What will the Seahawks do in the second wave of free agency?

March 12th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Randy Starks’ “call me NOW” face

In the aftermath of the Jimmy Graham trade the Seahawks were still being linked to key free agents. The Jabaal Sheard talk quickly went quiet as he signed with the Patriots. Terrance Knighton and Andre Johnson were both suggested targets, while Stefen Wisniewski is visiting with the team today along with Shelley Smith.

We’ll come back to specific players in a moment but first lets get into the harsh reality of the situation. Seattle barely has any free cap room. They can probably do a minor deal or two for a cheap veteran but there’s unlikely to be another splash without an existing player being sacrificed.

As Chris Cluff points out, they have about $15m in cap space. Approximately $5 million is needed for the rookie class, practice squad players and IR cover. More importantly, they need to save around $8-10m for the year-one pay increases of Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and J.R. Sweezy when they agree new contracts.

There are ways to create extra room. Cutting Jermaine Kearse saves a couple of million. Releasing Tony McDaniel frees up $3m and Brandon Mebane provides $5m in relief. There’s every chance Mebane will be asked to take a pay cut. You can also convert Jimmy Graham’s roster bonus into a signing bonus — spreading the cost and saving $3.3m.

None of these situations are ideal. Kearse isn’t a dominating receiver but is it really worth losing him? If you release McDaniel and Mebane you’re only going to need to replace them. Moving Graham’s bonus creates 2015 cap space but takes away money in 2016 and beyond.

You could back-load a contract of course, limiting the initial damage. This, ultimately, is how other teams get into trouble.

Talk of Andre Johnson joining Graham in Seattle appeared fanciful and simply unrealistic. Sheard’s contract in New England is very much ‘prove-it’ in terms of salary but it’s not the type of move the Seahawks are really in a position to make.

If they’re going to do anything, it’s probably going to be cheap and short term. I suspect it’ll come on the defensive line, although John Schneider says they’ll scour the cut-market for a possible Max Unger replacement at center.

A year ago they were hunting for value and didn’t stray from that mentality. They spoke to Henry Melton and Jared Allen and came close to signing both. They were prepared, ultimately, to miss out in order to avoid spending above their means. It’s no different in 2015.

It’s not a deep class for D-liners. You’ve got a really top-heavy situation where a lot of edge rushers and interior tackles are going to go off the board early. It’ll be rich pickings in the top 15-20. After that you’re going to see a real decrease in quality.

There will be some gems to be had — Henry Anderson is a stout, surprisingly athletic and long interior presence. Anthony Chickillo played out of position at Miami and could develop into a nice edge rush project. What Markus Golden lacks in length and raw speed he makes up for with a relentless approach. Zach Hodges has the length and burst to play the LEO. Grady Jarrett at Clemson is a good player rushing inside, which Derick Lott and Rakeem Nunez-Roches have some upside. Owa Odighizuwa will make somebody happy in round two if you believe he can stay healthy. I don’t believe he will last until #63.

You wouldn’t necessarily want to thrust any of these players into a starting role — or at least give them a lot of snaps. They’re all raw in their own different ways. There are significantly more plug-in-and-play offensive linemen in this class. If you want to add a proven commodity to fill a need, you’re probably looking at the D-line.

Terrance Knighton is heading to DC and will be signing for Washington. The Seahawks were linked with him briefly. If they were serious about bringing him in I think it almost had to be a straight swap — you cut Mebane and give his salary to Knighton. It’s a move I think they’d only consider if there were genuine concerns about the health of Mebane’s hamstring injury. That’s perhaps something we have to monitor.

Randy Starks still remains a great fit. He’s been released by Miami so won’t cost Seattle a compensatory pick. He’s an ideal interior rusher for the scheme and would provide much needed depth and competition for Jordan Hill. He does everything well with the pass rush skills to boot. His 2014 cap hit was $4m so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility you could work out a nice contract here. Knighton getting $4m suggests the market has gone a bit flat at defensive tackle.

Remember, Pete Carroll spoke glowingly about Starks before the 2012 game between Seattle and Miami. There’s no indication yet on where he might end up, but don’t be surprised if he emerges as a target for the Seahawks. If you want him badly enough — convert Graham’s bonus and add the $3.3m in cap space.

Vince Wilfork remains a free agent but he isn’t the same player these days. If he’s taking a really cheap deal to continue, you’d expect him to re-emerge in New England.

Would they re-sign Red Bryant again? I think it’s unlikely. They’ve moved on.

Karl Klug could be one to monitor in terms of depth. He’s received very little interest so far and remains without a club. He could be had on a cheap one-year contract.

In terms of possible edge rushers — they don’t have the cash to go after Brian Orakpo (visiting the Titans) or Greg Hardy (linked with multiple teams). Michael Johnson is likely to sign with either the Vikings or the Bengals. Akeem Ayers is joining the Rams. Dwight Freeney remains intriguing. He’s likely to be cheap, he still has a bit left in the tank and would probably welcome a rotational support role.

There’s no reason to be overly concerned with the edge rush depth. The Seahawks still sport one of the best pass rush duo’s in the league (Bennett & Avril) and will find additional help somewhere — even if it comes in the draft. Cassius Marsh will also return from injury. They need to replace O’Brien Schofield, who signed for the Falcons today. Whether it’s Freeney or a rookie, they’ll find someone.

Can they sign Stefen Wisniewski? I’m not overly convinced. This could be a feeling out move — we’d like to have you but only at a certain cost. ‘Go and see what your market is and if you want to play here give us a call’. I’m a little suspicious about his departure from Oakland. He was essentially drafted by the Raiders because his family name is well regarded within the organisation (his uncle famously played for the Raiders). Despite a bucket load of free cap space they’re letting him walk to go and get an $8m replacement in Rodney Hudson. I’ve not studied his play but you can’t help but wonder why Oakland are letting him go.

