in Green Bay that utilised talented receivers so well, it’s hard to imagine Miami will try to get by at the position. Despite initial feelings they would draft a defensive end or right tackle, it looks as if the Dolphins may have to prioritise quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) or wide receiver (Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd). They could still sign Matt Flynn who has worked with Philbin before, but Mike Sherman also has history at Texas A&M with Tannehill.

- Buffalo shocked the NFL by signing Mario Williams to a mega-deal. They now have a defensive line filled with talent and will surely concentrate on other key areas in the draft. Despite spending two high picks on offensive lineman in 2009 (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) the Bills also traded away left tackle Justin Peters to Philadelphia that year. They’ve shown little interest in re-signing 2011 starter Demetrius Bell, which suggests the #10 pick could be spent on a new blind-side blocker. Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin should be available in that range and both players would be solid additions. While we can’t rule out the drafting of another pass rusher to compliment Williams, the sheer amount of dollars invested in the defensive line is already taking up a large portion of the team’s cap. After all, what use is a good pass rush if you’re own quarterback is facing similar pressure from less talented players?

Only last week we discussed the possibility of Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw and Quinton Coples being drafted by the teams listed above, leaving the Seahawks in no man’s land. Now – it wouldn’t be a total shock if all three made it to #12, giving the Seahawks their pick of the bunch. That’s an unlikely scenario, but not impossible. Seattle will be out of luck in a big way if one of their preferred picks isn’t on the board at #12. When the team adds a pass rusher in round one and makes further additions to the front seven, they’ll be closing in on a top-echelon defense. And with that side of the ball secured, it’ll be time to start planning for a big splash to fill the other big need on this roster.

Early thoughts on the Seahawks in free agency

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Wouldn't this have been something...

Written by Kip Earlywine

Nearly forty eight hours have now passed and dozens of NFL free agents have signed with new (and old) teams.  Its premature to opine with any kind of free agency grade, but enough has happened to this point to begin an earnest evaluation.

A couple things to keep in mind, I do not evaluate the front office strictly by results, but rather intentions and philosophy.  Paul Allen supposedly offered Peyton Manning a ton of upfront cash, and yet Manning hardly did so much as return Seattle’s phone call.  Some things are simply out of John Schneider’s control, which is why I prefer to look at the thought process rather than the bottom line.

Once again, Seattle was not front in center when the gun sounded in free agency.  This is hardly surprising given that even in a big spending offseason like 2011 Seattle sat out the first day, signing Sidney Rice on day two and Zach Miller on day five.  Its a cool-headed approach often seen by the elites of the league, the Pittsburgh’s, the Green Bay’s, etc.  I had personally hoped that Seattle would charge hard after Curtis Lofton, Eric Winston, and Jason Jones.  Seattle has yet to show interest in Winston, although for what it’s worth, Seattle’s interest in Zach Miller last year was not immediately evident either.

Lofton’s free agent status is a bit of a riddle.  Early in free agency, infamous twitter user Incarcerated Bob incorrectly announced that Lofton was a done deal in Tampa, and later that same day, Gerald McCoy tweeted in a manner which suggested that Lofton was a done deal in Philly.  Lofton has yet to officially sign anywhere.  Now apparently the Seahawks have some interest in Lofton as well.  Lofton is a similar player to David Hawthorne, slightly more accomplished and a year younger, but both are run stopping middle linebackers who struggle in coverage.  The market is moving very slowly at linebacker, and Lofton continues to look the part of the bridesmaid while his pursuers instead throw big money at other free agents.  If he can be signed for a non-ridiculous contract, Seattle could become more serious in their pursuit.

Seattle is hosting defensive tackle Jason Jones today and tomorrow.  It appears that Jones’ decision could come down to Seattle and St. Louis.  The fact that Jones visited St. Louis first and left town without a contract is promising.  The Rams new head coach is none other than Jeff Fisher, so there is an obvious connection there. The fact that the Rams didn’t pull out all the stops to sign Jones before Seattle might hint at two possibilities.  The first is that their interest could potentially be more about driving up the price for the Seahawks.  The second is that Jeff Fisher’s familiarity with Jones flaws could dampen his enthusiasm and lead to a lukewarm contract offer, similar to Seattle’s lukewarm stance on Matt Hasselbeck last year or John Carlson this year.

Jones is a player Seattle could really make good use of, and I feel pretty good about his chances of signing here.  Jones is still young, but I doubt he’d want to play for a team that might not compete until he nears his 30th birthday and has a bit of a mess at defensive coordinator (their current DC is none other than Gregg “Bounty-gate” Williams).  Seattle can offer a better chance to win sooner than later and doesn’t have the distractions on defense the Rams will have to deal with.

Something I’ve noticed about this current front office is that they hate bidding wars (unless it’s done to hurt a division rival).  Sidney Rice, as talented as he is, was deemed too risky by most of the league.  His services came down to a two team race between Seattle and Minnesota.  Zach Miller was receiving surprisingly little interest when Seattle swooped in and stole him away from the Raiders.  Seattle didn’t have to fight off a ton of suitors for Tarvaris Jackson, Ben Hamilton, or even Robert Gallery, much less guys like Brandon Browner and Mike Williams.  In short, Seattle is the kind of team that hunts for value in free agency, and the more fierce the competition, the higher the price will go, making that player less likely to be a value acquisition.

That’s why I really liked Seattle’s pursuit of Brandon Carr and their current interest in one Steve Hutchinson.

