Want to know the easiest way to piss people off on the internet? Make a numbered ranking list of literally anything.
With that little nugget of wisdom in mind, here is a non-numeric but somewhat, sort of sequential list of the things that I believe Seattle must set out to do during this offseason. Try not to get too caught up in the actual order, because after #1, which (spoiler alert) is to re-sign Michael Bennett, there is a jumble of other priorities that could be moved around and re-ordered based on what mood I'm in or what game I've most recently watched.
Regardless, this is a quick checklist of things that I see the Seahawks needing to address over the next few months to not only come back and play at the same level they did in 2013, but to hopefully improve.
- Re-sign Michael Bennett
I think this is a given. Bennett, who comes in as ProFootballFocus' number-one rated free agent in the NFL this year after franchise tagging has come and gone, was a mainstay on the Seahawks' defensive line and moved around from 3-technique on the interior to 5-technique on the strongside edge. He was incredibly durable and played with great effort and energy on pretty much every snap, plus he provided a berserker's intensity that was contagious down the line.
Rotoworld's Josh Norris has a saying, "disruption is production", and it's something I completely agree with and buy into with regards to building a defensive line. Bennett completely changes the complexion of the Seahawks' defensive line because he is so damn effective from wherever he lines up. He had 8 sacks in 2013, but also contributed 17 QB hits, 39 QB hurries, and registered the 3rd best Pass Rushing Productivity by a 4-3 defensive end, according to PFF, behind only Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake. If you designated him as a DT (which is his main role with Seattle), his Pass Rushing Productivity grade would have been best in the NFL. Even if you don't buy much into PFF's grading scale, Bennett's disruptive nature and playmaking ability is as clear as day on film. Pay that man. Pay that man his money.
- Figure out the LEO position
I'm still operating under the assumption that Chris Clemons will be released. It hasn't happened, and it might not happen, but right now that's what rumor has us believing. If Clemons is retained, this priority moves down the list somewhat and will go a long way toward shoring up that spot for the 2014 campaign. That said, it's still a spot that John Schneider, Pete Carroll and company should need to invest in for the long-term health of the defense, considering Bruce Irvin is apparently now a linebacker for good.
But, let's just assume for a minute that Clemons will be released. That means there is not really a starter at that position. Cliff Avril could conceivably line up on the defensive right side, but his bread and butter spot is at Seattle's left defensive end position. That's where he's played his whole career, in fact. Bruce Irvin can play the LEO in a pinch but the Seahawks, via Dan Quinn, have stated they like him at SAM linebacker. This leaves a bunch of question marks. Benson Mayowa? Mike Morgan? Korey Toomer? O'Brien Schofield is a free agent, but could be a possibility.
I think the most obvious move here would be to sign a free agent to play LEO if Clemons is released. I don't necessarily trust a rookie to come in and start at this important position. Pass rush is king - this is what Seattle learned all year, and it's probably not something that Pete Carroll will overlook.
That said, if we're talking about a veteran spot-gap, he'd ostensibly have to come in as a much better player, or at a much lower cost than Clemons, who was effective despite his low sack numbers.
One option would be to try kicking the tires of Jared Allen, of whom the Seahawks had a reported interest in last year at the trade deadline. I'm not sure how much Allen would be looking for on a yearly basis, but keep in mind that Clemons has a $2.1M dead money charge. If you're going to be paying an older free agent $5-$7M per year, you're not really saving all that much money (or getting much younger).
The Seahawks could end up taking a look at Allen's teammate from 2013 in Everson Griffin, who played a lot on the interior for Minnesota but can also play on the outside if necessary. Griffin has the Pete Carroll connection as a USC and Carroll alum.
Cincinnati's Michael Johnson is an obvious choice and would likely be a great choice at the right price. It's just likely going to cost you a lot to get him. Johnson flashes potential as a great pass rusher -- he had 11.5 sacks in 2012, but his main strength is in run defense. While the Seahawks would surely appreciate this, I wonder if they're probably looking for more octane in the pass rush department at the LEO spot if they're going to spend big there. We shall see.