This is a draft loaded with offensive linemen. You can work to develop a center like Ali Marpet or B.J. Finney while letting them compete with Patrick Lewis and possibly another veteran. Ty Sambrailo would be a plug-in-and-play left guard. There’s a host of athletic tackles that will be available in the later rounds worthy of being converted to interior linemen. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the likes of Rob Crisp for example.

It’s also worth a mention that Seattle still has to add a backup quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson?) to the roster, unless they plan to roll with B.J. Daniels. If they keep Jackson, that’s going to further eat into the available cap space.

It’s going to be hard for the Seahawks to make any further moves of any substance or interest. They brought in Shelley Smith today — Rotoworld’s #22 ranked available guard. That’s kind of the market they’re working in now.

There are big holes to fill — all of which can be answered with eight picks in rounds 2-5. Guard, center, defensive line, cornerback and receiver should all get some attention. This is a good enough draft class in that range to find real value and genuine role players.

 

The options at #31 and how they compare to Jimmy Graham

March 11th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Jaelen Strong could’ve been on the board at #31, but wouldn’t have the same impact as Jimmy Graham

We’ve commented a few times that there’s probably only 15-18 genuine first round prospects in this years draft. John Schneider backed that up via Peter King today — suggesting Seattle had 16 players with first round grades. Of course there’s at least a chance one of the 16 makes it to pick #31. It’s still unlikely. The Seahawks traded their first round selection for Jimmy Graham yesterday — but really they dealt a second round prospect.

The Seahawks have already ‘built through the draft’. They’ve done the hard part by hitting on the Wilson’s, Sherman’s, Thomas’, Chancellor’s and Wagner’s. It’s actually pretty difficult to improve this roster. Yesterday’s trade was one of the few ways they could do it. They landed the one thing they’ve been trying to get for years — a dynamic big target and a touchdown maker at WR/TE.

Of course they’ve already gone down this road before. The post-mortem of the Percy Harvin trade uncovered a couple of major wounds. The Seahawks could’ve used Harvin’s massive new salary to keep Golden Tate. They also wasted the #25 pick in 2013. Yet within the #25-35 radius of players taken that year, the options weren’t all that great. The best player taken was probably DeAndre Hopkins at #27, although if you re-sign Tate you possibly don’t draft him. Datone Jones has flattered to deceive and Cordarrelle Patterson can’t be trusted to run a basic route tree. As we now know, Zach Ertz isn’t the type of tight end they were looking for.

Harvin was a disaster in Seattle — and still the decision to trade for him made total sense. The draft altenatives weren’t great. The one major blow was the loss of Tate. The Seahawks wouldn’t necessarily be any better for having DeAndre Hopkins or Datone Jones today. They’re probably still trading for Graham. And Harvin, in his only unique little way, did contribute to the Super Bowl victory.

Now we have the opportunity to look at who the Seahawks could be passing on at #31 with this latest move. It’s a subject we can properly assess after the first round on April 30th but I suspect we’ll end up looking at a very similar situation to 2013. After a couple of years there won’t be anyone you really pine for, even if Graham is a bust.

In both instances the biggest blow to fans was the feeling of being robbed of entertainment on day one of the draft. Harvin is/was better than the options available in 2013. Graham is in exactly the same situation. In fact the talent difference is even more substantial this year.

I put together an unpublished pre-free agency mock draft for my own entertainment. By pick #31 I had five cornerbacks off the board and only the big three receivers were taken (Cooper, White and Parker — in that order). It was a review of the great depth at wide out this year and the lack of numbers at corner. I think teams will prioritize the cornerback position and feel comfortable waiting on a second or third round receiver. When you see Kansas City giving Jeremy Maclin $11m APY it lends weight to that theory. They’ve eliminated the absolute need to go wide out at #18.

Jaelen Strong, I believe, will still be there in the late first. He made flashy plays in college — one handed grabs, contested catches galore, that hail mary. And yet the more and more you watched, the same thing stood out in every tape. He can’t separate. It’s all well and good running in the 4.4’s and jumping 37 inches in the vertical. He is not a sudden athlete who eats up a cushion to drive off a defender across the middle. He doesn’t win with the double move to create separation downfield. He’s not even a particularly efficient route runner with control — he’ll take himself to the sideline and let a defender guide him out of bounds to limit the throwing window.

It’s not all bad of course. He’s a terrific high-point catcher with superb leaping ability. He has a thick lower body and basketball bloodlines. In a good passing offense I think he will thrive (with some technical development). Yet I doubt he’s going to be the focal point of an attack. He won’t be a great solution for Alex Smith in Kansas City running a shorter passing game. So despite the productive combine I think he lasts a little longer as teams focus on cornerbacks and offensive linemen in the second half of the first round.

Jordan Matthews also ran in the 4.4’s and had a 35.5 inch vertical. He has similar size to Strong and had similar college production. He was pick #42 last year. So Strong is no lock to go in the first just because he had a better-than-expected combine.

Would you rather have Strong compared to Jimmy Graham? It’s a silly question really. The Seahawks badly need a size mismatch, a touchdown maker and a guy who draws coverage every snap. Strong’s ability to compete for the ball would’ve been appealing but that’s really about it. A Twitter timeline littered with retaliations to online criticism is also a little too close to the Doug Baldwin school of venting for comfort (I’m only half joking).

I think Breshad Perriman will be there at #31. He started to grow on me the more I watched. He’s a lot more explosive off the snap, he can eat up a cushion and he finds ways to get open. He has the deep speed to take the top off a defense and he’s adept at tracking the ball from awkward angles and making chunk plays. In many ways he has the makings of a very accomplished receiver — until you consider the exasperating, consistent drops.

