The Seahawks got a first-hand look recently at one of the top prospects of the 2013 free agent class in DT Henry Melton.
The Seattle Seahawks have continued to improve throughout the 2012 season, primarily due to the improvement of quarterback Russell Wilson. With the end of the season on the horizon and players coming available through free agency, there are a number of areas the team will need to address in the offseason.
In addition to making improvements to the current roster, they will need to re-sign or address voids created by players who decide to leave.
The Seahawks unrestricted free agents are: K Steven Hauschka, DT Alan Branch, LB Leroy Hill, DT Jason Jones, CB Marcus Trufant, and OT Frank Omiyale.
Restricted free agents include: LS Clint Gresham, FS Chris Maragos, and DT Clinton McDonald.
It's a good sign that Pete Carroll and John Schneider have shored up some of the Seahawks' biggest names. It means that Seattle will have an excellent opportunity to focus on getting free agents to visit the Pacific Northwest and not have to focus as much on signing their own top talent.
Rather than look at free agents who provided depth in areas where Seattle might need it, I wanted to look at players who could provide a big impact.
Bleacher Report's Dan Van Wie recently highlighted the top 50 free agents in the league on his 2013 NFL Free Agency Big Board. From that list, here are 10 players who would immediately provide an upgrade over the Seahawks' current roster or would fill behind a free-agent departure.
Tony Gonzalez is nearly to the end of an incredible NFL career. While the Seahawks have trended toward bringing in youth, Gonzalez would provide outstanding veteran leadership to a relatively young team.
With 770 yards, he only trails Jason Whitten among all tight ends in the league. Of his 73 receptions, he has seven touchdowns. Fans recognized how well he continues to play by voting him the top tight end for the NFC, among nine players who earned more than 200,000 fan votes.
It would also be fitting for Gonzalez to end his career in Seattle. It would allow him to join the list of NFL greats like Jerry Rice, John Randle, Warren Moon, Franco Harris and Carl Eller who all came through Seattle on their way to the Hall of Fame.
Gonzalez may not fill that same need the Seahawks were looking for when they brought in Kellen Winslow Jr. during the preseason this year, but it's hard not to like the idea of seeing another Hall of Famer come through Seattle.
2012 Base Salary: $3.9 million
Leroy Hill looks to be the best of his class in terms of weak-side linebackers on the free-agent market. Erin Henderson, in his fifth year in the NFL out of Maryland, might be the next best at that spot.
Henderson has been seeing more playing time these last two seasons and has 57 tackles and two sacks. He finished last season with 69 tackles and two sacks even with playing less than half the snaps in six games.
However, considering the success the Seahawks have had in the draft, they may find better options there. K.J. Wright in his second year and Bobby Wagner as a rookie seem to have solidified their starting roles with the team already. Malcolm Smith will be entering his third year and could fill in that position as well.
With the success Seattle has seen in the draft on defense the last three years, I don't see this as a critical need, which puts Henderson toward the bottom of the list.
2012 Base Salary: $1.45 million
With Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin as the Seahawks' leading wide receivers, Dwayne Bowe would be a instant upgrade to the current receiving corps.
In his sixth season with the Kansas City Chiefs, Bowe is on his way to surpassing 1,000 yards for his fourth year. As certain that it looked as though he would be on his way out of Kansas City around the trade deadline, he recently emphasized to Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star his desire to remain with the Chiefs.
Considering the demand Bowe will see in the offseason, it might just change his mind. That is if we're all that convinced he really wants to stay with the Chiefs.
Bowe wouldn't come cheap and he's done nothing to show he deserves a pay cut after this season.
2012 Base Salary: $9.51 million
One of the Seahawks most glaring needs is right tackle. Although Russell Okung has two more penalties than Breno Giacomini, his 10 penalties are amplified by the four sacks he has allowed along with 28 quarterback hurries.
Okung has yet to allow a sack this season and has been credited for 13 quarterback hurries. The penalties on the left side aren't as difficult to take considering the way Okung has otherwise played.
Up until his most recent game against Miami, Sebastian Vollmer had allowed only one sack and 15 hurries. The game against the Dolphins was his worst effort of an otherwise very consistent season, and barring a string of similar efforts to finish off the season he'll be one of the most highly coveted right tackles in the offseason.
Though right tackle is their biggest need, there is another player out there that makes the list. Vollmer's ability to stay healthy is what drops him down to seventh on this list.
2012 Base Salary: $650,000
The Seahawks are going to have a decision to make when it comes to keeping Steven Hauschka, looking to the free-agent market, or drafting a kicker. If Phil Dawson is available, Seattle's decision should be easy.
With Hauschka 1-of-4 in field goals longer than 50 yards, Dawson has been perfect this year at that distance. Each of those misses by Hauschka came in losses to Arizona, San Francisco and Detroit. He was also passed over twice in favor of punting in the Seahawks loss to Miami. It would have made a difference in the game had he made, or attempted and made, those field goals.
