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Free Agent Raheem Brock

A sack, a quarterback hit, these are stats we use to try and gauge something much more important: how did this player perform in hundreds of snaps?
A sack, a quarterback hit, these are stats we use to try and gauge something much more important: how did this player perform in hundreds of snaps?

The Titans released Raheem Brock on September 5. The Seahawks signed him the next day. Here's where I say it was a low key signing that paid major dividends, or something to that intent with different words. And Brock "produced." He finished with nine sacks, a career high for him. That was in part time duty, as Brock never started and played mostly passing downs. He finished tied for third in the NFL with 22 quarterback hits, behind only Jared Allen and Jason Babin. Brock finished with 32.9 +EPA, 18th among all defensive ends and second on the team among linemen behind only Chris Clemons.

The problem with stats, especially stats like sacks and interceptions, is that those stats only represent a tiny fraction of a player's contributions. We assume that a player with, say, 15 sacks was also disruptive on many, many more snaps, but how many is difficult to impossible to know. We assume a player with 15 sacks is better than a player with nine, assuming all else being equal, but that's an inference and one that's mostly a thinly supported guess. With no meaningful ability to control for quality of opponent, and no way to quantify exactly how much a player contributes on each snap, we're left with observation, scouting, and that whole can of worms.

Brock was one of my favorite players to watch. I think he is a more complete end than Clemons. Complete both in his ability to rush the passer and defend the run, and as a pass rusher specifically. He could edge rush, not as well as Clemons but effectively, and he could also bull, spin and cut inside and punish a tackle that had retreated too far. He seemed to have an overall better pass rush arsenal, and that meant a higher frequency of successful pass rushes to snaps, and better ability to defend the run and screen passes. Clemons often ran himself out of plays. Brock was more often in the mix.

Yet, despite all this, despite two ends that finished among the league leaders in sacks, quarterbacks hits and +EPA, the Seahawks fielded one of the worst defenses in the NFL: one of the worst pass defenses and one of the worst run defenses. Following Red Bryant's season ending injury, Brock's snaps increased and Seattle's defense became even worse. I am not blaming Brock specifically, but it is something like a paradox.

Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane performed at a similar level in 2009 as in 2010. As did in many ways the linebackers. It's possible the secondary improved. Marcus Trufant was healthy for most of the season. Kelly Jennings started 14 games. The Seahawks missed Josh Wilson, so that's a factor. Earl Thomas started 16 games and played in virtually every snap. I can't say if Thomas and Lawyer Milloy were better than Deon Grant and Jordan Babineaux, but it's possible. Babineaux was pretty weak in 2009, and there isn't a significant difference in coverage ability between Babineaux and Milloy. Both are pretty slow. Babineaux is a little quicker it seems but Milloy is much more assignment correct. Grant made fewer mistakes than Thomas, but Thomas has better range. It's guesswork, really. The secondary performed at a similar level, but in a different way. I think.

In 2009, Seahawks fans thought Seattle needed consistent pass rush to succeed as a defense. In 2010, Seattle improved elements of its secondary, finished 13th in the NFL with 37 sacks, nine more than in 2009 when Seattle finished 28th in the NFL. But Seattle allowed more points in 2010 and finished with a slightly worse defensive DVOA. Seattle's pass defense DVOA improved from -34.0% to -27.0%, which is both significant insomuch that it's a substantial improvement and insignificant because DVOA is a precise metric that imprecisely estimates actual ability, and Seattle still finished with the fourth worst pass defense in the NFL. Whether Seattle was actually better is also guesswork.

As is, in many ways, whether the Seahawks should re-sign Brock or not. His individual performance was strong, as best as I can tell, but like Clemons, his performance might be tainted by executing a scheme that doesn't work. I don't know that the Leo scheme can not work or even did not work, but it is possible. It is possible that both Brock and Clemons executed to perfection a plan with little to no innate chance to succeed. It is also possible that Brock and Clemons excelled, the Leo scheme works, and something else is wrong with the defense that I am not accounting for.

So we can go round and round never getting much closer to the truth. If Brock were young, the Seahawks would almost have to do their best to re-sign him. But Brock turns 33 in June. That means Brock could decline next season, which seems especially possible given that he's never performed at a level like he did in 2010. It also means that even if Brock does not decline next season, he is not a long term investment. He will decline and soon. Given that Seattle did not field a good defense in 2010, it seems even less sensible to preserve it. Yet, good defensive ends are among the most valuable players in the NFL, from the evidence we have, Brock excelled, and though he may decline, he should not be very expensive. Why blame the failures of the overall unit on a player that seemingly excelled?

So it's not an easy question. I throw it out to you. Let's assume it's a reasonable contract, without much guaranteed.