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.

 

Friday thoughts: QB’s falling, free agency talk & Ryan Shazier

March 7th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Matt Cassel, here sporting a horrendous moustache, has re-signed for the Vikings

What if no quarterbacks go early in the first round?

Jacksonville re-signed Chad Henne today for $8m over two years.

The Jaguars needed a veteran presence at quarterback irrespective of whatever happens in May’s draft.

But it’s somewhat intriguing that while the Jags made that move, Matt Cassel was linked with the Texans before re-signing with equally QB-needy Minnesota. Josh Freeman’s name comes up when people talk about the Raiders.

None of these players are likely to be long term solutions.

But how about this thought…

Last year the draft community spent a lot of time debating Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon and Landry Jones.

Everyone had a favourite. Everyone assumed at least two or three would go in the first round because of the importance of the position.

In the end E.J. Manuel was the only day one selection.

Glennon — a third round pick — wasn’t too highly rated in comparison to some of the others. Yet he showed the most promise as a starter and has at least a decent chance of developing into a franchise quarterback for the Buccaneers.

You can’t compare one class to another, and clearly last year the NFL didn’t think much of the QB group.

But could it be happening again?

Could we be totally overestimating a quarterback class and the likelihood of a cluster of top picks being spent on the position?

The Houston Texans appear likely to take a quarterback at #1 — and John McClain made some very valid points on NFL AM this morning to back that up.

But what about the rest?

Could the Jaguars be preparing to add a Sammy Watkins or a Khalil Mack at #3, waiting until round two or three to go after a Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, A.J. McCarron or even a Logan Thomas?

Watkins just looks special — a rare talent. For a team that has little to offer a rookie signal caller, could a case be made for going Watkins-QB instead of one of the top quarterbacks and possibly the eighth or ninth best receiver in round two?

Oakland could go in many different directions. Re-signing Jared Veldheer is important. Whatever happens there, how enticing will a Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson be at #5? Or a Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack for that matter?

The Jags and Raiders are going through major rebuilds. They’ve seen Seattle build around a quarterback and then insert Russell Wilson as a starter to win a Championship.

They won’t feel handcuffed into going QB. If they don’t grade Blake Bortles as much more than a late first rounder, if they can’t trust Johnny Manziel and if they just don’t think Teddy Bridgewater is special enough — they can pass.

The Browns are a bit of a wildcard all of a sudden. They’ve gone from almost certainly trading up to get ‘their’ quarterback, to people now believing they’ll avoid the position altogether at #4.

The Vikings sitting at #8 might wish to avoid drafting another first round quarterback after the disaster that was Christian Ponder.

I’m not saying any of these scenarios are likely, but it’s become the assumed position that the top three quarterbacks will go quickly.

Could we see something like this?

#1 Houston — Blake Bortles (QB)
#2 St. Louis — Greg Robinson (T)
#3 Jacksonville — Jadeveon Clowney (DE)
#4 Cleveland — Sammy Watkins (WR)
#5 Oakland — Khalil Mack (DE)
#6 Atlanta — Jake Matthews (T)

If Clowney, Robinson, Watkins, Mack and Matthews are the top five players in the draft — and you can make a strong case for that — why isn’t this at least somewhat possible?

And how would it impact the draft?

Would we see teams jostling for position, trying to get back into round one for a Bridgewater or Manziel?

Would they simply sit tight, content with the secondary options (Carr, Garoppolo, McCarron, Mettenberger) if none of that trio are available?

How low could two of the ‘big three’ drop?

Could it weaken the options for teams picking late in the first round?

It’d create a fascinating dynamic, that’s for sure.

Doug Baldwin given second round tender

This isn’t a surprise.

Baldwin would’ve been snapped up on the original round tender as an UDFA. Yet with such a strong draft for receivers, it’s unlikely anyone will bite on a second round pick.

It made sense for Seattle to make this move. It’ll be interesting to see if a long term deal is possible, especially if Golden Tate walks in free agency.

Further thoughts on Bennett and Tate

I fully expect Tate to re-sign in Seattle.

It’s a safe bet that the market for receivers in free agency is going to be atrocious. Eric Decker might get a nice deal, but that could be that.

With so many quality players available in the draft, it seems very unlikely anyone will offer Tate the kind of money Seattle would be unwilling to match.

In fact he might struggle to garner much more than $4-5m on the open market.

Often the best deal you’ll get is the one before you start making visits.

I sense Riley Cooper anticipated a flat market and knew he had the best offer from the Eagles already on the table.

It might actually be to Seattle’s advantage if Tate becomes a free agent. If he’s not being offered the kind of money he expects, it’ll suit the Seahawks.

I think it’ll be a very different situation with Michael Bennett.

It’s not a great draft for pass rushers and despite a few naysayers playing down his impact last year — he really had a terrific season.

He can feature in all schemes, he can play inside and out.

He has 21.5 sacks as a versatile starter the last three years.

And with Greg Hardy and Brian Orakpo being franchised, he’s competing with Michael Johnson (3.5 sacks in 2013) and Jared Allen (aged 32) to be the top pass rusher on the market.

I know who I’d rather have.

I’m not surprised stuff like this is emerging…

The Niners are unlikely to be able to afford Bennett with only a projected $10m in cap room available.

A treasure trove of picks in a loaded draft class will likely be their total focus this off-season.

Yet they can help drive Bennett’s price skywards. And there should be plenty of interest elsewhere after such a fantastic 2013.

I mentioned this yesterday and I’m going to repeat it again, because I think it’s worth debating.

Franchising Bennett never appeared to be an option for the Seahawks. It was consistently ruled out, by either John Schneider himself or by the media quoting sources.

Let’s look at the possible scenario that would’ve guaranteed one more year of Bennett for Seattle…

Franchise tag = $13m
Cutting Clemons saves $7.5m

Pass rush includes: Avril, Bennett, Mayowa, Irvin — possibly a draft pick (eg Marcus Smith)

This would’ve cost a cumulative total of $5.5m in extra outlay, with the only loss being Clemons.

It would’ve meant keeping Avril and Bennett at the heart of your pass rush for one more year, while placing the responsibility on Mayowa to replace Clemons at right end.

The financial outlay on Bennett would be substantial, but really it’s only $2m more than the cap hit Zach Miller took up last season.

Here’s the extreme alternative…

If they lose Bennett in free agency, the chances are they’ll keep Clemons on his $9m salary. Seattle can’t force him to take a pay cut. And they surely wouldn’t be willing to lose yet another starter on the defensive line?

With Clemons secure, you maybe look into replacing Bennett with a player like Jared Allen or Lamarr Houston. You’re likely to be spending at least as much as Bennett cost on his one year deal ($5.5m).

This would effectively mean an added cost of $5.5m at best. Exactly the same amount you’d pay in the scenario that saw Bennett tagged.

This isn’t me criticising or challenging the front office. Why would I do that?

It’s merely a talking point nobody else is bringing up. I’m throwing it out there so we can debate this.

There’s still every chance the F.O. re-signs Bennett to a cool four-year deal on $7.5-8m a year after another bold free agency strategy pays off.

