Could drafting a tight end in round one actually be one of the most productive moves this team makes in 2014?
Let’s call it addition by subtraction.
You might have to cut one popular veteran as a consequence. But it could help you keep two or three others.
Let’s start by discussing Zach Miller.
Statistically he hasn’t put up big numbers in Seattle, despite signing a $34m contract in 2011.
In Oakland he was the #1 target in the passing game. He had 2268 receiving yards in his final three years with the Raiders — an average of 756 per season.
In his three years with the Seahawks so far, that production has halved. He has just 1016 yards and a single-season best of 396 in 2012.
It’d be easy to look at that and say it’s underwhelming. I’d argue strongly against that. It only takes a little digging to find out how unfair it’d be to compare those statistics.
For starters, his touchdown production is almost exactly the same. He has eight TD’s in three seasons with Seattle. He had nine scores in his final three years in Oakland.
So right off the bat, he’s no less of a scoring threat.
Here’s the difference in targets between the two three-year spells:
Oakland (2008-10) — 278 targets
Seattle (2011-13) — 153 targets
Clearly he has a different role these days. The Raiders made him a primary target. In Seattle, within a much more balanced attack, that isn’t the case.
He’s also been a key blocking force in a scheme he’s very familiar with. Let’s not underestimate how important that has been — particular during the 2011 and 2013 seasons when the Seahawks suffered multiple injuries at offensive tackle.
When called upon, Miller has been an extremely reliable safety net for Russell Wilson. I see no reason why that’ll change any time soon. He’s only just turned 28, so he has time on his side.
You can make a pretty strong case to argue Zach Miller has been a terrific addition to this team — even without the big stats to back it up.
There is a ‘but’, however…
Miller is far from an elite player. He isn’t a big time difference maker.
His contract suggests he should be.
The most expensive player on Seattle’s 2013 roster was — you guessed it — Zach Miller.
And it wasn’t even close.
His $11m salary was $1.5m more expensive than #2 on the list — Russell Oking ($9.5m). Marshawn Lynch at #3 accounted for $2.5m LESS than Miller.
Rob Gronkowski’s cap hit in 2013 was $2.75m having recently signed an 8-year $55m mega-deal in New England. That steadily increases as you’d expect. Yet during the entire course of that contract, he doesn’t top Miller’s 2013 salary until 2019 ($11.25m cap hit) — the final year of the deal.
Even with Miller’s contract dropping to a $7m cap hit in 2014, he’ll still earn $1.6m more than Gronkowski next season.
As much as I appreciate the job he’s done in Seattle, his attitude and contribution to this young team — he’s simply earning far too much for a tight end who hasn’t topped 400 yards in three seasons.
In comparison, a tight end drafted in the #28-34 region could be expected to earn around $1.25m as a rookie and $1.5m as a second year player.
That’s a huge difference.
You can save $5m by cutting Miller ($7m cap hit, $2m in dead money). So you’re talking about a $4m overall saving by replacing him with one of the tight ends in this rookie class.
That’s money that could go towards keeping Golden Tate and/or Michael Bennett.
It really comes down to determining just how valuable you believe the 28-year-old is to the offense, compared to how effective a rookie can be as an immediate starter.
Would the production substantially decrease? Arguably not, given Miller had just 387 yards in 14 starts in 2013.
Would you miss his ability as a blocker? Absolutely, but not as much as you’ll miss Bennett rushing the passer or Tate making plays at receiver.
Can the rookie become a reliable safety net? Debatable.
Could you significantly upgrade the position within the four year rookie contract? Possibly — if you pick the right guy.
You’d have to expect some growing pains. But the Seahawks have shown they’re willing to go through that (see: Michael Robinson/Derrick Coleman — even if they eventually brought Robinson back).
We’ve spent the last few months discussing difficult cuts that are forthcoming. They’re unavoidable. Fan favourites are going to be moving on. It’s about keeping together the most important pieces of the puzzle (Wilson, Sherman, Thomas, Lynch) and filling in the gaps.
You could counter by arguing if you cut Miller, what guarantee is there that your guy will be sat there waiting in the back end of the first round?
Thankfully, there are insurance policies at hand.
Luke Willson has shown promise. Perhaps not enough promise to be a full-time starter next season, but at least enough to see his role expand in year two.
Fred Davis is likely to be a free agent. It went sour very quickly in Washington for Davis, but he has history with Pete Carroll and could be available for a bargain price.