Detroit's Willie Young is a guy that could intrigue the Seahawks as a weak-side rusher. According to PFF's metrics, Young was very effective in his limited snaps from the right side (22% of his total plays on the year) - notching 5 QB hits and 16 QB hurries in 109 snaps from that side. That's a 'disruption' on about one-of-five snaps - compare to Clemons, who registered a disruptive play on 12% of his snaps from the right side (35 of 290). The sample sizes are drastically different and the difference in effectiveness may be due to situational football (run downs vs. pass downs) but regardless, Young is 28 years old, measures 6'4, 250 and will hit his fifth year after being drafted in the 7th round out of NC State. I'm assuming teams won't break the bank for Young so he's a guy the Seahawks could potentially bring in for competition at the LEO spot.
Another guy that the Seahawks could give a look at is Anthony Spencer. Spencer was a strong-side outside linebacker in Dallas' 3-4 scheme in 2012 and played really, really well there -- well enough to 'earn' a franchise tag going into 2013. He hurt his knee though, required surgery on a microfracture, and that injury is a huge red flag for any potential teams this year as he hits free agency. If I'm Seattle, I'd be interested in him as a potential hedge as a SAM or LEO, but he's a boom-bust signing because of the risk around his knee injury. He's also 30.
Regardless, the former first-round pick has the potential to be very productive in the right defense, and with guys like John Abraham and Elvis Dumervil finding new homes and adding value last year as older veterans, it's worth consideration.
At the end of the day, it might just make most sense to retain Clemons. I don't know. Perhaps Seattle will wait until the Draft and free agency have played out before they make any decisions there.
By the way... as an aside, I highly value the defensive line, particularly the pass rush. This is why Bennett and the LEO spot are higher than the situation on the offensive line.
- Figure out the OL situation
Most people would say that the offensive line was Seattle's weakest positional group in 2013. I would probably agree -- it was at least their most inconsistent. There will be an opening at the right tackle position as Breno Giacomini hits free agency, and while it's certainly possible that he'll be re-signed, I'm not counting on it exactly.
Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey both flashed a lot of potential so I'm hoping they'll both make big jumps in 2014 and possibly take over starting spots at RT and/or one or both of the guard spots. Lemuel Jeanpierre is a restricted free agent, and he factors in as a potential starter at center or guard. There could be some shuffling.
Still, I think Seattle will hit the Draft with the offensive line and possibly test the waters in 2nd level free agency a bit. There are way too many options to discuss quickly here, so let's just leave it at: there is probably some work to do on the offensive line. I think the Seahawks could survive with their current group, but it wouldn't surprise me if John Schneider does some tinkering.
- Figure out the TE position
The other rumored potential cap casualty is Zach Miller. If nothing happens with this, then the TE situation is just peachy keen, and we can all just go on living our lives. If Miller turns out to be too expensive in Seattle's eyes, then there may be work to do.
I believe that the Seahawks are very high on Luke Willson and believe he has the potential to be an every-down type of Y-Tight end. He's not just a 'move' guy that could be effective in certain sets in their eyes, I think, and he's the type of player that you can plug into your offense and roll with it. Playing a young, relatively untested player at a key position would not be a new thing for Peter Clay Carroll.
However, because depth would become an issue, and because the Seahawks like to hedge their bets at every spot, I think re-signing Anthony McCoy to a relatively inexpensive contract would be a smart move. McCoy was poised to make his fourth season his best yet after showing a good amount of potential in 2012, but tore his achilles tendon in the offseason. There has been some precedent now of players coming back to full(ish) health after achilles tears, so this means there can be some optimism about his heath long-term.
In addition to this, guys like Jermichael Finley and Brandon Pettigrew are hitting the free agent market this offseason, so those guys could have potential. Past them, Scott Chandler, Andrew Quarless, and Ben Hartsock, among others, could be options on the open market. The Draft is an option as well.
- Figure out the 5-Tech position
Red Bryant has left, leaving a vacuum of sorts at the strong side defensive end position, for base downs, anyway. Cliff Avril mans the passing-down strongside DE spot, and there are a few candidates for Red's spot on run downs: Greg Scruggs is one, Jesse Williams is another. The Seahawks could re-sign Tony McDaniel or test the free agency waters. The reason this priority is down the list some is that I think there are viable, if untested, options currently on the roster.
