Lack of depth and no measurable interior pass rush are major issues facing the Seattle Seahawks defensive line when free agency begins.
Seattle had too many needs to address during the NFL Draft, but the team currently has about $40 million to spend on rookies and free agents, possibly more if contracts are restructured or terminated for players under-performing in their current deals.
The starting front four in Pete Carroll's defense created an intimidating front during the 2010 season. However, the unit only managed to play four games together.
Brandon Mebane was lost during Week 4, missing four games. Colin Cole missed five games at the other DT position and wasn’t healthy when he came back, impacting Seattle's ability to stop the run.
Of bigger note was Seattle's 325-pound run-stopping DE, Red Bryant, who missed the final 10 weeks of the season. While Raheem Brock filled in admirably on passing downs, Seattle didn't have an adequate run-stopper to fill in for Bryant.
The forthcoming free-agency period brings several big questions for Seattle. For starters, they need to address re-signing Mebane and determine what they can build for depth at DT.
They also need to address depth at DE, as Brock is a free agent and may not return. ESPN's John Clayton doesn't believe Seattle will re-sign him, despite his nine sacks last season—six of which were in the final five weeks. Brock was dependable, playing in all 16 games.
Instead, Clayton has floated a possible trade to address Seattle's needs at DE.
Osi Umenyiora has been a standout option for the New York Giants, collecting 60 sacks over seven seasons (not including 2008 when he was sidelined for the season with a knee injury). 11.5 of those sacks came during 2010 despite a lingering hip injury that required offseason surgery.
Not including his rookie year, Umenyiora has averaged almost 10 sacks per season. He has also been stout against the run (he set an NFL record with 10 forced fumbles last season), a feature the Seahawks desperately need.
Umenyiora has two years remaining on his contract, and is scheduled to make $3.5 million in 2011 and $4 million in 2012. While those numbers are low for a Pro Bowl DE, his contract was quite large when originally signed (seven years, $41 million, $15 million guaranteed). Umenyiora earned $21 million over the first three seasons of his 2006 extension.
Umenyiora was included in the NFL Players' Association lawsuit against the NFL because of a failed promise by Giants general manager Jerry Reese. Umenyiora’s affidavit states that Reese promised a new contract provided that Umenyiora continued “playing at a high level.”
Umenyiora claims the agreement was reached during an offseason meeting in 2008. His contract was to be renegotiated prior to the 2010 season to be among the top-five defensive ends. The alternative was to trade him and allow him to negotiate a new contract with his new team.
Umenyiora’s affidavit states “Before leaving the meeting, I asked Mr. Reese twice if he was absolutely sure that would be the case. He then told me that he was an honest and church-going man and that he would not lie, which I believed to be the case.”
The lack of promised action has Umenyiora expecting remedy heading into 2011, meaning a trade could be forthcoming.
There has been little to no “insider” information circulating that a deal for Umenyiora is in the works. Perhaps this actually bodes well for a transaction, as most rumored trades fail to come to fruition.
The Giants other top pass rusher, Mathias Kiwanuka, is slated to become a free agent. However, they have Jason Pierre-Paul ready to step in. After a slow start to his NFL career, Pierre-Paul looked solid at the end of the 2010 season.
Compensation for Umenyiora might prove to be difficult for Seattle. They most certainly will not surrender a first-round pick for any player, as they are facing a brutal schedule and uncertainties at the QB position. They could be looking at a high draft pick in 2012 and using that pick on a franchise QB seems to be a necessity.
They may surrender their second pick in 2012, but that could be problematic if Pete Carroll and John Schneider believe they will need draft capital to move up to draft a QB.
The Giants may be looking for some experience at WR, as Steve Smith is a big question mark heading into the season. The drafting of Jerrel Jernigan will help, but it won’t be enough if Smith moves on or isn’t able to play. Seattle doesn’t have many options at WR, either, but Ben Obomanu could figure into a deal with the Giants.
The asking price for Umenyiora will be tempered by his dissatisfaction with the Giants. The near-immediate need to renegotiate his contract at about $12.5 to 15 million a year will limit trade partners and temper trade offers.
Seattle’s issues at DT could make Umenyiora’s contract expectations unaffordable.
Brandon Mebane is a free agent that has been playing out of position the past two seasons (three-technique DT). He had success against the run and created a decent pass rush when playing inside the guard, but his production has waned since moving out in 2009.
Colin Cole has been playing the one-technique, but he is facing issues in 2011. He injured his ankle in December, requiring surgery in April. He just had a follow-up procedure and is wearing a protective boot; he will likely be on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the season.
Cole’s performance has been adequate but hardly matches his contract. He is due about $13.5 million over the next three seasons, which is appropriate for a good starting NT. It seems high for a low-end starter, though.
Cole’s contract and physical uncertainty elevates the need to re-sign Mebane. The question is how much is Seattle willing to spend to makeover their defensive line?
Seattle’s most productive option seems to be moving Mebane back inside and finding a three-technique DT in free agency. The Giants offer a solution.
Barry Cofield is a free agent. He has become expendable, as the Giants selected Linval Joseph in the second round of the 2010 draft, and Marvin Austin was surprisingly available with the 20th pick of the second round this last April. With Chris Canty manning the middle, the Giants now have a surplus at DT.
Cofield is solid against the run and can also generate a pass rush. The St. Louis Rams are rumored to have the inside track, as head coach Steve Spagnuolo was Cofield’s defensive coordinator in New York.
The Rams will likely pursue him, as they need to replace the undersized Gary Gibson.
Spagnuolo is two years removed from Cofield and there is no evidence that there is a tight tie between the two. Cofield’s decision would likely fall to money.
By dropping Cole and adding $3 million to his salary, Seattle could likely sign Cofield to take over for Mebane at the three-technique. It will likely take an additional $6 million per year to sign Mebane and move him back inside the guard. This would create a stout interior, with Bryant and Chris Clemons on the ends.
Adding Umenyiora to the unit would make the line formidable, but these three signings would eat about $25 million of the $40 million Seattle has to spend on rookies and in free agency. Instead, Seattle may need to settle on adding Lazarius Levingston, their seventh-round draft pick from LSU, at DE.