With $21.9 million in cap room and a number of high profile free agents that need to be retained on the roster, Seattle must be creative this off season. For 2007 the cap has been expanded to $109 million, and of the top ten teams in cap space only the New York Jets at 10 made the playoffs. In other words, expect a wild and woolly free agent market with more than a few players getting Washington $$$ who don't deserve it. Of particular interest are the Hawks' three main rivals: San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis rank 1st, 3rd and 6th respectively in cap room.
Hawks that should be re-signed
The most notable of Seattle's free agents has to be the man with the golden toe, Josh Brown. His four game winning field goals were not only entertaining football, but likely allowed a banged up and underachieving Seattle team to slide into the playoffs. The temptation for your average fan would be to throw money at him--that is, keep him at all costs. But should we be paying him for a performance we can't expect him to repeat? Brown's real value comes not from his clutch performance last year, but his excellent distance on kickoffs. Brown is accurate and has excellent leg strength and Seattle shouldn't let him leave, but if some team blows his doors off with an outlandish contract (i.e. Dallas) the Hawks should simply franchise him. Hawk cost: 2.08 million. Next year he should be more affordable, and then they can look into signing him long-term.
The second big name Seattle should make every effort to retain is Ken Hamlin. Hamlin is young (26), a hard hitter and has improved his cover skills. He also has a knack for big plays. The guy is going to be heavily pursued during the off season, as recent standout performances from Super Bowl Champs Bob Sanders, Troy Polamalu, Rodney Harrison and Ed Reed have increased the market for safeties dramatically, but Hams is a player Seattle should commit to keeping. The Hawks built some goodwill when they paid his contract in 2005 even though he suffered a non-football related injury. Though it's dumb to ever assume loyalty in pro sports, maybe that gesture will pay off this year. A four year 8 million dollar deal will pay him like Troy Polamalu without breaking the bank.
Seneca Wallace should be retained. The scrambling Qb fad has faded, so he shouldn't cost Seattle and arm and a leg. Seneca seems truly committed to learning Holmgren's system and made a decent showing filling in for Hasselbeck last year. I like the kid and think his best years will come late in his career a la Warren Moon. Holmgren has really connected with Wallace and I highly doubt Wallace would want to move to another franchise and have to learn a whole new playbook.
Hackett stays. The Hawks should look into locking him up long term before the word gets out how good Hacks really is. I'd like to see him start next year as the Hawks #2, with Burleson playing out of the slot. Some team might offer a first round tender to get D.J., but I can't imagine Seattle cutting ties after his two excellent showings while starting late in the season.
I'm not a big Sean Locklear fan, but the Hawks gain nothing by letting him leave. As a restricted free agent, Seattle can tender a one year deal and see if his sacks allowed continues to grow before deciding if he's a long term solution at right tackle. Unlike left tackle, right tackle is not a premium position and the Hawks have a decent in-house replacement with Tom Ashworth. If some team decides to offer a quality second round or even a first round pick, I'd say sayonara to Sean.
Craig Terrill is a good fit in our defensive tackle rotation. He's the speedy sort John Marshall likes to see. Not really a force against the rush or the pass, but well rounded. He gets decent pressure, and recorded a team best 90% stop rate against the run in 2005. Sign `em.
Jordan Babineaux. An excellent and versatile role player, Babs is never likely to hold down a full-time starting spot on an NFL roster, but gives Seattle much needed secondary depth at safety and corner.
Who I would like to keep, but is likely gone.
Bobby Engram has long been an undervalued receiver for the Hawks, and someone, ideally, I would love for the Hawks to keep. At 33, and coming off a year mostly lost to ailment, I doubt his price tag will be too high, but a couple key factors will likely land him somewhere else. The first is that another team like Houston or San Diego can offer him a starting role. In Seattle he faces a tough battle for playing time as the Hawks have no lack of talent/pricey contracts at WR. The second is simply that with an extended cap and a few prominent first round busts at WR--I'm looking at you Detroit--teams might be inclined to climb over each other to get that elusive "sure thing". Engram was a perfect fit for Holmgren's offense, a player Football Outsiders fondly referred to as "first down machine" for his intelligent rout running in crucial situations, that will be missed by informed Hawk fans. If we can move D-Jack, we might be able to retain him and also give him enough touches, but I doubt it.
Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack. I've made my feelings clear about the rotund one, at the very least Porky needs another coaching staff to see if they can inspire a work ethic.
Chris Gray. At 35, Gray likely will retire. He's been a solid RG for the Hawks for 9 years, and while he has been healthy most of his career, the very real chance that he breaks down or gets hurt makes it unwise for Seattle to tender Gray anything but the minimum contract if he does choose to return.
Kelly Herndon--goodbye from starting that is. Herndon shows the sort of big play ability and toughness against the run to be a strong option at nickel, but his days of starting should be over. The guy is a liability in coverage, name your big opponent passing play and you'll see Herndon in the frame five steps behind. Let him jump routs against the slot receiver and let Kelly Jennings take over the starting spot his postseason play earned.
