Seattle Seahawks: Four Veterans That May Move on by Opening Day
The Seahawks currently have 25 unrestricted free agents and a bevy of holes to fill; not an ideal position in which to begin thinking about which veterans to release before opening day.
However, with Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s no-stone-unturned approach towards talent evaluation and player acquisition, anything is possible.
I want to make it clear from the start that I don’t believe the four players on this list have equal likelihood of being released by opening day; two of the players could have value via trade, or be candidates for contract re-structuring before outright release.
With free agency remaining, the roster will change a significant amount before taking the field opening week.
Where these players fit into the 2011 game plan remains to be seen, but let’s take a closer look at why they could be on the chopping block.
Stacy Andrews, OL
Andrews started at right guard from weeks 2 through 14, but was supplanted by Mike Gibson in week 15. Andrews didn’t see the field the rest of the season as a starter.
Though injuries along the offensive line played a factor in his insertion at right guard, he never challenged Sean Locklear at right tackle, his “natural” position.
Andrews was acquired just before the start of the 2010 season for a seventh round pick, so it’s fair to say he never got a chance to legitimately compete at right tackle.
Carroll praised Andrews’ mentality, body type—6’7”, 340 — and hard working nature. The Seahawks then drafted what looks to be his replacement in the first round of the 2011 draft, Tom Cable deeming Carpenter the right tackle after the Seahawks took John Moffitt on day two.
Paying $5.25 million for a backup tackle that was supplanted at guard, after 12 straight starts, in 2010 doesn’t seem like a prudent decision for a team that could use that cap space to sign multiple players to compete for depth; the tackle and guard spots included.
Earlier in the week I highlighted the possibility of Tyler Polumbus coming back as a depth lineman for Seattle, but I want to expand on that possibility; though not given a position on the depth chart, Ray Willis is the one unrestricted free agent lineman I believe Seattle may bring back; he can play both right guard and right tackle.
Willis had arthroscopic knee surgery last August, ending his chances of competing at right tackle or right guard last season; he was placed on IR September 4th, the day Seattle traded for Andrews.
If Seattle has already drafted Carpenter to supplant Andrews, this lining up to be his second demotion as a Seahawk, is there value in keeping him over two other players who will likely cost less; one player that ended the season by being inserted into the lineup, and the other the player that was being replaced in the first place. I believe this is a scenario the Seahawks should explore.
I’d be surprised if Seattle failed to remedy the situation of Andrews’ inflated salary before opening day, at the very least a pay cut. However, given his performance in 2010 and the infusion of youth along the offensive line, Andrews may have played his last snap in Seattle.
Kentwan Balmer, DL
Balmer’s successful senior season at North Carolina earned him a first round selection in 2008, a status Balmer has failed to live up to in the NFL. The Seahawks traded a sixth rounder for Balmer, who had gone AWOL at 49ers training camp and decided to skip pre-season activities.
Despite his versatility as both a tackle and 5-technique end, his performance in 2010 was underwhelming. He was productive at times; weeks 2, 9 and 16, but often initially missed plays on first attempt or had help in making the tackle. Balmer rarely flashed overwhelming power and didn’t play with consistent tenacity.
Currently, the Seahawks don’t have depth along the line to release Balmer; he is slated to earn $700,000 or less in the final two years of his rookie deal, a low impact contract.
Balmer’s work ethic came into question in San Francisco, and he will need to work hard this offseason to maintain his spot on the roster. The question with Balmer has never been his talent and he has good size at 6’5”, 315. But, is he is willing to put in the time to watch film, get stronger and improve his technique are the questions that follow.
While the Seahawks don’t currently have players to replace Balmer, that doesn’t mean that by opening day the organization won’t have found one or two similarly priced players that can out-compete him; especially if he doesn’t improve in the offseason.
Marcus Trufant, CB
The former Washington State Cougar star, top 15 pick and Pro Bowl cornerback has been on the decline ever since his career year in 2007, the year which preempted his six year contract.
