Nate Burleson suffered a high ankle sprain during Sunday's game against the Houston Texans. Seattle initially signed Burleson to a poison pill contract comparable to Steve Hutchinson's. It was a sandbox moment for Tim Ruskell. A chance to kick down the kid's castle that had kicked down his. Seattle later restructured that contract and included a voidable year in 2010.
There's a lot to like about Burleson. If he recovers like many/most athletes post-ACL replacement, he should improve his agility into next year, and be 99% the player he was before the injury by 2010. That lost agility is conspicuous on returns, and, recently, during an end-around attempt against the Texans. Burleson lacks the ability to run angles and curves at a high speed like DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin, Josh Morgan and, once upon a time, Nate Burleson. Burleson should recover some bendy-quicks, but not enough to be re-signed.
What he'll gain back through recovery will soon thereafter be lost because of age. Burleson turns 29 August of 2010. He's hardly old, be he is old enough to be mismatched with a rebuilding team. He also isn't very good.
Burleson rewards you with flash and kills you with details. He is notorious for quitting routes, deeking blocks and alternating good grabs with maddening drops. Before Greg Knapp, Burleson was an overpriced second receiver poorly fit to Mike Holmgren's system. Burleson appears better fit to Knapp's looser style, but he isn't producing at a much higher level. Despite an increase in targets and a resulting increase in yards, Burleson is still pretty close to a league average receiver.
The short-term impact of the injury is an opening for Deion Branch and Deon Butler. Branch has been phased out this season. It is difficult to be sure if Branch is worse or just less involved. He said before the season started that his knee would never be the same. As routine as ligament replacement is in the modern NFL, some players still do not respond well to the procedure, and it's possible Branch left something on the operating table.
Butler is more interesting, both because he is younger and faster, and because he is free of the controversial origin story. He also might not be much of a prospect. He's built like DeSean Jackson but plays like Darrell Jackson, and though he is quick into and out of his short cuts, it's difficult to see Butler making a career snatching passes in traffic; taking tackles like Bobby Engram.
The other news of the day involves retired head coach Mike Holmgren. Cleveland is hosting Holmgren and attempting to entice him into taking on a head of football operations position. It's a good fit for Holmgren. The team has a young, talented offensive line, a headcase quarterback with SnapOn tools, some young defensive talent and a lot of cap space and draft picks to invest towards a rebuild. Despite inferior leadership, the Browns are closer to contention than Seattle, and farther along in their rebuild. Brady Quinn is a presumptive bust, but a young 25. Hasselbeck did not make a regular season start until he was 26. Brett Favre was having his first great season as a pro at 25. He commemorated his age-24 season with a league worst 24 picks. The idea of a quarterback guru might be farcical, but Browns owner Randy Lerner didn't earn his fortune with smart business decisions. He inherited it from his father.
Holmgren has announced he wants to decide his destination before Christmas. That puts pressure on the Seahawks organization, or is intended to. It's entirely possible Seattle has no interest in Holmgren. I do not think that Holmgren was or will be a terrible GM, but that's a pretty low standard for expectations. I still hold out hope that the Seahawks can hire the NFL's first Billy Beane-like executive. There are numerous angles a smart strategist could exploit in the NFL. A savvy, young, creative and ambitious general manager could free Seattle from the orthodox approach of systems and windows and trend-following, and build the Seahawks into next decade's Red Sox.
Shoot, I'll volunteer myself and promise a return to the playoffs by 2011. I've made a lifetime out of irreverence. I'm sure it reads as ludicrous boasting by an armchair GM, but I am equally sure an outsider not indoctrinated in the league's procedures and methods could hand some of these good old boys their ass. And though it won't be me, I do hope it is somebody, somebody that's not Bill Polian's, by way of Rich McKay, by way of Ozzie Newsome, regional scout and Director of Doing Things the Same Way They've Always Been Done.