Sadly, many players who drop the football regularly aren’t cured by endless work on the jugs machine (contrary to popular opinion). It’s an art form, a skill. Perriman is every bit as frustrating as Sammie Coates. At the next level Perriman will be a superior receiver to Coates and will make a lot of plays but he’ll also frustrate the heck out of you too.

Again, he doesn’t solve Seattle’s greatest need — a touchdown maker in the red zone, a size mismatch who draws special coverage and takes attention away from the O-line (prevents the stacked box).

I think we’ll see a cluster of offensive linemen leaving the board between picks #16-30, including the underrated Ereck Flowers, La’el Collins, T.J. Clemmings and Andrus Peat. The Seahawks could’ve had a shot at Jake Fisher or Cameron Erving. Some will rue that missed opportunity. Erving can play guard or center, Fisher guard or tackle. Here’s the thing though — I’m not sure either player fits Seattle’s offense as well as Ty Sambrailo. I sat down and watched the Nevada/Colorado State game today and it just reemphasized how confident I am Sambrailo could be Seattle’s choice at #63. His massive size, quick feet and willingness to get to the second level is perfect for a team combining power running with a zone blocking scheme.

Even if they’d kept the pick — I’m not sure they would’ve taken either Fisher or Erving at #31 because they could’ve been waiting on Sambrailo in rounds 2-3.

If you can still replace Carpenter at #63 with Sambrailo and add a veteran center (or take one in rounds 4-5, such as Kansas State’s B.J. Finney) you’re addressing the situation. The value difference between Fisher/Erving at #31 and Sambrailo in rounds 2-3 is pretty equal. And I think all three players have a chance to be productive starters at the next level.

What about defensive options? The top defensive tackles will all be gone by #31. A lot of the best edge rushers will be gone too — and there’s really very little need for a Preston Smith or Owa Odighizuwa with Michael Bennett and Cassius Marsh on the roster. Some extra depth is necessary and that will probably come in the second or third wave of free agency.

It’s a shame they didn’t have the cap room to do a deal like this:

That’s a bargain ‘prove-it’ deal for Sheard but the Pats have serious needs on defense after losing Wilfork, Revis and Browner. The Seahawks’ concerns were mainly on offense — and they’ve now addressed that and will need to continue to do so with the offensive line. They still have an opportunity to bring in a veteran pass rusher at a discount, possibly Dwight Freeney. If you’re not happy about that — remember there aren’t many teams with a quality D-end duo like Bennett and Avril signed for the long haul.

At defensive tackle — keep an eye on Randy Starks. Pete Carroll offered gushing praise for Starks before the 2012 meeting between Miami and Seattle. John Schneider talked about signing cut players because it won’t impact compensatory picks next year. The Dolphins released Starks today after finalizing a deal for Ndamukong Suh. He could fill the role of free agent Kevin Williams.

You might ask about missing out on Todd Gurley as a future replacement for Marshawn Lynch. Personally I think he’ll be off the board by #31 (I had him at #26 in my unpublished mock). Even if he lasts — the Seahawks have signed Lynch for three years. He might only play one more but what if he plays two or three? Suddenly the pick looks like a bit of a luxury. The impact of Graham preventing opponents from being able to stack too heavily against the run cannot be underestimated. Adding a running back of the future helps down the line but the Seahawks are trying to win it all in 2015. Graham’s addition will benefit Lynch, Russell Wilson and the offensive line.

I will do a new mock when free agency calms down in a few days. A few other quick notes though from the unpublished version:

— I had Melvin Gordon going to the Chargers at #17. Middling combine or not, he’s a playmaker and I think someone will take him early. The Chargers are in win-now mode too and lost Ryan Mathews to Philadelphia.

— I had Marcus Peters in the top-20. I suspect there will be a big rush on cornerbacks, starting with New Orleans at #13.

— Brandon Scherff went to the Rams at #10, a pick that looks more and more likely today.

If you’re going to compare Jimmy Graham to the possibility of drafting Strong/Perriman/Fisher/Erving — Graham wins out every time as a proven commodity, a genuine top player at his position and exactly the type of chess piece the Seahawks were desperate to acquire for Wilson and the offense.

They filled their biggest need this off-season with the #31 pick. They just did it in a way nobody expected.

 

Seahawks draft: Jimmy Graham trade impact

March 10th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Coming to a stadium near you

For thoughts on the blockbuster trade sending Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, click here

Who will they draft in round two?

It almost makes too much sense to target Colorado State offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo at #63. They could even make a small move back into the third round before pulling the trigger. He’s a big, athletic tackle convert with a fantastic personality. The Seahawks like interior linemen with tackle experience. He has some of the size James Carpenter offered (6-6, 311lbs) but he’s much more agile with quick feet. He’s an ideal fit for a zone blocking scheme that still values size and the power running game. He plays with an edge and gets to the second level. He’s someone you can work with and develop — he gives off a Seahawks vibe. He’s graded all over the place but you can imagine Seattle taking him a round early (as they tend to do) to get one of ‘their’ guys. Instant starter.

What are the alternatives?

If they can get Sambrailo later keep an eye on Henry Anderson (DT, Stanford). He’s long and athletic and would add to the interior defensive line rotation. Terrific tackler and works well against the run. The signing of Cary Williams takes away the need to force an early cornerback pick. Cameron Erving (C, Florida State) is unlikely to last into the late second round. They could look at receivers and the offense still lacks a dynamic deep threat. Phillip Dorsett (WR, Miami) could still be on the board, although it’s unlikely. Don’t rule out a bit of a reach to get a coveted prospect. Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett could be a surprise option if they think this is the only spot they can get him.

What about the middle rounds?

