Seahawks defensive lineman Brandon Mebane will draw a lot of attention on the free agent market if the Seahawks fail to re-sign him. A major contributor his four seasons in Seattle, he is widely viewed by Seahawks pundits as a top offseason priority, possibly even a franchise tag candidate at a lofty $12 million for the 2011 season.
I am in the minority saying this, but I feel differently about Mebane being a top-five priority for the Seahawks. I think it will be difficult for the Seahawks and Mebane to come to terms this offseason. Mebane is a sound NFL starter stout against the run, but does he fit in Seattle?
There is no denying Mebane is a talented football player. As a student at Cal, the football program is of high priority in my sports world.
Mebane’s ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage in his final two seasons at Cal was impressive, even while constantly being double, or even triple, teamed: 29 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 7 sacks his junior year; 52 tackles, 10 for loss and 4 sacks his senior season; two All Pac-10 first team and one third team All American honor put him on the NFL radar.
His best season came in his second as a pro in 2008. Weighing around 330 pounds, playing primarily across from the center and guard in a nose tackle position. He registered 5.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hits from a position that was responsible for taking on double teams and commanding the trenches, not rushing the passer.
Fast-forward to 2010. Pete Carroll rebuilds the defense around Red Bryant, creating a hybrid 4-3 system with an “under” shifted front, where a 315-pound Mebane played the “under” tackle, a position that is responsible for creating a pass rush in tandem with the “Leo” end; Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock in 2010. Mebane was not primarily responsible for stopping the run, as Red Bryant and nose tackle Colin Cole hold that responsibility in the base defense.
One defensive idea that is important to understand; as the NFL shifts into a league with more three and four receiver sets on offense, Nickel and Dime defensive packages will have to evolve; the Seahawks’ seven-DB "Bandit" package is an example. The Seahawks need “under” tackles that are capable versus the run, but their main priority is to hit the quarterback.
The Seattle Times' Danny O’Neil quoted Carroll after a June, 2010 minicamp: “We like Mebane…but there are different styles of guys that play that spot. We need more out of that position rushing the passer.” Carroll described Mebane as “young,” but “strong and explosive as ever” and “putting it together.”
Mebane missed four games with a calf injury and registered career lows with 1 sack and 1 QB hit in 2010; if the organization is evaluating him based on preseason criteria, Mebane did not prove to be a good fit in the scheme this season. Additionally, his salary in 2010 was only $550,000.
Two things could work: restructure Cole’s contract and offer Mebane a $2 to $3 million a year deal, which will be below his market value; or release Cole outright, possibly still taking a cap hit under the eventual CBA agreement. The Seahawks could then offer Mebane nearly $4 million a season, with additional performance incentives, to get back to 330 pounds and play nose tackle as he did in his career year of 2008. The Seahawks would still have to look for a cheap replacement for Mebane via draft or free agency.
In the end, my gut tells me this may be another situation, like many thus far in the new regime, where a talented old-regime Seahawk and the organization split ways.
The Seahawks have shown they are willing to discard old-regime line of scrimmage players. Last offseason, they let go three primary defensive linemen. Now, Mebane is one of six free agents at the position for the ‘Hawks. The organization may choose two players and depth, with potential of developing a legitimate upgrade.
Will the Seahawks invest an early round pick in an all-around “under” tackle and look for a cheap, veteran run stuffer to replace Mebane in the rotation. The re-signing of Raheem Brock to a two-year, $8 to $10 million deal and drafting of a raw, explosive interior pass rusher would create a small hole at the position, but maybe Kentwan Balmer could help fill the void.
Or do they show faith in Mebane and attribute part of an unproductive year to injury problems all over the line? Though it didn’t show on the field, he made progress in practice learning his position in the new scheme and has earned an extension in the view of the team.
Ultimately, it will be difficult for this deal to be favorable for both sides; the organization has continually proven it is willing to cut ties with valuable players, some of those transactions being questionable business decisions. The draft is deep on the defensive line and cheap, veteran defensive tackles will eventually be on the market.
This is not the popular opinion, but I think the Seahawks will be careful with this decision. If the 'Hawks do not release Cole or restructure his contract, I believe they will let Mebane walk if he is unwilling to meet the organization’s preferred contract structure. A decision by John Schneider that would, once again, shock Seahawks nation.