Thurmond signs for the Giants, Melton in Dallas

March 16th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Walter Thurmond has agreed a one-year deal with the New York Giants, per Adam Schefter.

The Seahawks stayed in contact with Thurmond but never made a big push to keep him.

Jason La Canfora says he’ll earn $3.5m in 2014.

He flourished with extra playing time last season, but he’s also suffered a catalogue of injuries and a late suspension at the end of the year could’ve been costly.

Pete Carroll preaches putting the team first. That suspension won’t have been easily forgotten.

And if there’s one position the Seahawks can re-stock, it’s cornerback.

Meanwhile Henry Melton has now left Seattle and is taking a visit with the Cowboys, according to Ian Rapoport.

Reports last night suggested the Seahawks were negotiating hard with his agents. And yet he’s still taking the trip to Dallas.

***Update***

This appears to be the latest…

 

Zach Miller agrees new deal with Seahawks

March 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

In some ways this was inevitable, but Miller didn’t have to take a pay reduction.

The Seahawks paid him handsomely in 2011 at a time when they were a much less attractive free agent destination.

His cap hit of $11m led the team last season — and the scheduled $7m in 2014 was simply too high.

The market for veteran tight ends is working around the $2-3m mark. Cutting him would’ve saved $5m against the cap.

Essentially he’s agreed to take a pay cut.

This was a test of how badly he wanted to remain a Seahawk. It’s his best fit schematically. I’m not sure there would’ve been a rabid market for his services.

And yet the Seahawks also knew they’d find it very difficult to replace him — so he also had some leverage.

Losing Breno Giacomini hasn’t received anywhere near as much attention as Golden Tate’s departure.

There’s a good reason why New York is paying him $4.5m a year. He’s a fine right tackle. Name me a better one in the NFL off the top of your head.

The Seahawks weren’t in a position to pay him that kind of money. It doesn’t mean they didn’t want to keep him.

Now they’re faced with either starting Michael Bowie or Alvin Bailey at tackle, or drafting a rookie replacement.

It’s not a disastrous situation, but you’re going to have a degree of uncertainty there — even with Bowie (he started a few games in Giacomini’s absence last year).

Miller’s blocking off the edge — and he’s as good a blocking tight end as you’ll find in the league — is crucial.

They couldn’t lose that aspect of his game. Not while they’re breaking in an inexperienced right tackle in 2014.

And yet they also couldn’t justify paying $7m for that service.

Miller could easily have demanded his release. But he also knew he wouldn’t be walking into a great situation as a free agent.

In the end this suits everyone except Miller’s wallet — and the Seahawks won’t have to adjust their scheme too much to compensate for having to replace Miller with a player like Anthony McCoy.

So what does this mean for Jermichael Finley?

I still believe there’s a fair chance he winds up in Seattle.

The Seahawks needed to act with Miller because he was due a roster bonus of $1m on March 21st.

They had to make a decision either way — cut him or restructure.

The interest in Finley could’ve been used as a bargaining tool. It’s pretty cold hearted (to Miller and Finley), yet a common occurrence at this time of year.

I suspect the Seahawks weren’t playing games, it’s more a case of timing.

Finley is still waiting for official clearance on his neck injury. Seattle, Green Bay or anyone else can’t do anything until they get the green light there.

There’s a chance they might have to wait another week or two — and by that time they would’ve needed to make a decision on Miller anyway.

So while it looks today like maybe some bargaining games were being played — I think it’s just a coincidence.

What might be more likely is something we discussed earlier in the week.

Do the Seahawks see Finley as more of an over-sized slot receiver?

He’s not a blocker. He was never going to be a like-for-like replacement for Miller.

He’s a guy who moves well at the second level, makes plays down the seam and creates a mismatch against linebackers.

New Orleans don’t ask Jimmy Graham to block, they ask him to run routes.

Finley could line up in the slot and provide a much needed big target for Russell Wilson. And let’s not forget here — the Seahawks are down two receivers (Sidney Rice and Golden Tate).

Theoretically they could re-sign Rice, add Finley and they’d have the same number of wide outs as last year.

And I still wouldn’t rule out another being added in the draft — given Doug Baldwin is a free agent next year and neither Rice or Percy Harvin has a glowing injury record.

Plus it’s a great class. You’d be daft not to tap into the group.

We’ll have to wait and see on this one, but I don’t think today’s news necessarily has an impact on whether Finley joins the Seahawks or not.

Meanwhile Josina Anderson is also reporting Henry Melton is still in Seattle. He’s still scheduled to meet with Dallas, although as you can see below — he won’t be heading there today.

The longer he stays in Seattle, clearly it’s more likely a deal gets done.

The Seahawks have enough cap room to make at least one reasonable splash on the defensive line.

Melton could be the guy.

 

Henry Melton visiting Seattle today

March 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Henry Melton is exactly the type of opportunity this team looks for.

His market is stalling because of a previous ACL injury. A year ago he would’ve been a prize free agent.

Now? He’s having to wait for visits.

When healthy he’s among the best three techniques in the league.

He had 13 sacks in 2011-12 after switching from running back in college. At the Texas pro-day in 2009 he ran a 4.64 (at 269lbs), jumped 34.5 inches in the vertical and managed a 10.1 in the broad jump.

He’s not just a pass rusher either, he can play the run too.

The Seahawks need to keep adding depth to their defensive line. It’s fair to imagine they’ll make at least one more acquisition before the draft.

Aside from Melton, Oakland defensive tackle Vance Walker is also making a visit (EDIT — he signed a 3-year deal with the Chiefs before he even got on the plane).

If Melton is willing to gamble on himself, he could be the next great project for this team.

The sales pitch is obvious.

Come and be the next Michael Bennett

Like Bennett he’d turn 28 during his initial season in Seattle. This time next year, there’s no reason why he can’t command a similar contract if he proves he’s fully recovered from knee surgery.

It’d be a perfect fit, for team and player.

Seattle can line up Melton alongside Tony McDaniel, with Avril and Bennett on the edge.

They wouldn’t need a Red Bryant on that line. It’s plenty strong enough to act as a four man front on early downs.