This is where the fun begins. The value at #31 wasn’t great. You’re looking at possibly 15-18 first round grades in the 2015 draft — if that. The value-gap between #31 and #63 won’t be that substantial. And there’s a ton of depth in the middle rounds at positions of need. Seattle has a cluster of picks here and it isn’t a coincidence. They’re projected to have their original third round pick, four picks in the fourth round (their own, New Orleans’ and a compensatory pick) and three in round five (their own plus two compensatory picks).

It’s a shame Percy Harvin was cut by the Jets taking away another fourth rounder. There’s a legitimate opportunity to collect 2-3 key contributors here, if not more.

One of the top priorities will be to add a kick return specialist. Bryan Walters, bless him, tried his best. But the Seahawks got pretty much nothing out of him apart from the odd fair catch and a few snaps on offense. They need someone who can take care of the kick returns and provide a role player on offense too. Tre McBride is one possibility in the third or fourth round. He’s extremely talented with great character, athleticism and catching technique. He returned kicks for William & Mary. Tyler Lockett is also incredibly ‘Seahawky’ — competitive, gritty, a film junkie. He had a sensational Senior Bowl. As noted earlier, you can imagine them taking him earlier than expected (round two?). They might target him specifically in the third or fourth round if he lasts. He’s a punt return specialist. These are the two options I would focus on. The big thing with both players — they can contribute to the offense and get downfield. Size is not an issue following the addition of Graham.

They could double down on receiver given the value this year. Darren Waller is a Vincent Jackson clone in terms of physical attributes and speed. He’s a million miles away from contributing in the NFL and needs one or maybe two years of development. That could scare off the Seahawks and others. If he’s on the board in the fourth or fifth round he could be worth a flier for the long term.

Center will be another target position following the Max Unger trade. I’ve done a quick scan on a couple of prospects having not paid much attention to this group (obviously). Hobart’s Ali Marpet was one of the stories of the Senior Bowl and he had a solid combine too. If you search Google images for ‘ideal zone blocking frame for a center’ you’ll find a picture of Marpet. He faces a major step up in competition level. Competitive individual, typical lineman. Not much tape to get at but he’s a project anyway.

B.J. Finney (C, Kansas State) is a four year starter, team captain and a former walk-on. Even more appealing is his wrestling background (see: Justin Britt). He’s a totally different player to Marpet (much less athletic) but just looks solid. On a first viewing he’s strong, doesn’t get pushed around, seems to jam defenders at the point and finish and he’s effective in the running game. Britt was a total wildcard a year ago and there’s no real consistency with Tom Cable’s O-line picks. Finney is more pro-ready than Marpet and could be trusted to start early. Just don’t expect anything spectacular.

There aren’t a ton of options at center and the value might not be there. If you can’t justify taking Marpet or Finney until rounds 4-5, by that point both might be off the board. It’s perhaps more likely they’ll add a veteran stopgap and let them compete with Patrick Lewis and/or Lemuel Jeanpierre. Replacing Carpenter is easier in this draft. We’ll have a broader look at the center class over the next couple of weeks.

You would expect the Seahawks to draft a cornerback at some point in rounds 4-5. Let’s see where Stanford’s Alex Carter falls. I’m not convinced he’ll go as early as some are projecting and he could be there in round four. Can you go receiver (McBride), receiver (Lockett), cornerback (Carter) center (Marpet/Finney) in rounds 3-4? That might be a tad optimistic but this is just a loose projection looking at the possible target positions. If you collect a haul like that, you could be looking at 3-4 role players or starters. Not bad for that range in the draft.

What about the three picks in round five?

This is a good place to target developmental offensive and defensive linemen. Here are some prospects to look at: Rob Crisp (T, NC State), Laurence Gibson (T, Virginia Tech), Rakeem Nunez-Roches (DT, Southern Miss), Zach Hodges (DE, Harvard), Derrick Lott (DT, Tenn-Chatt), Anthony Chickillo (DE, Miami), Mitch Morse (T, Missouri), Terry Poole (T, San Diego State).

Crisp and Gibson have the size, length and upside to stick at tackle, while you probably consider moving Morse and Poole inside to guard. The defensive linemen have an opportunity to fill out your D-line rotation. In the fifth you could also look at a safety (Kurtis Drummond? Josh Shaw?) or a cornerback project (a small school prospect or a convert like Nick Marshall). Davis Tull played end for Tenn-Chatt but is expected to move to the SAM at the next level — he has the athelticism to play linebacker in Seattle. There’s also the opportunity to consider drafting a running back in round five, given the relative depth of the class.

Conclusion

None of the names listed here are flashy household names. That’s not what this draft is about. We’re unlikely to see another selection like Christine Michael (first pick in 2013 after the Harvin trade). They have a genuine opportunity to fill in the gaps that need filling. A starter at guard, a kick returner, another receiver, a developmental corner. They can fill out the depth on both lines and possibly find a center.

It’s not going to be easy to find extra depth for the edge rush rotation. This could be the reason why they’re reportedly showing interest in prospects like Jabaal Sheard and Adrian Clayborn.

Michael was a bit of a luxury at the time for a team carrying a loaded roster. I’m not sure they’ll go for that type here. This time they have some needs that need addressing.

When you consider the entire draft, the thinking behind the Jimmy Graham trade becomes even clearer. You can find a starting guard in round two (Sambrailo) so why knock yourself out grabbing one at #31? You can find receivers in rounds 3-4. You had zero chance to draft a player as dominating as Graham to boost your offense. I would expect the likes of Jaelen Strong and Breshad Perriman to be there at #31. Neither will get close to Graham in terms of taking Seattle’s offense to the next level.

The one big concession you make is the new hole at center. They managed without Unger for 13 games in 2014 — you suspect they’ll find a way to cope again in 2015. The extra cap relief will also help you potentially bring in a veteran defensive lineman.

