SEATTLE WA - JANUARY 08: Wide receiver Mike Williams #17 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after catching a 38-yard third quarter touchdown pass against the New Orleans Saints during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on January 8 2011 in Seattle Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The Seattle Seahawks have parted ways with WR Mike Williams. One of Pete Carroll's more daring experiments, the 10th overall pick of the 2005 draft busted out with his original team (the Lions) due to weight and effort problems. Joining the Seahawks and his former college coach was a chance to resurrect his career, and he seemed to be making good on that promise in his first year, logging 65 catches for 751 yards and 2 TDs. He also set the franchise record for TD catches in a single post-season that year, with 3.
He didn't fall back into laziness after getting a new contract, but despite this it fell apart the next season as Big Mike Williams caught only 18 passed for 236 yards and a single TD in 12 games, before landing on IR after breaking his fibula. The decline in performance is largely attributed to a lack of chemistry with new quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, something Greg Cosell predicted would happen in this combination of a slow, big-body receiver and a see-it-throw-it quarterback. While this is in all probability correct, it's also true to say that BMW's bad performance served to highlight the weaknesses in his game. He was quite likely one of the slowest starting wide receivers in the league, and not an exceptional route runner. This weaknesses would still be there with a new quarterback.
But can we say that was clearly the reason for his release? It seems unlikely this was the only factor. Fellow writer Davis Hsu had been speculating on some more releases to add more cap space to roll into next year, and removing BMW's $3.425M cap hit certainly helps there. If so, it is possible the Seahawks re-sign BMW at or near veteran minimum later.
An obvious point of speculation is about his fitness, and whether or not he was in shape. There have been no real reliable reports on this topic, just a lot of speculation. However, he did have to take a lot of time off a more regular fitness regime to rehab his leg. It is quite possible this was a factor, but this is only speculation.
From my perspective, it's the addition of TE Kellen Winslow that did it for Mike Williams. While they play in different positions, they have similar strengths (size, catch radius) and weaknesses (slow), and would serve similar functions on the Seahawks offense. Winslow is more adept at the joker, short-catching safety valve role, and the Seahawks FO has likely seen enough of him to know he'll do.
What does this mean for the Seahawks WR situation...
Well, it's not overflowing larder. The Seahawks WR group was lacking in reliable top-end talent and it still is, keeping or releasing Mike Williams would change nothing there, but it does impact depth in a negative way, and the Seahawks have had some poor luck in injuries for their WRs for a few years now (on a semi-related note, from the Football Outsiders Almanac: Seahawks ranked near the bottom in health on OL and WR last season, but near the top for DL. One could speculate all groups might regress to the mean, which would have a positive impact on offense, and negative impact on defense).
The core group of Seahawks WRs consists of Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, and those three would be favored to start right now (Baldwin in the slot). I would personally add Kris Durham as a lock, with behind him Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler and Ricardo Lockette. Behind them come the long shots, Jermaine Kearse, Lavasier Tuinei, Phil Bates, etc. Since I was talking about the Football Outsiders almanac, Kris Durham and Ricardo Lockette are listed as the shared 24/25 in their top 25 prospects for 2012 (Doug Baldwin is number one, but he only technically fits their definition of unknown/little-seen prospect).
What I expect to happen is less multi-WR sets and a bigger emphasis on two-TE pass-play sets, to the point where the front office could even consider keeping four tight ends (though I do not know if the quality of this group calls for that) and five wide receivers. Golden Tate was excellent as the single wide receiver in heavy packages, and I'd expect that to continue.
On the more traditional two or three WR lineups, one would speculate the WR2 position is now "up for grabs". And surely we will see a starter assigned for the spot. But unless someone really wows in training camp and pre-season (Tate or Durham the most likely options), I don't think it'll be solidified as an every-down starter spot. Instead, we could see the #1 and #2 WRs in pass-play snap-count being Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin, while the #3-4 rotate in the WR2 spot, effectively utilizing Tate's athleticism, Butler's speed or Durham's size, depending on the down and distance.
One thing is for sure, this will see the younger WRs get more training time and snaps, which is key to their development. The Seahawks do need another WR to break out, as the only true #1 we have in Rice is highly unreliable, and this breaking out can only happen if that receiver sees the field enough. From that perspective, the release of Mike Williams was a sensible, wise move on the long-term, even if it does add some risk and loss of quality on the short-term.