So if it’s such an obvious fit, what are the stumbling blocks?

Firstly, the Seahawks need to check on his knee. The main purpose of the visit was probably to do a medical. If there’s any concern there, they’ll run a mile. This isn’t like Bennett and his torn rotator cuff.

There are some character red flags too.

Melton was arrested and charged with ‘intoxicated driving’ as a junior in college. He was arrested again in 2013 for assault and public intoxication.

Yesterday reports suggested he could be sued in relation to that incident in December.

So there’s not just an injury risk. You have to do your homework here.

Melton is due to visit Dallas next having already spent time with the Vikings.

The Cowboys have around $13m in cap space while Minnesota is at $16m. Seattle has an estimated $14-15m remaining.

Dallas in particular have to do something. They’ve lost Jason Hatcher and cut Demarcus Ware. Their line is decimated right now.

They might be willing to pay Melton as a bona fide starter now. No prove it deal. That’s how desperate they could be.

If the Seahawks are willing to clear his knee, the Cowboys would be too. And he is a quality starter when healthy.

It’s also his home-state team. He played for the Longhorns in college.

A longer term deal with the panicking Cowboys makes just as much sense as a one-year prove it contract in Seattle.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Having been pretty quiet so far, the Seahawks are due a signing or two.

They might have to play the slow game with Melton (as they are with Jermichael Finley) but it could pay dividends in the end.

***Update***

B.J. Raji has signed a one-year contract with the Packers worth $4m.

That pretty much sets the market for one-year ‘prove it’ deals at defensive tackle.

Jason Hatcher was paid big money in Washington to avoid needing to take a short term contract.

We’ll see if Melton gets lured away too.

If not, a $4m deal for one year in Seattle makes sense.

 

Thursday notes: The plan for Finley & top five for #32

March 13th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Jermichael Finley appears set to join the Seahawks

Seattle getting creative in the passing game?

I’m fascinated by the interest in Jermichael Finley. He was straight on a plane to Seattle and reports are suggesting a deal is close.

If he does indeed agree terms with the Seahawks, I have two thoughts:

1) Moving on from Miller

If the Seahawks choose to cut Zach Miller and sign Finley, we’ll see a different offense in 2014.

Miller has been used predominantly as a blocker. His role as a receiver has been fiercely limited in Seattle, mostly due to injuries on the offensive line (2011 & 2013) or the fact they’re breaking in a rookie quarterback (2012).

We never saw the kind of production he flashed in Oakland.

But at the same time, he’s also a marginal athlete by modern NFL standards.

He can’t run.

We saw that in week 13 against the Saints, when a wide open Miller bumbled his way into the red zone on a broken coverage.

That should’ve been a touchdown.

If they’re swapping blocking ability for a bigger playmaker, that’s a fairly significant move for a team that wants to run the ball first and foremost. Especially considering they’ll be breaking in a new right tackle following Breno Giacomini’s departure to New York.

Finley’s a downfield runner, a seam-buster who finds mismatches and makes plays.

He aint no blocker.

Anthony McCoy and Luke Willson are also more receiver than blocker.

Using three tight ends like Finley, McCoy and Willson would suggest the Seahawks are planning to make the position more of a focal point in the passing game.

But it also takes away some of the protection benefit you get from a guy like Miller.

You’d have to compensate for that somehow, especially when you’re breaking in a new tackle.

2) Turning Finley into a receiver

Could they sign him to act as a big receiver?

By that I don’t mean lining up outside, running down the sideline and trying to win the red line.

I mean lining up in the slot, ala Jimmy Graham.

New Orleans don’t ask Graham to block much — because he can’t.

He’s a terrible blocker.

Instead he runs routes from the inside and finds mismatches with his unique size and speed.

There’s nothing really stopping the Seahawks bringing in Finely on a deal worth around $2.5m and essentially using him as a slot receiver.

You can limit his snaps. You use McCoy and Willson as your tight ends (or even Miller if he’s kept).

It’s not a crazy idea. It’d take away some of the burden of losing Golden Tate and it’d give the Seahawks the big target over the middle they currently lack.

***UPDATE***

Earl Thomas extension forthcoming?

Why did the Seahawks cut Chris Clemons this week?

Why not part ways when they cut Red Bryant and Sidney Rice?

Was it just insurance in case they lost Michael Bennett to Chicago?

Or is there something else behind the timing of the move?

They didn’t bring in another defensive lineman after re-signing Tony McDaniel. They haven’t made any move yet that would require an extra $7.5m in space.

Maybe it’s time to focus on Earl Thomas’ inevitable new contract?

Along with keeping Bennett, that had to be the top priority this off-season.

It’s a foregone conclusion Thomas gets an extension at some point this year.

Perhaps we’re getting closer to the day where that’s announced?

Seahawks free agency status check

Jason Hatcher, who visited Seattle at the start of free agency, is signing with the Redskins according to Ian Rapoport.

There’s no way the Seahawks could match the $27.5m Washington are offering. That’s Michael Bennett money.

Rapoport is also hinting at a possible return to Seattle for Sidney Rice:

Even if Rice re-signs, I’d expect receiver to be an early draft target. He’s coming off an ACL injury and has been dogged by injuries throughout his career. It’d surely only be a short term, value move.

This receiver class is too good not to tap into in round one or two. Adding Rice would take some pressure off a rookie to have an instant impact, given how notoriously difficult the position is for a year-one player.

Walter Thurmond is visiting the 49ers after making a trip to Jacksonville.

The Seahawks have re-signed quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, while Chris Clemons has now completed his deal with the Jaguars.

Of the remaining free agents available, here are three to keep an eye on:

Charles Brown (T) — former New Orleans blocker, played for Pete Carroll at USC. Could’ve been a Seahawks pick in 2010 had Eric Berry lasted until #6. He’s a possible depth pick at tackle.

O’Brien Schofield (DE) — after his deal with the Giants was vetoed, could he return to Seattle at a discount price?

Jared Allen (DE) — a truly bizarre free agency for Allen so far. But if he’s willing to play for a ring, Seattle still makes so much sense.