Dawson isn't consistently getting touchbacks the same way that Hauschka is, which could be the one knock on him. Hauschka is perfect inside the 50-yard line, so if Dawson isn't picked up by Seattle, keeping their current kicker might be the next best option.
2012 Base Salary: $3.81 million
The problem I have with putting any receivers on this list is that I can't decide who I'd push out of the starting lineup between Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. With receivers like Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and Dwayne Bowe all on the market, there is some solid talent available.
There's one guy who sticks out more than the rest.
When you think of a wide receiver with speed to get down field, Mike Wallace is usually the first guy who comes to mind. A guy with Wallace's speed is what is missing from the Seahawks right now.
Coming off two great seasons, Wallace is having a down year after holding out at the beginning of the year. He hasn't put up the same kind of yardage with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined due to injury. But with a new contract and a healthy quarterback, I expect him to bounce back.
2012 Base Salary: $2.74 million
Trading for Kellen Winslow Jr. this offseason showed that Coach Carroll isn't satisfied with his current lineup of tight ends and is looking to do more with that part of the offense.
With former USC tight end Fred Davis coming out of his fifth year with the Washington Redskins as a free agent, there's no doubt he will be on Carroll's radar.
Prior to the Seahawks matchup with the Redskins in 2011, Rick Maese of the Washington Post reported on Carroll's affinity for Davis when he recruited him.
“When we were recruiting him, we thought he was going to be a No. 1 draft pick,” he said. “When we saw him and looked at his potential, that’s why we went after him. Really, when we recruited guys out-of-state, in those days that was our criteria. We want to anticipate a guy could be a No. 1 draft pick. If that was the kind of guy, then we’d go after him. Freddy was like that.”
What could prevent Davis from coming to Seattle is the amount of money the Seahawks already have invested at tight end next year. With his base salary, signing bonus and roster bonus due to Zach Miller in 2013, Seattle has $11 million of cap space set aside for Miller alone.
2012 Base Salary: $5.45 million
The Seahawks haven't had a guy at left guard who they could rely on consistently since Steve Hutchinson left in 2006. James Carpenter, John Moffitt and Paul McQuistan have all shared time at left guard this season.
Levitre has barely missed a snap. In his rookie year he was out of the game a total of 15 snaps the entire season. In 2010, Levitre's second year, he left the game against the Green Bay Packers with a neck injury and missed 52 snaps that game. He bounced back to start the next game, and he hasn't missed a snap since.
In four years, he has allowed only 10 sacks and has consistently improved over that time. His particular strength is is the passing game and would be an improvement over either Moffitt or Carpenter in the run game.
The Seahawks may need a right tackle more, but Levitre is the combination of talent and durability Seattle shouldn't pass up.
2012 Base Salary: $615,000
The Seahawks are ranked in the top five among defenses for points allowed and total yards allowed. This is the reason why there aren't a whole lot of defensive players on this list. Yet, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton is good enough to nearly take that top spot and would help improve Seattle's defense.
Alan Branch and Jason Jones are both free agents after this season. If the Seahawks were able to sign Melton, they may not need either one to return. He is a guy who can get in the gaps and help stop the run and also offers one of the best pass rushes in the league at his position.
Melton has already improved on his seven sacks from 2011 with eight sacks this year. His 35 total tackles are better than Branch and Jones, who have combined for only 19.
After fulfilling his four-year rookie contract and continuing to rank among the best defensive lineman in the league, the Seahawks won't be the only ones taking a hard look at Melton.
2012 Base Salary: $565,000
Two years ago, one might have questioned whether or not Andre Smith would still be in the NFL. As he struggled through his first two seasons with the Bengals, many were ready to label the first-round pick as a draft bust.
Bleacher Report featured columnist Matt Gray called out Smith by saying, "Andre Smith is the epitome of what is wrong with the NFL: an overpaid diva of an athlete with more money than sense."
Two years later, and four years into his NFL career, he is considered one of the top tackles in the league. Some might say he's simply fulfilling the expectations many had for him when he was drafted.
When the Bengals declined Smith's option before the 2011 season, that may have been just the wake-up call he needed. I'm sure that losing $17 million over two years can be a strong motivator.
Breno Giacomini's durability may be enough to keep him in as the Seahawks starting right tackle this season, but this will be one of the first positions Seattle should look toward once free agents become available
Smith's ability to bounce back from "bust" status, his continued growth and a young player coming into his prime puts him at the top of the list of the 2013 free agent class for the Seahawks.
Brandan Schulze is a Navy veteran and member of the Military Sea Hawkers, the military chapter of the official booster club for the Seattle Seahawks. For more information on the chapter, visit www.militaryseahawkers.com Membership is free for all military service members and veterans.