Oakland's Lamarr Houston was weakside outside linebacker/defensive end in the Raiders' defense this year, but is more known for his run stopping ability at 6'3, 300. He would probably be an excellent candidate for a strong-side DE in a 4-3, but it'd be a conversion for him. He offers some upside in pass rushing ability and is athletic enough to move inside on passing downs. He'll be 27 in the 2014 season, so he'll cost a lot, but might be worth it. Baltimore's Arthur Jones is in a similar mold, and I know that Davis Hsu is high on him as an option there.
Another player Seattle could bring in is Tennesee's Ropati Pitoatua. The former WSU Cougar was one of Seattle's targets last year in free agency but instead signed with Tennessee. If the Seahawks want to, but can't re-sign Tony McDaniel, I think Pitoatua might be a name you hear come up. He's 6'8, 300 pounds, and his specialty is stopping the run.
I think Seattle might test these options out only if they're unable to re-sign Michael Bennett. If they can ink Bennett to a new deal, I would guess that they'll then go about sinking any leftover money in to pass rushers on the weakside.
- Re-sign Golden Tate
I love Golden Tate. I'm kind of a Golden Tate fanboy. He blocks well, he fights for the football in the air. He is one of the best in the game after the catch. He's a very good punt returner. He's got swagger that fits perfectly with the Seahawks' identity. He's become more dependable as a route runner and he's one of the best on the team at working back to the football to provide Russell Wilson an outlet once the play breaks down and he scrambles. That said, I don't know how much money he'll be looking to make and I don't think the Seahawks will break the bank to retain him.
I think Tate fits what the Seahawks are doing extremely well, so I'm hoping they can get the new contract done. I still really want to see a whole season of what Tate and Percy Harvin could do together on the field. That said, I don't think it spells disaster for Seattle if he's not back.
- Extend Earl Thomas
No brainer. The timing isn't super important, I don't think, but just get it done this year.
- Re-sign Clinton McDonald
This is down the list some, because it's maybe a luxury, but Clinton McDonald balled out this year. After Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril, McDonald played the most snaps in Dan Quinn's rotation. More than Brandon Mebane. More than Tony McDaniel. Even more than Red Bryant, who played inside at times.
He was very productive rushing the passer in Seattle's nickel subpackage, registering 11 QB hits and 17 QB hurries to go along with his 5.5 sacks. I'm guessing he'll get some love from 4-3 teams looking for a penetrating 3-technique but the nice thing about McDonald for the Seahawks is that he can back up Brandon Mebane at the nose tackle spot in a pinch.
McDonald got down to about 285 pounds in 2013 after being cut out of Seahawks' camp, came on strong at that weight after being re-signed, and was much more effective, so comp him somewhat to a Will Sutton type of player. Plays bigger than his height/weight might tell you, and it stems from very good short area burst and explosiveness -- McDonald measured in at 6'2, 283 pounds back in 2009, where he registered a 38" vert and a 10'01" broad jump while running a 4.83 40. This is a highly underrated athlete that has finally found a niche for himself as an undersized/under-weight defensive tackle. Previously, bulking up to 300+ pounds didn't help him in his first three seasons, but now he knows what he is: a nickel pass rusher. The niche quality he possesses may be the way that Seattle is able to re-sign him.
- Re-sign Steven Hauscka
It would be ideal to sign Hauschka to a multi-year deal with reasonable per-year cap hits. I don't know how likely this might be... somewhat likely?
- Figure out the QB situation
The backup quarterback position remains in flux. B.J. Daniels is the upstart challenger to Tarvaris Jackson as the free agent incumbent. I'm guessing Seattle will re-sign Jackson with very little guaranteed money and let them duke it out in camp and the preseason.
This isn't an exhaustive list. I think backup safety is an important spot with some question marks going forward. I think the linebacker spot will need to be addressed in free agency or the draft. I think that Seattle will continue to draft and develop cornerbacks in the event they cannot re-sign Richard Sherman.