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Seattle Seahawks: Projecting Team's NFL Free Agent Targets

Thomas HolmesCorrespondent IIIMarch 7, 2013

Seattle Seahawks: Projecting Team's NFL Free Agent Targets

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    The NFL's free-agency period about to begin next week, but will the Seattle Seahawks make any big signings or will they manage to keep a low profile?

    For a team poised to make a run at the Super Bowl, the 'Hawks already have a solid roster, yet it certainly couldn't hurt to make a few key additions to help push the team forward.

    Will the players they need be available and if so, will they sign for the right price? 

    Earlier this week, two potential targets were taken off the market as defensive linemen Michael Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals and Henry Melton of the Chicago Bears were among the eight players who received the franchise tag, according to Yahoo! Sports.

    Of course there are still plenty of players to choose from, but right now it's hard to not feel a bit hesitant in putting too many names out there when looking at the 'Hawks, but here are a few best guesses for today...

Jason Jones: Defensive End

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    Earlier this week I posed the question if all the hype surrounding potential No. 1 draft pick defensive end Datone Jones is legitimate or part of a negotiating ploy in dealing with 'Hawks free agent Jason Jones.

    To be honest, I'm still not sure, as opinions varied in response, but all that matters is what the 'Hawks and Jones are thinking. 

    In an ideal world the 'Hawks get Jones back with a cap friendly two-year deal that my fellow Seahawks B/R Featured Columnist Todd Pheifer suggested earlier this week. 

    The reality, though, may be different if Jones wants to get more money, which at that point the team may focus instead on keeping other in-house options in defensive lineman Alan Branch and kicker Steven Hauschka.

Andy Levitre: Offensive Guard

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    I know what you're thinking, why would the Seahawks target offensive guard Andy Levitre when they already have Paul McQuistan, J.R. Sweezy, John Moffitt and James Carpenter on their roster?

    It's a fair question, but I'm not 100 percent sold on what that group brings to the table. 

    At times last season they managed to do a decent job, while at other times left Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch exposed to defenders. 

    Levitre, after having shown considerable promise in Buffalo, is seen by many as a rising star and will likely command top dollar. But if not him, would they look at his Bills teammate Chad Rinehart?

    Rinehart has played primarily as a backup, but B/R's Ryan Riddle sees him as one of the better underrated free agents available this year and knowing how the Seahawks tend to operate in free agency, he could be someone they target after the big names get snatched up. 

Andre Smith: Offensive Tackle

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    Is Andre Smith a big name or just big?

    According to the Joe Fortenbaugh at The National Football Post, Smith is on the right track:

    It’s hard to imagine that just four years ago Smith appeared to be doing everything within his power to damage his draft stock. But the 26-year-old got his head right, matured and has since developed into one of the best right tackles in all of football. The former Alabama product has surrendered just 12 sacks in 43 career games and graded out as the league’s fourth-best offensive tackle in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bengals will use the franchise tag on either Smith or DE Michael Johnson this offseason and at the moment, we’d be willing to bet it goes to Smith.

    Well, when push came to shove the Cincinnati Bengals actually opted to place the franchise tag on Johnson rather than Smith, but could the Bengals' loss be a gain for the Seahawks?

    Feel free to roll your eyes here, but with Sebastian Vollmer most likely returning to New England, Smith is probably your best option to replace the much maligned Breno Giacomini on the 'Hawks right side.  

    But wait, can't the 'Hawks draft someone?

    Sure, but the problem there is once you get past Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson, the odds of finding a tackle either right or left you can plug in from day one drop considerably. 

    Odds are Smith gets a big deal elsewhere, but I do believe the 'Hawks should make an inquiry and eventually brace themselves for another season of Breno.

Jared Cook: Tight End

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    I know what you're thinking, wasn't Jared Cook franchised by the Tennessee Titans?

    I myself thought so a few weeks ago, but according to The Seattle Times Danny O'Neil, he might be up for grabs:

    Tennessee’s Jared Cook was going to argue he was a wide receiver — not a tight end — if he was designated as the Titans’ franchise player. Easy to understand why given the $4 million difference in franchise-tag prices between the positions and the reality that Cook lined up in the slot or split out wide more often than he put his hand in the dirt.

    The Titans did not tag Cook, who caught 44 passes in Tennessee last season. That means barring a last-minute deal in Tennessee, he’s headed to the free-agent market.

    Seattle has not made a habit of spending big in free agency. In two of the past three years, the Seahawks have sat out the first wave of free agency almost entirely.

    But Seattle has also shown a persistent desire to create a formidable tight-end tandem that goes back to 2011 when the Seahawks signed Zach Miller to a big-budget deal with the expectation of pairing him alongside John Carlson. Then Carlson suffered a shoulder injury that cost him the entire season.

