Seattle Seahawks: 5 Questions Surrounding the NFL Lockout in Limbo
While the negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement have been extended until this Friday, March 11, rosters are frozen. The league year has ended and teams can no longer cut, re-sign or trade for players until there is a new agreement. Teams and players can still negotiate, allowing for multiple plans regarding re-signing former players, approaching the draft and accounting for whenever free agency finally occurs.
The Seahawks' moves to this point for the 2011 season place the focus on special teams and depth, a strategy that was used by the team in free agency last season. However, major holes still remain.
Beyond player uncertainty for 2011, the coaching staff has undergone significant changes on both sides of the ball.
The few days gained will be a crucial time for all organizations to vigorously evaluate former players, as free agency could possibly start next week. However, a realistic outlook suggests that the process is a long way from over. No matter what, the Seahawks face some major concerns heading forward into the possible lockout.
A Short Transition?
Anthropologist Mary Douglas offers the following on the concept of transition: “Danger lies in transitional states, simply because its neither one state nor the next, it is indefinable. The person who must pass from one to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others.”
The organization is not viewing the offseason coaching changes as a vulnerable period of transition; they are moves to fine tune the football principles that Carroll is implementing with the Seahawks. He has been adamant throughout the process that the changes are to make progress, not start the process over.
Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell share offensive coordinating duties; they come in with complementary philosophies, but not necessarily speaking the same football language. At the combine, Carroll expressed how important it was to communicate his desire for the direction of the team, cultivate an understanding of the Seahawks culture and the methods of communication.
Carroll’s diligence towards getting Cable and Bevell aligned and speaking the same language, shows awareness to the danger of transition. As co offensive coordinators, the understanding of the desired West Coast system must be shared; if the two unknowingly have a different view on a particular aspect of the desired system, the miscommunication will unknowingly permeate into the scheme, creating discontinuity in the offense.
The better understanding the duo has of the other’s ideas, the less “dangerous” the transition will be. The possibility that one of the two coordinators will hold back the offense is diminished. The hope is that having two minds, both specialists in their aspect of the game, will make the offense more refined and efficient.
They hit the ground running evaluating personnel into 2011, but only after Carroll emphasized the importance of offensive balance and a clock-controlling run game.
Now, according to Carroll, the duo is speaking the same language, clicking on the same page; “There’s a real continuity thought in mind there to help our players move ahead.” As Cable and Bevell won’t be able to work with players during the lockout, the staff will focus on tuning the weaknesses of the 2010 offense, not re-create the scheme.
Who Is the Quarterback?
The Seahawks and Matt Hasselbeck did not come to terms before the CBA expired, leaving Charlie Whitehurst as the only under contract quarterback for Seattle. Furthermore, market competition for Hasselbeck is now a factor, possibly resulting in a higher price tag.
Can Whitehurst be the quarterback next year, and beyond? His 2010 hallmark is the division clinching win over St. Louis and though Carroll described his performance as “enough to win,” Whitehurst showed he can make NFL throws and possesses an efficient combination of mobility and toughness.
However, he is still behind the speed of the game, missing multiple big play opportunities and holding onto the football too long against St. Louis. Furthermore, he struggled in the four other games he threw a pass.
Though Carroll said during the season Whitehurst could be a solid starting quarterback in this league, the 2011 season is unlikely that season. Taking a quarterback in the draft seems to be a given, now a question of who and when. Two competeing, young quarterbacks will be a promising sight for this organization, but can they really afford to lose Hasselbeck?
I believe the ‘Hawks should give Hasselbeck $6 to $7 million per year guaranteed, plus incentives. He likely feels deserving of $9 million plus, the face of the franchise. The Seahawks may want one guaranteed year, not willing to offer a three year deal.
Seven touchdowns and one interception in two playoff games are overshadowed by 13 turnovers in weeks 12 to 15. 13 games missed in the last three season’s raises the durability question, especially at age 35; Hasselbeck’s buttocks injury was swelling and bruising caused by falling on his rear, protecting his broken left wrist. Note, he has never been on placed on Injured Reserve in his career.
Two consecutive seasons both with a QB rating in the mid 70’s and setting career highs in turnovers suggest Hasselbeck has fallen from his prime; all while working behind a mediocre at best offensive line that had 11 different starting combinations in 2010.
The organization, however, expects improvement from the O-line and receiving core in 2011. Darrell Bevell brings a Holmgren style West Coast Offense to Seattle. Hasselbeck has outwardly enjoyed playing for the new regime. Will Hasselbeck be willing to orchestrate unofficial offseason workouts with team members, but without a contract?