Jerramy Stevens. I don't really care how good a locker room presence Stevens is. I don't care if he deserved to be kneed in the nards by Tyler Brayton. What I care about is that Stevens will be too expensive for a player who has never lived up to his promise. In 2005 Stevens was Seattle's second most valuable receiver (16.4 DPAR) behind Joe Jurevicius (20.6 DPAR). In 2006, what do we get? A big steaming pile of horse plop topped with a 46% catching percentage. Given his attitude, reputation and late season/wild-card round surge, I fully expect Stevens to get his signing bonus and then take the summer off. If another coach can beat some discipline into Stevens, good, more power to him, but I think it's safe to say the Holmgren has failed to do so and it's time he move on.
Darrell Jackson. With a whole off season for Branch and Burleson to digest the playbook, now would be a good time to shop Jackson and his chronic knee problems. It's not that I don't like Jackson, but Seattle simply has too much talent and moreover money committed to one position. Oakland is asking for a number three pick for Moss, I think that's a reasonable expectation for Jackson, too.
Derrick Dockery. Dockery is the current left guard for the Washington Redskins. He's a behemoth of a man, someone Steve Spurrier (I know, I know) considered a 1st round talent when he was drafted, that has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career. Washington's success running up the middle and behind left tackle supports his reputation as a guard on the verge of greatness. Dockery is a power blocker with agile enough feet to pull and force blocks into the second level. Fortunately for the Hawks, the Skins are currently in cap hell. Plus, Dockery has a bit of a bad reputation, and is considered a less valuable free agent than overrated project player Eric Steinbach. Let San Francisco shell out for the former Bengal, while the Hawks pick up the maligned mauler. The added benefit, of course, is that Rob Sims could then move over to right guard where he would excel. The net result would be a super-young, talented middle three (G-C-G) for the Hawks to build around. Dockery is a potential superstar that won't likely command superstar money; a steal that a smart team with some cajones takes a risk on.
I've already made my case for David Martin at TE. Signing someone like Martin enables the Hawks to put more money towards Dockery and Hamlin, while avoiding potential pit-falls in Daniel Graham and Eric Johnson.
The Hawks could use some depth at running back and a special teams captain to replace the pointlessly cut Isaiah Kacyvenski. Who could fill both roles and maybe turn into the steal of the off season? Why none other than Chicago Bear Adrian Peterson. Peterson was the most valuable rusher in the league per rush in 2005. Add to that decent receiving ability--a fact that would instantly make him the best receiver out of the backfield the Hawks have--a militant attitude towards opposing special teams, plus legs with only 133 professional caries and you have not only an excellent short yardage and third down back, but perhaps Alexander's long term replacement. I fully support Seattle throwing cash at the goofy looking man from Georgia Southern; the problem is that Peterson seems like the kind of organizational loyalist that will resign with the Bears el cheapo.
But what about DT?
In 2005 Seattle had the 3rd best rush defense in the NFL. They did it with mostly the same players on the defensive line as they had in 2006 when their run D slipped to 23rd. The difference? Injuries. It's a knee jerk reaction to think Seattle must sign a big ugly like Oakland's Terdell Sands, but one that it would be prudent to ignore. Seattle is one of ten teams in the NFL who saw their rushing defense change 10 or more places from 2005 to 2006. The reason for this high variability is twofold: defensive players are more susceptible to injuries and defensive performance is highly reliant on turnovers. Good defenses do force more turnovers, but fumbles & interceptions are also the product of luck. With Boulware hopefully regaining a full-time starting spot and improved health from Marcus Tubbs and Rocky Bernard, Seattle could easily field another top ten rushing defense with the players they have. Instead of signing someone through FA, Seattle would be better suited simply adding depth through the draft. Depth and not superstars is the key to success in the NFL.
In the NFL franchises can be built two ways: tall or wide. A tall team commits its money to big name players and when things break right, like they did for the Colts, those big names overcome whatever weaknesses the team has and lead you to a championship. A wide team lacks an abundance of big names, but has tremendous depth. This team is less weakened by injury, it has few holes and gets above average performances from many positions. New England is the prototypical wide team. The 2005 Seahawks were wide. The offense featured superstars in Jones, Hutchinson and Alexander, but the defense was a largely faceless unit. Instead every position was manned by an above average player. The net result was a near championship caliber defense. The wide receiving corps was--ahem--wide, when nominal #1 Darrell Jackson went down, long time journeyman Joe Jurevicius stepped in for the best season of his career.
Free agency is a time for superstars to cash out, but every year some team signs a John Abraham type only to see him lost for the season. All that money locked into one player left Atlanta foundering at DE without him. Abraham was just a year removed from his second straight injury plagued year with the Jets when the Falcons signed him. Not only was he a poor fit for a team that needed a run stopping tackle much more than a pass rushing defensive end, but his onerous 6 year $45 million dollar contract left Atlanta starting rookie free agent Paul Carrington in his absence. Carrington did a decent job rushing the passer in limited action, but Atlanta ranked a dismal 28th on rushes around left end.
My off season plan might seem like a lot of resigns, Dockery, plus a couple role players, but that's the beauty of it. It features two potential superstars still early in their careers (Dockery, Hamlin), depth at both lines, secondary and running back; but most importantly 0 huge potentially burdensome contracts. It nets the Hawks an extra pick to grab help for the secondary and a tight end of the future, while ensuring Hackett a starting spot. It makes Seattle younger, deeper and potentially--if Dockery continues to fulfill his potential in the first year with Seattle--championship ready. Now if only Tim Ruskell were reading.