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Cyril Grayson for Paul Richardson? Seahawks use practice squad additions as negotiating leverage

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

In the article announcing the promotion of Joey Hunt to the active roster of the Seattle Seahawks and the addition of Cyril Grayson to the practice squad earlier this week, I made note of the similarities between Grayson and Paul Richardson. Richardson is slated to be a free agent after this season, and I tossed out the idea that Grayson could be a player being used as leverage in any ongoing negotiations between Richardson and the team. I took some ribbing in the comments for suggesting that, in particular that an undrafted free agent who hasn’t played competitive football since high school could replace, or even compare, to former second round pick Paul Richardson.

And at this point in his development, it’s absolutely true that Grayson does not compare to Richardson, who has blossomed into a competent starting caliber NFL receiver. However, failing to recognize Grayson as a comparable and potential future replacement seems to fail to recognize a pattern of behavior by the front office pertaining to the team’s habit of signing comparable players to the practice squad in the weeks before a player is scheduled to hit free agency.

In the case of this most recent example, here are the measurements and combine/pro day results for both Grayson and Richardson, along with the date on which Grayson was added to the practice squad.

Comparison of measurables between Paul Richardson and Cyril Grayson

Category Richardson Grayson
Category Richardson Grayson
Height 6003 5092
Weight 175 178
40 time 4.4 4.33
Bench N/A 14
Vertical 38" 34.5"
Broad 10'04" 10'07"
20-yard shuttle 4.23 4.45
3-cone 6.98 7.02
Date Added to PS N/A 12/5/2017

(Author’s note: For heights, the first number represents feet, numbers two and three represent inches and the fourth number represents eighths of an inch. So, for 6003, it is 6’00-3/8”. 5092 means 5’09-2/8”. This is the format used at the NFL combine, and for purposes of uniformity is the format used throughout this article.)

Now, those two are not perfect comparisons, but their profiles match up very similarly. And it’s not the first time the front office has added a very similarly profiled receiver to the practice squad in the weeks leading up to the end of a season. Thinking back, the last time Seattle lost a wide receiver in free agency is following the 2013 season when Golden Tate hit free agency.

Taking a look at Tate, here is a chart of his measurables next to the measurables of a wide receiver the Seahawks added to the practice squad on 12/5/2013, four years to the day prior to adding Grayson to the practice squad.

Golden Tate compared to late 2013 practice squad addition

Category Tate PS WR
Category Tate PS WR
Height 5102 5092
Weight 199 187
40 time 4.42 4.36
Bench 17 17
Vertical 35" 39"
Broad 10'00" 10'03"
20-yard shuttle 4.34 4.16
3-cone 7.12 6.82
Date Added to PS N/A 12/5/2013

Looking at it further, here’s the other big free agent the team had in 2013 and the comparable player the team added to the practice squad.

Michael Bennett compared to a late 2013 practice squad addition

Category Bennett PS DT
Category Bennett PS DT
Height 6034 6023
Weight 274 294
40 time 5.13 4.99
Bench 24 27
Vertical 31 26
Broad 9'02" 8'10"
20-yard shuttle N/A 4.7
3-cone N/A 7.64
Date Added to PS N/A 12/19/2013

Are either of those a perfect match? No, neither is one hundred percent identical across the board, but there are enough similarities between the two in each table that it could represent something. Or it could be nothing. Further digging may prove interesting, so on to the 2014 free agents.

The big free agents the team was looking at having in 2014 were Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and James Carpenter, and here’s a look at a comparable player to each of those who was added to the practice squad in the second half of November or in December.

Cliff Avril compared to a late 2014 practice squad addition

Category Avril PS DE
Category Avril PS DE
Height 6027 6035
Weight 253 251
40 time 4.51 4.77
Bench 27 20
Vertical 32.5" 33
Broad 9'09" 9'10"
20-yard shuttle 4.51 4.62
3-cone 6.9 7.45
Date Added to PS N/A 11/11/2014

James Carpenter compared to a late 2014 practice squad addition

Category Carpenter PS G
Category Carpenter PS G
Height 6043 6041
Weight 321 280
40 time 5.28 4.96
Bench 23 18
Vertical 28.5" 29.5"
Broad 8'10" 9'06"
20-yard shuttle 4.75 4.58
3-cone 7.56 N/A
Date Added to PS N/A 10/29/2014

K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith compared to a late 2014 practice squad addition