Brandon Carr ranked in the top 10 last year in completion percentage against and passer rating against, just below Richard Sherman on both counts.  For as productive as Brandon Browner was last season, he struggled badly in those areas.  Signing Carr would have been a bit like adding another Richard Sherman to this roster while making Browner one of the league’s best #3 corners.  Unfortunately, Dallas panicked and gave Carr a five year, $50 million contract before he could ever come here.  Even if Carr had declined the offer and paid the Seahawks a visit, any hope of making him a value signing went out the window.  It’s just as well that he signed elsewhere.

Steve Hutchinson would be a neat get.  It would go a ways toward healing what was in the minds of many Seahawks fans the most painful free agency loss in franchise history.  Pro Football Focus ranked Hutchinson the fourth best left guard this past season, despite the fact that Minnesota’s line as a whole was among the league’s worst.  Yet for a team that is clearly in rebuilding mode, paying a 34 year old guard $7 million is hard to swallow.  Age is the last form of sanctioned discrimination in the workplace, and its no more evident in pro sports than anywhere else.  Despite Hutchinson’s terrific career and remaining capabilities, he’s only yet drawn interest from two teams, the Seahawks and the Titans.  It would be pretty ironic if Hutch signed in Tennessee, as the head honcho there is none other Mike Reinfeldt, the same man who planted the idea in Tim Ruskell’s mind that guards were not worth top money.  Hutch makes some sense for the Seahawks, as both Moffitt and Carpenter could be slow returning from injuries and a 1-2 year stopgap option in the interior could buy Seattle’s young offensive lineman a chance to rest and acclimate to the league before being thrown into the fire again.  Of course, as I write this, Hutch signs in Tennessee, hahahaha.

Seattle is meeting with Matt Flynn tomorrow.  I wouldn’t have bothered with Flynn at all personally.  Even his statistically insane game against the Lions last year screamed “product of the system” when viewed under close scrutiny.  Still, I’ll give Seattle some credit- they didn’t show any interest in Flynn until his value was established as being much lower than people expected, and on the off chance that Flynn is willing to take a Tarvaris Jackson sized deal, he’s not a bad gamble.  It seems unlikely he’d come that cheap, but Seattle loses nothing by attempting to find out.

Of course, not everything in free agency has been peachy so far.  Seattle has yet to sign any free agent from another team, much less a superstar like Manning or Williams.

I can only speculate, but I’m not convinced Seattle was as desperate for Manning as they would like you to believe.  I think there was some interest there, because obviously, he’s Peyton freaking Manning, but Manning would have been a deviation from the long term plan Seattle has in place.  It wouldn’t have been the kind of slam dunk many fans think it would have been.  Not that I think Seattle has anything against Manning, but if they signed him to a something like a 5 year, $100 million contract, it would have cap implications down the road when Seattle wants to extend their own star players such as Russell Okung and Earl Thomas.  It would also make a big acquisition or trade for a young franchise QB (Matt Barkley) in future drafts more complicated, as evidenced by Manning’s reaction to Indy coveting Andrew Luck.

Still, I respect the front office for at least trying, and I respect them more for having the awareness to play politics.  Had Seattle not even batted an eye at Manning, Williams, and Flynn, the fanbase would likely be in an uproar.  Its no accident that John Schneider has said over and over that he won’t panic at quarterback- its because he’s massaging the fanbase in preparation for what will probably be an unpopular (but ultimately wise) approach to the 2012 draft.   Schneider is not oblivious to the desires of Seahawks fans, but he has a plan and he’s sticking to it.

Regarding the Red Bryant signing, like many fans, I have mixed feelings about it.  Bryant’s value comes from his run stopping and leadership, both of which are difficult to accurately measure in terms of value.  Yet even from a gut-thinking perspective, it doesn’t feel that Bryant was in any way worth $7 million per season.  Seattle overpaid, but unfortunately they had to- as Bryant drew significant interest from 3-4 teams and teams with 4-3 hybrid defenses like ours.  I was actually kind of warming up to the idea of letting Bryant go, as we could have spent that money on another good player and moved Alan Branch to the 5 tech spot for next season, then possibly make a run at Calais Campell in 2013.  Campbell had 8 sacks last year playing a very similar role to Red Bryant.  He’s a guy who would be an absolute beast for our defense.

On the positive side, Bryant’s deal pays him all of his guaranteed money in the first two years, which gives Seattle an easy out by 2014 should things not work out as hoped.  It also makes Bryant a likely target for restructure from 2014-2016.  In other words, Bryant’s contract merely continues the Red Bryant experiment rather than making it a permanent fixture.  Continuing this experiment could make a good deal of sense, as Bryant would be useful for a team showing 3-4 hybrid looks, which could easily be the case if Seattle drafts either Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw.  If Bryant can stay healthy, this contract probably won’t matter too much either way in the long run.

Perhaps the most controversial move made so far in Seattle’s free agency is the surprise release of Robert Gallery.  Pete Carroll has stubbornly insisted on running the football since coming here, and until Robert Gallery returned to near 100% health near the mid point of the season, that goal seemed to be painfully misguided.  Gallery struggled with pass protection and with penalties, but his run blocking is the real thing.  It even rubbed off a bit on Max Unger (a free agent next year- by the way), and the two became a power blocking duo that Marshawn Lynch and the team as a whole benefited enormously from.  Even high school level coaches review game film, so I’m sure Pete and John know fully well what they are doing here, but I have serious reservations about this move personally.  Seattle is not hard up against the cap, and for a team that is built around running the ball, Robert Gallery’s impact on the running game easily justified his salary this year, in my view.  I just don’t get it.  Even the timing was pretty lousy, as fellow veteran Steve Hutchinson was in town talking contracts when it happened.  Think Hutch felt good about signing a two or three year deal here after seeing that?