Bronco blunders

The biggest rivalry in football right now is Seattle vs San Francisco.

Yeah, there’s a lot of angst between the teams. There’s some great storylines at play.

But you know what makes it really fascinating?

These are the two best teams in the NFL.

They are built almost identically. Strength, speed, depth. Run the ball. Big plays. Great defense. Investing in young talent. Solid, inspired coaching.

And most of all they have zero dependence on one single aspect of the game. They’ll beat you with offense, defense or even special teams.

It didn’t matter who Seattle played from the AFC in the Super Bowl. The result would’ve been the same.

And I imagine the 49ers would’ve served up a similar beating too.

The AFC is a finesse league, driven by ageing pocket passers like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

The NFC is fast becoming a brutal kill or be killed endurance test. All thanks to Seattle and San Francisco.

But on top of that they have supreme balance.

The Broncos’ answer to getting destroyed in the Super Bowl is to sign more big names in free agency.

Some people will argue the additions of Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Demarcus Ware look pretty good.

And yet here’s the likely reality — had all three been playing for Denver in the Super Bowl, the score would’ve still been 43-8.

If these teams want to compete with the NFC’s best, they need to look into what they do well.

Denver should be investing in youth, searching for greater balance and getting tougher up front.

Not throwing money at a 28-year-old cornerback who’s constantly banged up, a safety Cleveland were happy to replace with Donte Whitner and a soon-to-be 32-year-old pass rusher who just looks way past his best (and also picks up little nagging injuries).

Heck, they’d have been better off saving money and going after some of Seattle’s free agents — Clinton McDonald, Walter Thurmond, Red Bryant.

Get some toughness in there.

The Seahawks and 49ers have nothing to fear in the AFC because the ‘power’ teams like Denver are not adapting.

They’re simply throwing good money at big names, when really they should be looking at the real reasons they were embarrassed in the Super Bowl.

They’re too reliant on a passing offense and they aren’t tough enough.

It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of expensive, ageing stars.

One to monitor

If the Seahawks go searching for defensive line depth in the draft, Oregon’s Taylor Hart is one to keep an eye on.

He’s 6-6 and +280lbs. His arms are a shade under 33 inches long.

Physically he’s pretty Seahawky. And he has the potential to get back up to 290lbs and retain most of that 4.7 speed.

Five players who would make sense at #32

Just my take in reaction to the first three days of free agency.

This is based on who should be available. Although I’m bending the rules with #1 — I just wanted to get him on the list.

#1 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
He has similar traits to Golden Tate. Plays above his size, very competitive in the air and high points the football superbly. He’s a solid return man and a very good athlete. He screams ‘Seahawks’, even if they might be looking for a bigger receiver ideally.

#2 Joel Bitonio (T/G, Nevada)
Comparable athlete to the top tackles in this class (Robinson, Matthews, Lewan). Looks like a Logan Mankins clone. Capable of playing guard or tackle at the next level. Insanely underrated.

#3 Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
The Seahawks are prepared to roll the dice on unique athleticism. Bryant has the complete package of size, speed and the athletic qualities they love. He’s a big play waiting to happen. He’s a 4.4 runner at 6-4, 211lbs.

#4 Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
Big, long tackle with 6-6 height and 35 3/8 inch arms. Just a really solid football player and someone they might be willing to invest in to replace Breno Giacomini.

#5 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Some people love it when I highlight Coleman, others hate it. At the end of the day, he’s running a 4.5 at 6-6 and 225lbs. At the combine he looked in fantastic shape. There just aren’t many people on Earth like Brandon Coleman.

By the way, don’t get our hopes up Charley…

As much as I’d love Casserly to be right, Aaron Donald should be a top-15 pick.

 

Reaction: Clemons, Tate, Giacomini depart, McDaniel re-signs

March 12th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

The Big Russian is heading for the Big Apple

I’m not sure I remember a day like this.

At least not since I started writing about the Seahawks.

When’s the last time multiple players departed this franchise, and it just felt weird?

Think about it. Golden Tate is going to be catching passes from Matthew Stafford.

Not Russell Wilson.

Stafford.

He’s going to be playing in the NFC North. He’s going to be waving at Green Bay defensive backs. He’s going to be making improbable catches as a team mate of Calvin Johnson.

Breno Giacomini is going to be the right tackle of the New York Jets, playing for Rex Ryan.

Chris Clemons — Seattle’s best pass rusher during the Pete Carroll era — is probably going to be finishing his career in Jacksonville.

Like I said, weird.

And Red Bryant isn’t going to be wearing a Seahawks jersey any more…

It all kind of doesn’t feel right.

It feels dirty. Unclean.

These are our guys.

Clemons symbolised everything this front office achieved in the early days. They found a player with an edge, who fit their scheme and became a star when nobody else really wanted him.

Big Red was the leader in the dressing room. The father figure. The inspiration.

Tate was an early draft pick who epitomised this teams ability to get under an opponents skin. To really piss off the opposition and their fans.

Giacomini just loved to smack people around. And he did it well.

A significant chunk of Seattle’s soul just left the building.

I’ve skimmed through some of the reaction on Twitter. It’s a mix of extremes.

On the one hand, some people are upset key players are moving on. They want to know why they didn’t make more of a push to re-sign Tate. They wonder how this team will be able to replace two or three key starters.

Others have unwavering faith in the front office and their ability to make replacements. Piece of cake. No worries.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Losing important players isn’t the end of the world. It happens to all of the good teams.

But replacing them isn’t easy, either.

Unlike the 49ers, they don’t have a treasure trove of draft picks. They’ve only got two picks during the first two days of the draft.

They also have to make better use of their early picks.

In fact the Seahawks have to make this years first round pick at #32 their best since 2010.

James Carpenter (2011) hasn’t worked out as planned. His position on the roster is probably only secure because of the lack of depth on the offensive line right now. He’s played inconsistent football, he’s been injured and he’s struggled to nail down a starting spot.

Bruce Irvin (2012) was drafted to be the ‘ideal LEO’ and yet after one year he was moved to linebacker where he had an unspectacular first season. He’s 27 this year.