It’s been a while since the Seahawks had a rich middle of a draft — finding key contributors or even the odd superstar. The best value in this draft is in rounds 3-5. Seattle has seven picks in that range and it has to be by design. That’s one of several reasons they can use to justify the Graham trade.

 

BREAKING: Seahawks trade for Jimmy Graham

March 10th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

In a crazy five minute spell, three huge trades ignited the off-season.

The Seahawks traded their first round pick and Max Unger for Jimmy Graham and New Orleans’ fourth round pick

The Rams swapped Sam Bradford for Philadelphia’s Nick Foles

Haloti Ngata was dealt to the Detroit Lions to replace Ndamukong Suh

Welcome to the 2015 season.

Seattle had to find a big target — a dynamic tight end. There were no options in the draft and when Julius Thomas chose to sign for the Jaguars, they were forced to look elsewhere. Jordan Cameron was a risky Plan B due to his history of concussions.

Step forward, Jimmy Graham.

The two best (and highest paid) tight ends in the league are Rob Gronkwoski and Graham. If your opinion of the latter is dominated by two miserable outings against the Seahawks in 2013, you’ll be doing him a disservice. We’re talking about a player every bit as explosive and difficult to plan for as Gronk. The ultimate mismatch. Exactly what Seattle was looking for. We discussed yesterday whether they’d turn to the trade market after missing out on Thomas. It was clear they wanted to find a solution here.

They needed a seam-buster. They needed a red zone threat. They needed someone who draws constant attention. If you put Graham at the LOS and have him motion out, you’re going to find he’s covered by a safety or linebacker. That’s where he wins — with massive size (6-7, 265lbs) and receiver agility. Not even Gronkowski compares favorably to the freakish physical talent Graham possesses.

He’s also a touchdown maker — something the Seahawks badly needed at receiver or tight end. Graham has 46 touchdowns since 2011. Only Marshawn Lynch and Dez Bryant have more.

The downside is the cost involved. The Seahawks haven’t used a first round pick on an actual draft prospect since Bruce Irvin in 2012. It’ll be four years until their next one — IF they spend their 2016 pick. Graham isn’t young either. He’ll be 29 in November.

Julius Thomas agreed a contract worth an average of $9.2m a year over four years in Jacksonville. It’s costly but he’s 27 this year. He’s not as dominant as Graham but he’s younger with a similar cap hit. If the Seahawks pull off that signing they keep the #31 pick. It’s safe to say missing out on Thomas had an enormous impact. You could also look at it another way. If they knew they could trade for Graham you can afford to stick to your guns on the price for Thomas. Basically, you say, “take this offer if you want it, otherwise we’re looking elsewhere.” That approach would mean you offer much less than the $9.2m APY being offered by the Jags. If this is the scenario, Graham was probably always the key target. They just wanted to see if they could get Thomas for a bargain first.

You also lose Max Unger as part of the deal. This trade solves one major problem and creates another. They have to find a center and now they don’t have the #31 pick to potentially spend on a prospect like Cameron Erving. You lose Unger’s $4.5m cap hit and gain Graham’s $8m. It’s a net loss of about $3.5m — which isn’t restrictive. When you add in Zach Miller’s departure, you’ve basically swapped Unger and Miller for Graham at the expense of a first round pick.

With James Carpenter also agreeing terms with the New York Jets, you now have to fill two holes on the offensive line. I would expect Ty Sambrailo to be a target in round two. They could look at Ali Marpet to fill the hole at center. Tom Cable is going to have a huge job on his hands this off-season.

It’s just a shame Rodney Hudson’s market is so strong. He’s set to join the Raiders for $8m APY.

It goes to show just how determined the Seahawks were to add a genuine X-factor on offense. They didn’t have one before today. A Virgil Green signing or a Charles Clay wasn’t going to get it done. They wanted a Graham or a Thomas. A top dog. And they’re willing to sacrifice a key offensive lineman to get it done.

A note on the first rounder for the sake of perspective. This years draft has around 15-18 legit first round prospects, then about 40-50 players with similar grades. You weren’t going to get great value at #31 without trading down a couple of times. Now you get Graham and another fourth rounder. The middle rounds are loaded in this class. You can get a Sambrailo for the guard spot, a Marpet for center. You can still add a receiver and some defensive line depth. The Seahawks are adding veteran cornerbacks already.

Graham’s age is an interesting talking point. You’re looking at probably three years of top production. That perhaps fits in with Seattle’s current Championship window. In three years time the Sherman’s, Chancellor’s and co will also be pushing 30. This looks like a move to ensure there are no more close calls at the one yard line. A move to try and win another Championship (or two) now. This is ‘win now’ mode.

A few other thoughts on a crazy afternoon:

— It’s a shame to lose Unger, but he’s missed considerable time through injury (13 games in 2013 & 2014). It opens up a new position we can focus on over the next couple of weeks, unless they sign a veteran replacement.

— By trading Unger and cutting Miller — and with the possibility to convert a roster bonus on Graham’s contract to save another $3m — don’t rule out further moves in free agency. They can still hunt for value, particularly on the defensive line.

— That fourth rounder as part of the deal could land a very good player.

— If you sign Julius Thomas, you lose the third round compensatory pick for 2016 you’ll get with Byron Maxwell signing a huge contract with the Eagles. The Seahawks still get that pick after this trade.

— We expected the Seahawks to trade down (like last year) out of the first round, probably for a fourth round pick. Considering they acquired a fourth rounder from New Orleans, you could look at this as an early second round pick plus Unger for Graham. Perhaps they had little faith in Unger staying healthy and were set to move him anyway?

— You might criticize the overall cost (draft plus salary) but if there’s one thing worse than paying top dollar for an elite player, it’s paying good money for a bad or average player. If you’re going to spend, go for the best.

— If Seattle doesn’t make this deal they run the risk of another year talking about the same issues. They clearly didn’t want that.

