The Seahawks made a number of moves over the past few weeks and since I've been off the grid (I got married and went on my honeymoon, just so you know I'm not just a total slacker), I thought I'd recap and give a few thoughts on each move. Here's what's gone down:
Most important, Earl Thomas signed a four-year contract extension. You probably don't need me to note that this is a huge, important move and was evidently Seattle's number-one priority this offseason, with good reason. Earl is not only the linch-pin of the defensive secondary, scheme-wise, he's an emotional presence and tone-setter that models his leadership style after Ray Lewis. Thomas has been credited with establishing an uncommon, elite-level intensity in practice and in games (and in tape-study, work ethic), and that trickles down to the rest of his team (according to what we've heard from coaches and teammates). Locking up Earl for the long term is extremely, extremely big, welcome news. Great move by the franchise to help set up the defense for years to come.
Furthermore, it's been reported that the Seahawks are in end-stage talks with Richard Sherman on a new contract extension. Similar to Thomas, I believe that in addition to Sherman's on-field prowess -- he's elite at a premium position -- his work ethic, intensity, and brash personality set a tone for his teammates, and the value in that cannot be measured but seems palpable. I would expect that a new deal happens prior to the season just based on all the reports, and this would mean the distraction of a contract year would be in the rear-view for Sherm.
In front office moves, de-facto lead college scout Scot McCloughan resigned due to personal family issues. McCloughan's value is tough to measure -- we have no real way of knowing exactly what he brought to the table, but he's a football lifer who's highly respected in his field and apparently has been a close confidant and friend to John Schneider. My immediate reaction is that this is a huge loss for the Seahawks' scouting department.
The good news is that McCloughan is planning on starting an independent scouting company so Seattle will theoretically still have his opinion at their disposal. The problem is of course that other teams will as well. The hope is that there will be an up-and-comer among the scouting staff that can rise up to fill the knowledge/experience vacuum that has been created.
Along those lines, not that he's a McCloughan replacement, but Seattle hired former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland as a special consultant for the draft. Considering Ireland was the butt of many media jokes over the past few years, it's tough to really get too excited about this move, but as Thomas wrote a few days back,
"One should realize that even a failed NFL GM is a very talented, intelligent human being (probably Matt Millen excepted), and in both cases the people involved are highly skilled talent evaluators who have other shortcomings that kept them from being good GMs. For them it is a chance to boost their careers, for us we're getting extremely talented people and putting them in the right spot to succeed, without the opportunity to repeat the same mistakes. It's impossible to say from the outside looking in either how important McCloughan was or how well Ireland will do filling his shoes, but at the very least it's great to see our front office follow a consistent and careful method.
It's easy to just dismiss someone like Jeff Ireland as "incompetent", but it's highly doubtful he would have ever made it to GM if he isn't a very talented, devoted individual, as would be true for all NFL GMs (again, Matt Millen excepted)."
This is about how I feel about the move as well. There's (likely) a reason outside the good-old-boy network that Ireland rose through the ranks to be hired on as GM in Miami (he was hand-picked by a pretty knowledgeable guy in Bill Parcells), and we can hope that a more focused and singular responsibility to simply scout and evaluate players will benefit the former GM. At the very worst, I see this as an 'experience/knowledge' hire -- Seattle will have, in their draft room, a very seasoned personnel man in the room to consult from, and in theory he counteracts the 'brain-drain' that losing McCloughan created. If he fits from a personality angle, I'm guessing Ireland will stick around on the scouting team.
The Hawks also shuffled their coaching staff, adding Chris Morgan as an assistant offensive line coach, Chad Morton as an assistant special teams coach and Will Harriger as an offensive assistant. Morgan has been with the Washington Redskins the past few seasons, where of course, he's been helping to run the Mike Shanahan zone-blocking scheme. He also worked with Tom Cable in Oakland, so his experience naturally lines up really well with what Seattle runs schematically.
Harriger previously coached at Tennessee-Martin (2005-06), Auburn (2007), Texas (2008), Tennessee-Martin (2009), Texas Tech (2010-11) and most recently at Florida (2012-13), where he worked under Dan Quinn for a season. Morton comes via Green Bay and was a former NFL special teams ace, and Seattle's announcement noted that "Primarily a kick returner as a pro, Morton aided the development of kickoff returner Randall Cobb, ranking second in the NFL with a 27.7 avg. during his rookie season in 2011 and becoming the first player in NFL history with more than 900 kickoff return yards and 900 receiving yards in a single-season in 2012."