Is Hasselbeck willing to leave the familiar; an organization pining to work towards a championship? I doubt it’s about money for Hasselbeck at this point in his career.
The Seahawks called Hasslebeck their No. 1 offseason priority; failing to resign him would appear to be a major gaffe. He is the ideal bridge to the quarterback of the future, creating a situation similar to what was desired with Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart in Arizona—His presence will perpetuate fierce competition; remember, he tried to convince Carroll up until kickoff he should start in week 17.
I believe the Seahawks will find a way to create monetary space for Hasselbeck, as re-working the payroll should be a priority for the organization. The commitment spoken towards Hasselbeck being the #1 priority during the post season presser was too strong to fail on following through; letting Hasselbeck slip away would be a blow to the Seahawk’s organizational legitimacy.
And as a proponent and leader of Carroll’s “buy in” philosophy from the beginning of the New Regime, it’d be disheartening to see Hasselbeck buy out after one season.
Depth on the Interior Offensive Line?
Upgrading the offensive line is a well documented offseason priority for the Seahawks; many different strategies have been floated around as to how to improve the Seahawks 31st ranked run offense.
The organization struggled to find players to fit in 2010, as Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Stacy Andrews are all veterans who lost jobs due to injury or performance. However, Carroll believes there is an unheralded group of young players in the Seahawks program that are potential starters in 2011.
In 2010 the team added young players like offensive tackles Breno Giacomini and William Robinson, along with interior linemen Chris White, Paul Fanaika and Lemuel Jeanpierre.
The competition has created “a much better group this time around,” in addition to the draft or free agency; a group that is hungry to simply be activated, and contribute, on Sundays. Carroll believes the potential for this group is an example of how it takes time for positions to develop, for the program to acquire the type of group it wants at every position.
Add Mike Gibson and Max Unger to the group above and the Seahawks have a nucleus to work with heading into 2011.
Not mentioned in that group is Stacy Andrews. The six year, $38.9 million dollar deal he signed with the Eagles in 2009 suggests the type of player Andrews was expected to become, before being traded for a seventh rounder to the Seahawks in 2010. Thought of by many as an ideal fit at guard in 2011, his demotion from starting RG in week 15 and hefty $5.25 million cap number makes me think otherwise. A versatile blocker, the Seahawks may try him as a replacement for Sean Locklear at RT given his size at 6’7 and 340 pounds and experience playing the position. However, his play in 2010 supports a contract re-structure or release, especially with confidence the in the cheap depth noted above.
The Robert Gallery to Seattle rumors have been swirling since Cable came to Seattle; Gallery agreed to part ways after he reportedly asked for $8 million a year, countered by $2.5 million from the Raiders. I don’t see the Seahawks offering Gallery his desired $8 million per season contract, especially with Andrews on the payroll. However, the Seahawks may attempt to make room to acquire Gallery at the right price.
Building from the Bottom Up?
The 2011 offseason strategy has shown to have a similar agenda as the first year of the new regime. The four players the Seahawks re-signed before the CBA expired are all special teams’ contributors and hard working depth players.
Defense: Special Teams captain CB Roy Lewis (No. 9 on my offseason priority list) and CB Kennard Cox (#16) were both signed to one year, $550,000 deals.
Lewis is a team leader on and off the field, a sub package corner with solid coverage and tackling skills, but poor closing speed. Cox had the teams’ only punt block in 2010 and showed playmaking potential at times, but is still extremely raw.
Lawyer Milloy, Jordan Babineaux and Kelly Jennings remain free agents. Milloy’s play dropped off significantly in the second half of the season and Babineaux is likely looking for more than the $1.4 million he played for in 2010. Both were off field leaders in 2010, but their performance in the secondary certainly didn’t turn heads in the positive direction. Kelly Jennings proved to be among the weakest links for the 2010 ‘Hawks secondary and doesn't fit the big, physical and able to run prototype for this scheme. Defensive Backs Josh Pinkard and Brandon Browner are expected to push for playing time in 2011, leaving room for one, or none, remaining Secondary free agents to be re-signed.
In analyzing personnel changes on defense, it’s critical to remember the changes on the defensive coaching staff were significant as well. Todd Wash comes in at Defensive Line coach and the promotion of Kris Richard to Secondary Coach equals new head position coaches at two of the three defensive positions. As highlighted previously, these changes all follow the “fit” hallmark of this organization.
A talented, yet unheralded defensive staff will have doubters as to whether or not continuity and improvement can be created for a defense that struggled with injuries and discipline in 2010.
Offense: Leon Washington’s (No. 2) four year, $12.5 million dollar deal was expected by many; the free agent to be led the team out in the locker room after the Chicago loss, declaring “the best is yet to come, believe that.” He wasn’t going anywhere.
