CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24: Kellen Winslow #82 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers jumps over a defender for the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Seahawks have not been shy about their desire to pick up an H-back style tight end for this season, the "joker" that can move around the formation, split out wide, play in-line, create mismatches and provide run/pass scheme versatility. Pete Carroll talked about the coaching staff's excitement to see what Carlson and Zach Miller would have been able to do for the offense prior to last season, and they again expressed hope they could get a deal done to keep the Notre Dame product in town after he sat out on IR all of last season. That didn't work out. So, they decided to look at options in free agency. After Carlson left, the Hawks brought former Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe in, and apparently have had a standing offer out to him this whole time, per Jason La Canfora this morning on Mitch Levy's show. Obviously, it was a low-ball offer or Shiancoe - still a free agent - would likely have taken the deal. Seattle also had Jacob Tamme to the VMAC for a look before he signed with Denver.
The Hawks didn't address the position in the draft and shortly afterwards, John Schneider talked about how we'd probably see some action and movement at that spot before it's all said and done. Are Shiancoe or Tamme top-shelf tight end options? No. Are Cameron Morrah or Anthony McCoy? Also, no. Is Cooper Helfet, the Duke H-back the Seahawks recently signed after the Rookie Mini-Camp? Odds are: probably not. The interest in the position and recent trade for Winslow tells you one thing - the Seahawks are not content with the players they currently have on the roster and were willing to part with a seventh-round pick to find out just how good Winslow could be with a little change of scenery.
So, what to expect? My colleague Thomas Beekers is fairly perplexed at the Seahawks' move, and Bucs Nation's Sander Philipse's scouting report on Winslow is a bit disheartening as well (summary - "he's just not very effective anymore"). Hearing this from two guys whose opinion I respect, that watch Tampa Bay very closely, tends to make me lean towards skepticism for the experiment though by nature I typically try to keep an open mind to see how things play out.
I haven't watched the Bucs or Winslow near enough to argue vehemently against Sander and Beekers' assessments, and I did go back and watch a few games last night and my first reaction was that Winslow's get-off on the snap is excruciatingly slow. He doesn't look overly explosive running or cutting. For the most part, he didn't really get downfield and a lot of his catches came on crossing routes and comebacks/check-downs, though that impression is from a very small sample size.
Still, he was targeted frequently and made a lot of catches, as evidenced by his 75 receptions in 2011. He was a reliable outlet option for Josh Freeman and to get five, six, seven catches a game regularly you have to have a knack for getting open. His stats will get thrown at you a lot in the next couple of weeks and months - so I'll get that out of the way. 75 catches for 763 yards and two touchdowns in 2011. 66 grabs for 730 yards and five touchdowns in 2010. 77 catches for 884 yards and five touchdowns in 2009. In his Pro Bowl season with the Browns in 2007, he caught 82 balls for over 1,100 yards.
In 2010, Winslow ranked 7th among tight ends in DYAR, according to Football Outsiders, and 16th in DVOA. A respectable year by both traditional metrics and advanced stats. In 2011, he regressed badly (along with the entire Bucs team), finishing 33rd and 34th in DYAR and DVOA, respectively. While I do believe part of Greg Schiano's ultimate goal was to set an example of sorts and to send his team a message by cutting one of his most statistically productive players due to some skipped optional OTAs, Winslow's ineffectiveness certainly made the choice a little easier.
My overall impression of this trade is that Seattle shouldn't be expecting to get a high-octane, top-flight tight end option that, paired with Zach Miller, will give the Seahawks' offense the boost it's been needing to finally get over the hump. Doubt that. I especially don't see Winslow maintaing his 70+ catch average from the past few seasons in 2012.
Instead, what I can see is a decent veteran option at TE2 with undeniable production in the past that has displayed toughness and reliability. In my mind, he's an upgrade over Visanthe Shaincoe or Jacob Tamme (and had a better DYAR/DVOA than both of them in 2011 even with his poor showing). There are concerns with his knee (six surgeries), and he hasn't practiced during game weeks with regularity over the past few seasons, but the fact is, Winslow hasn't missed a game in three years. I really don't know how that routine will fly going forward, that's an unknown, but he's shown some toughness over the years to get on the field with his teammates.
Tampa Bay used Winslow all over their formations - in line, split out on the wing, in the slot, as an H-back - and in theory, the Seahawks can create some matchup issues out of their "22" formations by moving him around to keep defenses guessing. His presence should hopefully give opposing defensive coordinators pause when stacking the box with eight or nine defenders and though they both have some potential, I think it's clear that Winslow could be a big upgrade over Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah. As Brock Huard described it - "putting two tight ends like Miller and Winslow on the field will force the defense's hand. Play base defense and Winslow is a mismatch; play nickel defense and expect Beast Mode to run off of Miller and set up the play-action pass."
Development of young, high-ceiling players is nice and I'm usually the biggest proponent for that that, but there is something to putting a veteran on the field as a crutch for a young quarterback to lean on - whether it's Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson or Russell Wilson - throwing to a player like Winslow, that has a knack for finding a soft spot underneath to pick up a first down, could be very valuable. Neither McCoy or Morrah have proven they're reliable in the passing game. Period.
Per Pat Kirwin, 'in the last three years Winslow hasn't missed a game, he has 68 receptions on third downs, 74 receptions and six touchdowns in the fourth quarter and 163 receptions and 10 touchdowns when the Bucs were losing." Winslow has zero guaranteed money, no signing bonus, a chip on his shoulder and now something to prove after being flipped by his team for what is essentially chump change. I personally have zero concern over his so-called 'character issues' and if they do manifest in Seattle after being mostly unheard of for the past few seasons, I don't doubt Seattle will cut him loose.
Really, it comes down to this for me - it's a low-risk situation with some potential for reward. A seventh round pick is gone and probably around $4 million in cap space hangs in the balance, with that money dependent on Winslow even making the roster. The Hawks ran with 2TE sets 39% of the time in 2011 (per Brian McIntyre), so going forward, if you end up getting a near half-starter for that, it's probably worth the cost (assuming they don't restructure his deal).
I'm a firm believer that one's situation corresponds heavily with their success. It's why some players move cities and teams and find fabulous improvement and success and some do the same and disappear altogether. I get the distinct feeling that the Seahawks front office subscribes to this notion as well - they preached it with Tarvaris Jackson last year, with Chris Clemons, with Brandon Browner, with Mike Williams. I'm not predicting that Kellen Winslow will suddenly improve now that he's with Seattle - there have been plenty of examples that went the other way -, but weirder things have happened. The Hawks have used late-round picks on these types of flier players before to varying degrees of success and I really do like that M.O. In my mind, it's not a blockbuster trade, but it's interesting.