Last year the Harvin trade provided a minimal regular season impact while Christine Michael, a second round pick, barely saw the field. He might have the most breakout potential according to Carroll, but how realistic is that while Marshawn Lynch remains the bell cow?

If they keep hitting on late round picks, great. This is a deep draft. They might find a starter or two later on.

But how likely is it that they keep doing that consistently?

The Seahawks need to start hitting with these early picks. Whoever they take at #32 — in a deep, talented draft — needs to have an impact.

Here are the biggest needs right now, as we close out day two of free agency:

– Wide receiver

– Offensive line (tackle & guard)

– Defensive line

I suspect they’ll continue to hunt for defensive linemen in free agency. The re-signing of Tony McDaniel retains some consistency there. That’s a big bonus.

I’ve soured a little on Jared Allen following his near threat of ‘pay me or I’ll retire’. He’s a good player, but I don’t think you need to be held to ransom like that.

If Allen wants to play for a contender and win, do it and take what’s on offer. If you want to retire, do that. It’s pretty simple.

Jason Hatcher had his visit in Seattle but appears set to move on to other teams. He could be expensive for a rotational cog.

In the end the best thing might be to bring in some lesser known depth and roll with Benson Mayowa, Greg Scruggs, Mike Brooks and co.

It’s a stretch to think you can replace a veteran like Clemons on the cheap, but the options in free agency aren’t exactly of the Avril and Bennett variety this year.

It’s a poor draft for pass rushers. I’m willing to think the top two picks (#32 & #64) are being saved for a receiver and a tackle.

That’s the strength of this draft class anyway.

And the relative lack of urgency in trying to keep Tate and Giacomini could be a sign of Seattle knowing exactly who they want from a group of 3-4 players at each pick.

Losing Giacomini creates a debate we need to have going forward. What do you do at right tackle? Do you draft a player early to fill that role, knowing you’ve failed once to draft a right tackle in round one (Carpenter)?

Or do you trust an Alvin Bailey or Michael Bowie to earn that spot?

We’ve talked a lot about Joel Bitonio recently. He can play tackle. He excelled as a blind side blocker for Nevada.

Yet physically and on tape you can’t help but make the comparison to Logan Mankins. If he has the potential to be a ten year starter at guard and play at a similar level to Mankins, wouldn’t he be wasted at right tackle?

Who’s the last great right tackle the NFL has celebrated? I’m sure you can name at least 4-5 left guards.

If you did draft Bitonio (or someone else) to play tackle — what happens at guard? Do you simply continue the rotation from last year? Do you challenge a Bowie or Bailey to earn the left guard spot?

It’s a great draft for receivers, but what are the options going to be at #32 and #64?

We know Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans will be long gone. I’d expect Odell Beckham Junior, Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin to also be off the board.

Are you willing to gamble on a Martavis Bryant or Brandon Coleman in round one?

Perhaps not.

And yet at #64 there’s at least some chance those players will be gone. Others — such as Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, Paul Richardson, Davante Adams and Jarvis Landry — will either be off the board or don’t really fit Seattle’s penchant for big plays and winning the red line.

The more I think about it, the more I think Bryant could be a legitimate option for Seattle. Tall, fast with all the physical tools. He’s a better fit for the Seahawks than the Clemson offense. But the character concerns and attitude are a worry.

Would he make it to #64? Doubtful. Unless the red flags are a major turn off — which begs the question — would you even want him in that situation?

He at least shows some evidence of making the most of his athletic talent. The more Donte Moncrief I watch, the more frustrated I get.

They need to replace depth in multiple areas so it wouldn’t be a big shock to see them move down once or even twice from #64.

If that happens, they’ll have to make it work better than their last move from round two back into round three.

In 2011 they essentially passed up the chance to draft Randall Cobb and Justin Houston to move down and grab the now retired John Moffitt.

The biggest concern for me is the offense. The defense still has the L.O.B. — it has Bennett and Avril, the linebackers and the opportunity for further additions in free agency.

On offense there’s increased pressure on Percy Harvin to stay healthy (that would exist anyway with a team-high $13.4m cap hit in 2014), the offensive line is going to get younger and will be tested, while there’s also the possibility of swapping out Zach Miller for Jermichael Finley.

Lynch is a year older.

It’s nothing a good draft can’t solve. But they probably need to hit on those early picks in a way they haven’t done since 2010.

 

Free agency day two: Open thread & thoughts

March 12th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Former Dallas DT Jason Hatcher is visiting with Seattle

I’m going to be away with work for most of the day. I’ll put some thoughts down later if anything Seahawks-related occurs. For the time being use this as an open thread.

Here’s some reaction to what we know at the start of the day…

The Seahawks are going after veteran pass rushers

According to Adam Schefter, the Seahawks actually do have some interest in Jared Allen.

Reports earlier in the day suggested Denver were Allen’s only suitors.

Demarcus Ware’s sudden availability, and his visit with the Broncos, has potentially changed the landscape.

If Ware signs with Denver (it seems likely) they aren’t going to pursue Allen.

Not after making a big splash for T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib.

Perhaps he suddenly finds himself without a suitor? This is where Seattle excels. They can offer a contending franchise and a locker room atmosphere players rave about.

What they can’t offer is millions of dollars. If Allen is prepared to accept he isn’t going to get mega-money, the Seahawks could benefit — just as they did with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett a year ago.

But it’ll likely see the end of Chris Clemons and his $9m cap hit if it happens.

The Seahawks are also looking at Jason Hatcher — an ideal fit for this defense at 6-6 and 299lbs.

He had his best year as a pro in 2013, recording 11 sacks.

This little conversation between Hatcher and Michael Bennett on Twitter yesterday is pretty amusing…

Hatcher is visiting with the ‘Hawks. At the right price, that would be a terrific addition.

But you wonder if it could come at the expense of Tony McDaniel. Both players are a similar size. Can you really afford to pay both? Possibly, as long as you’re willing to cut Clemons and maybe get Allen on a cap-friendly deal similar to Bennett’s last year (around $4.5-5.5m).

A defensive line rotation of Bennett, Avril, Allen, McDaniel, Hatcher, Mebane, Hill — and possibly Mayowa and Williams — would be pretty intense.