And am I the only one who finds it suspicious that Seattle signed back Paul McQuistan and released Robert Gallery at the same time?  That would certainly seem to hint at the team making room for McQuistan as a starter on the line.  McQuistan played surprisingly well late last season, but I think I’d feel better about him as a great backup rather than as a fringe starter.  This combination of moves would also seem to hint at the team considering James Carpenter at guard with Breno Giacomini being the favorite at right tackle.  An Okung-Carpenter-Unger-McQuistan-Giacomini line isn’t bad, but where is the depth?  Can Carpenter provide the same kind of run blocking prowess that Gallery provided last year?  Why did we need to free up $4.667 million (the savings from releasing Gallery) again?  Other than a small buyout cost, there was no reason to release him now for the sake of 2013′s cap room either.  Overall, the whole thing reminds me a bit of the TJ Houshmandzadeh release a couple years ago.  The team didn’t save a dime by releasing Housh, but the move did free up opportunities for other players.  The Housh release worked out well enough.  But will the Gallery release be similarly harmless?  I guess we’ll see, but color me skeptical.

So what could be on the horizon?  Jason Jones will probably reach a decision this weekend.  It’d be nice if it was to play for us.  Kamerion Wimbley is all but guaranteed to be released by Oakland on Saturday.  Given the kind of crazy contracts that are being handed out in this free agency, it might not be a bad idea for Seattle to float a 7th rounder to Oakland for Wimbley’s contract (which would have the added perk of not counting against us when compensatory picks are handed out next year).  Sure, it’s a big contract, but it probably won’t be any bigger than what he’d get on the open market as the best pass rusher available, and this way they could ensure Wimbley’s services.  Wimbley is a diverse player who could fill Seattle’s needs as a speedy linebacker or line up in the LEO role as Chris Clemon’s short term successor (Wimbley is two years younger).  Wimbley has gone on record saying that he’d be open to a contract restructure.  This probably won’t happen, but it probably should.  If Wimbley hits free agency, I’m certainly hoping the Seahawks are at least involved for his services.

Updated mock draft: 14th March

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Yeah... probably won't need to do this in Buffalo

Free agency is in full flow, so before we get into this week’s projection I wanted to consider how it’s impacting the draft landscape:  

- The Bills are going all-in to sign Mario Williams and it seems like a deal is close. Williams will spend a third day with the team on Thursday as the two parties hammer out a contract which could threaten Calvin Johnson’s record-breaking extension. This is fantastic news for the Seahawks, as it increases the chances Buffalo won’t draft a pass rusher at #10. With so much money invested in one star defensive end, expect the Bills to target offensive lineman in round one.  

- Jacksonville likewise re-signed Jeremy Mincey, their best pass rusher. They still need more at the position, but having only been able to attract Laurent Robinson to Florida – could they possibly consider looking at a wide receiver at #7? They need to support Blaine Gabbert if they want him to succeed.  

- The Dallas Cowboys have been busy, acquiring Brandon Carr today and also hosting Dan Connor. This says to me that they’re trying to address key needs at cornerback and linebacker to draft an interior lineman in round one. Cordy Glenn and David DeCastro could be in play at #14.  

- The Seahawks re-signed Red Bryant and Marshawn Lynch, ensuring they weren’t left with any extra holes going into the draft. Linebacker is still an area of need with David Hawthorne (receiving interest from New Orleans) and Leroy Hill on the market, but Pete Carroll highlighted the position as an area for improvement at the end of the 2011 season. The Seahawks will kick the tire’s on the free agent quarterback market – which could be boosted in the next few days if players like Kevin Kolb are released. Matt Flynn and Chad Henne will only be offered competitive ‘Tarvaris Jackson’ type contracts, if they’re even offered a deal. This team appears to be setting itself up to attack the position next year to get the player the fans crave in Seattle.  

- Unless the team shows any serious interest in a player like Kamerion Wimbley when he’s eventually cut by Oakland, it appears the Seahawks will be set up to draft a pass rusher at #12. I’m not expecting the team to draft a quarterback until round three at the earliest, but Brock Osweiler and Kirk Cousins are probably the two players to keep an eye on in that range.  

- The Seahawks should be applauded for their work in free agency so far. The priority was always to re-sign Marshawn Lynch and Red Bryant. Job done. Anything else is a bonus.  

- It’s also worth touching on why it’s not the end of the world that Seattle will not be introducing Peyton Manning and Mario Williams to the media this week. This remains a very fluid rebuild for the Seahawks, it’ll take time and maybe every one of the five-years on Pete Carroll’s contract before you see his vision completely installed. Spending over $100m on Mario Williams would’ve excited a few people, but it would also mean potentially difficult decisions down the line. When you have a player on the kind of salary Williams will command, the cap ramifications could mean you’re not be able – for example - to franchise Earl Thomas when he’s up for renewal. Perhaps it’d be a case of keeping Thomas, but losing Kam Chancellor or Russell Okung? The Seahawks want to sign great players, but they also want to reward their own first and foremost. That’s how you build. While the options at #12 won’t be as emphatic as Mario Williams, they will still find a prospect capable of complimenting the teams pass rush.  

- One final quick thought – it seems like it’s becoming a six-player race at the top of the board. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne and Trent Richardson are looking pretty safe to be the first six players off the board – with the only real debate at picks 4-6. Cleveland could draft any one of Blackmon, Claiborne or Richardson – with Tampa Bay and St. Louis picking through the scraps.  

