EDIT: Apparently the cap rollover will continue beyond 2013. This creates even more incentive for Seattle not to spend a ton of money.
In past years I'd be doing an offseason plan right now. Those are pretty fun. The problem is, it's hard to get a good gauge of what is realistic two months before free agency begins. So this year, I'm just going to discuss what I think the offseason could realistically look like, and worry about drafting up an offseason plan when free agency is upon us and we have a pretty good idea of who should be available.
Now a word from our GM:
One of the cool things about John Schneider is how he is refreshingly honest and frank about his intentions and past decisions. He told us how Barron and Kuechly topped his draft board along with Irvin last year, and he recently admitted that he nearly drafted Andy Dalton or Jabaal Sheard over James Carpenter in 2011. In his end of season interviews, he almost always tells us what he's going to do, whether it's target pass rushers or fast linebackers, and then he's gone out and done exactly that. He even hinted at a QB he liked that "nobody is talking about" months before the 2012 draft. I think we know who that QB is now. It's a stark contrast from Tim Ruskell, who though predictable, often kept his cards very close to his chest, and wouldn't hesitate to misdirect to throw the scent off the trail.
Like any GM, Schneider tends to be at least somewhat cryptic and his statements are up for interpretation. Here are my takes on the info we have available:
1: Both Pete Carroll and John Schneider talked about adding pass rush help this offseason.
2: John Schneider hinted at a very specific group of linebackers in the draft. In retrospect I think he might regret this statement. "Underclassmen linebackers" sounds vague until you look it up. There are only 4 of them, and only 2 of them would clearly qualify as "fast" linebackers (Alec Ogletree and Jelani Jenkins).
3: John Schneider seemed to really like this year's WR group, a year after he spurned the previous WR class.
4: A Seahawks scout was seen talking to Sylvester Williams, indicating that Seattle is perhaps considering DT as a 1st round possibility.
5: John Schneider talked about there being "unique" pass rushers in this draft.
6: John Schneider said the team would focus on signing their own free agents while they "dabble" in free agency.
In addition to those statements, we also have 3 previous offseasons to help us understand Schneider's MO. Based on that, here is what I expect the Seahawks offseason to look like:
According to John Clayton, Seattle has an estimated $18.3 million in 2013 cap space thanks to roughly $12 million from the 2012 rollover. That's a lot of incentive to spend, but on the other hand Seattle has to be careful to not burden future years with big contracts.
It's been a long time since I've seen a free agency with so many big names, particularly at WR and DL. That said, I look at John Schneider's MO and it paints a consistent picture of a "wait and see" buyer. Even his biggest free agent acquisitions: Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, and Matt Flynn were all players that sat in free agency for a while and didn't develop the market that their talent level deserved for various reasons. Tarvaris Jackson, Jason Jones, and Alan Branch were also notable signings Seattle made after those players failed to develop much of a market.
Will Seattle break the bank for Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, or the guy who believes in his smelf? That seems unlikely. But in a year where there are so many big name WRs, you might see players like Dwayne Bowe or Danny Amendola not getting the market they hoped for. Maybe it won't be Bowe or Amendola specifically, but I think when we are talking about the kinds of free agents Seattle might pursue, that's the kind of mentality we have to put ourselves into.
Scottemojo sent me a message earlier today talking about how impressed he's been with Oakland DT Desmond Bryant (not the Dallas WR, in case of any confusion). Scott has a subscription to NFL Game Rewind. After going back and watching several of Bryant's games, he had a glowing review which I'm guessing he'll be sharing with the rest of us pretty soon. He also had nice things to say about Tennessee TE Jared Cook. Cook is a very athletic TE that's caught my eye a few times also. I'll leave the details to Scott.
Oakland is tight against the cap. They might have Bryant test free agency out of necessity. In a free agency class that might include Henry Melton, Randy Starks, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett, it's easy to see a player like Bryant being overlooked in the early days of free agency. For that matter, we might see the same thing with Jason Jones or Alan Branch. Whichever player seems the most under-appreciated will be the player I expect John Schneider to go for.