    Seattle traded for Kellen Winslow a year ago only to release the tight end after he refused the paycut that had been outlined.

    Could Cook be another attempt? Well, it’s unlikely given the fact that Seattle already has so much money committed to Miller. But it’s also worth asking because Cook is an accomplished receiver in his mid-20s coming off his first NFL contract. It fits the profile of the type of free agents the Seahawks have gone after that is when they’ve decided to wade into the market.

    Perhaps, but perhaps not. 

    Meanwhile if that situation isn't strange enough for you, the Seahawks on Tuesday signed former UC Irvine basketball player Darren Fells to a three-year contract to play tight end, according to Doug Farrar over at the Shutdown Corner on Yahoo!Sports:

    The Seattle Seahawks are the latest team to take advantage of this trend, and they did so in a surprising way when they signed former international basketball player Darren Fells to a three-year contract on Tuesday. Fells is the brother of Daniel Fells, an NFL tight end who has played for the St. Louis Rams, the Denver Broncos, and most recently, the New England Patriots. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound Fells, who will turn 27 in April, visited the Seahawks on Tuesday in anticipation of a Pro Day he planned to hold at a later date, but he never got out of the building -- Fells impressed Seattle's football people enough to nab a three-year deal.

    Just when you think you know what the 'Hawks' brain trust is doing, it comes up with something out of left field. 

    At this point the only thing I think everyone can agree on is that current tight end Zach Miller is costing the 'Hawks a lot of money, but whether Cook, Fells, Anthony McCoy, a draft pick or anyone else plays alongside him remains to be seen. 

Michael Bennett: Defensive End

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    Shifting back to defense, depending on which direction the 'Hawks go with Jason Jones and Alan Branch, at least one if not both of the next two players on this list might be necessary.

    Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett is somebody worth keeping an eye on, according to Joe Fortenbaugh at the National Football Post:

    The former Texas A&M standout was a relative unknown until he started 16 games for the Buccaneers in 2012, amassing career-highs in sacks (9.0), tackles (41) and forced fumbles (3). Tampa Bay is a team that you’d consider flush across the defensive line based on all the draft picks they’ve spent there over the last few years. But Bennett has emerged as one of the brighter stars among that unit, meaning the organization should look to bring him back with a new contract.

    If Tampa opts to let him walk, would the Seahawks be willing and able to bring back a player they originally signed as an undrafted free agent and then waived back in 2009?

    Pencils may have erasers, but it's probably going to take a pen to write a big enough check to finalize a deal on a pass-rusher who appears to be entering his prime. 

    If paired alongside the 'Hawks current personnel up front, Bennett as a three-down lineman could give the extra push that at times last year appeared lacking.  

Cullen Jenkins: Defensive Tackle

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    On the other end of the spectrum...

    Could the 'Hawks use a defensive tackle?

    Yes, but if you look at the free agents available that NFL.com's Mark Sessler compiled, the list gets thin fast, especially now with both Chicago's Henry Melton and Miami's Randy Starks franchised.   

    Veteran Cullen Jenkins supposedly met with the team earlier this week; however, I still think the 'Hawks either stick with what they have with Jones and Branch or find an interior lineman in the draft instead.  

    To me, Jenkins isn't someone you sign at 12:01 a.m. next Saturday, but could perhaps be added for a reasonable price somewhere between the draft and the beginning of training camp.  

    In fact, there are probably quite a few of those players the 'Hawks may consider when the time comes, players who depending on the market could either be snatched up next week or still lingering months from now.  

    Time will tell, but what can we say right now?

Conclusions

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    Right now I honestly can't see the 'Hawks writing too many big checks this spring, but come summer, though, they might find a few interesting bargains.

    It's not sexy, but it could prove more effective than snatching up a big name or two. 

    But what about wide receivers like Mike Wallace or Wes Welker?

    How about all the veteran big-name pass-rushers that are available who might have something left in the tank like Dwight Freeney, John Abraham or Osi Umenyiora?

    Fair questions, but I believe the draft offers better value both long and short term.

    As for the long story short, I think the Seahawks keep either Jason Jones or Alan Branch but not both, sign kicker Steven Hauschka, maybe make a serious push for Michael Bennett out of the players listed here, and to see what they can find on sale after the draft. 

    In other words, you probably don't want to sign a player like New England safety Patrick Chung before the draft, yet if he's still available in June, would it be worthwhile to offer him a one-year cost efficient "prove it" deal similar to Jason Jones last year to add a little more depth behind Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor?

    It's just one example, but it's food for thought as I think the 'Hawks will continue to go about searching for what they need in the short term with one- to two-year bargain deals to fill out their roster while making sure to save up to protect their home-grown assets for when the time comes to pay them long term.  

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