The deal guarantees Washington only $3.5 million, but can reach $16 million total with incentives. John Schneider deserves credit for creating a deal that is highly favorable for both sides; Washington received the type of deal he wanted with the Jets in 2009, while the Seahawks held on to the valuable returner, three return touchdowns and second team All Pro in 2010, and versatile offensive weapon for a fractional price.
He will be more involved in the offense in 2011, playing a Reggie Bush USC type role. Another year healthier from a severe leg injury, Washington is primed to have a breakout season as an all-around weapon in 2011. His 2010 acquisition costing fifth and seventh round picks and the subsequent 2011 signing is the new regime’s savviest two year personnel move to this point.
The final re signing to note is former Washington Huskies Quarterback, now WR Isaiah Stanback. Schneider was very high on him going into the 2007 draft, taken in the fourth round by Dallas. He spent 2009 with New England before injuring his ACL during an impressive preseason with Seattle in 2010. Stanback has consistently played with winning organizations as a pro.
At the 2011 combine, Schneider described Stanback as a run after the catch player that snatches the ball from the air; at 6’2, 208 pounds he has the size to overmatch defensive backs. His size, skill set and ability as a special teams player make him a possible replacement for Ruvell Martin (No. 13) at the No. 4 or No. 5 WR position.
RFA Tenders: Both Brandon Mebane (No. 7) and Will Herring (No. 3) received original round tenders as restricted free agents, third and fifth rounders, respectively. While not set in stone with a new CBA, the Seahawks will receive picks in those rounds if either player signs with a different team in eventual free agency; that is if the Seahawks do not match the offer.
I believe both evaluations are accurate, though losing Herring would have a larger effect than largely perceived. The ‘Hawks commit to paying him roughly $1 million (Update: Herring's tender price is listed at $1.275 million in 2011 as of 3/10/11), while he could command more on the market as a great depth/adequate outside linebacker and ace special teamer. I believe he is very valuable in that capacity to the ‘Hawks in 2011 and they will match any offer worth less than an average of $2-2.5 million a season.
Mebane’s tender price of just under $1.3 million is much more notable, as Schneider proved Mebane’s value to the ‘Hawks may be lower than expected. The Seahawks are making the correct move in retaining Mebane at their price, as Schneider referred to Mebane as a “solid pro” at the combine.
What Happens During a Lockout?
The extension in negotiations for a new CBA works in the favor of the Seahawks. As the NFL and players union work on a new deal, teams and players are allowed to continue contract negotiations, but are not allowed to sign new deals.
The organization has more time to evaluate current contracts and explore re-structuring the contracts of multiple players: Tatupu, Trufant, Andrews, Cole and Curry account for approximately $30 million in 2011 cap space, four of them coming off one or two disappointing seasons in a row—though expectations for Curry and Andrews may have been too high.
Many 2010 ‘Hawks remain unsigned; the extension gives the organization more time to create a plan for 2011, as Schneider will be able to gain a better understanding of who may or may not be back. Matt Hasselbeck is the most obvious example, as ESPN’s John Clatyon reported the two camps were reportedly far apart in contract negotiations before the lockout.
Will the team need to replace crucial role players such as Raheem Brock, Tyler Polumbus, Chris Spencer and Brandon Stokley? All had an average or better season in 2010, Stokley and Brock bring the experience of Super Bowl winning veterans and Spencer and Polumbus players who could greatly benefit from the hiring of Cable, especially signed at a cheap price.
The Seahawks fully understand the value of keeping and building continuity; Carroll has eluded to the importance of being on the same page as a coaching staff during this limbo multiple times; he even addressed the status of his relationship with Schneider. It's continually improving and of more depth than last offseason. The organization feels more prepared to move forward.
The Seahawks, though defending NFC West Champions, are still in transition; the goal is to raise the bar and compete at a higher level. For that to occur, Carroll and Schneider must continue to have a pulse on the entire process: are coaches evaluating 2010 with similar criteria, looking towards 2011 with the same vision?
The organization shocked the Saints and ended the season with unexpected momentum. As the grind of the 2011 offseason continues, its clear Carroll and Schneider are focused on making sure that no matter what happens personnel wise into 2011, cracks in the foundation are filled; the football concepts become clearer to the players with better coaches of the Seahawks philosophy in place. And don’t be fooled, the Seahawks will search all talent pools to find the personnel that “fit” through the uncertainty of the CBA.
At this moment nothing is certain except for the fact the Seahawks organization is in high gear, focused on staying the course; if through the adversity of CBA uncertainty all goes as planned, the ‘Hawks will be prepared to hit the ground running whenever the 2011 season begins.