Julius Thomas (TE)
The Seahawks cut Zach Miller yesterday and they’re unlikely to find a replacement in a weak draft class for the tight end position. They need a mismatch at the second level. Thomas is a 4.63 runner with a 35.5 inch vertical and 10 1/4 inch hands. He had 24 touchdowns in 19 games for Denver. He’s special. He’s #3 to Gronk and Jimmy Graham. They earn $9m and $10m a year respectively — Thomas is worth $8m of anyone’s money. Seattle didn’t need a blocking tight end when Miller got injured last year. They used a lot of 11-personnel with an extra offensive lineman and started Luke Willson at tight end. The identity of the team didn’t change. When Thomas splits out wide he takes a linebacker or a safety out of the box (helps the run game). If he draws the top cornerback that creates a match-up for one of the receivers. Thomas is just the kind of weapon Seattle is crying out for — and it’s probably why they tried to trade for him during the season. Jordan Cameron is the possible consolation prize.
Tramon Williams (CB)
John Schneider played a big part in Williams’ success story in Green Bay and he’s set to hit the open market on Tuesday. He’s 31 so won’t command the big bucks — but he’s a plug-in-and-play corner with length who can play press-man and zone. He might cost you $5m for a year or two. That’s just the way it is. The Seahawks need a starting cornerback who can act as a stopgap until the next young prospect comes off the LOB production line. Schneider’s familiarity with Williams, the scheme fit and the opportunity to play in Seattle’s much vaunted defense makes this a fit for all concerned. He’s a better option compared to the other Williams (Cary) who recently met with the Seahawks. The alternatives in free agency are unremarkable. This is one of the few opportunities to get a legitimate starting corner and a known quantity. It also takes away the desperate hope that one of the top cornerbacks falls your way in the draft (increasingly unlikely).
Dwight Freeney (DE)
The Seahawks have reportedly shown interest in Trent Cole. They’ll be hunting for value just like last year when they spoke to Henry Melton and Jared Allen. This year they at least considered a move for Darnell Dockett. They’re not going to pay big sums for a rotational cog. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril got the cash to play edge rush in Seattle. Very few teams pay three edge rushers big money. The Seahawks also have Bruce Irvin as a hybrid linebacker/pass rusher. Cole and others like Brian Orakpo will likely get decent starter money elsewhere. This probably needs to be someone who understands he’ll be a role-player and will take a salary in line with that standing. Freeney is well suited to a support role aged 35 and would replace some of the experience lost if Kevin Williams retires. Apparently they’re also showing interest in Adrian Clayborn. Who’s willing to come in and compete at a cheaper price for a Championship? That’s the question. If it isn’t Freeney, I expect another experienced DE to come in at a modest cost.
Can they afford these moves? When I asked cap expert Davis Hsu about a realistic approach to free agency, he told me they could make a couple of moves at around $6-7m APY. If Thomas receives $8m APY and Williams $5m on a one year deal, it works out at as a $6.5m average for the pair. So it could be possible. It shouldn’t be hard to fit a modest salary for Freeney onto the books (essentially replacing O’Brien Schofield).
They could also make other savings. One of the reasons I’m touting Stanford’s Henry Anderson as a possible second round target is he’s a very similar size-match to Tony McDaniel. Cutting McDaniel saves another $3m. Anderson’s run defense, size (6-6, 300lbs) and athleticism is a good fit for the defense and he would be able to start quickly.
This plan would allow the Seahawks to target wide receiver and offensive guard within the first three rounds. At #31 they could take Jake Fisher, Cameron Erving, Ereck Flowers or La’el Collins and covert them to guard (whoever is available). They could select from a vast array of receivers in that spot. Alternatively, the depth at receiver is strong enough to wait until rounds 3-4 and Ty Sambrailo is a Seahawks guard in the making in the middle rounds.
NFL predictions (I chose 15 players)
Ndamukong Suh (DT) to Miami
How can you bet against this? The Dolphins are cleaning house today to create cap room. Owner Stephen Ross is determined to make a splash. The tax-benefits of South Florida vs California make too much sense for a player determined to be the highest paid non-quarterback. This feels like it’s going to happen.
Devin McCourty (S) to Philadelphia
The Pats are currently $4m OVER the salary cap. They had to cut Vince Wilford just to have any chance at keeping their better free agents. It might come down to McCourty or Darrelle Revis — and Revis has to win that battle. The Eagles swoop in to get a long needed upgrade at safety.
Randall Cobb (WR) to Oakland
There’s talk he could get offers worth $12m APY. He has a Super Bowl ring so he can afford to think about his wallet. If the Raiders miss out on Suh and Thomas, they’ll need to spend big on someone. Cobb and possibly Kevin White or Amari Cooper would be a nice pair of targets for Derek Carr.
Greg Hardy (DE) to Cincinnati
The Bengals are always willing to give a player a second (or third) chance. Hardy is damaged goods with a reputation some will run a mile from. Someone is going to employ him, though, and the Bengals need to bolster a tepid pass rush.
Jerry Hughes (DE) stays in Buffalo
The Bills want to maintain a dominating defense and after David Harris signed a contract to stay in New York, Rex Ryan should do what it takes to keep Hughes in town.
Byron Maxwell (CB) to Philadelphia
It seems inevitable. Philly just wiped out several big names to create masses of cap room. While the likes of Atlanta will probably show interest, the Eagles are in the driving seat for a lot of free agents. They will be aggressive, before trading possibly their entire draft to get at Marcus Mariota.
Jabaal Sheard (DE) to Jacksonville
He’s an ideal LEO fit. Let’s say the Eagles trade up to #2 to make sure they get Mariota. The Jags can take Leonard Williams with the #3 pick and still get a quality edge rusher in Sheard. The Jags have to pay somebody, it might as well be Sheard.
Stephen Paea (DT) stays in Chicago
They have the money to keep him and he’s a terrific run blocker. Re-signing Paea allows them to target an outside rusher with the #7 pick instead of needing to target Danny Shelton.
Rodney Hudson (C) to Oakland
Hudson was a Seahawks Draft Blog favorite building up to the 2011 draft. He was fantastic at Florida State and he’s been terrific for the Chiefs too. He’ll get a big contract somewhere. The Raiders have been linked and it makes sense.
Pernell McPhee (DE/OLB) to Indianapolis
He played for Chuck Pagano in Baltimore so obviously he’s a scheme fit. The Colts have a ton of cap room and will spend it somewhere. They need to upgrade their defense badly.
Brian Orakpo (DE) to Atlanta
The Falcons are likely to add an edge rusher at #8 but they need more than one. Orakpo was reportedly a target for Atlanta a year ago before he received the franchise tag.
DeMarco Murray (RB) stays in Dallas
I just have a feeling Jerry Jones is going to work this one out. It took him a long time to establish this teams identity with the run game. Murray tests the market and re-signs with the Cowboys.
Jordan Cameron (TE) to Jacksonville
They need more weapons for Blake Bortles. Even with the concussion issues — a rancid class of tight ends and the diminishing market at the position could lead to a big contract for Cameron.
Torrey Smith (WR) to Cleveland
They have to do something at the position. This move would also weaken a division rival. Smith would be a decent acquisition for a team in Cleveland’s sorry state but they might have to overpay.
Darrelle Revis (CB) stays in New England
I just can’t see Revis bouncing back to the Jets after collecting a ring with a hated division rival. He’s become a rent-a-cornerback and needs some consistency. The Pats probably can’t afford McCourty and Revis — so you stick with the better player.