— How many teams can boast a trio like Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham?

— Jake Locker is retiring from football. It’s sad news but not altogether surprising. The injuries have taken their toll.

— How much of a threat are the Rams with Nick Foles? He’s certainly an upgrade on what they’ve had under Jeff Fisher so far. He’s not as good as some people will have you believe and he too has been banged up in his career. But the Rams have the talent to win big even with a league average QB.

Gil Brandt suggested yesterday he had inside info that the Eagles won’t be trading for Marcus Mariota. Trading for Bradford doesn’t end that possibility but suggests the Eagles might be forced to look in another direction. The possible reason? I would guess a lack of interest within the top five to move down to #20 without a mega deal — and the Eagles lack of interest in pulling an RGIII. Or it could be Tennessee’s determination to take him with the #2 pick.

If there’s any other big Seahawks news today we’ll start a new thread. For now give your reaction to the big trade in the comments section.

 

Seahawks add cornerback Cary Williams on $18m deal

March 10th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks were going to find it difficult to add a corner in the draft. A weak (and expensive) free agent crop wasn’t helping. We could see Trae Waynes, Jalen Collins and Marcus Peters off the board in the top-20. It won’t be a shock if Byron Jones joins them in the first frame — and potentially Kevin Johnson. That in turn could lead to a day two rush involving the likes of Eric Rowe and Alex Carter.

The Seahawks haven’t reached for the position under Pete Carroll and know what to look for. The addition of Williams and Will Blackmon suggests they knew it’d be difficult to find corners in the draft. They could be without Tharold Simon and Jeremy Lane to start the season. Their depth is decimated. They needed some veteran options, even if they make the usual day three draft pick or two.

Opinion is mixed on Williams and it’s true he struggled somewhat in Philadelphia. He was also playing on a defense that needed to be totally rebuilt when Chip Kelly arrived. He created enough of an impression in Baltimore for the Ravens to show interest upon his release. Ditto another former team in the Colts.

He ran a 4.47 at his pro-day with a reported 1.47 ten yard split. He had a 32.5 inch vertical and he’s 6-1/190lbs. Byron Maxwell ran a 4.46 at his combine and jumped a 33-inch vertical. He’s also 6-1. This could be viewed as a like-for-like replacement.

One other point — $7m probably isn’t his cap hit in 2015. We need to wait for those numbers.

UPDATE

So there we go. The cap hit is $4.67m in 2015, which is probably slightly less than a player like Tramon Williams.

Meanwhile James Carpenter is reportedly signing with the Jets at $4.75m APY and they’ll release Percy Harvin today, meaning the Seahawks get New York’s 6th round pick this year.

 

Seahawks miss out on Julius Thomas to Jaguars

March 9th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Earlier today Jason Cole reported the Seahawks were still in the chase for Julius Thomas. The Jaguars were in pole position, but supposedly feared a late push from Seattle. It’s unclear how this situation played out — did the Jaguars just keep offering more? We noted yesterday how the Jags had the upper hand financially.

Mike Klis says it’s a contract worth around $9m APY. That’s pretty much the going rate for a top pass-catching tight end. Rob Gronkowski earns $9m APY, while Jimmy Graham is getting $10m APY. Greg Olsen recently extended his contract in Carolina for $7.5m APY.

Note the way Ian Rapoport refers to Seattle’s challenge as a “hard push”. It appears the Seahawks wanted Thomas pretty badly. That’s understandable. You get your dynamic big target right off the bat and it sets you up for the rest of the off-season. You can play the rest of the market, looking for possible value at corner (they’ve already re-signed Will Blackmon) and on the defensive line. You use the draft to prioritize receiver and a James Carpenter replacement (that’s where the value is).

Now they’ll probably have to turn their attentions to Jordan Cameron and hope his market doesn’t sky rocket with Thomas off the board. He’s a riskier move with his lingering concussion issues. We also discussed him in more detail yesterday. You would imagine Seattle would want to do a deal with minimal guarantees. Make it short term. It’ll only take one longer, fairly substantial deal to make life difficult.

Once Thomas and Cameron are off the market, you’re feeding off scraps. Virgil Green is a mostly untested backup with only 206 career yards in four years. He struggled to usurp even Jacob Tamme for playing time in Denver. $9m APY for a guy with 24 touchdowns in two seasons might be better value than paying a total unknown quantity $3-4m APY.

Jermaine Gresham is not worth whatever Oakland or anyone else is prepared to pay. He’s struggled through a mediocre career so far, with little determination from Cincinnati to keep him around. Lance Kendricks is another average player.

None of these possible additions are more attractive than another year of Luke Willson as the starter. Willson, with all the physical tools you would want for the position, has inconsistent hands (to put it mildly) and struggles to impose himself on a defense. He’s a speed-TE rather than a mismatch. The Seahawks wanted to get the ultimate chess-piece for their offense — size, speed, hands — an X-factor. Instead the Jaguars beat them to the punch.

So it comes down to Cameron and how his market shapes up. If you miss out on both players, you just have to move on. What else can you do? You look for the bargains. Earlier today we discovered the Seahawks are showing some interest in Jabaal Sheard. We know they’re interested in Tramon and Cary Williams. These are all holes that can be filled in. But it’ll still leave Seattle’s greatest need unaddressed.

The draft is rich at receiver and incredibly mediocre at tight end. They can still find a couple of impact receivers within the first four rounds. Whether they can find an instant impact, ready-made mismatch with redzone qualities is another thing. Perhaps we shouldn’t rule out the trade market? In 2013 they made surprising moves for Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. The next few days could be interesting.

 

Seahawks reportedly showing interest in Jabaal Sheard

March 9th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s no surprise the Seahawks are reportedly showing interest in Jabaal Sheard. He’s very good. Underrated, in fact.