It’s a two-round projection this week by popular demand. I’ve listed some of ‘the next best available’ for round three at the bottom and also offered some thoughts on what I don’t like about the projection (they’re never perfect). So before you throw your computer across the room (Doug) after seeing Seattle’s pick, please read my explanation.  

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This is where it gets interesting. The Browns must have a plan. Will it be to reunite Weeden and Blackmon in Ohio?
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
#6 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Rams know this is now a three-draft plan. This guy will be a star, so take him and don’t look back.
#7 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
The Jaguars need to improve their pass rush and will have their pick of the group at this spot.
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Plan B if they can’t pursuade Peyton Manning to take his talents to South Beach?
#9 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Carolina will probably have a good look at Dontari Poe, but the upside of Cox could win the day.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Buffalo are desperately trying to get a deal done for Mario Williams. If they land the star prize, they’ll go offensive tackle here.
#11 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Nose tackles who weigh 345lbs and move as well as this guy don’t last long in round one.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
The Seahawks’ draft priority is to improve their pass rush. Upshaw will have a big impact on Seattle’s defense.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive tackle.
#14 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
The moves made in free agency will allow the Cowboys to target Cordy Glenn or David DeCastro at this spot.
#15 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Why not get a big possession receiver to compliment newly re-signed DeSean Jackson?
#16 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The talent is there, but teams have concerns about his 2011 tape and his run defense.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on the best lineman available at this spot.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
There’s always a shock in round one. Konz is good enough to justify a pick this early and will play in the league for a decade.
#21 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
An extreme playmaker who will have an impact from day one. He could be the second coming of Ray Rice.
#22 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
Cleveland could use another edge rusher and this guys production last year could intrigue the Browns.
#23 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
A smart performance at the combine will promote Gilmore’s stock into the bottom half of round one.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
There are some legitimate concerns about Adams’ play, but Pittsburgh may take a chance.
#25 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Yes he performed well at the combine – but he’s still a middle linebacker, a position with a restricted value.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
He’s a tremendous athlete who makes spectacular plays. It’s more than combine hype that puts Hill in round one contention.
#27 Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
He’s rising up the boards and could be seen as a solid pick for a team looking for a long term piece to their offensive line.
  #28 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
The Packers are running out of options to improve their pass rush and could consider Curry in this situation.
#29 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Having attacked the receiver market in free agency, San Fran could draft Kirkpatrick to play corner or safety.
#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
The very definition of a defensive prospect who fits in Baltimore. A tough football player, simple as that.
#31 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
His ability to line up in multiple spots could attract the Patriots, who are looking for more pass rush.
#32 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown is full of potential and could go earlier than this. New York would be a nice landing spot.

Round two  

#33 St. Louis - Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
#34 Indianapolis – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#35 Minnesota – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#38 Jacksonville – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#39 St. Louis – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#42 Miami – Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
#43 Seattle – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#44 Kansas City – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#47 New York Jets – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#48 New England – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#49 San Diego - Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami OH)
#50 Chicago – Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson)
#51 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#52 Tennessee – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#53 Cincinnati – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#54 Detroit – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#55 Atlanta – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#56 Pittsburgh – Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#60 Green Bay – Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Orson Charles (TE, Georgia)
#63 New York Giants - Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#64 New England – Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)  

Best available in round three: Sean Spence (LB, Miami), Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington), Chris Polk (RB, Washington), Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State), Dwight Bentley (CB, Louisiana-Lafayette), David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech), Cam Johnson (DE, Virginia), Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State), Bruce Irvin (DE, West Virginia), Robert Turbin (RB, Utah State), Mike Martin (DT, Michigan), Brandon Washington (OG, Miami)  

Things I’m not happy with (because a mock cannot be perfect…)  

- Brock Osweiler dropping to pick #51. In my opinion, he’s clearly the third best quarterback in this class and worthy of a tentative first round grade. However, opinion is mixed and it’s difficult to find a home for him earlier than this. The Seahawks might avoid the quarterback position in the first two rounds, but they must sprint to the podium if Osweiler is there in round three.  

- Kansas City really needs to repair their offensive line and it could hold them back considering the talent they have at the skill positions. At the same time, can they afford to pass on a future nose tackle who could anchor their defense for years to come?  

- I don’t do trades and the exception for Robert Griffin III has since been justified. However, I suspect we’re going to see an awful lot of movement this year – maybe more than ever. For that reason, I don’t expect the majority of mocks you’ll see over the next few weeks to hit the mark – including mine.  

- I’m concerned about the sanity of some readers (I’m looking at you, Doug) after mocking Upshaw to Seattle again this week. I know, I know. Look – I’m not doing this to provoke people, I’m not doing this because I’m unable to move away from my own high grade of Courtney Upshaw. This is not a man-crush. I actually intended to move away from this pick today. However, with events working the way they have in free agency and with Buffalo in pole position to re-sign Mario Williams, I worked through each pick carefully and couldn’t see a realistic way of avoiding it. I’m preparing my crow pie just in case the Seahawks pass on the guy on April 26th, but I will not go out of my way to deliberately make a projection I don’t trust. It was the same last year with Jake Locker going in the top-10 – I always believed it would happen… 100%. So why stray? We look at alternatives during the week and will continue to do so (expect a big article on this subject later in the week). For now – I apologise, but it is what it is.