Anthony McCoy will return to health — and I think he’s done at least enough to justify another camp if there aren’t any takers elsewhere.
You could go into the draft with all three on your roster and it wouldn’t break the bank. If you then draft a tight end in round one, just let the competition begin — keep three and cut the unlucky loser.
The Seahawks should be looking for a big target for Russell Wilson. Ideally that comes in the form of a tall receiver who can develop into a true #1.
Perhaps they see enough upside in Brandon Coleman or Kelvin Benjamin to justify an early pick?
Both have legitimate upside and #1 potential, but they also have serious technical improvements to make and would carry a degree of risk.
Are they first round picks? Some will think so, others won’t.
There will be options beyond the first round. Donte Moncrief, Cody Hoffman and Martavis Bryant could all be available later depending on how well they test.
Hey — I’m assuming Coleman and Benjamin won’t be there in round two. Stranger things have happened.
Really there’s nothing to stop the Seahawks going TE/WR in the first two rounds. Those hoping for offensive line depth won’t be happy, but making savings elsewhere (eg by cutting Rice, Clemons and Miller) will increase the chances of holding onto Breno Giacomini.
It won’t be a disaster (at least in my view) if James Carpenter, Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie are fighting to start at left guard in 2014.
Getting a big tight end and a big receiver in the first two rounds would put a lot more size (and talent) on the field for Wilson.
I’d argue that’ll have a much bigger impact than drafting a guard in a pretty mediocre year at the position.
So what about the candidates at tight end that could make this a justifiable move?
Unless there’s a big mover on the cards, it looks like there are three first round options:
Eric Ebron – North Carolina
Athletic, former basketball player and the type of tight end the NFL is looking for. Everyone wants a big target that can get around the field and create a mismatch. On tape he’s made some dazzling plays this year — one handed grabs, 60-yard runs after the catch. This is usually the time where a blogger or pundit says his blocking isn’t great. Cut the crap. How many times do we have to hear that? The NFL has changed. Tight ends need to look like this. I’m not going to mark Ebron down for his blocking. Coach him up. It simply isn’t a good enough reason not to draft him in the top-20. And ultimately, I expect that’s where he’ll go.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Washington
Former big time recruit who generated interest from Alabama, Florida, USC and Texas before committing to home-state Washington. ASJ maybe didn’t max-out his potential with the Huskies, but there’s no denying his potential. Carroll/Schneider have always been interested in physical difference makers and big time high school recruits. He’s more of a traditional tight end, but so is Miller. How fast is he? That’s going to be crucial. He doesn’t have to run a 4.6, he just has to avoid running a 4.8. Easier said than done at 266lbs. I like him though — and I believe he can turn into a very productive NFL tight end.
Jace Amaro – Texas Tech
I’m still trying to work out Amaro. He’s listed at 255lbs, but looks big. At least as big as ASJ. He isn’t incredibly mobile or shifty, but out of the three listed here he’s probably the one I’d prefer to go to for a third down conversion. At times I’m not convinced he’s much more than an above average tight end working in an ultra-productive passing game. Then you see him put up 136 yards against West Virginia, 174 against Oklahoma State and 119 against Oklahoma — and all three teams knew where the ball was going. They couldn’t stop him. I want to believe. Bring on the combine, let’s see how athletic he really is.
After these three, it’s not much of a group. But you don’t get many deep TE classes.
You could argue it’d provide the best value in the 28-32 range where Seattle will draft.
Think about it. At that point Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be the best player available. Ditto Jace Amaro. Ebron will be long gone, but the other two could be there.
Why fight the board?
It’s something else to consider.
So let’s sum up what we’re talking about doing here….
Zach Miller, Sidney Rice and Chris Clemons.
$19m (approx) – $7m Rice, $7m Clemons and $5m Miller
Michael Bennett, Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini
Tight end in round one (eg Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro) and, board permitting, a tall receiver in round two.
The Seahawks need to find a way to keep Bennett and Tate (and possibly Giacomini). They need to do it — in my opinion — without thinning the defense by cutting guys like Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane.
Miller might be a sacrificial lamb in this instance. But it could be necessary.
And this is before we even get into finding a way to extend Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas’ contracts — two nigh on certainties on the horizon.
I’m not saying this is what they should do. It’s merely a proposal.
Food for thought, though.