There’s even the chance they simply re-load on the defensive line on the cheap and don’t miss a beat.

But the discussion is fascinating to me, because it took a few years to get the D-line right. Blowing it up and starting again (very possible considering the status of Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald) will be a real challenge — even for Schneider and Pete Carroll.

Seahawks re-sign Jeanpierre & Johnson

Ryan Shazier could be a top-20 pick

Put a 4.4 alongside these numbers from the combine:

– 6-1, 237lbs
– 25 reps on the bench press
– 42 inch vertical
– 10.10 broad jump
– 6.91 three cone
– 4.21 short shuttle

Shazier gets caught in traffic too easily, but there’s no doubting he’s a truly fantastic athlete. Certainly one of the best in the draft.

At a time when all the focus is on the size of Seattle’s cornerbacks, the speed of their linebackers is very underrated.

Teams looking to mimic the ‘Hawks have to look at this guy. He could be an option at #12 for the New York Giants, at #13 for the Rams or the New York Jets at #18.

It seems very unlikely he’ll make it past the Bengals at #24. That could be a worse-case-scenario for Shazier.

 

Michael Bennett to test free agency

March 6th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

A lot of people are saying they never expected Bennett to re-sign in Seattle before March 11th.

I’m not one of those people.

In fact, I fully expected the Seahawks to get this done before free agency.

Why?

Because Bennett is absolutely crucial to what this team managed to do last year.

It’s easy to sit here as Super Bowl Champions and bask in the glory of that success.

It’s also easy to forget just how integral Bennett was in getting it done.

Think back to 2012. The Seahawks were good enough to make the Super Bowl that year too.

So what really let them down?

The total reliance on Chris Clemons to provide a pass rush. That’s what.

He essentially was the teams pass rush.

Bruce Irvin had been drafted in to help — and he did to a certain degree. He had a few sacks, he had some impact in a specialist role.

But on early downs, Clemons was the man they relied on. And Clemons alone.

He had 11.5 regular season sacks out of a total 36. Throw in Irvin’s eight as a rookie and they combined for 54%.

No other player had more than three sacks.

This isn’t one of those situations where the numbers don’t paint the true picture. Clemons was the only guy creating consistent pressure and Irvin had an impact in obvious passing situations.

The Seahawks lost four games in 2012 where a lengthy fourth quarter drive proved costly.

Arizona (week 1), Detroit (week 8), Miami (week 12) and Atlanta (playoffs).

The final defeat to Atlanta ended their season.

When they needed a stop, when they needed to get to Matt Ryan with seconds remaining…

They couldn’t.

Not with Clemons nursing an ACL injury by that point.

Seattle knew they had to improve the pass rush and that’s why they went out and added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett a year ago.

They knew they’d only get them both on short term deals — and to some extent, it was inevitable we’d come to this position.

Yet Bennett had such a defining impact in 2013, I truly thought it’d be a case of ‘over my dead body’ he entered the market. In the same way Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman almost certainly won’t hit free agency next year.

He was a weekly feature in Greg Bedard’s ‘Pressure Point’ articles, ranking among the top-10 edge rushers in the NFL all year.

He only had 8.5 sacks for the season, but how many close calls stopped that being much more?

Remember the ‘low hit’ on Matt Ryan? That’s just one example of several ‘nearly’ sacks for Bennett.

He was relentless, impacting games on a weekly basis.

When the playoffs came around, he was nearly unstoppable. Teaming up with Cliff Avril to destroy one side of the line, they forced and collected fumbles against the Niners. It followed a victory over the Saints, where Bennett forced and recovered another fumble.

Who can forget the big touchdown against New Orleans in week 13, setting the tone for a one-sided destruction?

I said it a few times on here during the season, and I still believe it now. You can make an incredibly strong argument that Bennett was Seattle’s defensive MVP last season.

We all appreciate Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. A few weeks after the season ended, their stock couldn’t be higher.

But during the season, it was Bennett who had the biggest say in turning Seattle’s defense from accomplished to elite.

They looked for this guy for so long. They wanted Jason Jones to fill that void — he couldn’t.

Having seen what this defense was capable of, risking losing such an integral piece just seemed so unlikely that the Seahawks would probably be willing to pay a little more to avoid that consequence.

Anyone who doesn’t believe that — let’s see what happens when the Thomas and Sherman talks heat up. Because I’m willing to wager neither will hit the market, even if it costs a few more dollars.

Schematically I also thought they’d be willing to make sure Bennett stayed in Seattle.

Having cut Red Bryant, you could see his snaps increasing next year as an every down end — finding a way to keep that double team with Avril on the field for a significant number of snaps.

It’d be difficult to imagine a defensive line next year minus Bryant and Bennett — and let’s not forget Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald are also free agents.

A sea-change up front is not what this team needs right now.

There’s every chance Bennett does still re-sign in Seattle. Several other players (Bryant, Brandon Mebane) were allowed to test the market only to re-sign eventually.

If he’s looking for a deal worth $9-10m, he might end up disappointed. I have a hard time thinking Seattle wouldn’t be willing to go for $8-9m.

But there are a lot of teams out there with plenty of cap room. Oakland have an absolute mountain to spend. So do Jacksonville.

His brother Martellus Bennett has been campaigning for him to join Chicago for weeks. The Bears need to bolster their defense.

So there’s at least some chance Seattle will be without Bennett going forward.

I also doubt it’ll be in any way ‘easy’ to replace him if he moves on to pastures new.

Lamarr Houston has played some end in Oakland, but for me he’s always looked more comfortable as a three technique rushing the interior. He’s 6-3 with short arms and a squat 300lbs body.

Bennett is taller and longer, with 25lbs less bulk to shift around the field.

Houston has 16 sacks in four years. Bennett has 21.5 in his last three since becoming a regular starter.

Anyone expecting Houston to go flying round the edge like Bennett — it aint happening.

Ditto Henry Melton. Again, Bennett is a defensive end who can play inside. He’s not a three technique convert. That’s what Melton would be. He’s also coming back from a serious knee injury.

They could go out and sign Jared Allen. In fact I fully expect the Seahawks to have some interest there.

He’s taller than Bennett and a similar weight (270 vs 274), but he’s an orthodox defensive end. The good thing about Bennett is his ability to play tackle and end, so you can line him up inside without fear while also starting Clemons and Avril on the edge.

It’s going to be tough for Seattle to find a replacement early in the draft. Kony Ealy ran a similar forty time (4.91 vs 5.00) but had an explosive three cone drill. He has similar size.

And yet his tape is pretty underwhelming and there’s no guarantee he makes it to #32 or has a similar impact. Bennett’s pretty unique at what he does.

You also have to weigh up the cost factor here. If you sign one of the three free agents named above for a deal worth $5-6m, Clemons might have to be retained on his current contract.

Ian Rapoport seems to think so…

Clemons doesn’t have to accept a pay cut after all. Unless you want to risk losing him too, you might have to stomach the cap hit.

If you’re spending $9m on Clemons and $5-6m on a new free agent, would you be better or worse off by franchising Bennett for $13m, cutting Clemons and putting your faith in Benson Mayowa, a future draft pick (Marcus Smith?) or even re-signing O’Brien Schofield?