The free agency open-thread & predictions

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Red Bryant - Seattle's priority signing in free agency

Feel free to use this thread to discuss free agency as it happens. The market opens at 4pm EST, with big names such as Mario Williams, Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson set to cash in. Quarterbacks like Matt Flynn will be searching for new homes, while the Peyton Manning saga may finally draw to a conclusion. We could even see some trade activity. 

In my opinion, the Seahawks won’t be major players for the big names. Although they’ve been heavily linked to Williams, Flynn and others, I suspect the priority this off-season will be to look after their own. Red Bryant will be the priority – and rival teams in the NFC West could make life difficult by raising the stakes. Seattle won’t want to lose one of the cornerstone’s of their defense and Bryant would be tough to replace. Other free agents such as David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill will test the market, as will pro-bowl full back Michael Robinson. 

Here are a few predictions, we’ll see how many come true… 

Mario Williams (DE) – resigns with the Houston Texans, who spent Monday clearing room 

Vincent Jackson (WR) – moves to Tampa Bay despite serious interest from Chicago, Washington and San Diego 

Matt Flynn (QB) – the market has a slow start but eventually he and Cleveland agree terms 

Red Bryant (DE) – re-signs with Seattle for more than they expected to pay 

Eric Winston (RT) – Washington finds some cap room to make an offer 

Carl Nicks (OG) – Moves to Chicago who fight off competition from several teams 

Marques Colston (WR) – Jacksonville will hit the market for receivers hard 

Ben Grubbs (OG) – signs with St. Louis as the Rams rebuild their offensive line 

Jared Gaither (OT) – re-signs with San Diego who need to lock him down 

Paul Soliai (DT) – an option for Seattle if Bryant moves on, but he doesn’t so Soliai signs for Indianapolis 

LaRon Landry (S) – signs a short-term deal to stay in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys 

Cortland Finnegan (CB) – the Cowboys further repair their secondary here, allowing them to go O-line in round one of the draft

Get to know Patrick Washington & Antuanne Kerr

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Today I wanted to highlight two small-school prospects from South Carolina State University. Patrick Washington is a converted linebacker who plays defensive end, while Antuanne Kerr is a fierce run-blocking tight end. The Seahawks never leave a rock unturned when searching for prospects, so maybe we’ll see one of these guys in the PNW next season? This blog isn’t just about promoting Seattle’s options in the early rounds and we’re happy to help prospects such as Patrick and Antuanne get their name into the public domain. If you’re a small school prospect who has some tape you want to get out there, feel free to email me via rob@seahawksdraftblog.com

Patrick Washington (DE/LB, South Carolina State)
6-0, 240lbs

Patrick switched from linebacker to defensive end in 2008, recording 7.5 sacks as a senior including a forced fumble. He lists speed as a key asset but also determination – having suffered through a nagging injury in 2009 and still recorded four sacks and seven tackles for a loss. Patrick earned team MVP and defensive player of the week honours during his final season at South Carolina State. The all-22 tape below shows he’s willing to dip inside and mix things up, and he has the closing speed to make plays in the backfield.

Antuanne Kerr (TE, South Carolina State)
6-3, 245lbs

Antuanne played both defensive end and tight end in high school, earning all-state and all-county honours and also making the state championship in basketball. He continued that trend at SC State playing on defense and offense, earning an honorable all-america mention. He was raised a military kid and will graduate from the university in May. Antuanne has scheduled a pro-day for March 28th. As you’ll see in the video below, he loves to block.

Later today I’ll be starting a free-agency ‘open thread’ for people to discuss the market.

What if ‘the big four’ aren’t available?

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Quinton Coples quickly realises that sleeveless shirt = people can see tattoo

We’ve highlighted four key names to watch for the Seahawks in round one of the draft: Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram, Quinton Coples and Trent Richardson. This is a team that knows it needs to improve the pass rush and with 2-3 key additions to the front seven, Seattle could find itself in possession of a border-line elite defense. Many people consider this a ‘six-player draft’ – a sextet of elite players that are expected to go early, possibly 1-6. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be the top two picks, potentially followed by Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne, Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon. Out of that group, the one most likely to squirm through to Seattle is Alabama’s Richardson. We see him as the wildcard option that could divert the team’s attention away from the pass rush.

However, what happens if all four players are off the board by the #12 pick? It’s a question that’s been asked a lot recently, so I wanted to address it. I think it’s unlikely that Upshaw, Ingram, Coples and Richardson will all be gone by #12. Impossible? Not at all. Unlikely? I’d say so. But it’s perhaps more likely in the aftermath of the Washington-St. Louis trade than it was previously.

Had the Browns moved up to grab RGIII instead of the Redskins, it would’ve increased the likelihood of Ryan Tannehillgoing #6 to Washington. Tannehill’s position in the top-10 is now in doubt and he could be replaced by one of the top defensive lineman or Richardson. Now, the ‘Bama running back has three potential suitors at picks #4 (Cleveland), #5 (Tampa Bay) and #6 (St. Louis). Cleveland could take any one of Blackmon, Claiborne or Richardson. Tampa Bay would entertain drafting Claiborne or Richardson depending on who the Browns select. St. Louis are not an obvious candidate to take a running back but if Blackmon and Claiborne are both off the board at #4 and #5, they may simply take the top ranked player – and that could be Trent Richardson. The Rams will own five first round picks in the next three years as they begin to rebuild and they need to seize good opportunities. Drafting Richardson – despite their other needs – would be a classic example.