This approach makes more sense than ever for Seattle in 2013, because low-key free agents tend to sign shorter contracts, and Seattle's budget situation strongly prefers short term contracts. A 1 year deal like the one they signed Jason Jones for last year would be a great way of spending money in 2013 without burdening the team's chances of signing back their own players in 2014.
Or to put it another way, John Schneider is like the guy who buys his Halloween candy on Nov. 1st, and his Christmas presents on Dec. 26th. He's a bargain shopper to his core. Rather than dreaming about top free agents or trading for megastars with $16 million a year contracts, we should probably be looking at players who won't be the first to fly off the shelves first during the NFL's equivalent of Black Friday.
Here are a few players I think might fit that criteria:
I don't think a whole lot of people outside of Oakland know how good Bryant is. Alan Branch had a good, under the radar performance in his final season with the Cardinals before signing here. Don't be surprised if Seattle makes a move for Bryant if he sits out there for more than a couple of days.
Fred Davis is the top free agent TE, but will his recent injury history scare away suitors?
Cook is a very fluid athlete and just posted a 500+ yard season catching passes from two mediocre QBs. He's not a big name, but he could be a nice addition.
Alan Branch / Jason Jones:
Branch might see a pay raise if Gus Bradley starts a bidding war, but I'm not expecting a huge market for the still under-rated Branch. Jason Jones has more questions about him now than he had in 2012. I'm not sure Seattle wants Jones back, but if they did, he'd be cheap.
After two disappointing seasons while being mismatched in the Eagles zone heavy secondary, DRC will hit free agency with a lot less shine than what he had a couple years ago. From the sounds of things, Chip Kelly is going to overhaul the Eagles roster and a lot of big names will not last long. It seems very likely that DRC will hit free agency, and while I don't think he'll come dirt cheap, he probably won't be getting huge offers.
Brandon Browner is turns 30 in 2014 and might be playing his final season in Seattle, and the Seahawks still don't have a firm idea who their 3rd corner is. DRC is 6'2" and has skills that would fit in with Seattle's backfield philosophy. He's just 26 years old. If he's willing to sign a reasonable deal, this could make a lot of sense for Seattle. He's young enough that a bounce back season could make him a great trade chip if his contract becomes a problem in the future.
Oft injured and limited to a slot role, Amendola isn't likely to command a huge payday. For the right price, Amendola could make for good competition with Baldwin and help improve our WR depth without spending much money.
On paper, Umenyiora seems to be declining, but it's not easy to tell given how many great pass rushers New York rotates in. Stat pages track games and starts, but not reps. Umenyiora is on the down slope of his career, but it would be unusual for a pass rusher of his caliber to be "done" at just age 31.
Nobody really expects a bidding war for Umenyiora- his situation reminds me a lot of a then 31 year old Raheem Brock a few years ago. Demand for Umenyiora won't be high, and he offers something useful to Seattle with Clemons being an unknown in 2013.
A likely future HoFer, Dwight Freeney turns 33 next month and has seen his sack numbers decline each of the last 3 seasons. I expect interest in Freeney to be very low, and getting him on a vet minimum contract could be entirely plausible (if he doesn't retire first). Freeney would be more of an insurance move than anything, but if he still wants to play and he's low cost, it could makes sense on a 1 year deal.
It would basically be the Seahawks equivalent of the Mariners signing Raul Ibanez last month. That said, signing 'old geezers' has been known to pay off from time to time, and age bias is one of the best contributors to finding a free agent bargain.
Tony Gonzalez says he has probably played his last NFL game, but it's not because he doesn't have gas still left in the tank. He just finished with 930 receiving yards (3rd in the NFL) at age 36. Even he believes he still has 3 years left. If Gonzalez pulls a Brett Favre and decides to give it one more go, he won't be under contract with the Falcons. He's a free agent.