Trufant has struggled with back injuries and various dings, including concussions, the past two seasons; He once again flashed his pro-bowl talent early in the 2010 season before seeing his play continually decline as the season progressed. Trufant is a physical corner in run support, and his current history with back problems is somewhat of a red flag.
He will make $5.9 million, $7.2 million and $8.8 million in the three remaining years left on his deal, assuming he retains the number one cornerback role in Seattle.
However, I don’t believe it’s a given Trufant retains that role. The pending emergence of Walter Thurmond could eventually be a threat to Trufant’s status, Thurmond’s explosiveness should return now two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery. Currently slated to play opposite Trufant, Thurmond should settle into the number two corner role.
Behind Trufant, however, is a group of rookies and unproven players. While rookie Richard Sherman may be hard pressed to unseat Trufant in 2011, the question must be asked; is Trufant worth six million in 2011, increasing into 2013? Based on his past two seasons, I believe the answer is no.
Now, releasing Trufant outright may not be the answer. Re-structuring his contract—Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield has a de-escalator in his five year, $36 million dollar deal signed in 2009 that cuts his salary nearly in half if he doesn’t retain a starting corner role in 2011—is an option for Seattle, giving Trufant the chance to retain his starter role for a cheaper price.
Trading him could also be a possibility, but the size of his contract and declining play could make that a difficult proposition.
While the Seahawks don’t currently have an answer, their young crop of corners are fast, physical and willing to employ an aggressive style of play, the style the Seahawks are aimed at adopting in the secondary.
Trufant must come to camp ready and healthy enough to adopt that style of play and maybe even be willing to re-negotiate his contract; if not, the Washington state native may find himself playing home games outside his home state for the first time in his football career.
Lofa Tatupu, MLB
The main issue with Tatupu is his health. He had arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees in late January, validating his consistent struggles in 2010. Tatupu simply showed the wear and was unable to play anywhere near the level he began his career.
There is no denying the impact Tatupu has had on the development of David Hawthorne as a backup and his importance as captain of the defense; in 2010, he was a main messenger of the Pete Carroll locker room mentality.
But he’s coming off dual knee surgeries and the Seahawks drafted two players at the linebacker position.
The role of Will Herring remains to be seen, but the Seahawks did draft Malcolm Smith with the intention of grooming him to become the every down weak side linebacker; Carroll praised his natural third down abilities after drafting the USC product. Fourth round pick K.J. Wright has the versatility to play multiple positions along the defensive front seven.
Furthermore, Hawthorne has outperformed Tatupu the past two seasons; the former TCU product filled in admirably at his natural ‘mike’ position in 2009 after Tatupu tore his pectoral muscle.
Hence the question; is Lofa still an every down player for this defense? He struggled with his range and drop depth in 2010, and he was often overmatched on delayed blitzes. Yes, he wasn’t healthy, but he hasn’t been for nearly two years.
If he can bounce back in 2011, he will see the field; does Seattle choose to move him around or play him as a sub package linebacker? If he returns to full health, maybe he retains his middle linebacker job.
Tatupu is slated to earn $4.35 million in 2011-2013, his salary rising in 2014 and 2015. Those numbers would suggest he remains the Seahawks starting middle linebacker.
It’s not a given he is the middle linebacker on opening day; how much longer can Seattle hold an unhealthy Tatupu is a tough question to answer.
I think both parties would ultimately try to re-structure Tatupu's deal before an out-right release or trade, but unfortunately his value to this organization peaked in the years before the injuries; his trade value is tied to his health and its not a given that Seattle will receive value in line with their evaluation of the former all-pro.
Tatupu has been associated with Pete Carroll long enough to know competition will decide who starts for Seattle, but also to understand that prior performance doesn’t mean a job in the present; Carroll discarded former Trojan Lawrence Jackson before the 2010 season, and if Tatupu can’t re-gain his form, he could be the next former Trojan to strikeout in Seattle under Pete Carroll.
It’s now or never for Tatupu to re-assert himself as the leader of the Seahawks defense.