The focus of the NFL at the moment is on the draft prospects at the Combine in Indianapolis, but free agency begins at 9 PM Thursday night, and the Seahawks should be putting as much energy into the veteran pool of players as they are into the rookies.
Although there will be no salary cap in 2010, many teams have said they are going to adopt a business-as-usual approach, because they are unsure what will happen in 2011. A lot of clubs figure it’s best to proceed as if the old rules are in place.
New Seattle general manager John Schneider said the Seahawks will proceed as usual, “not based on what we think other people are doing, just on the way we would normally handle things.”
“We’re going to proceed like it’s any other year,” he told reporters at the Combine. “It’s not one of those things where you just automatically go hog wild. You have to be responsible and treat it like it’s your own money.”
But this is the perfect time for a team with lots of money and a few holes to try to upgrade as many positions as possible. Not to buy a Super Bowl, like Washington’s Daniel Snyder might try to do yet again, even though he has failed over and over in the last decade. But a creative team with money could certainly improve the overall roster.
The Seahawks should take advantage of the uncapped year and spend freely on upgrades to their roster. There aren’t going to be a lot of great unrestricted free agents, but the Hawks would be wise to pursue a few guys who can help them. Financially, they could front-load contracts with a lot of money in 2010 and ease them back into cap-friendly salaries in 2011 and beyond.
A lot of short-sighted fans think the Seahawks are in for a long rebuilding period. Apparently they forget that the Miami Dolphins went from one win to 11 in one year. Or that the last-place team in the NFC South won the division the following year in four out of the division’s first five seasons. The salary cap was the great equalizer, allowing any team to reverse its fortunes in short order.
Well, if most teams are going to continue as if a cap still exists, clubs with money can take advantage and outbid those teams for key players to improve just as quickly as any team did in the cap era.
Coach Pete Carroll and Schneider said no one knows how free agency will unfold in the uncapped year but they have to be prepared for big bidding or frugality.
“We’re all in the same boat. Nobody has an advantage over anyone else,” Carroll told reporters at the Combine. “But there’s a lot of unknowns.
“We just have to wait and see it through and have contingency plans in order, because it could go both ways. … We feel like we’re in a strong position, but we’re still going to see it through and execute it.”
The Seahawks are set up well for the draft, with the sixth, 14th, and 40th picks. With that draft scenario and a selectively aggressive approach to free agency, they can fix a lot of holes and set themselves up to pull off a quick turnaround and reclaim the NFC West title in 2010.
Although there aren’t a lot of unrestricted free agents worth big contracts, there are some guys the Seahawks should look into signing. Among them: running back Chester Taylor, wide receiver Kevin Walter, defensive end Aaron Kampman, a few veteran guards, and perhaps even a couple of tight ends.
Roster: Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace, Mike Teel.
Top UFAs: Chad Pennington, Daunte Culpepper, J.P. Losman.
Best plan: Status quo. Hasselbeck is in the final year of his contract, and we’ve made it clear he should be re-signed . Wallace was mentioned on a preliminary list as a potential free agent, but either he was not able to void his final year or that list was simply wrong.
Wallace has proven incapable of winning games as a backup, so his real value going forward will be as a utility player. One of the few things Jim Mora’s staff did right in 2009 was to use Wallace as an option quarterback and receiver. The new staff should add punt returns to his duties. Free agency offers little better than Wallace as backups.
The Hawks might end up drafting a QB (hopefully not in the first round), but if they don’t perhaps Teel will show progress in his second season and be ready to supplant Wallace as the backup in 2011.
Roster: Julius Jones, Justin Forsett, Louis Rankin.
Hawks’ UFA: FB Justin Griffith.
Cut: Thomas Jones.
Best plan: Carroll said he wants a physical back, and the Hawks seem likely to draft one. But they also could address the need with Taylor.
Signing Taylor would be akin to the Hawks’ move to bring in Ricky Watters in 1998. Watters was 29 with 1,628 carries under his belt when he signed with Seattle in 1998. He went on to eclipse 1,200 rushing yards in each of his first three years before he got hurt and was replaced by Shaun Alexander in 2001.
Taylor is a year older than Watters was then but has 600 fewer carries (1,028). He’s got plenty in the tank. And like Watters, he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Sign him to a four-year deal averaging $6 million a year (that’s about top-10 money, and the Hawks need to bid high to get him).
Taylor is a better option than Tomlinson, who has almost three times as much wear (2,880 carries) at the same age. The other free agents are too injury prone.