A cautionary note however — Hatcher has five other scheduled visits and Allen is being linked with the Bears too.

Jermichael Finley visiting with Seattle

This was possibly the most interesting story involving the Seahawks yesterday.

First things first, Finley is a beast.

Yes — he’s had some drop issues.

But there’s a reason he threatened to break out as the next big-time tight end a couple of years ago.

Whether he’d recapture that form in the PNW remains to be seen. First and foremost he has to be cleared to play after undergoing serious neck surgery. Seattle’s team doctor Stan Herring chairs the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee.

To me this move suggests the Seahawks are intent on reducing the cost of the tight end position.

At a time when they’re struggling to keep players like Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini, they’re taking $11m and $7m cap hits on Zach Miller over the last two seasons.

Veteran tight ends like John Carlson are signing deals for $2.3m. The market for a tight end approaching 30 is around $2-3m.

Not $7m.

Their interest in Finley could be a powerplay to reduce Miller’s salary. Or they might just want more athleticism at the position. Yes — the Seahawks are a run first team. But they also have an offense that relies on big plays.

Finley for $2.5m in 2014 and an extra $2.5m in free cap space might be more appealing than retaining Miller. Such is the harsh nature of the business.

And this is the type of difficult move Seattle has to consider.

Golden Tate visiting the Lions, Breno Giacomini the Jets

In an ideal world the Seahawks retain both players.

There’s nothing ideal about free agency.

If Detroit offers Tate a deal worth $6-7M — the Seahawks probably can’t match that. They made their bed by paying Percy Harvin a year ago. Now they have to sleep in it.

Giacomini likewise was unlikely to get a deal comparable to his $4m salary in 2013. If the Jets are willing to pay that — Seattle almost certainly won’t be able to match it.

But there’s a clear plan in place here. Load up on veteran, quality pass rushers and defensive linemen in free agency. Use the draft to replace guys like Tate and Giacomini.

This is a strong draft at receiver and offensive tackle. It’s much weaker on the defensive line.

As things stand it’d be a surprise if Seattle’s first two picks in the draft weren’t for an offensive lineman and a receiver.

Did I mention these two guys named Joel Bitonio and Brandon Coleman?

Earl Thomas is ready to get paid

The tweet says it all.

Thomas was responding to the deal Jairus Byrd received by New Orleans, which averages $9m a year.

The Seahawks are going to extend Thomas’ contract this off-season. It’s inevitable.

And now they have a minimum starting point, albeit an expensive one.

They’ll end up paying $10m a year at least.

Other news

– Jason La Canfora is reporting Randy Starks is returning to Miami for $6m a year. He’ll be joined by Earl Mitchell on $4m a year.

– Chris Maragos is joining the Eagles.

– Eric Decker is visiting with the Jets.

 

Free agency 2014: Seahawks Live Blog & open thread

March 11th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Updates and instant reaction as it happens until 5pm PST

The new league year is under way. Here are the first moves to be made:

– Clinton McDonald is leaving the Seahawks to sign a four-year with Tampa Bay. Shame.

– Walter Thurmond is visiting with the Jaguars.

– Dallas released Demarcus Ware. He’ll turn 32 in July and had only six sacks in 2013.

– Cleveland signed 49ers safety Donte Whitner. San Francisco will sign Antoine Bethea in replacement.

– Indianapolis are signing Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones.

– Miami are looking to sign Texans defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. He’ll visit the Dolphins facility with the intention of getting a deal done.

– Jacksonville signed Denver guard Zane Beadles.

– Lamarr Houston will sign for Chicago after they missed out on Michael Bennett.

– Eugene Monroe is set to stay in Baltimore.

– Brandon Albert agreed a contract with the Dolphins. No shocks there.

– The Raiders signed Roger Saffold to play guard apparently. Despite allowing tackle Jared Veldheer to sign with the Cardinals for less money.

– Dexter McCluster is swapping Kansas City for Tennessee and a three year deal.

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It’s a pretty stunning set of events involving the Raiders.

A team with more cap space than anyone else in the NFL is going to watch Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston walk away and sign with other teams, and yet they’ve added an injury-prone guard to their roster for $42.5m.

Madness.

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It’s no big surprise Clinton McDonald was snapped up quickly for $12m over four years.

The Seahawks were unlikely to pay $3m a year — and he did enough in 2013 (5.5 sacks) to warrant attention.

It’s easy to forget he was cut by Seattle and re-signed before hitting his best form.

Walter Thurmond will visit with the Jags. He might be a player they just can’t afford to keep with so much business to be done elsewhere.

There’s still no word on any of Seattle’s other free agents.

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A sign of a lack of interest by Seattle?

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Another Seahawks departure…

O’Brien Schofield provided nice depth for Seattle last year. But again, at $8m over two years the Seahawks were never going to match that.

It’s time for players like Benson Mayowa to step up and fill out the depth on this team.

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More on Walter Thurmond visiting with the Jags…

Thurmond enjoyed something of a break out campaign last year before his suspension.

Yet his role in Seattle remained limited once Byron Maxwell took ownership of the starting spot across from Richard Sherman.

If there’s one position this team can keep churning out players its cornerback. No reason to worry here.

Still no news on Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini et al.

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Atlanta have signed defensive tackle Paul Soliai, end Tyson Jackson and guard Jon Asamoah.

Soliai gets five years, $33M, $14M guaranteed and $11M in year one. Jackson is earning $25m over five years.

Compare that to Michael Bennett’s deal. The Seahawks got an absolute bargain in comparison. The Falcons are in full-on panic mode.

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Another comparison to compound the Raiders madness.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe has now re-signed with Baltimore for $37.5m. That’s $5m less than Oakland is paying often-injured Roger Saffold to play guard.

Saffold has four starts at guard.

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Wow… didn’t expect this…

Finley is still awaiting medical clearance so he can play football again after neck surgery.

He’ll need to be checked out before any signing. It’s interesting though, that the Seahawks are even bringing him in for a visit.

It doesn’t mean he’s going to sign. But what if he checks out medically? Where does this leave Zach Miller? Are they looking for a replacement?