If Richardson goes in the top-six, the Seahawks are then banking on one of the top pass rushers getting through picks 7-11. Jacksonville’s intentions will become clear during free agency, but their main priority has to be finding offensive playmakers and improving their pass rush. Expect the Jaguars to go big on the free agent wide receiver market to potentially open up the opportunity to draft a defensive end at #7. Miami could be in play for Ryan Tannehill given the links to Mike Sherman, but if they address the gaping hole at quarterback with Peyton Manning (looking unlikely) or Matt Flynn (could become more likely) then you have to believe the Dolphins will be in the market for a pass rusher too at #8.

Carolina needs to improve it’s interior defensive line more than the edge rush at #9, but Buffalo at #10 are another team who will be aggressively searching for pass rush help. It might be best to start pinning your hopes on Miami not concluding a deal for Manning or Flynn in order to make Tannehill a logical choice at #8. Even that won’t necessarily guarantee anything. Todd McShay’s updated mock draft looks at this scenario with the top eleven going:

#1 IND – Andrew Luck
#2 WAS – Robert Griffin III
#3 MIN – Matt Kalil
#4 CLE – Trent Richardson
#5 TB – Morris Claiborne
#6 STL – Justin Blackmon
#7 JAC – Melvin Ingram
#8 MIA – Ryan Tannehill
#9 CAR – Quinton Coples
#10 BUF – Courtney Upshaw
#11 KC – Riley Reiff

Even with Tannehill landing in Miami, McShay still believes the top three pass rushers leave the board in the first ten picks. The Carolina pick is debatable, justified as such, McShay: “The Panthers have big needs at wide receiver and corner, but with no worthy options at those positions, (Quinton) Coples becomes an attractive option. Coach Ron Rivera is looking to shore up the defensive front, and you can never have enough good pass-rushers. And because Coples is a top-five talent who should slip just a bit because of an inconsistent motor, he is almost a value pick at this point.”

McShay is taking the approach that Coples is too good to pass at #9. Indeed, McShay has consistently kept the UNC lineman in high regard despite a disappointing senior season. I would argue that the Panthers’ greatest need comes at defensive tackle rather than the edge rush. Considering they’re also likely to use more 3-4 looks and maybe even more towards a permanent switch, I suspect they’ll be looking at scheme-flexible players too. Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox flashed enough athletic potential at the combine to warrant consideration here and should either be taken at #9, it makes it very likely that one of Coples or Courtney Upshaw will be there at #12.

Even so, let’s contemplate the unthinkable situation where the Seahawks are out of reach for the top defensive ends. What do they do? McShay suggests Luke Kuechly would be the choice – something I would tend to disagree with as noted in this article last week. In this situation I think the Seahawks would face a dilemma. Is there an opportunity to move down the board? It could be a case of damage limitations – miss out on the top players on the team’s board, but make a calculated move to still secure prospects in the three positions the team craves (for example: DE, LB and RB). It could be a case of targeting a position that allows the Seahawks to move down considerably yet still acquire a collection of players such as Zach Brown, Vinny Curry and Doug Martin.

Of course, you need a willing trade partner to make that kind of move. If no such deal is forthcoming, what then? Zach Brown is considered draftable by many teams in the top half of round one, even though he’s received a lot of negative publicity recently. The likes of Andre Branch, Whitney Mercilus and Nick Perry could also emerge as candidates – although none carry the same versatility as the trio of Upshaw, Ingram and Coples, which could be more of an issue than some think. The reason I’ve not concentrated on other pass rushers is mainly down to the one-dimensional aspect of the alternatives. The Seahawks want a rusher who can be used in different positions to create mis-matches. Upshaw, Ingram and Coples are all flexible – they’ve all moved inside, played the edge and Ingram and Upshaw have taken on some minor coverage responsibilities at times. Branch, Mercilus and Perry are all pure edge rushers. Vinny Curry in round two has the kind of power – if not the size – to be used in different ways and may be more appealing for that reason.

I would argue it’s unlikely the Seahawks would make further additions to their offensive line and I don’t expect the team to draft a quarterback at #12 this year, even if Tannehill remains available.

The wildcard in this new scenario could be Dontari Poe. I think Fletcher Cox is more suited to the five-technique and he hasn’t got the lower body power to hold up in Seattle’s larger front, but Poe would fit like a glove. In fact, could he even shed +20lbs and become a solid three technique? He’s already running a sub-5.00 at 345lbs and benching more than anyone else at the combine. Could he shift some body fat without impacting his strength to become even more of a mobile freak of nature? It’s worth considering – even if it weakens his ability to have an immediate impact as a rookie.

It’s mere speculation at this point and as mentioned earlier – I think there’s still a very strong possibility we’ll never have to cross this particular bridge and one of Upshaw, Ingram or Coples will be there at #12. Yet the situation is maybe a little more cloudy than it was prior to the trade involving Washington and St. Louis.

Projected big board for the Seahawks

The big four

Courtney Upshaw
Reads better in space than Melvin Ingram, the perfect compliment of good run defense and pass rushing ability.

Trent Richardson
Insurance against Marshawn Lynch wearing down, but also a further dynamic addition to Seattle’s run-centric offense.

Melvin Ingram
He will have his supporters in the war room and has the versatility to appear in different looks.

Quinton Coples
This coaching staff won’t be too concerned about his motivation, but legitimate concerns about his run defense exist.

Second tier possibilities?

Zach Brown, Dontari Poe, Andre Branch, Whitney Mercilus, Nick Perry, Doug Martin, Vinny Curry, Mychal Kendricks

Manning out. Tebow… Kolb… Gabbert… in?