Nate Carroll - Pete Carroll's son - is promoted to assistant wide receivers coach (behind Kippy Brown), and John Glenn (fairly certain it's not the American hero and astronaut) will be a quality control coach for the defense after assisting with special teams over the past couple seasons.
In free agency, Seattle made a few moves that may be interesting to watch this season.
The Hawks re-signed Sidney Rice, which is a great hedge for a draft filled with many strong receiver prospects, and Rice's ability as a possession receiver should augment Seattle's offense in 2014. Rice has experience in the offense, has demonstrated that he can be a go-to option for Russell Wilson at the sideline, and he's an excellent, underrated blocker in the run game. I personally like the move a lot, particularly after the team lost Golden Tate in free agency, and it means they get their veteran leader back into the receiver room at a drastically reduced rate.
Seattle also traded a seventh-round pick to the Raiders for QB Terrelle Pryor, who will duke it out in training camp against Tarvaris Jackson and B.J. Daniels for the backup job. It also obviously stokes the speculation that perhaps Seattle will try Pryor, an uncommonly gifted athlete, at another position, perhaps tight end or receiver (or a hybrid type H-back), but thus far John Schneider has noted that he's coming in as a quarterback. With the acquisition, it actually made me wonder more if the Hawks would look at Daniels as a receiver or running back type going forward (perhaps a returner). Regardless, with Pryor and Daniels, the team has two highly athletic and dynamic, if not limited, options at QB in case Jackson loses control on the backup job (this seems unlikey). Competition, competition, competition.
Along those lines of competition, they signed free agent cornerback A.J. Jefferson, who has bounced around with the Cardinals, Vikings, and Browns, and was released by Minnesota last year after being arrested for domestic abuse. He was suspended four games by the NFL (a suspension that I believe he has served). Per Hennepin County, Minnesota court records, Jefferson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in March and is on probation for one year. He ended the season with Cleveland on injured reserve. As Zach points out, Jefferson is an insane athlete at the cornerback position and will likely compete as depth on special teams and in the slot.
Seattle also re-signed outside linebacker (LEO defensive end) O'Brien Schofield a new contract. Schofield, 27, played in a rotation during the early part of the 2013 season (7 tackles and one sack in three starts), but once Bruce Irvin got back off of suspension and Chris Clemons returned from injury, he got very few snaps from that point on. It's my recollection that when he was in during those first five weeks or so, he seemed to play solid, unspectacular and assignment correct football for the most part.
He came out of nowhere and played a lot in the Super Bowl, so perhaps coaches might've seen him playing a nice niche role in their pass rush/pass defense packages against a pass-happy Broncos team. Regardless, he plays special teams and can come in as a situational sub-package player. He's solid depth at weak-side defensive end or the Sam linebacker spot. His versatility is what makes him valuable, and he might have the chance to carve out a role with the team in 2014. It's intriguing to note that the Giants, fairly experienced with pass rushers, originally signed him to a two-year, $8M deal before nixing the contract due to injury concerns.
In addition to these moves, fan-favorite fullback and special teams stalwart Michael Robinson announced that he's likely retiring via his post-Super Bowl Real Rob Report. This is sad news, but somewhat expected (he is a free-agent), and if Robinson doesn't get immediately involved with the media, he should try to return as a coach.
Past that, the Seahawks did not pick up the fifth-year option on James Carpenter. This is also a fairly expected move after Carpenter's disappointing, inconsistent first three seasons. Carp does have his fourth season to not only win the starting job at left guard but to hopefully earn a new deal with the team longer-term. It's my personal belief that Carpenter -- a very solid and steady college left tackle at Alabama that looked like a promising option at guard for Seattle's zone blocking scheme -- really went off track with his ACL tear his rookie season. The injury de-railed his development completely, set him back almost two years (he had issues with weight and the injury was aggravated in 2012), and it stifled his confidence and aggressiveness on the field. He had a very up and down 2013 season but did play well in both the NFC Championship and Super Bowl.
It's my understanding that Tom Cable still likes Carp a lot and the team is optimistic (cautiously, obviously) that he'll improve in 2014, but exercising the option would have been way too expensive for this year. For now, Seattle can hope that another strong offseason in the weight room (he's apparently down to 320 or so after looking more like 350 last year) will restore Carp's confidence in his knee, improve tenacity, and help with mobility in pass protection, which is his main weakness.
All in all, some interesting developments over the past few weeks. The Draft will create changes on the depth-chart and roster so these next fews weeks are going to be very interesting. With things moved back a few weeks this year, once the Draft is over, OTAs and offseason workouts will kick in quickly and we'll be on our way to training camp.