Or perhaps even reverting Irvin back to the LEO?

This isn’t a criticism, I’m just throwing it out there. Again, all things could become very clear if his market is cold again in free agency and they get him back on a cap-friendly contract.

The Seahawks aren’t going to make life difficult for themselves by overpaying one player. They have a structure they believe in, and a price in mind.

Yet losing Bennett would have a major detrimental impact on the defense.

The last thing they want to do is go back to relying on a single individual (eg Avril) for a pass rush. Even an Avril, Allen and Clemons trio would be a downgrade for me.

Having reached the top, Seattle needs to keep the core elite together.

I’d put Bennett very much in that group, and that’s why I figured he’d be kept at all costs. Taking away the intrigue of the open market, by putting the intrigue on a piece paper with a Seahawks logo at the top and the words ‘SIGN HERE’ at the bottom.

In other news…

Seahawks interest in Taylor Martinez?

The Nebraska quarterback is an intriguing prospect.

An incredible athlete, nobody really expects him to develop into a pro-passer at the next level.

Yet his size (6-1, 210lbs) and speed (electric) is worth some consideration at a different position.

I could definitely seem him being tried out at safety.

Kouandjio’s knee receives a thumbs up

I’m not sure if this news is enough to get him back into the first round mix, but it can only help Kouandjio’s dwindling stock.

Dr. Andrews’ backing doesn’t, however, provide any justification for his lousy display at the combine…

Go read this

Just a terrific piece by Danny Kelly at Field Gulls.

 

Updated mock draft: 5th March

March 5th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Scroll to the bottom for a few notes on this week’s projection…

#1 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
He’s elusive for a 4.93 runner. He extends plays. Bortles is a creative quarterback who can be productive at the next level. Houston’s offense is set up for a big rebound year.
#2 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Hang your hat on this guy. He’s the most exciting offensive tackle prospect to enter the league in years.
#3 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
When the Jaguars met with Manziel at the combine, he needed to prove he was the ultimate competitor. I bet he succeeded in doing that.
#4 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
With the top two quarterbacks off the board and this insane talent still hanging around, they make the pick and wait on a signal caller.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
The best receiver prospect to enter the league since A.J. Green and Julio Jones. You can build around a talent like this. Get a quarterback later.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
If the Falcons can grab a pass rusher in free agency, this looks like a great match. They need to protect Matt Ryan.
#7 Khalil Mack (DE, Buffalo)
The Buccs need an edge rusher. Mack is versatile and can line up in multiple positions. This is a vital need.
#8 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a Norv Turner quarterback and Aaron Donald will remind Mike Zimmer of Geno Atkins. He deserves to go this high.
#9 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Some believe he’s a bit of a phony tough guy. Others really like him. It’s worth a shot here.
#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
People are down on Lee because of a 4.5 forty. Don’t sleep on this guy. He’s immensely talented and would be the perfect, fiery compliment to Calvin Johnson.
#11 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Ken Whisenhunt is not endorsing Jake Locker. He’s keeping all of his options open. In this projection they put their faith in Teddy.
#12 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Really talented, ideal big man who will compete for the ball in the air. Eli Manning needs a target like this — especially after last seasons pick-fest.
#13 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
The Rams will keep adding talent where they can. A rangy safety at the back-end makes a lot of sense here. Some people think he’s the real deal.
#14 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Chicago’s defense was a shambles at times last season. It all starts up front, especially if they lose Henry Melton. Hageman has unreal upside.
#15 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
The Steelers don’t have a big man on the outside who can be a threat in the red zone. It’s not their only hole, but it’s a viable option here.
#16 Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
His three cone drill at the combine was among the best in recent history. He can play inside and out. Dallas needs to rebuild its defensive front.
#17 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
He does everything well. Flawless character. Insane competitor. HUGE hands. He absolutely deserves to go this early, if not earlier.
#18 Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
A 4.3 forty and massive 2013 production puts him in the top-20 range. Some of the Steve Smith comparisons a bit odd. He’s more of an all-round playmaker.
#19 Zack Martin (G, Notre Dame)
An absolutely superb tackle in college, but expected to move to guard in the NFL. Could play left guard next to prospective free agent signing Brandon Albert.
#20 Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
There are 2-3 logical left tackle options in free agency they can go after. Presuming they sign one, Barr comes into play as an outside rusher. Possible bust.
#21 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Perhaps not quite ‘can’t miss’ enough to go in the top-15. He’d excel in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. Very athletic but not out of this world.
#22 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
Physical corner who plays with an edge. Good blitzer. Philly wants tough football players on defense.
#23 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
Andy Reid made sure he got a good look at the top two safety’s at the combine, putting his big sandwich down to sit in the stands.
#24 Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Shazier’s vertical and broad jump were off the charts last week. Stunning athlete with insane potential. Needs to direct traffic better to make more plays.
#25 Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
They need more size up front. Tuitt can play end in a 3-4. Running a 4.8 at his pro-day this week helps his cause. Strong as an ox.
#26 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Two picks on defense and no QB? Perhaps. They have the third pick on day two with Houston (Bortles) and Washington (RGIII) ahead of them. It’s entirely possible they stand pat and keep building that D.
#27 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
He had an outstanding work out last week, but that’s not the whole story with Gilbert. There are a few concerns here. Reports say he was nearly benched by OKST last season.
#28 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
They’re about to undergo a forced major rebuild on the offensive line. It wouldn’t be a shock to see one of their first two picks go on a tackle or guard.
#29 Brent Urban (DT, Virginia)
Missed the combine but we’re talking about major upside here. He could be J.J. Watt-lite. Belichick loves versatility up front.
#30 Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois)
Aggressive, wiry safety. Would fill a need for the Niners. Didn’t work out at the combine due to injury.
#31 Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin)
Denver needs a tone setter. A leader. A guy who flies around. This would be a smart move. You want this guy on your team.
#32 Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Underrated, incredibly athletic tackle or guard. Versatile. Outstanding character. Tom Cable would love this guy. Can either replace Breno Giacomini or play left guard.

Mock notes

Seahawks take Joel Bitonio at #32

The options on the defensive line weren’t great in this projection. But they aren’t great anyway once the likes of Aaron Donald leave the board.

At receiver, six players go in the first frame here. I suspect we’ll see a rush like this, then a pause, before a further rush in round two. The six players I’ve listed seem almost certain to be gone before Seattle’s pick.

Overall Bitonio just seemed to be the best fit. He ticks all the boxes.

I wrote this article last week detailing my thoughts on Bitonio, but plenty of people are sleeping on this guy.

From a physical stand point he’s right up there with Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews. Check the combine numbers. Then go look at his tape against UCLA (Anthony Barr) and Florida State (BCS Champs).

We’re talking about a seriously underrated, versatile lineman who could play left tackle for some teams.

In Seattle, he either replaces Breno Giacomini or starts at left guard.

I’ve not been a major advocate for taking an offensive lineman in round one this year. With Bitonio, he’s just too good to pass up.

He looks and sounds like a Tom Cable protégé.

