NFL Free Agents 2012: Remaining Unsigned Players

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 04: Quarterback Josh Johnson #11 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks for an open receiver against the Carolina Panthers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 4, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

So, we're in day four of the NFL Free Agency free-for-all, and I wanted to revisit, for what my opinion is worth (probably not much), my list of 'signable' free agents remaining on the market. Obviously, as I've said, my list is non-exhaustive, and my list crossed off pretty much anyone over the age of 28 unless they were named Manning or Mario. Despite that, the Seahawks have shown interest in a couple of older free agents, notably Steve Hutchinson and Visanthe Shiancoe. Hutch recently signed with the Titans and honestly I really don't see the the point of bringing Shiancoe in, but apparently the Hawks are exploring their options.

So, my list includes young players with some upside that could fit longer term with the team. I purposefully left off stop-gap veterans in my hopes the Hawks wouldn't go down that road, but apparently the are at least going to entertain the idea. Without further ado - here are some free agents that are still on the open market, with a short explanation as to why I like them and/or think the Seahawks might.

Inside Linebackers:

Stephen Tulloch, ILB, Lions. Age: 27
Curtis Lofton, ILB, Falcons. Age: 26

Tulloch and Lofton are the two premiere middle linebackers on the market and either would probably be an upgrade over David Hawthorne. The problem, though, is that Tulloch is "seeking more than Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson's five-year deal, which is worth $42.5 million ($19 million in guarantees and bonuses). Tulloch wants $6 million per year, with at least 40 percent of the total guaranteed. Plus, bonuses and incentives." Now, is it worth that to pay a 27 year old linebacker? Maybe, maybe not. But I doubt the Seahawks will.

As for Lofton, I do believe he's a potential target for the Seahawks. As I've said the past few days, John Clayton pointed out that John Schneider is in contact with Lofton's agent so he's at least inquiring about him. Two players to keep an eye on that would be upgrades at the middle linebacker spot.

David Hawthorne, ILB, Seahawks. Age: 27

Hawthorne has a visit scheduled with the Saints and that just tells me that he either didn't get an offer, or he got a rather low-ball offer from the Seahawks. I don't think the Hawks will break the bank to keep their starting MLB, and I don't think they'll give him a long-term contract. Still, he's a very good option on the free agent market, considering they don't really have anyone available past K.J. Wright that can play in the middle at the moment.

Dan Connor, ILB, Panthers. Age: 26 - signed by the Cowboys.
Jonathan Goff, ILB, Giants. Age: 26
Larry Grant (RFA), ILB, 49ers. Age: 27

Goff is coming off an ACL injury so he'd be a concern. Many have him returning to the Giants because of this. He's a former 5th round pick out of Vanderbilt and started at middle linebacker for the Giants in 2010. Someone to watch. Larry Grant is a restricted free agent - the only restricted free agent I've included here - and got a little attention this year filling in for an injured Patrick Willis in the middle of San Francisco's defense. The 49ers placed an original round tender on him (7th round), which means if the Seahawks decide they want him bad enough, it will cost them money and a 7th round pick to the Niners. I've seen a lot of people make the Grant-Seahawks connection this offseason but it's really not my favorite idea. I'd rather just take a guy in the draft, frankly.

Cornerbacks:

Terrell Thomas, CB, Giants. Age: 27 - re-signed by Giants

Not sure I can see the Seahawks grabbing any corners in free agency. None that are well-known, anyway. They may go the 'special teamer' route - in fact, they probably will, but I'm not going to try and identify every good special teams cornerback in the NFL.

Safeties:

Haruki Nakamura, S, Ravens. Age: 26 - signed by Carolina
Atari Bigby, SS, Seahawks. Age: 30

Rumor had it that the Seahawks really want to re-sign Bigby but I haven't heard a peep about it in the past week. I doubt there will be a huge market for Bigby but he may look to sign with a team that doesn't have arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL on their roster. Bigby played well in nickel packages last year though, and that's something that's very important in the modern NFL as teams continue to run with multiple tight end packages and the tight ends themselves get taller and more athletic. However, he'll have a lot of competition from Byron Maxwell, Ron Parker, Walter Thurmond, Coye Francies, Jeron Johnson and any other of the young defensive backs on the roster.

Again, we'll see if the Seahawks try and sift through the roster casualties at safety, but I don't see any big-name signings at this position.

Quarterbacks after the jump! Yay!

Quarterbacks:

Matt Flynn, QB, Packers. Age: 27
Josh Johnson, QB, Buccaneers. Age: 26

We all know the story with Matt Flynn. According to the Miami Herald, a Flynn associate told Barry Jackson that he couldn't rule out Flynn not leaving Seattle. Which means, well, nothing. Now that Peyton is out for Miami, it seems likely Flynn would get more money and a more guaranteed starting spot in Miami (not that Matt Moore couldn't give him a run for his money). We'll see what he decides to do, but to stay in Seattle, I think he'd get a smaller offer and he'd have to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job. I wouldn't be against a Flynn signing as long as it was in the same ballpark as the Tjack/Whitehurst 2-year, $8 million contract but that seems pretty unlikely. I still think the Hawks will let him leave for South Beach.