Signing Taylor would preclude the need to draft a running back, putting that off for two or three years. The Hawks could then release Jones and use Taylor and the beloved underdog Forsett (who is not cut out to be the main ballcarrier for a full season). Or, if the Hawks want a rich man’s Forsett, they could pursue Darren Sproles if the Chargers can’t sign him long term and he becomes a free agent.
At fullback, the Hawks need to re-sign Griffith cheaply or find a guy. Either way, it’s a low priority with Owen Schmitt on the team.
Roster: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Deon Butler.
Hawks’ UFA: Nate Burleson.
Hawks’ RFA: Ben Obomanu.
Top UFAs: Kevin Walter, Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens, Derrick Mason, Chris Chambers,
Best plan: Branch is already greasing the skids for his possible return to New England. Quarterback Tom Brady wants Branch back, according to ESPN’s John Clayton , who also said the Patriots might be interested in re-acquiring Branch for a mid-round pick.
That’s about the best the Hawks can hope to get for a guy who has been a bust since Seattle gave the Pats a first-round pick for him in 2006. Branch is due $5.47 million in salary this year, and the Seahawks would be better off giving that money to Walter.
Walter could be an interesting addition. He has put up good numbers the last three years as a secondary receiver in Houston. He would be a nice veteran addition in Seattle because the Seahawks are going to run basically the same offense Gary Kubiak runs in Houston.
With almost no good free-agent options (most are too old), the Hawks should re-sign Burleson, who is only 28 and already has a history with QB Matt Hasselbeck. Yes, Burleson is a streaky player, and he has played only 14 games over the last two seasons, but he still has the capability to make plays. On a horrible offense last season, he caught 63 passes for 812 yards and three scores in 13 games.
He wants to stay in Seattle, and as long as he doesn’t expect anything more than he got in his first Seattle deal (a four-year, $14.5 million deal), the Hawks should keep him.
A receiving corps of Houshmandzadeh, Burleson, Walter and Butler would be pretty solid.
Roster: John Carlson, John Owens, Cameron Morrah.
Top UFAs: Ben Watson, Randy McMichael, Alge Crumpler, L.J. Smith.
Best plan: Carlson is the man here, but they also should consider Watson and Tony Scheffler. The Patriots are giving up on Watson, their first-round pick in 2004, but that doesn’t mean he might not be a good fit in Seattle’s offense.
Scheffler, a restricted free agent the Broncos apparently no longer want, might be an even better addition. A second-round pick in 2006, Scheffler knows the offense the Seahawks are going to run, and he knows the coaches (Jeremy Bates and Jedd Fisch) who are going to run it. He caught 89 passes in 2007 and 2008, so Bates knows what he can do.
Few NFL teams utilize two pass-catching tight ends, and this might be a great wrinkle to add in Seattle.
Roster: LT Walter Jones (injured), C Max Unger, OT Sean Locklear, OL Ray Willis, OG Mansfield Wrotto, OL Steve Vallos, OG Mike Gibson.
Hawks’ UFA: OT Damion McIntosh.
Hawks’ RFAs: C Chris Spencer, LG Rob Sims, OT Brandon Frye.
Top UFAs: OG Bobbie Williams, OG Stephen Neal, OG Chester Pitts, OT Chad Clifton, OT Mike Gandy, OG Jeremy Bridges, OG Ben Hamilton.
Best plan: The Hawks MUST draft a left tackle to replace Walter Jones, who cannot be expected to play after missing all of 2009. But they also need to add competition and depth, and they really could use some veteran leadership.
They should retain Sims and add a veteran or two like Williams, Neal, Pitts or Hamilton. Pitts, who played for line coach Alex Gibbs in Houston, and Hamilton, who started in Denver when Bates was there, both know the Hawks’ offense.
As for Spencer, the Hawks can either let him go or tender him at the second-round level and see if they can throw him into a trade, hoping some other team sees hope in a former first-rounder who has been far too injury prone and ineffective for the Seahawks.
A potential wild card is Frye, who was picked up off waivers last year and played well in three starts at left tackle before being put on injured reserve. If Frye’s neck is fine, he should be tendered.
Roster: Patrick Kerney, Lawrence Jackson, Nick Reed.
Hawks’ UFA: Cory Redding.
Hawks’ RFA: Darryl Tapp.
Top UFAs: Julius Peppers, Aaron Kampman, Adewale Ogunleye, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jason Taylor.
Best plan: After paying Kerney $15.5 million over the last three years, and getting only 10 sacks combined from him in the last two, the Seahawks have no reason to pay the 33-year-old another $5 million in 2010. He should be let go (or traded, if possible).
