I was talking to my dad the other day about the Seahawks and about NFL free agency in general, and he asked me whether I thought that Seattle had gotten better this offseason. It's a good question.
On paper, and on the surface, it's pretty easy to look at their losses (starters Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy, and Brandon Mebane) compared to their gains (uh... Bradley Sowell and J'Marcus Webb?) and conclude they are going backwards.
Of course, you'll quickly remind me that Seattle kept a bunch of their own -- Jeremy Lane, Ahtyba Rubin, Jermaine Kearse, Mike Morgan, and Christine Michael -- but do we really count the team re-signing their own players as "getting better?" I mean, they were here last year. Does keeping them mean the team is getting better or just treading water?
It's one of those tricky philosophical questions, because even if free agency was non-existent and the team just kept everyone until they retired, it doesn't necessarily mean a team's capability or ceiling remains static. You still have to account for players improving at their craft (especially that quarterback guy). You still have to account for intangible things that deeply affect teams like continuity and chemistry and familiarity in systems. You have to account for injuries. And schedule. And luck. And a million other variables.
You also have to acknowledge that in many or most cases, the teams that "win" the offseason tend to suck ass the next year. There's a lot of variables in that, but applying that general law to the question, doesn't it mean the fact that Seattle did little this offseason so far that they're actually in better shape than if they had made blockbuster moves?
Look, I don't know. Maybe? My first reaction would be that outside of the continued neglect in the offensive line (standard), Seattle's in great shape for a run at the NFC West next year. Psychologically, the difference is enormous. No Super Bowl interception. No holdouts (probably). No Marshawn Lynch drama (probably). No Russell Wilson contract drama. None of that Super Bowl hangover talk. Seattle's not "the team to beat" right now. They're just another contender, and you know that pisses them off for greatness. I think as a team, as a unit, as a group -- the dynamics therein -- this offseason creates really good opportunity to "get better."
The example I think of -- imagine a varsity team whose stars and main core are all juniors. Senior year, you've still got those stars and core players, but they're battle hardened and experienced, with more chemistry and familiarity in the system. I'd use college teams as another example but with everyone leaving for the pros after one or two years, it doesn't work quite as well.
So, I tend to actually believe Seattle's doing well for themselves despite remaining pretty quiet. Being responsible in free agency means the salary cap remains healthy and they can continue to keep their core players, who are continuing to grow up in the system before our eyes.
Let's look at a few of their moves from this perspective.
This was probably the biggest deal of all of Seattle's offseason work. Lane not only provides Seattle with a higher-tier nickel cornerback, but also provides a great deal of important depth to the cornerback position. He can play outside. He can move around. He's experienced. If DeShawn Shead, the projected starter opposite Richard Sherman, gets hurt, well, you've still got Lane and he's gameday active. This isn't going to be a Cary Williams "goes to class on how to learn the Seahawks' step-kick and we all hope for the best" situation. He's indoctrinated.
"I was really happy to get Jeremy back because I thought that's a big deal for us," Pete Carroll told Sheil Kapadia at the NFL Owners' Meetings. "His best play is ahead of him. He's done great stuff for us. But that solidifies the corner spot going into the draft, which I thought was really important."
Hedge! Remember how we always talk about draft hedges? This is a draft hedge. Seattle doesn't have to go get a cornerback early on and slot him into the lineup.
More important though, with Lane, the Seahawks now have three experienced and quality cornerbacks and it gives them a lot of options. Remember, teams play 3-receiver sets a whole lot, and NFL-wide last year, defenses were in nickel 60 percent of the time. Nickel defense is truly the new base defense. You gotta have three corners.
"Really thought DeShawn Shead did a great job last year," Carroll said. "But I think the combination of Jeremy and DeShawn gives us two different style corners, and both those guys play the nickel spot. It allows us to flip guys around matchup-wise. Richard as well, as we did last year. So we have all the flexibility, the best flexibility we've ever had, and it allows us to go into the draft and not have to be concerned about having to get a guy. With the young competition that we have, we think that it's a pretty strong position for us."
Neat. Neat-o. I really like it.
Seattle also has some potential up-and-comers at the corner spot that could provide additional depth. We still don't know what we're getting with Tye Smith but he could factor. Tharold Simon is still on the team and if he can manage to get healthy he could be a big part of it. Mohammed Seisay and Stanley Jean-Baptiste factor in.
For me, this re-signing is similar to the Jeremy Lane deal, because it means the offense can really hit the ground running next year. Kearse has been in the system for four years, has developed a lot of chemistry with Russell Wilson, especially on the scramble drill, and despite some fan frustration with consistency, has really made some big plays for the team over the years.
Most important though, again, is that continuity and chemistry. Russell Wilson had probably the best second half of a season of any quarterback in NFL history last year. Maybe a good idea to keep the passing game band together. Obviously there's concern with the offensive line, but when Wilson can trust his receivers, it means he can get the ball out more quickly. That's huge.
Just means that that year I spent learning how to spell his name will come in handy. That's huge for me.
Otherwise, he's young, reliable, physical, healthy, strong -- pretty much everything you want from a run-plugging interior lineman. Makes sense they kept him. Just gotta go find a new nose tackle now, but there are plenty of options there.
Morgan has been playing in Pete Carroll's system since he was 18 years old. This is about experience and consistency. He'll finally have a shot at being a starter as the base-downs strongside linebacker. He's not a pass rusher but I think he could work at that spot as the starter, and worst case, he's a solid backup and exceptionally experienced special teams contributor. He's on a one year, $1M deal.
Again, this is about depth and experience in the system. Still has a ton of upside. Knows the scheme. Knows the coaches. Knows what's expected now. Won't be relied upon to carry the offense, but can provide a spark. Makes too much sense. C-Mike's deal -- which is for one year and $725k tops -- includes just $25k in guaranteed money, so he'll have to work for it.