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Written by Kip Earlywine

Last week Rob reported that Seattle had a quarterback deal in place with a mystery Manning suitor.  We honestly have no idea which team that is, but after talking this over with Rob, I figured now would be a good time to discuss some possibilities as Manning’s search for a team draws near a close.  Please do not confuse this for breaking news or further insider info.  It isn’t.  It is purely speculation.

Don’t confuse it for an endorsement either.

The Denver Post let it be known today that Manning will not make a visit the to the Pacific Northwest, which is kind of like when a hot chick rejects your brave advances with an obvious made up excuse.  She’s saying “no” without saying no, and you have to at least give her credit for being nice and indirect about it.  For all intents and purposes, our dreams of seeing Manning in a Seahawks uniform next season died today.  Of course, the Seahawks are once again acting the part of the socially inept nerdy kid- doubling down on their overtures to Manning rather than take a hint.  The Seahawks insist that Manning hasn’t ruled them out.  Of course, (per Adam Schefter) Manning’s camp “isn’t interested at this point.”  Hey Seahawks, did you ever think she’s just not that into you?

Whether you want to hold out hope for Manning or not is up to you.  For now, I think we should revisit the potential trade Rob previously talked about.  Its been said that 12 NFL teams contacted Manning this week, including a few that already had good starting quarterbacks and wanted their interest to remain anonymous.  Its very possible that the deal struck by Seattle was with one of those teams.  It certainly is fun to think about scenarios like Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Josh Freeman.

But what if it wasn’t one of those anonymous teams?  What if that deal was with the Broncos: the current “front-runners” in the Manning sweepstakes?  It would be consistent with what we were told: that the deal was not with a team that had been linked to Manning at the time (we were first told of the trade over a month ago).  If Denver gets Manning, it would give John Elway a nice exit strategy from the Tim Tebow drama he inherited.  While a case could be made that Tebow could develop for a few years behind Manning as the starter, its equally possible that Elway is just looking for a golden opportunity to escape his “Tebow problem” without looking like a villain in the process.  Acquiring Manning would certainly allow him to do that.

The other major player for Manning is thought to be Arizona.  If the thought of Peyton Manning throwing passes to Larry Fitzgerald for the next three or four years doesn’t make you shudder, then you probably have an unhealthy desire for Seattle to draft high for a franchise quarterback.

In the event that Manning does choose Arizona, the Cardinals will have to make a decision with current “starter” Kevin Kolb.  The Cardinals are $16.4 million over the cap at the moment, which means they could hardly afford to sign Manning, bring in Reggie Wayne, and keep Kolb and his large contract.  Kolb is due a $7 million roster bonus on the 17th.  If the Cardinals land Manning, they would need to trade Kolb or release him by that date.  While I wouldn’t expect Arizona to trade Kolb in the division, they could be desperate to unload him.  Seattle expressed a degree of interest in Kolb last year, though its not clear to what extent.  And obviously, if Kolb is outright released, it would be surprising if Seattle didn’t pursue him.

While my opinion of Kolb isn’t nearly as high as it was a year ago, I think I’d personally rather have Kevin Kolb than Kirk Cousins, and Kolb potentially wouldn’t cost us the draft pick.  Both Kolb and Cousins seem to be allergic to throwing deep, but at least Kolb has experience and some scheme friendliness (Andy Reid quarterback) on his side.  Depending on the cost involved, Kolb to Seattle could make some sense.

What if Denver signs Manning?  That’s where things get interesting.  Seattle twice passed on Tebow in 2010, but that’s hardly much evidence of rebuke given the difference between Tebow’s draft stock and Seattle’s lofty draft position.  Would Seattle entertain the idea of bringing Tebow in?  Tebow is an incredibly flawed quarterback, but its almost scary how well he fits John Schneider’s quarterback criteria.  Is he a tough “football player” at quarterback?  Check.  Is he big and mobile?  Check.  Does he “tilt the field his way” and fuel the team with his leadership?  Uh, yeah.  Tebow is a punchline, but his leadership ability is legendary.  Check.

I’m not sure how I’d react to a Tebow acquisition.  I think I’d be in favor of it, since I’d be assuming the deal was dirt cheap and would have zero impact on the team’s search for a long term franchise quarterback.  Tebow isn’t good, but there’s no denying he’s fun.  Kind of like the Pete Carroll Seahawks, come to think of it.

Finally, its been brought up elsewhere as a bit of an “out there” possibility, but what if the Jacksonville Jaguars became suitors for Tebow in a Manning-Denver scenario?  Tebow is a Jacksonville native who went on to be a legend at Florida.  He’s the ultimate hometown hero in a city with a professional football franchise struggling to sell tickets.  Two years ago, Rob regularly mocked Tebow to the Jaguars early in the first round for this exact reason.  Instead of shocking the NFL with a titanic Tim Tebow reach, the Jags opted to shock the NFL with a titanic Tyson Alualu reach instead.  Its funny the way things work out sometimes.

New Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shao Khan Shad Khan is an ambitious and charismatic person that seems willing to do almost anything to get butts in the seats in Jacksonville.  Tim Tebow may not be a stellar quarterback, but he wins games and brings excitement.  Blaine Gabbert is more talented and more invested, but after an NFL worst -825 DYAR rookie season, it wouldn’t be beyond imagining that Jacksonville could consider Tebow.  To put that number in perspective, infamous flameout Jimmy Clausen posted a -609 DYAR in 2010.

