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.