It's a little sad, but March and April are probably my favorite times of the year. I just love thinking about possibilities and how to construct a better football team.
This is really, really, super ultra early, but I think by this point we've seen enough of the Seahawks to gauge their major needs and enough of college football to figure out who some of the better draft targets could be. Not to pat myself on the back too much, but in my offseason plan last year I had Seattle drafting Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson, albeit not as early as they were actually drafted.
Profootballtalk currently lists Seattle as having $13.5 million in cap room for 2013, which frankly is better than I thought it would be. That's WITH the team paying Zach Miller $9 million, although it does NOT include paying Jones/Branch, who will be free agents and who made a combined $8 million in 2012.
This year more than any other, I see Seattle standing pat, especially if Miller remains on the team with his current contract. It is possible that they might approach Miller about a paycut and lose him. That would increase their cap number from $13.5m to $22.5m, but on the downside they'd need to find a quality TE replacement. I have a hunch they will keep Miller. He's not at all a bad player, he's actually pretty good, he's just an overpaid good player. This isn't looking like a great year for free agent TEs, and if Miller is released he'd be easily the best TE in a very old 2013 TE market. So for now, I'm assuming Miller stays, and that keeps the cap number at $13.5 million.
Barring a complete disaster, Seattle will pick somewhere in the second half of each round, meaning that about $3 million to $4 million will need to be set aside for draft expenses. Let's split the difference and call it $3.5 million for draft expenses (Seattle spent about $4 million last year picking higher than they will this year). It's easier math that way, because it conveniently leaves just $10 million left to spend.
Seahawks 2013 free agents:
Legend: Re-signed. Re-signed after the draft if still available assuming that his position was not addressed in said draft. Let go.
Jones: Re-signed to a 1 year, $5 million deal.
Branch: Re-signed to a 3 year, $10 million deal. (2013 cap hit: $3 million)
Edwards: Re-signed to a 1 year, $0.825 million deal.
Trufant: Thanks for the memories.
Hill: Thanks for the memories.
Hauschka: Re-signed to a 1 year, $1 million deal.
Gresham (long snapper): Decline RFA. Offer vet minimum: 1 year, $600k.
Maragos: Training camp invitation, 1 year $600k if he makes it.
McDonald: Training camp invitation, 1 year $600k if he makes it.
Omiyale: Training camp invitation, 1 year $825k if he makes it.
Moore: Evan Moore was a Seahawk?
And... that's pretty much all the money right there. Assuming Maragos and McDonald do not make the team, but one of Edwards/Omiyale does, that puts Seattle $375k over the cap. That's probably okay though, because that number assumes that all of Seattle's draft picks make the roster, which certainly won't happen. If just one misses, that puts Seattle dead on their cap number.
In other words, it's pretty obvious that Seattle can't go shopping this offseason without cutting one of their own to do it, namely one of Miller, Jones, Branch or possibly Rice (although I think letting Rice go would be crazy). If Seattle wants to go after a guy like Wes Welker or Mike Wallace, painful cuts will have to be made to accommodate it. You can now see why the team was so urgent regarding the T-jack trade and the swap from Winslow to Moore. Even with those money saving moves next year's budget is looking uncomfortably tight.
As far as the moves themselves, they are all nearly identical to the contracts those players are currently on. I'm penciling them in for those numbers since none of the players have significantly changed their stock since the day they signed their previous deals.
Jason Jones signed a 1 year deal here hoping that he could raise his free agent stock. Jones is having a solid season, but it's nothing special enough to warrant the kind of huge contract he was dreaming of. Jones did not set the NFL on fire during free agency last year in an abysmal free agent DT group, and so I see little hope that things will change this year. The way I see it, he has two options. The first is to take a long term deal with some team that will be far below what he was hoping for last year. The other option is to ask for a do over- another 1 year deal to raise his market value.
I'm thinking his best case scenario in 2013 is something like a Mebane contract (5/25m), but more likely he'd probably get offers like 3/13, and I just don't see him agreeing to that, except possibly if that offer is from the Seahawks, since they are obviously a team on the rise. So I think most likely we'll see Jones go for one more year of trying to set his market value (and $5 million is nothing to scoff at), hoping that in 2013 he'll have the kind of monster year that could get him his big contract. Seattle would be happy to keep Jones short term, since Scruggs/Howard have shown the potential to form a good 3-tech platoon, with Howard taking snaps on pure passing downs. Scruggs/Howard are still young and unproven though, so I think Seattle would like to keep Jones at least one more year to be safe.