A favorite going into the 2011 draft, Sheard was a great fit for Seattle’s scheme. You won’t find a better hands fighter at defensive end. He was relentless off the edge, knowing how to convert speed-to-power and often winning with sheer effort.

That’s not to say he isn’t a terrific athlete. He ran a 4.68 at the 2011 combine at 264lbs with a superb 1.59 split. He has enough length at 6-3 and 33.5 inch arms.

I mocked Sheard to Seattle several times. He was a player we talked about a lot that year in the late first round range, along with Jimmy Smith and Colin Kaepernick. John Schneider admitted a couple of years later it came down to James Carpenter, Sheard and Andy Dalton with the #25 pick. Seattle chose Carpenter for his track record as a run blocker, helping Mark Ingram win a Heisman along the way.

I expected Sheard to get a big contract offer in free agency. The Jaguars quietly had a very productive pass rush last year, but they could use more. I’d rather overpay for a 25-year-old Sheard than some of the other options out there. So far there’s not been much talk about his market.

With Jerry Hughes signing a 5-year, $42.5M contract to stay in Buffalo, the domino’s will start to fall at defensive end/outside linebacker. There’s still every chance he gets big money. If not, he’s being wildly underrated.

The Seahawks will welcome the competition named by Rand Getlin in his Tweet above. The Patriots are tight against the cap and struggling to keep Darrelle Revis. The Bengals are notoriously tight. The Buccs, on the other hand, would make some sense. They have $34m in free cap space and want to revamp their pass rush. They’re a contender to go from worst-to-first in a wide open NFC South.

If the Seahawks miss out on Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron, however, they too will have some extra money to play with.

The downside is, this isn’t a top priority. They have two of the best edge rushers in the game, both earning a large salary. It’s unlikely you’d see Sheard, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril on the field at the same time outside of obvious passing situations. There will be veteran edge options available at a good price in the second wave of free agency. A much more serious issue for the Seahawks is the interior rush.

It’d also be more money sunk into the defense, which is already carrying several big contracts. There’s quite a discrepancy between the amount invested in defense versus the offense. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s out there. Seattle has almost nothing invested in the receiver or tight end position in comparison.

Still, this is what Seattle tends to do. Let the market come to them. If you can get Sheard at a good price, why wouldn’t you consider it? Acquiring talent is the order of the day, however it comes.

There might even be an opportunity to do a cost-effective one or two-year deal, much like the original Bennett and Avril contracts. Sheard had just two sacks in 2014 as an ill-fitting outside linebacker in the 3-4. He had 15.5 sacks in his first two years playing defensive end in the 4-3. A year in Seattle could allow Sheard to max out his talent as a 26-year-old free agent next year.

It’ll be a real coup if the Seahawks can pull this off. Forget Brian Orakpo and Trent Cole. The best edge rusher on the market is Jabaal Sheard.

 

Why the Seahawks could target Jordan Cameron

March 8th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Jordan Cameron — who couldn’t look any more like a USC athlete if he tried

Two reports on Sunday suggested tight end Julius Thomas is close to agreeing terms with the Jaguars. Jason Cole says a deal is “just about done”, while Adam Caplan states the Jaguars are “planning” on adding Thomas to the roster. There’s no firm confirmation like the Ndamukong Suh-to-Miami reports, but it seems to be heading in that direction. Although Rob Rang appears to be countering some of the reports.

The Seahawks showed interest in Thomas during the season and according to Yahoo’s Charles Robinson were considered Jacksonville’s biggest competition for the player. So why is he seemingly choosing the Jags?

As you can see, Robinson Tweeted on Saturday that the Jags would miss out on the top three free agents on their target list. Suh is signing with the Dolphins, Randall Cobb is staying in Green Bay and DeMarco Murray will probably end up back in Dallas. They have to spend money in accordance with the new CBA. They have $68m in free cap space (the most in the NFL) and there are restrictions on minimum cash spend.

Someone was going to get a bucket-load of money from the Jaguars.

The best thing for Seattle’s pursuit of Thomas was for the Jaguars to lure Cobb and maybe another high profile free agent to Jacksonville. Instead it created a situation where the Jaguars were looking to pay big money — probably overpay — for one of the remaining big names.

If Thomas signs for the Jaguars people will scoff at the price tag. But remember this — if it wasn’t Thomas getting overpaid it was somebody else. They had to spend per the rules. Jacksonville isn’t a popular destination. Could you imagine having to dip through the second tier of free agents having to offer mega bucks just to get a meeting? That was a distinct possibility for the Jags. If they give Thomas a ridiculous contract, at least they’re paying for one of the top players on the market. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than offering Jermaine Gresham $8m a year (for example).

In a straight battle between the Seahawks and Jaguars, Thomas would have to weigh up salary versus playing for a contender. Let’s suggest the Seahawks were willing to pay $7-8m APY on a four year deal. If the contract he eventually signs is for $9-10m APY (in line with Gronkowski and Graham), you have a tough decision to make. When Robinson tweeted Sunday morning that the Jags “can pay more” — it was telling. You have to wonder if Jacksonville made sure they got this deal done with an even sweeter improved offer at some point today — taking Seattle out of the equation.

UPDATEJason La Canfora is suggesting he’ll sign a deal worth $10m APY. That’s a sign of the Jags being forced to do what it takes to get their man. The Seahawks can’t stretch that far.

If (when?) it’s revealed Thomas is a Jaguar, the Seahawks will have to look elsewhere. Having released Zach Miller, tight end is an even bigger hole than it was a few days ago. They need a seam-busting target who can move the chains and produce in the red zone. They don’t have a genuine touchdown maker at receiver or tight end. The attraction with Thomas, apart from his 4.64 speed at 250lbs, big hands and huge vertical, was the production — 24 touchdowns in 27 starts for Denver.