Remember, Seattle re-signed Anthony McCoy yesterday.

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Some more high profile signings…

– Vontae Davis re-signed with the Colts. It’s not that long ago they traded a second round pick for him. He’ll get a similar deal to Sam Shields in Green Bay — four years, $39m.

– Malcolm Jenkins leaves New Orleans to sign for Philadelphia for $16.25m. He was a corner at Ohio State but always projected to safety in the NFL.

– The Broncos will sign Cleveland safety T.J. Ward.

– Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph is signing with the Vikings.

– Darren McFadden will re-sign with the Raiders for $4m.

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More on the possibility of Jermichael Finley to Seattle…

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Interesting…

As much as people want to hammer Gabbert, a year working with Harbaugh could save his career.

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News of another visit to Seattle.

Price is a former third round pick from 2010. He’s 6-1 and 195lbs. He’s been with the Jaguars since leaving New England.

And he only has five career receptions.

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Our first Golden Tate sighting…

If he’s taking visits, prepare for the worst.

Yet nobody can complain if he ends up getting a deal worth $7m a year. The Seahawks can’t overpay for the sake of it.

Trying to replace Michael Bennett with a rookie would’ve been impossible. Replacing Tate? This is a terrific class of receivers in the draft.

Whether they want to go after a bigger receiver (Pete Carroll’s apparent preference) or a Tate clone — both are available this year.

It will be a sad day if/when he moves on, however. He’s come on leaps and bounds the last two years. He gets under the skin of NFC West rivals (particularly St. Louis) and has a knack for making big plays.

He’s not an every-week contributor, but when he has an impact it’s usually game-winning. That’s tough to replace.

If Tate leaves, they better hope Percy Harvin can stay healthy. Not only is he capable of making similar plays — but they also made quite a statement paying Harvin a year ago, while possibly letting one of their own walk away.

And while one player potentially departs Seattle…

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Here’s something to monitor… Jairus Byrd’s market.

Despite a lot of talk in the week about wanting $9m a year, he’s currently en route for a visit to cap-limited New Orleans.

Even if he doesn’t sign for the Saints, it seems like he isn’t going to get anywhere near $9m a year.

That’s crucial for Earl Thomas’ earning potential. Clearly the Seahawks will re-sign Thomas this off-season, it’s simply a case of when and for how much.

If Byrd was getting a major contract, Thomas’ deal would’ve been even higher.

If he takes a more modest contract, the Seahawks can breathe a sigh of relief.

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One player who might not be leaving Seattle is…

He had a big impact last year. An underrated impact.

Providing they can get the deal done at a decent price, this would key a key signing.

Again, I’ll stress what a good draft this is for receivers. It’s not quite as good a draft for defensive linemen. So keeping Bennett and McDaniel would theoretically allow the Seahawks to go OL and WR with their first two picks.

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Some early thoughts on how the day one moves impact the draft…

– The Raiders allowing Jared Veldheer to walk, while spending big on a guard, could be a hint that they intend to draft a left tackle at #5 — building a new offensive line. One of Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson will almost certainly be available.

– Tampa Bay going defensive line early fills their biggest need. If they sign Anthony Collins, it fills their other big need (left tackle). The Buccs are putting themselves in position to potentially go after one of the top receivers at #7.

– Pittsburgh almost certainly won’t draft a safety in round one after keeping Troy Polamalu on a new deal and today adding Mike Mitchell.

– Dallas’ critical condition on the defensive line continues to grow. Surely they won’t go in any other direction in round one after being forced to cut Demarcus Ware?

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Another player visiting with Seattle…

Hatcher turns 32 in July. Ex-Dallas. 6-6 and a shade under 300lbs. He had 11 sacks in 2013 — his best year in the pro’s by some distance.

If he’s hungry to win, while working in a system with similar concepts to Monte Kiffin’s in Dallas, Seattle is the place to be.

He’d fit like a glove in the D-line rotation. But I wonder if it’s an either/or situation with McDaniel?

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Here are some Jermichael Finley highlights, as he prepares to visit with the ‘Hawks:

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I’m going to wrap up the live blog for tonight. As news breaks this evening, feel free to use this as an open thread.

 

Seahawks re-sign Michael Bennett for $28.5m

March 10th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks did what they had to.

It’s easy to forget just how crucial Michael Bennett was last year.

He’s not underrated, far from it. He’s interesting enough and high profile enough to never fly under the radar.

But he’s not Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas. Or Marshawn Lynch. Or Russell Wilson.

And if you’re not one of those four, there’s a perception Seattle can get by without.

It’s a terrible perception, because they couldn’t get by without Michael Bennett.

Not everyone on this roster is irreplaceable. In fact they’ll probably get the chance to prove that when Golden Tate, Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel, Steven Hauschka and Breno Giacomini hit the open market tomorrow.

Ideally you’d keep all five. But this isn’t an ideal world.

Bennett was a completely different kettle of fish.

They’ve been looking for this type of player for some time. Someone who can knit the pass rush together and make it truly effective.

Chris Clemons couldn’t do it on his own. For three years he tried.

Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett provided the help he needed. And with Clemons struggling to reach his very best aged 32 and coming off an ACL injury, the two new recruits helped take the defense to another level.

Bennett was pivotal to that.

With Clemons rushing the edge, the Seahawks were too one dimensional. It was only pressure from one side. Bruce Irvin provided some balance in 2012, but it wasn’t consistent. And there was nobody crashing the interior.

There aren’t many Michael Bennett’s in the NFL. Someone who can genuinely line up in the middle and not concede leverage against the run, yet can also play defensive end and round the edge with speed or power.

Suddenly they were attacking teams from all angles. It became very difficult to react to certain looks. Quarterbacks couldn’t just shift protection to the side Clemons was monitoring.

In the second half of the season and in particular the playoffs, Bennett and Avril combined repeatedly to attack one side with great success.

Seattle’s pass rush was legit for the first time in a long time.

How important was that? It meant the world. Finally the Seahawks could make the most of an uber-talented secondary. You can’t coverage-sack your way to domination. You need guys up front who flat out get after it.