Alan Branch is a must re-sign. He's not only a quality do-everything starting 3-tech, but he's currently the only player on the team that could replace an injured Brandon Mebane at the 1-tech without being a huge step down or without leaving a gaping hole at some other area on the defense. If the team does not re-sign Branch, it is important that they have their eye on a DT in the draft that they believe can flex into a 1-tech role. Losing Mebane while not having an insurance policy could derail a championship caliber season. Branch's previous contract was for 2 years $7 million. This new contract gives him a 3 year deal that pays him around the same annual salary.
I think Braylon Edwards is worth keeping around, especially since Rice could get injured on any given play. I would however explore my options in the draft first, and I think that's what the FO will do as well.
There are a lot of good kickers in the league right now, and precious few bad ones. This really gives Seattle an edge in negotiations with Steven Hauschka. If he doesn't sign with us, it's very possible he may never kick in the NFL for years, if ever again. Huashka made $1.26 million last season but that was inflated because he had signed an RFA tender. That RFA tender doesn't exist this season, so I expect his pay to go down slightly. Seattle probably won't make an offer until after the draft.
Clint Gresham has done a solid job and I see no reason not to keep him at a vet minimum salary, which is actually a pay raise from his previous rookie salary.
Chris Maragos is a solid backup safety who's made a few 53 man rosters by the hairs on his chin. That challenge will be even greater now that he's not making UDFA salaries. I think Seattle will invite him to camp, but I think they'll also draft a safety in hopes of replacing him for a better, cheaper option.
Clinton McDonald is pretty much the definition of average. He's worth bringing in to camp, though paying him even the minimum could be difficult. I suspect he will head elsewhere this offseason, to a team who's budget isn't quite so snug.
Frank Omiyale has earned another contract, but finding the money for it could be tricky.
Evan Moore is a rather obvious target for replacement. Even if they want him back, finding the money for him won't be easy.
Marcus Trufant and Leroy Hill are at the end of their productive careers, and both would cost too much to consider bringing back. CB and LB are two areas where Pete is confident in the draft. Trufant and Hill had nice careers and might still have a year left, but this ultimately is a business decision.
#1: There will probably be a small surprise or two, maybe a UDFA who makes the roster or maybe a current PS player who gets promoted, but he'd basically be replacing a similarly cheap player so I'm not expecting that to have any kind of serious cap consequences- nothing that can't be easily worked around.
#2: I'm keeping Matt Flynn. Seattle needs a quality veteran backup, and when 2012 is over, Flynn is actually pretty cheap ($2 million 2013 base salary) and pretty good for a backup considering the alternatives. They can't risk losing a season if Wilson has to miss time. Just look at what's happened to Chicago the last two years. Seattle needs to take advantage of yet another strong QB class in the mid-late rounds, but whoever they draft probably won't be starter ready in 2013, so keeping Flynn at least one more season is extremely important. I'd almost say that Flynn is untouchable at this point, since the only deals that would justify the risk would only happen in fantasy land. I predict that Seattle's FO will see things the same way and stand pat with Flynn as a backup in 2013.
Expect a very boring free agency, although when you have a roster that is as ridiculously crammed with talent as Seattle's is, it's hard to complain.
The 2013 NFL draft:
Seattle might miss the playoffs, but even if they do, they'd likely pick no higher than 17th based on a good record and a strong SOS which works against us as a draft tiebreaker. I still believe that winning a superbowl is entirely realistic, so for now I'd say the likely draft range is between 17 and 32. Lets split that difference and estimate a #25 overall pick in each round. Seattle also has an extra pick coming from the Tjack trade, probably a 7th, and they might have a 7th round pick coming from the Barrett Ruud deal. They also have at least a 5th coming from last year's Aaron Curry trade.
Of course, there will be a ton of change in draft stock between now and the draft, so this is not so much about nailing the pick as it is identifying some players who could be of interest in each round. If you read some of my draft prediction posts prior to this then you should recognize a lot of names here. This post assumes that all eligible players will declare, so there is a good chance that some of these named players will not.