If teams genuinely see him as a guard convert only — as Tony Pauline reported — he’ll continue to fly under the radar.

He’s a classic Carroll/Schneider pick. Gritty, competitive, insane athletic ability, under-appreciated and he’s a finisher.

Round two for half the league maybe, but round one for the Seahawks.

Justin Gilbert at #27?

After a combine, it’s easy to assume those who performed well will fly up the boards.

That’s not always the case.

There’s so much to like about Justin Gilbert’s length and speed. I can see why he’s gaining momentum as a prospective top-15 pick.

But there are other things to consider too.

Bob McGinn’s scouting notebook provides some of the best insider information you can get pre-draft. Here’s what he reported about Gilbert:

“He’s very perplexing to me,” said one scout. “Big knock on him is ball skills. He’s a big, long athlete that can run. He didn’t play real well last year. They were even going to bench him because of inconsistent play. I just don’t think he sees the ball real well. He has first-round talent but he’s just up and down.” The track record of Oklahoma State CBs in the NFL isn’t stellar. “Gilbert gets beat all the time,” a second scout said. “He’s got some interception production, but when you see the picks they’re not really legitimate ones.”

He has a ton of athletic potential, but he’s someone I want (and need) to do more work on.

Running well and having ideal length is not a precursor to going early in the draft.

Not if scouts think you’re a liability who’s going to get beat frequently at the next level.

And it’s worth remembering — for all of Seattle’s length and speed at corner — they’re also well coached, incredibly prepared and among the most technically gifted corners in the league.

It’s not just about running fast and having long arms.

Marqise Lee the #2 receiver

The knee-jerk reaction to make after the combine is — “Lee ran a 4.5? He’ll sink like a stone.”

He’s not big. He’s not tall. He’s not an elite speed guy.

But you know what? Nobody competes like Marqise Lee. He’s relentless. He makes impossible grabs look easy. He’s a stunning playmaker. He has special teams value.

Not every team is going to feel this way, but a lot of people will LOVE his tape. And it’s easy to forget just how dominant he was when completely healthy.

There’s no reason at all why he won’t be a top-15 pick.

Either way, he’s one of six receivers who won’t last long.

Sammy Watkins, Lee, Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham Jr and Brandin Cooks will almost certainly not make it to #32, severely limiting (and possibly ending) any hopes Seattle has of taking a receiver in round one.

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Thoughts on Johnson, Browner and Tate

March 4th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Seahawks place second round tender on Jeron Johnson

If Johnson signs his tender, he’ll be due $2.187m in 2014.

While Doug Baldwin is a certain lock to be tendered highly, this wasn’t quite so expected.

It’s clear the Seahawks feared losing Johnson for nothing.

Using the original round tender (he’s a former UDFA) would mean any team can offer him a contract on starter money, and Seattle would have to match the offer.

There are enough teams with substantial cap room (here’s looking at you, Jacksonville) who would probably be willing to tap into Seattle’s rich depth in the secondary.

At least by placing the second round tender, the Seahawks avoid losing him for nothing this year.

There are suggestions within the national media that some teams could show interest in Johnson. It’s not a great year for safety’s in the draft.

But the idea someone would use a second round pick to snatch him away is fanciful.

He’s played sparingly in three years, with 15 total defensive tackles in his career.

What’s more likely is someone might be willing to spend, for example, a fourth or fifth rounder to make Johnson a starter.

By placing this tender the Seahawks can at least have that discussion. Instead of watching him walk out the door for zero compensation.

It also shows how highly they rate the player. At a time when cap space is limited, they’re willing to pay him just over $2m to be a backup.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

Brandon Browner reinstated by the NFL

It’s not often the NFL backs down when challenged.

But that’s exactly what they’ve done here.

Faced with a lawsuit and a lengthy court battle, the league and Brandon Browner’s representatives have come to an arrangement that will allow him to be a free agent from March 11th.

It’s a decision that effectively saves Browner’s career.

He was due to serve a one year suspension. Considering he turns 30 in August and wouldn’t be able to play until his 31st year, this is big news.

The immediate question Seahawks fans have asked is — what chance he returns to Seattle?

I’d say only a very small chance, if any at all.

Byron Maxwell proved he’s a capable replacement. While Browner and Walter Thurmond were serving suspensions at a vital time in the season — Maxwell was busy making plays on the field.

This team is all about competition. You can’t compete when you’re ineligible. Maxwell, at this stage, is simply more reliable.

For me, he’s also better.

If Browner’s market is ice cold and he’s willing to sign a ridiculously low contract, then maybe they consider it.

But I suspect they’re ready to move on. Not just with Maxwell, but with their other young guys like Jeremy Lane, Tharold Simon, Akeem Auguste and DeShawn Shead — plus any new additions they make this off-season.

Golden Tate on staying in Seattle

In the interview linked above, Tate says talks haven’t really heated up with the Seahawks about a new contract.

This isn’t a big surprise, and I wouldn’t read too much into it.

In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if Tate was allowed to test the market.

There are two things to consider here, both linked to a rich draft class at receiver.

1. Will the open market be impacted by the talent available in the draft?

We could see 9-10 receivers going in the first 40-50 picks in May. Teams that need a wide out know this draft class is loaded at the position.

Are you going to go out and spend big money on Tate, Hakeem Nicks or Eric Decker, or are you going to bring in a rookie for a fraction of the price?

It could make absolute financial sense to let Tate discover his true value, and then make an offer.

If he doesn’t get the money he and his agent expect they’ll be forced to lower their expectations.

It could be the difference between Seattle paying $6m per year and $4m per year.

2. Are the Seahawks willing to risk letting Tate walk, knowing they can fall back on the draft?

There’s no doubt Seattle wants to keep Tate. But I’m also sure they won’t see it as the end of the world if he signs somewhere else.

Even picking at #32 in the draft, they’ll have a chance to select a quality receiver. The options at #64 could also be enticing if they go in a different direction with the first pick.

If they wish to let Tate discover his true value, they can do so with some degree of confidence. This is a great draft for wide outs.

Q&A on Field Gulls

One final link for tonight — I featured in a Q&A with Kenneth Arthur at Field Gulls, discussing a few talking points in the draft.

Check out the piece by clicking here.

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Region of Boom

March 4th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

A Hawks fan named Tanner sent me a link to this video on Sunday. It’s really well put together. If you’ve got 50 minutes to spare, check it out…

Region of Boom from Tanner Hewitt on Vimeo.

 

Why the Seahawks probably won’t be trading for Jimmy Graham

March 3rd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

So yeah, this happened today…

Three Tweets from three different ESPN accounts — all linking Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks.

This trade almost certainly won’t happen.

The final tweet in that trilogy above is the main reason why.

ESPN Stats point out Seattle was tied 28th for tight end production in 2013.

That’s not because they have an incompetent starter who couldn’t catch a gently thrown beach-ball.

It’s because they simply don’t throw to the tight ends that often — by design.

The Seahawks are the the most run-centric team in the NFL. Whether it’s Marshawn Lynch grinding up the middle or Russell Wilson scrambling for a few yards, they’ll continue to run the ball with authority.