Losing Bennett was comparable, in my opinion, to losing Richard Sherman at cornerback. Not necessarily devastating, but man what a gaping hole to fill.

There wasn’t anyone similar available in free agency. Guys like Jared Allen and Henry Melton just aren’t the same type of rusher.

The draft? No chance. This isn’t the year to try and replace your best pass rusher with a rookie. Not unless you own a top-five pick.

This was an absolutely vital signing.

Let’s put it this way. They might be able to replace Tate, Giacomini, McDonald, McDaniel and Hauschka and still make it back to the Super Bowl next year. There’d be a drop off, but c’est la vie.

I’m not sure they had any chance at replacing Bennett and the impact he’s had.

Yet again John Schneider pulls it off. He let a player take a check on his value and still got the deal done, despite heavy interest elsewhere (especially Chicago).

What’s more, it appears the Seahawks got a great deal. Mike Florio is reporting a $28.5m contract over four years.

That’s some outstanding negotiating on behalf of Schneider and the Seahawks front office.

It also goes to show how much Bennett enjoyed his year back in Seattle.

Clearly, he wanted to remain part of this team.

So what does it mean for the rest of free agency?

They might be able to structure the deal to limit the cap hit in year one (eg $4-5m cap hit).

Other big contracts will come off the books over the next couple of years, so it makes a degree of sense. With the overall cap also set to keep rising by about $10m a year until 2016, they might be able to maintain enough room to re-sign their other free agents.

I still expect Tate back with the team. He’ll get some interest elsewhere, but I suspect they’ll find a way to keep him — even if it does mean spending a little more than they originally intended.

We’ll have to wait and see what the market is for Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel. Both players, along with Breno Giacomini, are more likely to re-sign with the Seahawks the longer they remain unsigned.

I bet they’d love to retain Chris Clemons and keep their three-pronged pass rush together. Creating $7.5m in extra cap space will also be tempting.

At least with Bennett signed up they can feel better about cutting and attempting to re-sign Clemons to a cheaper deal. They could also look at a player like Jared Allen, depending on what interest he’s getting.

Would you be willing to swap Clemons for Allen on a $5-6m deal? It’d be a $1.5-2.5m total saving.

Alternatively they could use the $7.5m to re-sign the teams other free agents first, then re-assessing the situation afterwards with Clemons or anyone else.

They may even introduce Benson Mayowa into a more active role. There’s a reason why they red-shirted and protected him throughout last season, while other promising young players were cut and ultimately lost.

If the Seahawks can go into the draft having re-signed Bennett, Tate and Giacomini — they can feel very happy about their situation.

Essentially, the player they’re drafting at #32 won’t be replacing a key starter. It’ll give them an opportunity to add a Joel Bitonio to play left guard, or another receiver to add to their current group. Or, if the board is kind, yet another pass rusher.

Whatever happens, today is a good day for this team — and the first step towards making 2014 another Championship season.

**UPDATED**

It looks like Michael Bennett wasn’t the only player to re-sign with the Seahawks today…

 

Seahawks face challenging free agency

March 9th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

The Tweet above appeared last night, just after the ‘legal tampering’ phase of free agency began.

24 hours later, Drew Rosenhaus appears to be right.

It is going to be a lot different this year.

(By the way, do you know who Michael Bennett’s agent is? His name rhymes with ‘Brew Chosen House’.)

Today Everson Griffen re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings on a $42.5m contract with $20m guaranteed.

That’s for the guy who recorded 5.5 sacks last year, by the way.

In four years he has just 17.5 sacks.

Now he’s getting paid $8m a year.

I think we can kiss goodbye to any hopes Michael Bennett is re-joining the Seahawks for $8m a year.

He’s a better pass rusher. He has better production. He’s just better.

The rising cap is having the desired impact. If the Griffen deal is any indication, teams are willing to spend a little more on ‘middle class’ talent. And while we’ll still see a few one year ‘prove it’ deals in the second stage of free agency, I suspect the big names will be snapped up very quickly.

Age plays a part of course. Griffen doesn’t turn 27 until December 22nd. The Vikings clearly believe he has development potential under their new coaching staff. They’re likely to go after Michael Johnson too, with Jared Allen moving on to pastures new.

If the Seahawks want Bennett, they’re probably going to have to fork out big money. And the money just isn’t there to make a long standing, expensive commitment.

He won’t be easy to replace if he does move on.

Especially not this off-season.

They might have to get creative. It might be a case of adjusting what they can do up front.

They have enough funds to look at Allen — but even he might generate a bigger market than first anticipated.

This is a crucial next few days for Seattle. It’s not just Bennett. Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald were crucial players on the defensive line. Golden Tate will get some interest, while even Steven Hauschka and O’Brien Schofield carry value.

Walter Thurmond was an underrated figure in Seattle’s secondary too. Breno Giacomini, for me, is as good as any right tackle in the league.

Losing Bennett might increase the chances of those players being kept — but don’t make any assumptions here. If the market is red hot on Tuesday, you can bet your life teams will go after a piece of Seattle’s pie.

The value of guys like McDaniel and McDonald could go beyond what is realistic for the Seahawks. At the end of the day, you’re not going to give either a big contract just because Bennett’s moving on.

If spending is increasing dramatically in the open market, Seattle’s stars could easily see their value sky rocket. Hey — they were part of a relentless, dominating defense.

If you lose those two players plus Bennett and Red Bryant — that’s a heck of a lot of change up front. Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons are only contracted through 2014 too, so there’s really no long term consistency on the defensive line outside of Brandon Mebane (who has a deal until 2015).

Seattle’s secondary gets a lot of publicity — and rightly so.

But you need a pass rush and you need to play the run well. It all starts there. The Seahawks defense took the next step last season because they had superior pass rush options compared to 2012.

Fortunately Seattle has a front office known for pulling a few strings and making things happen. Nobody expected the Percy Harvin/Bennett/Avril moves a year ago. They’re playing with less money and more holes this year, but you know they’ll have a plan of some kind.

They’ll need one. Because this is going to be a great challenge.

By the way, I wonder if this is any indication as to where Bennett ends up? Coincidence?