The draft will not provide many answers at tight end, even if it’s loaded at receiver. Maxx Williams will make a solid pro for somebody — but it seems unlikely to be the Seahawks. They’ve consistently gone after unique, difference making qualities early in the draft. Williams’ character, occasional flare and safe hands need to be applauded. Yet a 6-4, 249lbs tight end with 4.78 speed just doesn’t feel like a Seahawks move in round one (or the early second round if they trade back).

I’m not convinced Max Walford ticks the right boxes either — 4.79 speed at 6-4, 251lbs with a poor 30.5 vertical. Devin Funchess is the nearest thing in terms of size — but he’s a 4.70 runner at 232lbs. So he’s 20lbs lighter than your ideal move-TE and still significantly slower.

Missing out on Thomas could be seen as a blow. Although not everyone’s favorite target — he offered a genuine mismatch at the second level. There isn’t a tight end like that in this draft. Pairing Thomas with a highly selected receiver (rounds 1-3) could’ve given the offense a real shot in the arm.

So what now? They could turn to Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron to fill the void.

Like Thomas he won’t turn 27 until the summer (he’s in his prime). He actually bettered most of Thomas’ combine numbers — 4.53 forty, 1.53-split, 37.5 inch vertical. He also has the big hands (just under 10 inches) and similar size (6-5, 254lbs).

Ian Rapoport reported in October that the Seahawks asked about a trade for Cameron involving Percy Harvin. His profile on Rotoworld even claims Seattle made this move first — and when it was rejected they asked Denver about Thomas.

In 2013 he exploded onto the scene as one of the new brand of modern-TE’s with 917 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s in an offense led by Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, by the way. Big things were expected of Cameron moving forward and the idea he’d even hit free agency seemed fanciful. Then the concussion problems set in. He missed six games in 2014. He’s had three concussions in the last two years in total. It’s an alarming number that will seriously put his career at risk.

This problem isn’t likely to go away — in fact it might get much worse. That’s probably why we haven’t heard anything about his free agency market this weekend, despite all the buzz surrounding Julius Thomas.

This could play into the Seahawks’ hands.

Cameron fits the physical prototype they probably want to add to the offense. His price tag could be significantly hit by the health concerns. Signing him to a shorter-term deal with minimal guarantees would make sense — kind of like a prove-it deal. That type of contract could also be attractive for the player. He gets a chance to prove he can stay healthy playing for a contender — and he’s young enough to max-out his market in a year or two’s time.

This is where the Seahawks have had success in free agency under Carroll/Schneider. The big splashes (Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Matt Flynn) didn’t justify the price tag. When they’ve looked for shorter term value (Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril) they’ve excelled.

Some would argue it’s simply a more attractive proposition to Thomas. You’re not making any long-term commitments and Thomas had injury concerns too. You won’t lose the 2016 third-round compensatory pick you’re likely to receive when Byron Maxwell eventually signs in Philadelphia for mega-money. You can also look at other options in free agency.

Can the Seahawks afford to be a little more pro-active in the pass-rush market if they sign Cameron instead? Perhaps. They’ll certainly have the money to make an attractive offer to a player such as Tramon Williams in Green Bay. They can consider re-signing James Carpenter if they wish. They’ll also have a little more freedom to sign Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and J.R. Sweezy to longer term deals.

It might put more pressure on drafting a receiver early as a security blanket against Cameron’s concussion problems.

I’m going to do a piece on this after the initial wave of free agency. I’ve spent some time watching Breshad Perriman this weekend and earlier in the week I watched some more Jaelen Strong. I won’t give away any big details of my changing opinion on both, but it’s mostly positive on Perriman and slightly negative on Strong. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the top three receivers off the board by pick #15 — and then a long wait for the next to be taken. Kansas City and a couple of other teams could change that thinking, but the Seahawks might get a shot at the #4 receiver in the draft (whoever it may be). Stranger things have happened. More on this in the week.

Cameron isn’t Thomas because the concussion issues are a separating factor. At the right price he’s still an option the Seahawks could consider and it would fill a big hole. Seattle needs a dynamic bigger pass-catcher for the offense.

If you’re still unconvinced the Seahawks want this type of player badly — look at their pursuit a year ago of Jermichael Finley, the moves for Thomas, Jordan and Coby Fleener during the season and today’s re-signing of Anthony McCoy on a one-year contract. The Seahawks appear determined to find an X-factor at tight end or at least a dynamic big target.

You also have to wonder if they’ll look at the trade market if Cameron isn’t seen as a viable option. Do they make another call to Tampa Bay to ask about Vincent Jackson? It’s something to consider.

Other free agency notes

Mike Garafolo is backing up a report by Jayson Braddock that Byron Maxwell is signing for the Eagles in a deal worth $50m over five years and $25m guaranteed. It’s no wonder the Seahawks balked at that price.

Adam Schefter is reporting Frank Gore will also sign with the Eagles. It’s the end of an era for the 49ers, who are said to be interested in Baltimore receiver Torry Smith. Getlin believes the Arizona Cardinals are trying to clear cap space to trade for Adrian Peterson.

UPDATE

 

Free agency updates: Ndamukong Suh to Miami for $114m

March 8th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

The key tweet there regarding the Seahawks (apart from Anthony McCoy re-signing) is the suggestion from Jason Cole that Julius Thomas is close to agreeing terms with the Jaguars. That would be a blow for the interested Seahawks. It could push them towards Jordan Cameron as option B, as long as they’re comfortable signing a player with a history of concussions.

If they miss out on the top two tight ends this could increase the pressure to draft a receiver as a priority at #31.

 

Seahawks and NFL free agency predictions

March 7th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Could Tramon Williams replace Byron Maxwell in Seattle?

Seahawks predictions

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.