Category Wright Malcolm Smith PS LB
Category Wright Malcolm Smith PS LB
Height 6033 6002 5107
Weight 246 226 242
40 time 4.75 4.44 4.54
Bench 20 28 28
Vertical 32 39 29
Broad 10'00" 10'05" 9'05"
20-yard shuttle 4.46 4.54 4.39
3-cone 7.26 7.08 6.97
Date Added to PS N/A N/A 12/13/2014

These do not appear to match up nearly as well as the 2013 comparables, but there are enough similarities and my interest is still piqued, so I’m digging further. Moving ahead to 2015, the team had a long list of free agents including Bruce Irvin, Jeremy Lane, Brandon Mebane, Jermaine Kearse and J.R. Sweezy. Well, without wasting any time, here are the comps for each of those.

Bruce Irvin compared to a late 2015 practice squad addition

Category Irvin PS LB
Category Irvin PS LB
Height 6030 6022
Weight 245 233
40 time 4.5 4.65
Bench 23 15
Vertical 33.5" 31"
Broad 10'03" 10'00"
20-yard shuttle 4.03 4.25
3-cone 6.7 7.13
Date Added to PS N/A 11/26/2015

Jeremy Lane compared to a late 2015 practice squad addition

Category Lane PS CB
Category Lane PS CB
Height 6000 6025
Weight 190 218
40 time 4.48 4.45
Bench 12 13
Vertical 42" 41.5"
Broad 10'10" 10'08"
20-yard shuttle 4.14 4.19
3-cone 7.02 6.69
Date Added to PS N/A 12/17/2015

Brandon Mebane compared to a late 2015 practice squad addition

Category Mebane PS DT
Category Mebane PS DT
Height 6011 6017
Weight 309 311
40 time 5.19 5.11
Bench 24 28
Vertical 24 31.5
Broad 8'10" 8'00
20-yard shuttle 4.65 4.64
3-cone 7.94 7.68
Date Added to PS N/A 11/17/2015

J.R. Sweezy compared to a late 2015 practice squad addition

Category Sweezy DT turned G on PS
Category Sweezy DT turned G on PS
Height 6046 6034
Weight 298 292
40 time 5.01 5.25
Bench 21 17
Vertical 36 25
Broad 9'05" 7'11"
20-yard shuttle 4.41 4.4
3-cone 7.4 7.2
Date Added to PS N/A 12/3/2015

Jermaine Kearse compared to a late 2015 practice squad addition

Category Kearse PS WR
Category Kearse PS WR
Height 6007 5102
Weight 209 209
40 time 4.43 4.44
Bench N/A N/A
Vertical 35.5" 35"
Broad 10'08" 10'07"
20-yard shuttle 4.17 4.38
3-cone 6.83 7.19
Date Added to PS N/A 12/22/2015

And at this point I don’t feel the need to do any more digging. None of them are perfect matches, but that is simply too many similar players added to the practice squad at the tail end of a season with one of the players on the 53 set to hit free agency to be a coincidence for my liking. Could it be? Sure, the Hawks churn through a lot of players on the practice squad, so it could simply be a result of randomness following this churn.

Alternatively, it could be that the team prefers players with specific measurables, and that results in what looks like a pattern when it’s actually simply the team following standard protocols. Or it could be a part of adding a comparable player to the practice squad as part of the negotiation process with an impending free agent. Or it could be preparing for the loss of an impending free agent. Whatever the actual reason, to me it seems too much of a pattern to be randomness.

Of course, sometimes what appears to be a pattern is nothing more than the randomness of a small sample size, and the sample size of the number of free agents the Seahawks would have considered extending over the past four years is relatively small at barely over a dozen players.

Interestingly, one player whose name is conspicuously absent from this list is Russell Okung. He is one of the few soon to be free agents for whom a comparable player was not added to the practice squad late during their free agency season. That could be the result of the fact that it’s hard enough to find offensive linemen, much less one who can do 38 reps on the bench, or it could be that the team had no intention of retaining Okung. Alternatively, the fact that Okung didn’t have an agent could have played a role as well. Whatever the reason, of the biggest free agents the team faced the prospect of losing over the last several years, he is the only one that did not have a comparable player added late during the season. Could be something, could be nothing.

In any case, it makes this something to keep an eye on as the team prepares for the start of the 2018 league year and the coming free agency period. Maybe it’ll prove to have been worth following and maybe it won’t. We’ll learn more between now and early March.