Peppers is the marquee free agent in the NFL this offseason, but there is no reason for the Hawks to pursue the 28-year-old. He is too inconsistent and probably would not want to leave the South anyway. Plus he will command more money than he is worth. The Seahawks should not be afraid to spend money, but that doesn’t mean they have to throw it away, as they did with Branch and Kerney.
The Hawks would be wise to check out Kampman, who tore his ACL in November. The Packers want the 30-year-old back as their pass-rushing 3-4 linebacker, but he might prefer to go back to defensive end in a 4-3. The Hawks would have to outbid Chicago at probably about $6 million per year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Schneider pursue one of his former Packers.
Other than Kampman, most of the available ends are too old. Even if the Hawks were able to bring in Kampman, they figure to bring back Tapp (he would cost about $1.2 million).
Roster: Brandon Mebane, Colin Cole, Craig Terrill, Red Bryant.
Top UFAs: Justin Bannan, Fred Robbins, Tank Johnson.
Best plan: The Seahawks seem set at this position, with perhaps no options to upgrade in free agency and bigger fish to fry at other positions. Mebane and Cole played well last season, considering the defensive scheme and the ends did not help them. This group will be better in Pete Carroll’s scheme.
Roster: Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, Leroy Hill, Will Herring.
Hawks’ UFA: D.D. Lewis.
Hawks’ RFA: Lance Laury.
Hawks’ ERFA: David Hawthorne.
Top UFAs: Karlos Dansby, Keith Bulluck, Scott Fujita, Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Expected cut: Joey Porter.
Best plan: On paper, this is the Hawks’ best position. On the field the past two years, it has been far from it. Tatupu and Hill have to stay healthy, Curry has to step up in his second season and Carroll needs to get the best out of all of them, plus find playing time for Hawthorne.
Some people have talked of trading Hawthorne, Tatupu or Hill, but there is no reason to do that. Tatupu and Hill have done nothing over the last two years and have big contracts, which means they have little trade value now. Hawthorne—an exclusive-rights player—has just developed into a capable player and valued backup, and with Tatupu unable to stay healthy, Hawthorne will be needed.
The Hawks need to find another backup to go with Hawthorne and Herring, but that is a low priority.
Roster: Marcus Trufant, Josh Wilson, Kelly Jennings, Roy Lewis.
Hawks’ UFA: Ken Lucas.
Top UFAs: Dunta Robinson, Leigh Bodden, Nick Harper.
Best plan: Many fans think this is a priority position, but they seem to forget that cornerbacks are only as good as the pressure the front seven get on the quarterback. If Trufant returns to his 2007 form and the Hawks can rediscover their pass rush and perhaps upgrade at safety, this group should be fine.
There are some good free agents available, so the Hawks could go after Robinson or Bodden if they didn’t want to start Wilson. But this position should be way down the list of priorities, simply because the current crew will be naturally better with some help from the pass rush and the safeties.
Roster: Deon Grant, Jordan Babineaux, Jamar Adams.
Hawks’ UFA: Lawyer Milloy.
Top UFAs: Jermaine Phillips, Darren Sharper, Will Allen, Sean Jones.
Possible cuts: Antre Rolle.
Best plan: The Hawks have to try to upgrade here this offseason. Neither Grant nor Babineaux is an impact player. Neither are most of the free-agent options (the best safeties are restricted free agents), although Rolle could be worth a look if Arizona cuts him because of his $12 million bonus/salary.
If the Hawks think he could be an upgrade, they could be daring and claim him off waivers (assuming he goes through waivers). That would mean absorbing his $8 million salary, but they could work on a long-term deal that contained a more reasonable annual salary.
If they couldn’t agree to one, they could simply cut him before the season. It really would be a no-risk gamble.
Otherwise, the draft probably will be the best place to find a playmaking safety. If the Hawks fail to upgrade here, it wouldn’t be the worst thing as long as they fixed their pass rush. But Grant and Babs are not the long-term answer on the back end of the defense.
Roster: K Olindo Mare, P Jon Ryan, LS Matt Overton, LS Pat MacDonald.
Hawks’ UFA: LS Jeff Robinson.
Best plan: The Hawks already have locked up their two MVPs from 2009, Mare and Ryan. The punter got a long-term deal in January, and Mare was named the franchise player, which will pay him $2.8 million in 2010. Wise moves, both. The big question, as it has been for the past three years, is: Who will snap the ball for the kickers?
Since J.P. Darche got hurt and was let go in 2007, the Hawks have gone through deep snappers like Jennifer Aniston goes through boyfriends. In each year, Robinson has been called out of retirement to finish the campaign. The Hawks probably would like to avoid calling the 40 year old this year, which explains why they signed Overton and MacDonald on consecutive days a couple of weeks ago.