The tight end in Seattle’s system first and foremost has to be a good blocker. It’s why Zach Miller’s cap hit was $11m last year — higher than anyone else on the roster.

They really value what he brings to the team as a blocker first, catcher second.

Replacing Miller with a guy who can’t block to save his life just isn’t going to happen.

That’s not to say the Seahawks wouldn’t value a player with Graham’s insane size and athletic ability.

But the price to get him out of New Orleans will be two first round picks and a giant contract on top of that.

That isn’t happening.

He also turns 28 in November. So by the time you’re ready to start spending first round picks again, he’ll be into his 30′s.

This isn’t like the Harvin trade. That only took a single first round pick plus change. The 2013 draft didn’t have anywhere near the depth and quality of the upcoming class, so it looked like a no-brainer to the Seahawks front office.

Pete Carroll had previous with Harvin, so did Darrell Bevell. He was approaching his 25th birthday at the time, not his 28th.

Despite my original scepticism, the deal for Harvin made absolute sense.

The Graham suggestion makes very little sense.

How could you look some of your players in the eye after giving up a kings ransom for this tight end?

Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bruce Irvin — the whole linebacker crew.

These are the guys who shut him down in the playoffs — out-fighting him on every target and making him look pretty ordinary in the process.

All after he initiated a pre-game scuffle with several Seahawks in a bizarre attempt to make some kind of statement.

Talk is cheap, as they say. Graham ended the game with one catch for eight yards.

You’re going to trade two first rounders and dish out an outstandingly massive contract before rewarding the guys (Thomas and Sherman) who helped shut him down in the post season on the way to a Super Bowl victory?

No way.

It’s encouraging that the cap will probably hit $150m by 2016. That’ll certainly help the Seahawks keep hold of Thomas, Sherman and Russell Wilson for the long haul, without having to decimate the rest of their roster (Bobby Wagner and others will also need to be re-signed).

But having already splashed out on Harvin a year ago, they can ill-afford to keep adding sizeable contracts.

They might not a get a player of Graham’s calibre with the #32 pick in May, but they’ll hopefully get a starter who earns no more than $2.1m during the four years of his rookie contract.

Call me a cynic, but this looks like a classic back-scratching job between journalists and agents a week before free agency.

One which I would totally understand, by the way.

But it’s up to us to see through it.

Right now Graham’s a franchise tag player and New Orleans don’t have any major incentive to budge form that position.

Giving the impression someone might swoop in with an offer-sheet perhaps encourages the two parties to talk, with Graham’s representatives pushing for a long term deal.

The battle lines are being drawn too. The Saints have tagged Graham as a tight end. He feels he should be tagged as a receiver. The difference is worth over $5m.

Any edge you can find, you’ll take.

This looks to me like the Graham camp playing their first card.

Seattle (the most attractive destination in the NFL right now it seems) and two other respected franchises (Green Bay and New England) — all with a perceived need at the position — are catalysts to try and get talks moving.

For one first round pick, I could see those teams being interested.

But the Saints won’t accept that.

And there’s no way those teams are coughing up two first rounders. Not with this draft class.

Graham to the Seahawks isn’t happening.

Franchise/transition tag news

Brian Orakpo is officially off the market, after he was one of four players to receive the franchise tag before today’s deadline.

With Greg Hardy one of the others to be tagged, this is good news for Michael Johnson.

For the teams hoping to adding a top tier free agent at defensive end, he’s now the best option alongside Jared Allen.

Don’t expect a dead market for pass rushers this year. Outside of the obvious top prospects, this isn’t a great class for edge rushers in the draft.

A lot of people expect Atlanta to trade up for Jadeveon Clowney. I think there’s an argument to be made that says they’re more likely to stay put at #6, use free agency to get a pass rusher and use the draft to get a much needed left tackle.

The other two players to be given the franchise tag were Nick Foles (K, New York Jets) and obviously Jimmy Graham.

Two players were given the transition tag — Alex Mack (C, Cleveland Browns) and Jason Worilds (OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers).

The Seahawks didn’t make any transactions today, which was to be expected.

They have until March 11th to prevent Michael Bennett, Golden Tate and co. hitting the open market.

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Comparing Zach Miller to Jace Amaro

March 2nd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Sam Farmer at the LA Times published an interesting mock draft today.

He had the Seahawks taking a tight end in round one…

32. SEATTLE: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech — The Seahawks have a reliable pass-catching tight end in Zach Miller, but he has gotten too expensive. They could groom Amaro to replace him.

He’d be a detachment from previous #1 picks by this front office — emphasising unique physical qualities whether it’s size, speed or length.

Amaro ran a 4.74 at 6-5 and 265lbs. He had the smallest hands (9 inches) among the tight ends at the combine.

He did manage a 33 inch vertical though, which topped Eric Ebron (32 inches). He also has 34 inch arms, meaning quite a sizeable catching radius.

Yet ultimately we’re talking about a player who is more about production than insane physical potential.

He had a historic 2013 season — setting an FBS record with 1352 yards.

But he also featured in a well-oiled ‘air raid’ offense at Texas Tech.

He’s not especially ‘Seahawky’ if you look at his combine performance — but neither is Zach Miller if you look at his measurements.

Here’s what he posted at the 2007 combine:

Height: 6-4
Weight: 256lbs
40 yard dash: 4.87
10 yard split: 1.68
Vertical leap: 34 inches
Three cone: 7.01 seconds
Short shuttle: 4.42 seconds

Seattle’s current starting tight end is not a dynamic athlete.

And yet he took up more cap room than anyone else on the roster last year ($11m).

Clearly they value this type of player, and that’s why they made a big push to sign him as a free agent three years ago.

They probably didn’t run through his combine numbers at the time. He had experience with offensive line coach Tom Cable. They knew he’d fit into their scheme and what they wanted to do on offense.

They weren’t gambling on a rookie, they were buying a proven commodity.

But when they do eventually replace Miller, whether it’s this year, next year or whenever — they might look to bring in a player with similar measurables, with the idea of moulding him into a like-for-like replacement.

And Amaro’s numbers actually compare quite favourably.

He’s 10lbs heavier, but ran a faster forty yard dash by 0.13 seconds. Miller had another go at the forty at his pro-day and managed a 4.74 — identical to Amaro’s.

The vertical numbers are similar (33 vs 34 inches) but Amaro is taller and bigger. He also ran a faster short shuttle (4.30 vs 4.42) but Miller had the better three cone (7.42 vs 7.01).

Plus both players came out of the combine having seen their stock take a bit of a hit.

Seven years ago Miller was competing with Greg Olsen to be the top tight end. His disappointing run and the fact he didn’t do the bench press due to injury drew some criticism. Olsen performed well enough to go in round one to the Bears at #31.

Miller was the #38 overall pick.

Amaro didn’t run quite as fast as people were hoping last week and didn’t look great during catching drills. He went into the combine as a prospective first round pick, but now he might slip into the second frame.

Both players were also seen as prototypical pass catchers.

While Miller’s blocking technique was praised at Arizona State, it was still considered an area for improvement.