Which means if the Seahawks are looking for a backup quarterback, they'll either have to bring in a wily veteran or take a look at some other backups around the league. My personal preference would be to bring in Josh Johnson. Johnson has flashed brilliance at times in Tampa Bay, but has also shown a propensity to throw interceptions and turn the ball over. Still, he's extremely athletic and mobile, has a big arm, and his effectiveness in college, in the system that he played under with Jim Harbaugh, means, in my mind anyway, he could pretty easily assume the 'game-manager' role the Seahawks so commonly espouse.

For me, despite how much they hate each other, I think Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh approach the QB position similarly as coaches. Both attempt to build up their QB's confidence - first just emotionally and through the press - never wavering or doubting, almost to the point of insanity. It's not a coincidence that both the San Francisco and Seattle media look at their respective teams' coaches and ask themselves "what are you seeing that we're not?" when it comes to the teams' quarterbacks. The Niners have doggedly stuck with Alex Smith - last year, and it's looking like he'll be back again on a new contract - despite mediocre numbers and limited upside.

Harbaugh has run his offense this way for a while, and though I can't give you a first-person account of what they did specifically in San Diego with Josh Johnson, the way he's used Andrew Luck at Stanford and the way he's used Alex Smith in San Francisco leads me to assume that Johnson would be effective in this type of coaching atmosphere.

(Yes, though Andrew Luck was very elite, they did use him in the game-manager role - run heavy offense, high percentage throws). There have been rumors that Johnson wants to reunite with Harbaugh in San Francisco because he flourished so much with him college, and, when I say flourished, that's an understatement.

In 2006, Johnson passed for 3,320 yards and 34 touchdowns, and ran 720 yards and 11 touchdowns. He led the FCS in total offense, passing efficiency, passing yards, and points responsible for. In 2007, his senior year, Johnson finished the season with 2,988 yards and a school-record 43 touchdowns passing to only one interception, with 726 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Though many don't give a crap about passer rating, it's still worth noting he still holds the record for the highest career passer efficiency (176.68) in NCAA Division-I football history.

Now, I know this doesn't mean anything - it was a lower level of competition and he hasn't exactly thrived in the pros, but my interest is more about the system he thrived in than the body of work he's put together in Tampa. You've seen the offense Harbaugh runs in San Francisco, and it's fairly similar to the one Seattle runs, save for the more present vertical game for the Seahawks. Also, current Stanford head coach David Shaw was Johnson's offensive coordinator in 2006 before going to Stanford and if you've watched the Cardinal's offense you'll know it's a pro-style with a lot of heavy sets and play-action, bootlegs, and a strong run game. Very similar to what the Seahawks run.

In researching the San Diego offense that Johnson thrived in, I came across this scouting report that was attempting to gauge what Harbaugh would do in San Francisco, and sure enough, it's pretty much exactly the same thing he brought to the Pros from San Diego and Stanford.

"The thing that stood out the most to me [while watching tape of their offense] was the fact that San Diego's rushing game was extremely solid as well. Harbaugh is known as a "QB-friendly" coach, but his running backs performed at high levels for the Toreros. It was extremely hard finding video of San Diego's offense, but the videos that I came across showed a superior strategy against opposing defenses.

Harbaugh appeared to spread the field real well with the play calling, getting play makers in the open field with mismatches. More often than not, I saw safeties guarding receivers on the outside, which as well all know, normally doesn't work out well for the defense. I noticed really stout play calling in terms of the most talented individuals seeing the ball often. Bubble screens were a big part of San Diego's success under Harbaugh."

The report goes on to stipulate that, obviously, the talent level at D-2 is much different so you can't really just look at the raw numbers, but...

"That said, you need an offensive system that is going to utilize that talent, and the talent of others around him. The roll out formations, double tight end spreads, and mix matching of different plays within the same formation seemed to keep defenses on their heels."

Anyway - the toolset that Johnson has - ridiculous athleticism, a strong arm by all accounts, an ability to make quick decisions, and - from the scouting I've done - an ability and willingness to thread the needle, make him, at worst, a nice back-up option. That is, if San Francisco doesn't scoop him up.

I think that if you take into account the offense they ran in San Diego and the fact he has seemingly done his best with a players' coach and weirdo like Jim Harbaugh, that he might fit in the similar system in Seattle. Yep, Pete Carroll is a weirdo, everyone. When it comes down to it, sifting through the free agent market for backup quarterback options, you have to project a little bit - and for the reasons above, I would project Johnson as a fit in Seattle.

It may not come down to it, but if Seattle wants a backup QB from the free agent market that I could see legitimately challenging Tarvaris Jackson without spending big bucks, Johnson might be it. Honestly, I don't see Matt Flynn as a face-of-the-franchise quarterback, but rather a stop-gap "good, probably better than TJack, for now" type quarterback. In other words, the two are in the same vein, but I rate Johnson higher for cost and upside reasons.

Also - the Bucs signed Dan Orlovsky to be their backup, so Johnson will not return to Tampa.

Dennis Dixon, QB, Steelers. Age: 27
Chad Henne, QB, Dolphins. Age: 27 - signed with Jaguars
Kyle Orton, QB, Chiefs. Age: 29 - signed with Cowboys

Dixon is interesting in a similar way that Johnson is, but I'd way rather run with Johnson.

More soon....

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