For the next week NFL organizations will attempt to re-sign their own players. Then some of the negotiations that have been going on behind closed doors for a while regarding lots of NFL players will become official as free agency chaos commences. Once the clock strikes 4PM EST next Tuesday the dominoes will start falling. How Seattle starts the process affects what happens the next day, and so on for the weeks leading up into the draft. I think that is one of the most interesting parts about this next week and the whole off-season process in general - it's such a fluid time.
Projecting the possibilities when trying to fill team needs requires a balancing act. Balancing the options in free agency and the draft - in terms of assessing the depth and quality of the talent pool in each tier throughout those player acquisition periods and assessing how to attack those different periods in pursuit of the best value - is something that 100 percent needs to be considered. GM John Schneider referred to this in his recent interview (last Thursday) with Brock and Salk as "know(ing) the whole landscape," from free agency to cap casualties to the draft and beyond. How the dominoes fall is a matter of happenstance.
The gelling of the roster
Towards the end of the season and afterwards, we heard Pete Carroll talk about how he likes a good portion of this locker room and doesn't intend on keeping the churn going much longer. He praised the group after the end of the preseason as a tough, hard working, focused team and the second half of the season showed us that they certainly have potential. Throughout the year Carroll told Brock and Salk about the toughness and leadership Red Bryant brought to the locker room, and it's no secret what newly re-signed Marshawn Lynch brings on the field. The Seahawks really began to gel last year and those two were major factors as core members.
According to Schneider, Lynch and Bryant "have a unique ability to rally players on each side of the ball, to represent the toughness and competition" for the team. He cited the Baltimore game and both 49ers' games as ones where those two guys helped represent the ability "to hang in there," which the team wouldn't have been able to do in 2010 - a team that won or got blown out.
On the flip side Schneider noted the importance of getting and understanding a true market value for players. He talked on these two. With Red, intangibles as an individual and the influence on the team stands out. When looking at the skill set - mostly as a run stopper until this point - is where the negotiations differ. A "very strong" offer is on the table and has been for as long as weeks. I think not franchising Bryant only re-enforces the market value aspect.
Lynch has a specific skill set and style they value. During the interview Schneider said you can sign backs long term in the current NFL - "depending on how he takes care of himself, handles himself off the field and his influence in the locker room." One would have to think 4 years/$31 million with $17-18 million guaranteed shows the organization thinks he is someone that fits that mold. Carroll made it no secret in recent weeks Lynch was a key cog going forward. So in relation to what Pete has created with his philosophy and mentality, Schneider has to juggle the other side of it.
On the John Clayton show during combine week, Schneider spoke about getting the core together; the focus is to "start rewarding our own players" - keeping your talent for a legitimate price before others get a shot at them, as we just saw with Lynch. "Once you have a group you think you can win with, keep the cohesion, then supplement with free agency a little bit if you need to for specific needs and holes. And bust your tail in the draft."
When Clayton asked about how many outside signings this team would make at the end of the conversation, Schneider re-iterated: " We want to take care of our own, I don't think you'll see the number like last year - (for example, the signing of Zach Miller was a scenario where he was simply rated as a player they felt "silly" not going after) - we've gotten to a spot where we don't need to do that and can be a little more prudent with our cash and make solid decisions as we go. Red, Marshawn, Carlson, Mike Rob, Hawthorne, Hill...we have some guys we'd like to take care of."
The message was again clear on Brock and Salk a few days later; "...Pete and his staff have done a phenomenal job of instilling confidence in these guys and building up their level of play...They have responded to the system and environment, and the ones (players) that have done that are the ones we are trying to re-sign."
Atari Bigby is rumored to be a returning player as well. My initial gut thinking was this team would want to re-sign roughly half of their initial unrestricted free agents. The list above is a few short of half, not to say they all will remain Seahawks. There is a group of guys on the fringe I'm curious about; Anthony Hargrove and Paul McQuistan adequately filled depth roles in 2011, and Jimmy Wilkerson and Matt McCoy were potential impact-depth guys that got injured. Where do those types of players fit in, if at all? Also, I think trades are always possible with Schneider - potential depth and a few mid-level salaries at receiver is the first position situation that comes to mind - and I wonder if/how trades factor into how many guys they re-sign.
It sounds as though the core members are the ones that have both produced on the field and fit in general. Carroll seems confident the remaining spots will be filled with adequate individuals.