Amaro shows plenty of willing as a blocker, but similarly will have to work for it to become a major plus point. He had 28 reps on the bench press, so he has a lot of upper body power.

They both look similar on the field in terms of frame — with comparable body types.

I’m not at all convinced Miller will be released this off-season, although I think there’s at least some chance his cap hit is reduced for 2014 (possibly by adding an extra year to his contract).

But Farmer’s projection isn’t totally out of left field either. If the Seahawks ultimately see Miller as too expensive — Amaro could be a potential replacement in terms of the physical comparison.

I just don’t think the Seahawks will want to make such a sideways (or backwards) step with their first pick. It might save some money, but if you go tight end in round one  – you’re not really improving the team.

You’re simply replacing one of your better players with a cheaper alternative.

That seems so anti-’Win Forever’.

Adding to the offensive line, defensive line or at receiver still seems much more likely.

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Who could the Seahawks go after in free agency?

March 1st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Cincy's Michael Johnson is an enticing option in free agency

Could it happen again?

Remember a year ago. We all expected a relatively quiet free agency.

Then BANG.

Percy Harvin trade. Cliff Avril signs. Michael Bennett signs.

In the space of a few days Seattle became the talk of the NFL.

And nobody expected it.

We’re unlikely to see anything quite as headline grabbing as that when the market re-opens on March 11th.

But there’s no reason why the Seahawks can’t at least be in the discussion to make a couple of very interesting moves.

With the cap growing by $10m this year, there’s unexpected relief for a Seattle team determined to keep their own free agents.

Michael Bennett is the priority, while extending Earl Thomas’ contract is a must this off-season.

But even if they’re able to achieve both of those goals, there’s no reason why they can’t be in the hunt for at least one prize addition.

Here’s why:

– $10m increase in the cap

– Nearly $3m rolled over from 2013

– Releasing Sidney Rice and Red Bryant saved $12.8m

– The possibility of cutting Chris Clemons and/or Zach Miller could free up as much as a further $12.5m

The Seahawks will have to pay $6.3m in dead money for 2014, plus they were already over the original projected cap before the rise.

You’re looking at the possibility of an estimated $17.8m (number courtesy of Spotrac) to spend without even touching the contracts of Clemons or Miller.

I think it’s unlikely Miller is cut — and Clemons remains safe for now. But restructuring both contracts is very possible.

Miller is a valuable player who does an excellent job for the Seahawks. But at the end of the day, he’s still a predominantly blocking tight end set to earn $7m. That’s off the back of an $11m season in 2013.

The franchise tag number for a tight end is set at $7.035m this year. Miller is earning a flat $7m, having made $4m MORE than the current tag total last season.

That’s an incredible level of investment.

It wouldn’t be unfair of the Seahawks to expect Miller to take a reduced salary, even if they were the ones who asked him to sign the deal back in 2011.

He isn’t going to get close to $7m on the open market. There’s surely a negotiation to be had between the two parties (probably ongoing). Perhaps they extend the length of the deal and spread the cap hit across three seasons?

Whether the contract is cut or restructured, the Seahawks stand to make a saving.

They’ll save $7.5m by cutting the 32-year-old Clemons, who’s owed $9.6m this year. It’s not unrealistic to think they could give all of that money, plus a little extra, to a younger pass rusher in free agency.

I also wouldn’t rule out the retention of a man who during the post season appeared somewhat back to his pre-injury best.

For the sake of this piece, let’s say Clemons is cut and Miller extends his contract by an extra season — spreading the $13m he’s owed into three chunks of $4.3m.

That would give you $28m to spend in free agency.

At this point it’s worth noting the cap is expected to rise above $150m by 2016.

So while some of that $28m could and should be used to keep Earl Thomas for the long haul — there’s no reason why there won’t be enough money in the future to also extend Richard Sherman ad Russell Wilson without worrying about rolling over a substantial sum of that free space.

Some of the money will go towards re-signing players.

Bennett is the prize asset this off-season and a must-keep. He can, quite rightly, point to the +$9m salaries of Clemons and Avril and argue he deserves the same value. The Seahawks can also argue those two players were effectively signed to two and three year contracts — while Bennett will likely be searching for at least four.

You can see why there might be some conflict, and I’m sure Seattle will be willing to walk away if needs be — however much they wish to keep him.

And yet I suspect there’s a middle ground that can be achieved, possibly for an average salary of around $8.5m.

If such a deal is signed, an estimated $28m in cap room becomes $19.5m.

Golden Tate is the next man up. He’s seen Riley Cooper sign a deal worth $22.5m. He’ll earn between $4.8-5.5m over the course of the deal after this year. His cap hit in 2014 is just $1.8m.

Tate should expect a better contract. Cooper’s production, albeit similar to Tate’s, really came in two prolific games last season. He’s also something of a one-season wonder.

Even so, he shouldn’t be expecting mega-bucks in comparison. A contract that pays him around $28m would appear fair. You can limit the year one hit and average it out between $5-7m per year beyond 2014.

Like Bennett, Tate may wish to test the market. But again there’s probably a middle ground that can be achieved before March 11th.

For the basis of this article let’s take $5m off the books — even if the 2014 cap hit for Tate would likely be lower.

That leaves £14.5m to spend.

Re-signing Thomas doesn’t have to come with a major cap hike in 2014. His salary could remain at the $5.4m he’s already due via his rookie contract.

If they do end up with $14.5m to spend — why wouldn’t you at least consider a splash in free agency?

The Seahawks have never been more popular within the NFL world. All we’ve heard since the Super Bowl is how much players want to play for Pete Carroll and this franchise.

And while I appreciate they also enjoy being paid even more than playing for a particular team, it’s not like the Seahawks won’t have money to spend.

So who could they go after?

Brian Orakpo (DE, Redskins)

Jason La Canfora reported today that the Redskins are unlikely to slap the franchise tag on Orakpo. The tag number for a defensive end is $13.116 million, and $11.455 million for a linebacker.

He’ll turn 28 at the end of July so theoretically he’s hitting his prime. He had 10 sacks in 15 games last season, with 39.5 in total during his five years in Washington. He’s a three time Pro-Bowler.

There’s no doubting he’s a quality pass rusher and he rebounded statistically after missing most of the 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Why it wouldn’t happen

Orakpo would command interest from any team in the league with money to burn. His price should sky rocket quickly, and the Seahawks would need to be willing to spend big. It could cost them as much as $10-12m a year.

You’re not going to get Orakpo on a shorter term 1-3 year contract. So would you really want to commit major money and years to a player who turns 30 before the 2016 season?

Michael Johnson (DE, Bengals)

His sack totals were down in 2013 (3.5 in total) — but don’t let that fool you. Johnson had a terrific year, displaying the usual fire and brimstone we’ve come to expect from him.

He slipped in the draft five years ago due to question marks about his effort. Those questions have since been answered. Johnson has been one of the tone-setters on Cincy’s highly rated defense. He’s also a fantastic run defender, listed at 6-7 and 270lbs.

The Bengals used the franchise tag to keep him last season, after an 11.5 sack campaign in 2012.

