FanPost

Preseason Preview Part One: Words on Christine Michael (Digression on Sidney Rice's Contract)

USA TODAY Sports

I haven't done the draft thing in years, and I'm not talking about the trawling internet mock drafts-knowing who Todd McShay is draft thing, but the picking players prior to the college football season, tracking them through the season, and re-watching their exploits before draft season until those few shining talents reveal themselves, and you follow their careers with hope and interest and maybe just a little, tiny bit of vicarious thrill. But I liked Christine Michael. He had a big, projectable frame, exceptional feet, wallop in his legs and the corresponding ability to fall forward. A man is about two-yards tall. The ability to fall the direction you want instead of the direction the defender wants is often the difference between a successful run (one that raises a team's potential to score) and a unsuccessful run (the majority of runs; the ones that make statistical analysts cringe; the ones that presumably derive most of their value from forcing opposing teams to weaken their pass defense by "stopping the run," i.e. filling out their starting 11 with run stopping personnel, sticking in base packages, playing closer to the line of scrimmage, run-blitzing, etc.) He's a neat runner, not like neato neat but like whiskey neat, nitidus, elegant in a software-engineer sense: His moves are purposeful, efficient and he achieves a lot of evasiveness with a stutter step, a pivot, a little spin-through that seems powered by the shed tackler, a slash right when his shoulders read slash left. There's a crossover dribble quality to some of his open-field moves. Watch him and be modestly impressed. Watch the defender and see that magical ability to send a man stumbling, spiraling, tripping over his own feet.

Russell Wilson had the fewest pass attempts of any quarterback that started 16 games. In fact, he had the fewest pass attempts of any quarterback that started at least 13 games. His attempts were rare and precious. I think Seattle wants to keep it that way. And it may be for the best (setting aside play call optimization, minimax, all that), because Percy Harvin is injured, Sidney Rice--

A note about Sidney Rice: Bill Barnwell included Rice among his list of worst contracts. It wasn't a very thorough analysis, more the kind of high-concept list post (think: trade value, over/under-rated, best/worst, other permutations of superlatives: richest, smoggiest, stupidest, most adroitly manacled, horsiest, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.) that drives traffic but does little to inform. The internet has sorta hybridized the good and bad of sophistry: it values argument; it especially values striking but specious arguments. Regarding Barnwell's commentary on Rice, there are some ... holes.

Rice had an 83-1,312-8 line with Brett Favre at quarterback in 2009, but was otherwise unimpressive or injured during his time in Minnesota.

This is basically true, but what isn't said but must be said, is that Rice was [bad] when his quarterbacks were bad. And while this lack of adjusting for quality of surrounding talent isn't explicit WRT to Rice (I haven't read the rest of the list (so shoot me)), it is implicit in someone that's left off the list: Larry Fitzgerald. By the very metric Barnwell helped, I don't know, tweak or whatever they all do in that black box, Fitzgerald was the least valuable receiver in the NFL in 2012, posting a staggering -129 AHOY MATEY, I mean DYAR. Rice, meanwhile, receiving the frozen gropes of Tarvaris Jackson, the jarts of Kelly Holcomb, the fissiles of Gus Frerotte, the Rockettes of Brooks Bollinger and the clumsy advances of Brett Farvre, has never posted a negative DYAR . He has provided value receiving for the infirm and confirmed bad alike.

The Seahawks gave him $18 million guaranteed as part of a five-year, $41 million deal to see if he could repeat that 2009 campaign in Seattle, but he was injured for most of 2011 and produced pedestrian numbers in 2012.

Rice was a Viking in 2010. His offensive coordinator was Darrell Bevell. His quarterback was the aforementioned Terrible Jackson. The same coordinator and quarterback Rice would have in 2011. I sort of doubt "The Seahawks [signed him] to see if he could repeat that 2009 campaign in Seattle ..." I'd venture they signed him because they thought he was good and young. And, obviously, one is not meaningfully injured "for most" of 2011 when one starts nine of 16 games. Quibble there, but nevertheless.

He has averaged just 49.3 yards per game as a Seahawks wideout. The good news is that most of his remaining contract is tied up in large base salaries, so Seattle can cut him if desired with only a minor bump of dead money.

Seattle ranked 27th in passing yards in 2012 and 22nd in passing yards in 2011. Yards per game without context is all but meaningless. By advanced metrics, passes to Rice were reasonably valuable: 26th by EPA/A in 2011, 11th in 2012; 55th and 7th by DVOA.

The last sentence sorta sums up why Barnwell's analysis is narrow and slipshod: Seattle didn't pay for the outlier. It paid for the talent and skill, which it was able to contextualize knowing the surrounding talent and skill (and with Bevell, even the play design--meaning Rice could be valued both for passes in which he was targeted and plays in which he wasn't targeted, but did all the peripheral stuff that makes an offense work). Evaluating a player by his yards per game is pretty much how you end up trading a first-round pick+ for Roy E. Williams.

Furthermore, Rice's contract may be expensive, but team salaries in the NFL have both a cap and a floor. Money must be spent. And each team's particular needs and resources are different, as is each free agent class and the market for that free agent class. Spring of 2011 it was already clear that Mike Williams, for all his talent, would forever be hamstrung by an inability to catch in traffic. Seattle had a major need for a wide receiver and a young team without too many expensive contracts. The free agency crop was so-so to bad. The upcoming draft was top heavy, with the only receiver projected to be a no. 1 that could fall to Seattle at 25 considered a project (Jonathan Baldwin). Given this context, Seattle signed Rice to a big contract so structured that, should the worst happen, the Seahawks would be all-but off the hook in 2013. It wasn't a bad contract then. It isn't a bad contract now.

That said ...

Seattle's a bit thin at wide receiver. The worst has not happened, but, empirically, Rice gets injured a lot, and, subjectively, he takes a metric tonne of bone-jarring hits. Golden Tate is projectable, but short of him developing into peak-crazy Steve Smith, Seattle doesn't want to run a passing offense through him. Doug Baldwin's numbers dropped. That might have something to do with the relative rarity of Wilson passing over the middle (39 attempts). Whatever the cause, in the adorably dodgy language of the NFL, the two have yet to develop chemistry. Some of that thinness could be compensated by more passes to Michael Robinson and Zach Miller, but Miller's hurt, and as another over the middle guy, he wasn't targeted often in 2012. It's probably best Robinson doesn't go all 2007 Leonard Weaver.

Sometimes rookie wide receivers bust out, and maybe Chris Harper surprises, but I think Seattle plans on sticking with the formula and pounding the rock. That means, Marshawn Lynch. It could mean Lynch and more Robert Turbin. Personally, I hope it means Lynch, Michael ... ... ... Turbin. Michael should be the best talent among the Seahawks to receive regular touches this preseason. We're told he's earning touches. No doubt he'll open eyes. Maybe he'll ex out a few, too.

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