 

Joel Bitonio could be Logan Mankins

March 8th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Underrated.

I sat down and watched Joel Bitonio’s tape vs Fresno State today — and once again came away thoroughly impressed.

One thought stuck in my head…

‘This guy reminds me of someone’

Logan Mankins is 32 on Monday. He’s had a terrific career with the Patriots.

He’s been to six Pro Bowls. He’s a five-time All-Pro. He had the franchise tag in 2011 and he’s been to two Super Bowls.

There haven’t been many better left guards in the NFL in the last nine years.

And when I watch Bitonio for Nevada, I see Mankins.

I did a bit more digging and some of the comparisons are crazy:

College career
Mankins — Left Tackle for Fresno State in the MWC
Bitonio — Left Tackle for Nevada in the MWC

Combine numbers
Height: Mankins (6-4) — Bitonio (6-4)
Weight: Mankins (307lbs) — Bitonio (302lbs)
Arm length: Mankins (33 3/8) — Bitonio (33 7/8)
Forty yard dash: Mankins (5.06) — Bitonio (4.97)
Short shuttle: Mankins (4.45) — Bitonio (4.44)
Three cone: Mankins (7.54) — Bitonio (7.37)
Bench press: Mankins (21) — Bitonio (22)
Vertical jump: Mankins (31.5) — Bitonio (32)
Broad jump: Mankins (7.11) — Bitonio (9.6)

Look how similar those numbers are. An almost identical vertical, bench press and short shuttle. Bitonio actually grades higher in the broad jump and forty. He also has slightly longer arms.

Mankins was drafted with the #32 pick by the Super Bowl Champions with the intention of converting to left guard in the NFL.

Could Bitonio also be drafted by the reigning Champions with the intention of switching to left guard?

Mankins is a great finisher, capable of getting a defender off balance — driving open a running lane and completing the block. He was also an excellent pass-protector during his peak years.

You see so many similar traits with Bitonio.

He’s a slightly better athlete. And while he has the core strength, leg drive and technique you want to see — he’s also adept at pulling out of position and getting to the second level. He’s also a finisher who plays with a real edge.

Mankins has been one of the toughest players on the Pats roster over the last few years.

Bitonio is cut from the same cloth. He never backs down. He looks for people to punish.

He’s a coaches dream.

Every time you put on the tape, you can’t help but come away impressed with this guy.

Why is nobody talking about him?

Right now I’d be willing to give him a top-20 grade. I can’t think of 20 players in this draft I’d want ahead of Joel Bitonio.

Regular visitors to this blog know I’ve argued again and again about the obsession NFL fans have with offensive linemen.

‘Games are won in the trenches’ is the cliché. Games are actually won in many different ways. And several of the recent Super Bowl Champions (Seattle included) have not won because of an elite, dominating offensive line.

In fact I’ve been anti Seattle taking a guard in round one. I think there’s better value elsewhere and the likes of David Yankey are so overrated, he’ll probably still be around late into day two of the draft.

Forget all that.

Draft this guy.

If he’s there at #32, I’d run to the podium.

Bitonio has the potential to be great. And for whatever reason he continues to fly under the radar while other, weaker players get so much publicity.

I believe he can play tackle. Sure. But I want to kick him inside to guard. I want to see if he really is going to be the next Mankins.

He’s great in pass protection at left tackle. He can kick slide, mirror and defend against speed. He can deliver a nice solid punch to the chest of a D-end and win with power. There’s no reason why those skills can’t be translated to guard.

But it’s his work in the run game that has me most excited. He knows how to turn a defensive lineman to take him out of the play and free up running lanes. He’ll drive a guy backwards and dump him on his ass. He’ll pull around to the right and deliver a key block to turn a decent gain into a good gain.

I’ll say it again. He’s being hugely underrated.

Judge for yourself, here’s the Fresno State tape. I made some notes underneath.

1:35 — quick to recognise the blitz and pick it up. He’s got his eyes on the edge rusher who sits, he spots the interior blitzer and stops him getting to the quarterback. Excellent awareness, speed and power to execute. Not many college tackles can do this.

1:51 — drives his defender off the spot to the right hand side, dumps him on his backside and creates a running lane. Good defense in the secondary to react to the situation and limit the damage.

3:47 — gets to the second level, drives forward.

4:17 — finishes the block. Drives his guy downfield and keeps fighting, doesn’t back down. Edgy.

4:26 — kick slide, gives the edge rusher no chance to beat him. Quick feet at all times. Body position is ideal and always in control. Good hand use once engaging in the block. Can’t be beaten by power at this level.

4:39 — drives his man off the spot. Watch the replay. This is why he can play guard. Power at the point of attack, drives his man sideways and finishes the block by dumping the defender on his back side.

5:06 — great pull and then finishes the block for extra yardage.

5:28 — perfect kick slide on third down. Allows time in the pocket and the quarterback converts on third and six with a developing route down the seam.

5:39 — blocks and dominates his guy at the line of scrimmage while two other defensive linemen penetrate up the middle. Nice example of the difference in quality on that Nevada line.

6:20 — his guy (#31) doesn’t rush, so he goes and finds someone else to hit (#27). The pressure from the right side gets to the quarterback, but you can’t help but notice Bitonio’s determination to get involved and find someone to hammer.

6:57 — drives his man to the right and opens up a big hole on the left side for a strong run for a first down. Watch the replay to see just how much he moves the defender off his spot.

8:10 — great initial punch to win the block. Ends the contest with his first move. The protection is good enough to complete a touchdown pass.

8:59 — quick feet, good mirror on the pass rush.

There are very few players I’d draft ahead of Bitonio if he’s on the board at #32.

On a physical and athletic level he compares to the best tackles in this class — Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews. Check out my article from last week for more on that.

Move him to left guard and make him the backup left tackle if Russell Okung gets another injury. I think you’d finally tie up that position for the long term, with a player good enough to warrant the long term investment.

Whether he ends up being the next Logan Mankins or not — I’ll guess we’ll find out in time. He has a good shot.

Either way, I suspect he’s going to be a quality player at the next level.