Why it wouldn’t happen

Again, the competition for his signature could be fierce. It wouldn’t be a total shock if someone like the Atlanta Falcons made a big push, freeing up the #6 pick in the draft to spend on a left tackle.

Mike Zimmer — now in Minnesota — could go back for his former project. Especially if Jared Allen walks.

Johnson’s run defense would likely appeal to the Seahawks after releasing Red Bryant. It could allow them to start Bennett and Johnson at end in four man fronts on early downs.

Jared Allen (DE, Vikings)

I don’t buy all this talk of a decline with Allen. If there’s one player in the league who’s going to keep going for a few more years yet — it’s this guy.

He’ll turn 32 in April, so any contract is likely to be short term. It’s also unlikely to be financially motivated, considering he earned every penny of a $73m contract in Minnesota.

This is exactly the kind of move I could envisage the Seahawks making. Allen plays a ton of snaps and always brings an intensity to the field. He’s a terrific character, familiar with some of the people in Seattle’s locker room (Darrell Bevell, Percy Harvin).

He had 11.5 sacks in 2013 on a bad Vikings outfit. He had 12 sacks the year before, and 22 sacks in 2011. Even at 32, imagine what he could do playing opposite Bennett and Avril.

Why it wouldn’t happen

The Seahawks are mostly a youth movement. They want to have a young roster. Just because I think Allen has at least another couple of years to go, doesn’t mean Seattle’s front office feels the same way.

I just wonder if the Vikings might make a push to keep him. They’ve appointed a defensive minded coach in Mike Zimmer and he’ll be keen to keep his best pass rusher. They have enough holes to fill without adding another. They’re projected to have $37m in cap room so could re-sign Allen and go after Michael Johnson.

Whether he has any interest in staying remains to be seen. They’re likely to be a team going through a minor rebuild. His window of opportunity is dwindling if he wants to win a Championship. Signing a two-year deal in Seattle or with another contender gives him a better shot at that elusive ring.

Arthur Jones (DE, Baltimore)

Excellent run-stuffing defensive lineman who played end in Baltimore but could play in multiple spots for the Seahawks. He’s also capable of making plays in the passing game, recording 8.5 sacks in the last two seasons.

Seattle’s run defense took a hit with Red Bryant’s departure and even if they don’t bring in another 320lbs monster, they’re likely to address the situation one way or another. Jones is 6-3 and 315lbs and could play the five technique in Seattle.

He’s the type of player this team likes — big, with length. He has 35 and 1/4 inch arms. He wouldn’t just make up for the loss of Bryant, he could be even more disruptive.

Why it wouldn’t happen

It’s hard to judge Jones’ true worth. On the one hand, he could end up being an absolute bargain. If his market is relatively cold to begin with, it works to the advantage of a team like Seattle if they have interest.

On the other hand, there’s just as much chance he gets overpaid. Bryant received a big old contract in 2011 — and teams might be wiling to pay Jones $7-8m a year to do a similar job.

In that scenario, the Seahawks might be better off walking away.

Lamarr Houston (DE, Oakland)

I’ve always liked Houston, right back to his Texas days. He was a deserved early second round pick in 2010 and he hasn’t disappointed with the Raiders.

He notched 10 sacks in the last two seasons playing for a miserable team. He’s a ball of energy with decent size (6-3, 300lbs). He’s not as long as Seattle likes (33 inch arms), but he is a solid pass rusher.

If another former Raider in Desmond Bryant is worth a $34m contract, Houston’s going to get paid this off-season.

Why it wouldn’t happen

Oakland are slated to have more cap room than any other team in the league (close to $70m). Even a franchise known for titanic gaffe’s over the years is unlikely to let this one slip through the net.

Houston doesn’t have to accept the contract, of course, but the Raiders need to make sure they don’t lose any existing talent. He’s one of their best players and they can’t afford to let him walk.

The Seahawks found effective interior players in Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel without spending big money. Houston projects as a three technique in Seattle, and I’m not convinced that’s an area they’ll want to spend big.

B.J. Raji (DE, Green Bay)

Originally drafted as a nose tackle, Raji eventually moved to end in Green Bay. He’s had a couple of slow years, failing to pick up a single sack since 2011. He had 9.5 between 2010-11.

At one point he threatened to become one of the top big men in the league, yet for whatever reason he’s failed to deliver on that promise. The Packers aren’t huge spenders unless you’re Aaron Rodgers and they’ve let other free agents walk in the past.

Raji can expect a decent pay day on name-reputation alone, probably more than the Packers are willing to cough up.

Why it wouldn’t happen

He’ll probably get overpaid. Teams trying to establish a 3-4 defense will consider moving him back to the nose. He’s still a genuinely rare player with enormous size (337lbs) and quick feet.

I don’t anticipate the Seahawks paying big for a player with this size. Splashing out on an edge rusher just seems more likely.

Henry Melton (DT, Chicago)

Before a torn ACL cut short his 2013 season, Melton had established himself as one of the top interior pass rushers in the league.

A former running back at Texas, the 27-year-old excelled after switching to defense. He recorded 13 sacks between 2011-12, but only played in three games last season.

Without Melton the Bears defense collapsed. It wasn’t all down to his absence of course — the secondary was poor and Julius Peppers is starting to decline. It had a major impact though — and there’s a reason Chicago tagged him a year ago.

Why it wouldn’t happen

First of all, you need to do a medical check. Is he going to be an injury risk in the future?

Secondly, will the injury have any negative impact on his speed and is he expecting a contract to go with his 2013 status? He expressed interest in staying with the Bears last year, and it’d make some sense if they were to re-sign him. They know the extent of the injury, they also don’t need to do anything to weaken that defense further.

For me this signing would be more likely if Bennett departed Seattle. Melton might be able to play a similar role as a hybrid DE/DT.

What? You only picked defensive linemen!

It’s pretty simple really.

I hate the options on offense.

I’ve no interest in Hakeem Nicks or any of the receivers not named Golden Tate. The draft is too good at wide-out to even warrant considering a low-ball offer to any of these guys.

I’m talking about a big splash here. Would you want to pay any of these receivers £8m in free agency?

Not me.

Plus the defensive options will be limited at #32 in the draft, so it just makes sense to invest any free money on the D-line. It allows you to go after the O-line and receiver in the draft.

Out of all the names listed, I think the most likely player they’re willing to spend $7-8m on will be Michael Johnson.

I think the player they’re most likely to add is Jared Allen. But then I can also see them deciding just to keep Clemons instead.

Alternatively, they could save the money and reward Richard Sherman with a nice new contract this year. It’s worth considering.

Yet there’s something tantalising about the prospect of this Seahawks roster — and in particular the defense — being even better next year.

Think about what that might look like, and tell me you wouldn’t be keeping your options open in free agency…

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Seahawks release Bryant & Rice plus other notes

February 28th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

This wasn’t a big shock.

The news was already out there, the moves both inevitable. Sidney Rice and Red Bryant weren’t going to go any further with the Seahawks.

And yet there’s still a sense of disappointment today.

Rice was a big free agent addition in 2011 — at a time when Seattle had very little quality on the roster and needed an instant injection of talent.