1st round (25th overall):
If Jarvis Jones falls this far because of injury, Pete Carroll would be the last guy I'd expect to draft him. Similarly, I think Alec Ogletree is playing his way into top 15 consideration. I really like Zach Ertz and would take him in a heartbeat here in the unlikely event he lasts that long- he's probably Seattle's best bet at a value pick this late.
I'd love to get Bjoern Werner, but I suspect he'll be a top 15, maybe even a top 10 pick. If I ran this draft, I'd find a way to move up and get Werner, I think he's going to have a nice career and a year or two from now we'll badly wish we had him. He's a potentially perfect fit for the LEO role. He has the speed and quickness Carroll demands, but without the long bouts of utter ineffectiveness seen by inferior prospects like Barkevious Mingo. Werner isn't quite the pass rushing force that Irvin was, but he also doesn't gas himself with overexertion and has much better potential for run defense, making him a much better LEO candidate than Irvin. Irvin should probably stay in the Raheem Brock role permanently if the Seahawks want to get the most out of him. Seattle might be able to get away with not drafting another pass rusher this year, but it's better to be too early than too late if you ask me.
I doubt that Dion Jordan will go ultra high- he's a similar case to Courtney Upshaw last year despite being a very different prospect. Both players had physical limitations that caused people to question if they could fit a 4-3 DE role at the next level. Upshaw ended up going in the early 2nd round to a 3-4 defense. I see Jordan probably sharing a similar fate- but I think Seattle might pounce on him at #25 since his speed/athleticism and diversity should appeal to Carroll. Jordan has the tools to be a high upside outside linebacker even in a 4-3, albeit a very strange one (tallest LB in history?). Jordan's versatility, freakish speed and his monster press at the line on receivers could be major plus marks in Carroll's book.
I definitely expect Cordarrelle Patterson and Brandon Coleman to be on the team's radar at #25, but my instincts tell me that neither one would make it that far.
Seattle has shown that they are not afraid to make surprise picks in round 1 so don't overlook guys with second round grades- particularly Tavon Austin or Gavin Escobar since they are players who's upside is a lot higher than their draft grade.
Edit: After reading Rob's writeup on WR options just now, I have to say I'm a pretty big fan of DeAndre Hopkins. His speed, size, concentration and smoothness remind me of Julio Jones, and wouldn't that be a nice player to have?
In addition to the aforementioned Austin and Escobar, I'd add Robert Woods who just strikes me as a likely mid to late 2nd round pick. Players with his profile ("quiet" but dependable) almost always seem to get 1st round talk but almost never actually go that high. Woods strikes me as a Bobby Engram type (albeit 3 inches taller), and Engram himself was a late-ish 2nd round pick.
If the Seahawks aren't in the mood to be weird with a Dion Jordan pick at LB, CJ Mosley would make an excellent traditional OLB that fits Pete Carroll very nicely. Mosley is field fast and like any Nick Saban player shows signs of being well coached and highly intelligent. Having Mosley would be a lot like having a rookie Leroy Hill again, back when he was a pass rushing force. Mosley is a player I like quite a bit, though unfortunately Seattle might need to move up in the 2nd (or down in the first) to get him.
Where will Keenan Allen go? It seems his stock has been slowly drifting south all season. Allen might be the most under-rated WR among draftniks right now. His hands, athleticism, moves, and speed are all 1st round caliber, and it must be said that his production is likely being hampered by a pretty bad QB and a now fired coaching staff. Allen reminds me a tiny bit of Golden Tate in terms of his penchant for catching the ball near his body (yet still catching it very well), and both players have some "wiggle" after they catch the ball. Both are very similar athletes, which is pretty impressive when you consider that Allen is five inches taller than Tate. The Seahawks had a 1st round grade on Tate, so I expect them to have a high grade on Allen as well. Possibly higher than their grade on Woods.
Oday Aboushi is currently getting 2nd round hype, but I see a late 1st round talent. I expect that's where he'll end up, as he's already rising. On the chance that he does last into the 2nd round, he could be a nice fit for Tom Cable as a tall, lean, physical tackle with more polish than what Cable is used to working with.