Thoughts from Pete Carroll on the roster building process
Listening to Carroll at the combine gave me the impression he's OK with the fact that some guys won't be back, and it sounds like organizational cohesion is building. Carroll likes the group that has been built through Schneider's diligence and Schneider is focused on retaining the guys that have responded to the new Seahawk/Carroll way. The churn will continue, but it will slow down; the process of filling specific needs and holes while keeping the cohesion.
Carroll had the following to say at the combine:"...We had a very successful draft last year, with our guys playing (that were drafted) throughout the rounds. And free agency worked out well for us. And that's a statement about our club, and hopefully our team gets more competitive and it gets more difficult to enter...We don't foresee the changes continuing with the pace we've had in times past, because the roster is getting more competitive. But John's leadership and ability to formulate his whole group that does this work... (JS and the whole front office) is a great functioning organization right now, it's a very strong part of a team. We can feel it. We could feel it in training camp, the competitiveness across the roster..."
We get insight into how the head coach feels about the work of the front office, we learn the team is becoming more competitive and we see the element of trust is present as the process elevates the program. And heading into an anticipated time of this re-building process, this could be a fruitful period in terms of creating the roster to get over the hump.
Carroll, "we are looking for players that have unique qualities, and they don't always need to be the biggest guys like Red (Bryant), so when we find them I want to make sure we have enough flexibility in our system to bring out the unique qualities that a player may offer. We might look at players a little differently than other people, even if it changes our scheme some, because we have enough background."
Citing experience and implying the potential for scheme versatility, he mentioned Brandon Browner and Chris Clemons as two players where Seattle saw potential when others didn't; he also cited the contrast in size of the starting safeties as something unique. He said "...no square peg in round hole...," which I interpret as no complete misfits but he is willing to adapt to the unique talent. The point isn't to say they are great at doing everything they will try, but rather that they are willing to try.
(Note: A friendly heads up; this is likely my last pre-free agency related post so I wanted to touch a lot of bases. This next section is a break from the long-winded stuff, but the final two sections (part III) are like the above in format. There I'll get into the free agent elephant/s in the room. I appreciate your taking the time to read a lengthy article. Thank you for bearing with me.)
--Schneider on the depth of this draft class; "it's a rich draft...very impressive..."
--Here is the 2011 Essential Seahawks Quick Reference Guide with a salary spreadsheet via Davis Hsu. It helps paint a picture for what 2012 could look like. I highly recommend it as a resource.
--Now that they've locked up Lynch, does the front office do something similar to their strong commitment to the offensive line early in last years draft? Meaning, sign another bruising, sure handed back (such as Mike Tolbert) or do they look for that other "ideal type" complementary back in free agency/via trade? Do they wait for the draft? Regardless, they need someone who can bring the same style and gives the offensive line a similar mindset-boost that appears to happen when Lynch runs. At the combine, Carroll acknowledged the hope for a similar mentality runner to spell Lynch. Also, does Forsett and Lynch's tight bond play any role in what happens next? I'm historically a big Forsett supporter, but 2011 wasn't his year.
--Per Brian McIntyre, releasing Marcus Trufant opens almost $4.5 million in cap space, $7.3 million in cash. Schneider said simply being diligent and not ignoring an avenue has led them to the surprise-impact acquisitions at the position. They have a formula - Schneider said it started with Ron Wolf and Willie Brown in Oakland - and they scout diligently within the criteria. Their ability to find "diamonds in the rough" I think could be an influence on the path taken.
--We saw K.J. Wright excel in his rookie year and show he can play inside or outside. How did/does this effect the equation for Seattle? Carroll said he'd prefer for Wright to remain outside, but depending on Hill's legal situation (which appears resolved)/Hawthorne's knee health/the rest of the market, Wright gives them the versatility to make choices...an example being the Seahawks are reportedly pursuing strong side linebacker Jarret Johnson, formerly a Raven. With or without Johnson, maybe we see something unexpected.
--Tight end John Carlson is rumored to be gone to Cleveland to re-unite with Mike Holmgren. If so, does this actually open the door for Marcel Reece to follow Cable to Seattle?
--Is there a curve-ball signing/draft pick coming along the offensive line? I've had the feeling we could have another surprise coming here for a while, whatever a surprise means, as the injuries to the two early 2011 picks could have an impact on the next move.
Part III will be up later
this afternoon (Edit: It's been moved to Wednesday AM, apologies for creating confusion!)