When he was snatched away from Minnesota, he was seen as a potential #1 receiver. Unfortunately the injuries that plagued his career with the Vikings had a similar impact in Seattle.

His signature, however, still provided plenty of momentum at a time when it was absolutely needed.

He never put up huge numbers — but he provided plenty of big plays. None bigger than the play-action touchdown to beat the Patriots in 2012.

Bryant was one of the few players that survived from the Ruskell era. A fierce competitor, he’d been the heart and soul of the team.

It was Bryant who made “we all we got, we all we need” the rallying call in 2010.

It suited a meandering 7-9 outfit punching above its weight. It equally befit a 13-3 Championship roster three years later.

Whatever your opinion of Bryant’s on the field play, teams didn’t want to face him. It was an obstacle that had to be passed.

He set the tone for the defense, long before the likes of Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman took the baton.

He’ll go somewhere else and be just as impactful. And just as underrated.

Yet this is where the Seahawks are at right now. This is no longer a rebuild — it’s a maintenance job. Keep the key players you can’t live without. Replace the ones you can.

We talked about it throughout the 2013 season, and there were a few candidates who could’ve been cut.

Brandon Mebane’s contract is just as cut-able as Bryant’s — yet he played as well as any one-technique in the league through the second half of the season and the playoffs. It became no contest.

Rice’s ACL injury made his departure a formality. They paid millions to two injured receivers in 2013, while a bunch of UDFA’s and cheap replacements won a title. Percy Harvin isn’t going anywhere, but Rice’s deal couldn’t be retained.

It’s also possible that neither player will need to be replaced — another key reason why they’ve gone and the likes of Chris Clemons and Zach Miller remain.

Most people expect Seattle to add a receiver with one of their first two picks in the draft. Personally, I think it’s a nailed on certainty.

But even if it doesn’t happen — they’ll have the same crew that were good enough to win a Super Bowl if they re-sign Golden Tate.

In fact the prospect of having Harvin for more than a couple of games stands to add a significant boost to the position.

They can live without Rice if they retain Tate.

Bryant’s size will be a loss to the defense, but this is a unit that has constantly found ways to adapt and evolve. They intend to keep Michael Bennett — and there’s no reason why he can’t feature more prominently at end.

Today’s news could open the door for Bennett, Clemons and Cliff Avril to take more snaps together. This trio wreaked havoc together in the post season.

If they find a way to keep Tony McDaniel — or replace him with a similar sized player — there’s no reason why they can’t thrive without having a 320lbs monster playing early downs.

There’s also a chance Greg Scruggs and Jesse Williams come into the fold — and the later rounds of the draft could offer up a Justin Ellis, DeAndre Coleman or Da’Quan Jones.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Rice or Bryant won’t be replaced. As noted, it’s a great draft for receivers. I also projected 303lbs Stephon Tuitt to the Seahawks in my last mock draft.

But if they’d released Zach Miller instead, they’d have to replace him as a priority. A capable run blocking tight end is vital to this offense. The options in free agent are pitiful, and do you really want to be handcuffed into looking at a Troy Niklas in round one?

Likewise Clemons would need to be replaced.

Benson Mayowa remains untested. Bruce Irvin appears destined to remain at linebacker (according to Dan Quinn in a recent interview). O’Brien Schofield is a free agent.

You can’t go into the season with just Avril and Mayowa as your edge rushers. And it’s a rotten draft for LEO’s.

Both players could be cut in the future — or they could be asked to restructure their deals.

But they’re very much safe for now.

If either was going to be cut before free agency, it would’ve happened today — at the same time as Bryant and Rice.

In the case of Clemons, one thing could change that of course — the strong options available in free agency.

What if the market is cold just as it was a year ago?

What if there’s an opportunity to talk to a Michael Johnson, Brian Orakpo or Jared Allen?

If there’s a short term deal to be done, just as we saw with Avril and Bennett, Clemons could become expendable — saving an extra $7.5m in cap space.

Things are starting to get interesting — and with other deals now being completed around the league, prices are being set. It wouldn’t be a total shock if we hear something on Tate or Bennett over the weekend.

So where are we at in terms of the cap?

It was revealed today that the budget is set at $133m for 2014. The Seahawks are able to roll over just under $3m from last season, taking the grand total up to about $136m they’ll have available.

With the cap increasing by $10m, the $3m rollover and the $12.8m saving today — there’s plenty of room for the Seahawks to play with here.

With a further increase of around $10m expected in 2015 (plus another $10m in 2016) — suddenly some of the long term problems are easing.

Really, they should have no problem extending the contracts of Thomas, Sherman and Russell Wilson. The annual cap rises plus the departure of other top earners will provide copious amounts of room to get those deals done.

Bennett will be pricey, as will Tate to a certain extent. Retaining the other free agents will really be down to market value and testing the water.

Yet theoretically you could pay Bennett $8m per year and Tate $5.5m per year and still have around $10m to play with.

If you wanted to go after Johnson — who’s almost certain to leave the Bengals — you make an offer knowing you can cut Clemons and save another $7.5m immediately.

So with Bennett and Tate in the bag, you’d be going into the market with a cool $17-18m to play with.

More than enough to at least make a few enquiries and also look into re-signing Steven Hauschka, Breno Giacomini, Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald.

Re-signing Earl Thomas this off-season shouldn’t have any impact here. His cap hit is already $5.5m in 2014. You could sign him to an extension that pays close to $10m per year on average, and you could still keep that cap number at around $6-8m in 2014.

The extended cap rise really is a gift from the football gods as Seattle tries to keep a Championship team together.

But the most exciting part is — they could get even better.

And if there’s any further incentive to get busy in the market — remember this. Seattle is the most fashionable place to play in the NFL right now. A lot of free agents are going to want to come here.

Come and be part of the dynasty. Come and play for the team that lets you be yourself.

Come and play for the team that won the Super Bowl and intends to win more.

If you can improve an already productive defensive line going into the draft — it frees you up to target receiver and offensive line with the first two picks.

The only stumbling block could be the amount of free cash elsewhere. Jacksonville has around $60m in cap space. Oakland is in a similar position. With teams like that needing to force major rebuilds, they’ll likely get the cheque book out.

But again — players want to play in Seattle. That’s the joker in the pack.

I’m not sure they feel the same way about playing for the Raiders and Jags. And it’ll test their desire to really overpay in order to land key free agents.

Draft notes

– Stephon Tuitt ran a forty yard dash at a specially arranged pro day today. Nobody seems to be reporting anything about this, but the player himself says he ran a 4.8. That’s an impressive time if it can be confirmed.

– Austin Seferian-Jenkins underwent foot surgery today, according to this report. He’s expected to miss around eight weeks, which sounds generous. With the draft starting later this year (early May), he might be able to squeeze in a pro-day.

– The weirdest story of the day involved the Miami Dolphins, who appear to be shopping Dion Jordan. It’s only a year since they traded up to take him with the #3 overall pick. It’ll be interesting to see if they get any takers. After such an underwhelming rookie season and persistent shoulder problems, I’m not sure I’d be racing to make a deal.

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