Throughout the year we’ll consider 2015 needs based on how the team’s performing. It’s still early days, but even now all signs point to a strong focus on the defensive line.
There are several key prospective free agents. Complicating matters is the inevitable +$100m contract set aside for Russell Wilson. He will get that deal, no doubt at all.
Top pass rusher Cliff Avril is a free agent, along with Byron Maxwell, K.J. Wright, James Carpenter, Malcolm Smith, Jermaine Kearse and O’Brien Schofield.
The cap is expected to increase again in 2015, freeing up extra room. The Seahawks will probably be able to do more than simply extend Wilson. Wright stands to be a priority. It might be difficult to get a deal done with Carpenter if he continues his recent form. Kearse may open to a Doug Baldwin-style contract, depending on how he plays in 2015. Maxwell will almost certainly get paid elsewhere due to a shortage of good cornerbacks.
Yet it’s the D-line that could be hit the hardest. Avril is 29 next April. This upcoming off-season will be his last opportunity to really cash in. He’ll probably look for some level of security — a 3-4 year deal for example. It seems inevitable he’ll hit the open market, just like Michael Bennett. And then it’s down to what teams are willing to offer. After a quiet 2013, several big name pass rushers (who are older and inferior to Avril) received handsome contracts. Seattle held on to Bennett — can they afford to pony up for Avril too?
O’Brien Schofield also hits the market. This year he was set to sign an $8m deal with the Giants but failed a medical. He had a sack against Green Bay and if he gets 8-10 for the year (or more) he’ll generate interest. Kevin Williams is also playing on a one-year contract, while Brandon Mebane, Bruce Irvin, Tony McDaniel and Greg Scruggs are only signed through the 2015 season.
Bennett, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Hill are the only players tied down beyond that.
Defensive line is the one area the John Schneider/Pete Carroll draft magic hasn’t worked so far. They’ve not uncovered any real gems (although that could change this season). They’ve relied on veteran acquisitions either in free agency or by trade.
If they lose Avril and Schofield there’s nothing to suggest they won’t simply go out and find another pair of quality veterans. Their ability to do so, however, may be hampered by the new Wilson contract and the desire to extend guys like Wright and others. They couldn’t convince Jared Allen to ‘play for a ring’ this year, or Henry Melton.
There aren’t too many other need areas. They have Brock Coyle and Kevin Pierre-Louis ready to replace Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan if necessary. Even if they lose Kearse, they drafted Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood this year. As for Maxwell — they’ve shown a willingness to develop their own cornerbacks taken in the later rounds. Would anyone be surprised if Tharold Simon started for Seattle in 2015 (health permitting)? Or even some random rookie taken in the middle rounds? And for all the hand-wringing over the offensive line, how many people are complaining right now about Tom Cable’s work with Carpenter, J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt — or his ability to identify a raw talent?
The defensive line is a safe bet for some serious draft-love, especially LEO/DE. They’ve found ways to add size up the middle without spending big. The top interior pass rushers or nose tackles don’t last until the late first. The highest pick they’ve spent on a DT came in 2013 — a third rounder on Jordan Hill. Consider this — what will keep this defense at the top? Going big on the edge rush or finding guys to work the interior? The priority has to be the edge if they lose Avril and Schofield.
There are two players who stand out in the first couple of weeks of the new college season.
Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) intrigues me purely because he’s fast as hell. His get off and initial burst looks great on tape. He’s not the biggest but he’s still able to disengage and fight with blockers. He has tremendous balance, he bends round the edge superbly. He’s like a heat-seeking missile and if he needs to run through traffic to get to the QB — he usually finds a way. He’s not a conventional D-end and he’ll give up some plays against the run. Big deal. You can scheme around this and any team willing to be creative will get an impact pass rusher.
Cliff Avril ran a 4.51 in 2008 at 253lbs with an impressive 1.50 split. Bruce Irvin was 245lbs in 2012 and ran a 4.50 with a 1.55 split. That tells you all you need to know about how explosive Avril is — and it also gives us an indicator on what they’re looking for (Irvin was previously dubbed the ‘ideal Leo’ by Carroll).
At 235lbs, Beasley has a chance to add some good upper-body weight and still get into that range. The thing is — how likely is he to be available in the late first round? Marcus Smith went in the first this year with a forty time of 4.68. He had a great 10-yard split, long arms and one year of solid production. Since 2012 Beasley’s recorded 23 sacks in 22 games. If he tests well, he could go much earlier than a lot of people think. Teams play much more nickel these days.
You’ll be sick of me continuously bringing up Markus Golden, but he’s the second player I’m talking about today. Here’s his tape from the weekend against Toledo:
In the NFL he would’ve been credited with three sacks in the game. At 0:10 his pressure forces the QB to fumble, while later in the third quarter he’s the first to the quarterback after he falls to the turf. Look at his get off at 2:18 — bursting into the backfield before the tackle is even out of his stance. He gets a sack at 3:24 by disengaging and flashing ideal long speed to force an 18-yard loss. Also check out 4:58 where he again shows an explosive get off to blow up a run play — he’s in the backfield as the ball is being handed off.
Golden is one of the more underrated players in college football so I’m going to keep talking about him. Nobody last year gave Tennessee’s first round tackle Ja’Wuan James anything to worry about — except this guy. James had a terrific year and it shouldn’t surprise anyone he went in round one. But Golden gave him fits:
It’ll be interesting to see how he tests at the combine. He shows some wheels here:
Golden’s had a great start to 2014 and could rise up the boards. He’s certainly a better player than Kony Ealy who went in round two. I’m intrigued to see more of his team mate Shane Ray too — currently ranked in Scouts Inc’s top-15.
I want to see Florida to check on Dante Fowler Jr — a potential top-10 pick who works the edge and can kick inside too. He’s a terrific player and should go early. Nebraska’s Randy Gregory looks more like a linebacker who can play some rush instead of an ideal edge guy — but maybe he’s the type of player the Seahawks would be willing to develop? He certainly has the length to play the edge (6-5, 245lbs) but he moves well enough in space to play backer and seems to be more effective as a blitzer.
I also want to see more of Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State) — a player who looks the part physically but struggled to get off blocks in the Big-10 Championship game last season and kind of played a little soft against a tough Ohio State O-line.
Baylor’s game against Buffalo is on my schedule for Saturday — a first opportunity to get a live look at the massive Shawn Oakman. He had an easy game against over-matched SMU in week one and this might not be much of a test either. They’re next two games are Iowa State and Texas on the road, followed by a home game against TCU. That’ll be a better gauge of his talents. If he really is 6-9 and 280lbs, it won’t just be the Seahawks intrigued by that size.