If Jacksonville acquired Tebow, they’d need to concoct an exit strategy for Gabbert.  According to our inside source which revealed Seattle’s quarterback draft board last year, Blaine Gabbert was Seattle’s #1 quarterback in the 2011 draft.  That three team wheel of interest could easily lead to a multi-team team trade with Tebow heading to Jacksonville, Gabbert heading to Seattle, and draft picks heading to Denver and Jacksonville.  Of course, Gabbert’s wretched 2011 performance could have changed minds.  But if the Seahawks believe that Gabbert could succeed within their offense, a trade could make a great deal of sense.  At least from their perspective.

Whether you like these quarterback possibilities or find the mere thought of any of them in a Seahawk uniform sends you into frantic, screaming sprint into the mountains, the next couple days certainly won’t lack for intrigue.  Regardless of what happens, I’d really like to see Manning in Denver.  For a lot of reasons.  The potential Tebow media madness would be fun, and anything that keeps Manning out of Arizona would be welcome as well.

Kirk Cousins game tape vs Notre Dame

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Could LaMichael James make sense for the Seahawks?

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Breakin' ankles

Written by Kip Earlywine

(Earlier this morning Rob shared his thoughts on the RG3 trade to Washington, and how it could impact the rest of the draft.  Be sure to check that out if you haven’t seen it already.)

According to our insider source, Seattle is looking at adding a running back at some point in this year’s draft, potentially as early as the 12th overall pick depending on how the board falls.  Seattle has many other needs though, and that coupled with a deep running back class could cause them to address a few other areas first. That means Seattle could end up hunting for value at running back, snatching up one of the last few remaining big name talents around the 3rd round or so.  Its worth noting that we received this information about a month ago, long before the NFL combine or the recent events in free agency.  Since that time, Seattle has signed Marshawn Lynch to  a smart four year contract that pays him surprisingly little in the first two years while having an easy out in years three and four in a worst case scenario.

Yet perhaps the best thing about this week’s contract extension of Marshawn Lynch is how the move has potentially put more options on the table at running back.  The assumed motivation behind targeting a running back this year was to gain insurance in the event that Lynch was franchised then let go in 2013.  Injury depth is also believed to be a factor, since the Seahawks as currently constructed would be in a world of hurt if Lynch missed time with an injury next season.  This is probably the lesser consideration though considering that Lynch is only 26 years old next season and has a very strong health record despite his physical style of play.  In short, Seattle was looking for Lynch’s heir as a franchise back, making players like Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, Chris Polk, and David Wilson prime candidates.  But considering Lynch’s durability, youth, and recent production, and his shiny new contract, it now appears that Marshawn Lynch will be Seattle’s long term solution at running back.  If that’s the case, we may see Seattle also consider a complimentary back much like Mike Holmgren once did when he spent a 2nd round pick on Oregon’s Maurice Morris to compliment Shaun Alexander.

LaMichael James is one running back option who lines up with many of Seattle’s criteria, and if Seattle is willing to consider change of pace types, James would likely top the list.

This front office has made it no secret that they target value on draft day and opportunity in free agency.  James is a very talented back being devalued because of his role in a run centric offense.  He’s also undersized, although NFL teams have shied away from small backs less and less in recent years.  For those reasons James is likely to be drafted lower than his on field talent deserves, making him the kind of  “value” selection that appeals to this front office.  Seattle got Kam Chancellor in the 5th because of speed concerns.  They got Richard Sherman in the 5th because he was a converted wide receiver.  KJ Wright was a toolsy linebacker who hadn’t yet put it together which allowed him to reach the 4th round.  James is being devalued for reasons that essentially have nothing to do with his talent, which makes him a potential bargain in the third round.  Like many previous mid round selections, that could give him some strong appeal to Seattle’s front office.

There were two major reasons for Marshawn Lynch’s big leap forward last season: a significant weight loss which increased Lynch’s speed and athleticism, and perhaps more importantly, a vast improvement in the interior run blocking, spearheaded by Max Unger and Robert Gallery.  Seattle’s rush attack looked slow and impotent attacking the edges, but it more than made up for it with a consistently strong inside rush attack.  While I scouted James, the thing that really surprised me about him is that for an undersized back with speed, he’s actually at his best rushing up the middle.  Despite his size he is a fearless runner that has great instincts and like Chris Polk, has a knack for forcing defenders to tackle at angles and using his surprising strength to pull the defender an extra yard or two.  He uses his size to his advantage to find creases at the first level, similar to the way Justin Forsett had in previous seasons.  A high number of James’ big plays started as running plays up the middle with no obvious hole to run through.

James also offers Seattle a dynamic kick return option.  Leon Washington is under contract through 2014, but he turns 30 just before the upcoming season begins and Seattle should be mindful of his eventual successor.

The biggest hangup to selecting James could be his perceived lack of durability due to his size.  And yet, James averaged over 20 carries a game during his Oregon career and only missed two games from injury, both coming last year after dislocating his elbow.  It seems logical to suggest that James’ body would wear down more quickly than other backs if given a full time load, but at the very least, James can shoulder the burden of a 250+ carry season here and there in the event that Lynch goes down with an injury early in the year.

Now granted, Oregon ran a very unique offense and nearly every handoff James took resembled a draw play.  That won’t happen in the NFL as an every down running back and it has yet to be seen how James would adjust to that.  That is why James will likely be a 3rd or 4th round pick instead of being a high second rounder as his talent deserves.  Still, if Seattle is hunting for value in the mid rounds and is okay with selecting a likely change of pace back who fits the offense and can serve as an emergency starter, LaMichael James could be a player to watch.

Below I’ve included a couple scouting videos of James:

vs. Oregon State 2011

2010 Compilation