Ezekiel Ansah is another riser who's well deserving of the draft rise. He's been a force on BYU's much improved defense, and his combination of traits is very similar to Jason Jones. If some team pulls a Tyson Alualu type pick for Ansah, I would not be surprised. He's one of the best if not the best 3-techs in this draft.
Gerald Hodges could be another LB option if Seattle hasn't taken one by now. Hodges is a big hitter and a good tackler, but his field speed is lacking explosiveness and if you look at all the guys Pete brought in to compete for the WILL this season you'll notice that every one of them had explosive speed. Hodges might still be draftable though, he's a good value here and he could fit in the KJ Wright role pretty well if asked to.
I'm not convinced that Barkevious Mingo will go high in the next draft. He's way too incomplete as a pass rusher and unlike Irvin he wasn't able to peddle his physical gifts into a ton of cheap sacks against college athletes. This is about where I start liking Mingo as a gamble though, because his short area quickness is special enough on it's own to make him worth drafting, I just wouldn't spend a pricey pick on it. I don't think other GMs would either. I think the odds are much higher that Mingo will fail than succeed, but he does fit a Raheem Brock role well enough if Seattle decides they want Irvin to succeed Clemons at LEO.
Jake Stoneburner is a tall, well rounded player at tight end who has just average athleticism but is just one of those quiet guys that makes his team better. He won't be a superstar, but he could basically be what the team hoped they were getting in Evan Moore.
Shayne Skov is a middle linebacker who is a lot like Lofa Tatupu- tough, blue collar, smart, clutch. He's a possibility as a WLB convert option that can flex to ILB if Wagner gets hurt. He's a nice player and certainly worth drafting here for some team, but would Carroll take a value pick at LB if he has just average speed?
Brennan Williams is a lot like James Carpenter with less fat on his body and a little less forward lean, which makes me think he might have a nice future at RT in Tom Cable's scheme. Funny enough, one of the top videos on him includes the words "mean, nasty & scary."
If the Seahawks are hellbent on adding a pure H-back TE in the draft, I'd guess that Jordan Reed could be on their radar. He's almost tiny looking compared to most of his TE peers, and in Florida's spread offense often lines up like a WR. Reed is a classic "chip on the shoulder" player who shows a lot of emotion (in a good way) and plays with his heart on his sleeve in a manner that is a little reminiscent of Doug Baldwin. We know how much Pete gravitates towards prospects in the mid to late rounds who play like they have something to prove, so Reed could get some extra consideration.
This is the round where Seattle starts to seriously start considering QB options. Seattle needs to keep Flynn for the next two seasons as a quality backup, but they need to ensure themselves that they will have a legit backup option with great starter upside should Wilson become seriously injured down the road. As far as I'm concerned, there are two "moneyball" QBs in this draft that will mirror Russell Wilson as being fantastic draft values: Aaron Murray and Matt Scott.
Murray really is a lot like Brees-lite. He's a very smart and very effective QB who's one of the most advanced QBs in the college game, but will not be a high pick because he only stands 6'1" tall. Matt Scott looks like he came out of a John Schneider QB factory- he's mobile in an Aaron Rodgers sense, he's always looking downfield, he can progress through reads and has very nice footwork and a high yet fast throwing motion. He's got a bit of a Favre streak too in that he will seemingly never leave a game from injury no matter how much of a wreck he is. If Seattle doesn't draft him, Green Bay probably will.
5th round (x2), 6th round, 7th round (x3):
At this point we can expect to see Seattle drafting players with 3rd or 4th round grades, as it seems every year there are a few guys that just fall through the cracks. At this point, the field of options widens out while material on them dwindles to almost nothing, so it's almost a waste of time talking about options when there are hundreds of options that can't be scouted easily.
That said, I do think that in the later rounds we will probably see Seattle grab a tackle if they haven't already, a QB if they haven't already, and probably a corner and safety. Winston Guy hasn't been the immediate impact guy they hoped he'd be and Jeron Johnson looks like more of a bridge starter than a long term fixture. Chris Maragos might be done with the team after this year as well. At corner the team will probably look to stock yet another big CB in the likely event that Marcus Trufant moves on. Given the tenuous nature of Seattle's non-starting DBs, it wouldn't shock me if they added 3 more in this draft hoping to work more magic.
I think that before the 5th round we'll probably see a LB taken for certain, probably a WR and/or TE as well. Pass rusher could be a wildcard.