Though I expect there to be some interest in Gonzalez in free agency, and it's likely he'd return to the Falcons, I think he'd recognize Seattle's outstanding outlook over the next few years gives him a great chance to finally get a well deserved SB ring. Gonzalez's previous contract was for just 2 years, $12 million.
Russell Wilson gushed about Gonzalez after their playoff game the way that Bill Simmons does for Russell Wilson. Wilson showed a strong tendency to target his TEs in the closing weeks of the season. Gonzalez is still a force on 3rd downs. I can't help but feel Wilson's praise of Gonzalez was a calculated move.
Bowe is coming off a really tough year, and it's usually a warning sign when a productive WR isn't wanted back by his previous team. That said, the Chiefs had serious issues at QB last season and Bowe still managed 801 yards in 13 games. Before that year, he had four 1000 yard seasons in five years (if you count 995 as 1000).
Bowe has drop problems, but he is big (6'2" 221) and productive. Seattle signed Edwards and TO last season looking for depth at the "big WR" role. They are still looking. While I am a huge fan of DeAndre Hopkins in the upcoming draft, if Bowe lingers in free agency the Seahawks might be tempted.
Of course, nobody really expected Matt Flynn or Sidney Rice to sit in free agency the way they did. Sometimes premiere talents just don't have a market for some random reason. If that happens to a player like Henry Melton, Randy Starks, Michael Bennett, Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, or Greg Jennings, it could become a situation to watch. Otherwise, I don't really expect any of those guys to end up Seahawks.
We'll know a lot more about Seattle's intentions in the draft, but here are a few quick reads on it:
John Schneider met with Russell Wilson at the Senior bowl, then went out of his way to not talk about him in every interview the rest of the way. Pay close attention to who Seahawks personnel guys meet with. Pay less attention to who they talk about. Note which players they always seem to avoid discussing.
Rob and I were told before the previous draft that pass rush was a very likely 1st round consideration. RB and QB were likely to happen during or before the 4th round. They talked up fast linebackers a ton and unsurprisingly spent a 2nd on a fast linebacker. The Seahawks seem like a team that drafts by need in the first several rounds before grab bagging prospects a bit later on. Barring a very active free agency, I would expect Seattle to spend at least two picks on defensive lineman in the first four rounds (speculation). I think it's likely that Seattle will probably take a fast linebacker in that range too.
That leaves WR and TE. This is an incredibly deep draft at WR, so don't be surprised if Seattle pushes that priority back a bit. One of my favorite players in the draft is DeAndre Hopkins, a WR, but it's probably unlikely that Seattle would take a WR that early with such urgent needs on the defensive line. I'd love to be wrong, but this regime has yet to take a luxury pick in round 1. Our first round pick will probably be a defensive lineman, and it will probably not get the best reviews from the media given how weak this defensive line class is.
Post draft free agency
With the first wave of free agency and the draft over, Seattle will have a good idea of how much spare cap space they'll have. If they have a quiet free agency, it's conceivable the Seahawks might have close to $10 million still available. Seattle could use that money to extend Brandon Browner a year ahead of time. Most of Seattle's notable 2014 free agents are RFA, meaning they can be kept a year on the cheap. Browner is the exception, and by signing him a year earlier they can spread some of his contract over 2013 and lower the cap hits in 2014 and beyond. I'm sure Browner would welcome the early pay day as well.
That's a general overview of how I expect this offseason to look: bargain shopping in FA followed by a defensive line oriented draft, with a strong possibility of early contract extensions afterwards if there is still money left over. After spending many hours evaluating this defensive line draft class, I think it's kind of a shitty DL class, frankly. But that said, even if our #25 and #57 picks turn into the next Carpenter/Moffitt, it's still possible this offseason could be a big success. And with Dan Quinn on board, I shouldn't doubt their ability to get the most out of seemingly ordinary players.