Pete Carroll hasn’t faced uncertainty in the secondary like this since his very early days with the Seattle Seahawks. Yes, the team knew they’d be without Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman for the first time since 2010 when last season began, but they still had Earl Thomas, Shaquill Griffin was a promising player with a full season under his belt already, and Justin Coleman proved a high-value pickup from the New England Patriots for a seventh round pick just a year earlier.
Two of those three pieces may be gone for good and the third was considered a disappointment in terms of his progress and performance.
The starting secondary players who we know for sure are returning will be Bradley McDougald, Tre Flowers, Griffin, as well as Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill, for whatever that is worth. I wrote about the state of the safeties yesterday, but now a closer focus on the position that perhaps has had the most specific focus on it in Seattle since Pete Carroll and John Schneider changed the game with the Hall of Fame output they got from a fifth round pick in 2011: cornerback. Things like “arm length” were never in anybody’s mind prior to Sherman’s surprising dominance of opposing receivers in Carroll’s defense, but it’ll be the primary measurement that many are looking forward to at the combine. At least as far as cornerbacks go. Because if he’s 6’1 and runs a 4.5 that sounds well and fine, but if he’s got 31” arms there’s a lot of evidence that the Seahawks won’t be interested.
Just how badly does Carroll need to look at cornerback in the draft?
As far as corners currently on the roster go, Flowers would seem to be the expected number one headed into 2019. He’s 6’3, 202 lbs, nearly 34” arms, and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash. Thanks in large part to playing safety at Oklahoma State and not being seen as a good prospect at safety, Seattle was able to grab him in the fifth round and begin the transition to cornerback, not entirely unlike the transition that Sherman made from receiver to corner at Stanford.
I’m not sure many would argue that Flowers was great as a rookie, but he definitely wasn’t bad and that alone was very impressive for a guy who was brand new to the position and asked to start right away. Playing next to Griffin instead of next to Sherman, Flowers wasn’t just a guy to get picked on with half of the field shut down. Instead, Carroll will need to decide how imperative it is to make a change with Griffin’s position, or how much he needs to spend on the inevitable competition that is brought in.
Not that any corner in the secondary was “shutdown” or close to it. Per ProFootballFocus:
Even if the results weren’t horrible, the Seattle secondary sorely missed Richard Sherman this season. Their corners Justin Coleman (90.0 passer rating against), Tre Flowers (111.8), and Shaquill Griffin (100.4) all allowed at least 500 yards and 60-plus percent catch rate on the season.
Flowers is still on his rookie contract for three more years, Griffin for two, but Coleman is set to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time. He wasn’t a shutdown player in the slot and he may have benefited from being involved in more “successful looking plays” than Griffin or Flowers, which was not a high bar to surpass. Coleman was second on the team with 10 passes defensed (behind Bobby Wagner’s 11, whereas Flowers had six and Griffin had eight), he also had two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown, and an interception. Flowers had three forced fumbles and no interceptions, Griffin had zero and two, respectively.
But Coleman may also have easier assignments than either Flowers or Griffin. These last couple of years the slot position has seen its snaps increase with the rise of Coleman as a virtual starter and the depreciation of the SAM linebacker position as a regular contributor. How much is that going to be worth to the Seahawks when it comes to Coleman?
It’s hard to know what his comparable cornerback is. Chris Harris has often been called the best slot corner and he has a $42 million deal with $8.5 million per year from the Denver Broncos. He signed that when he was 25, turning 26, same as Coleman now. But Harris was the best slot corner and he had just made the Pro Bowl for the first time. That being said, it was also five years ago and prices have skyrocketed. Tavon Young is turning 25 and just signed a three-year, $25.8 million extension with the Baltimore Ravens and Young missed all of 2017, without a consistent string of starts in his career. That’s $8.6 million per year for Young.
Seattle isn’t currently spending any money at cornerback: among active players on the roster, Griffin is the highest-paid next season at under $900,000. Do they want to spend $7+ million on Coleman? Or would they rather wait and see if they can spend that kind of money on an outside corner to compete with Griffin and Flowers?
It’ll be hard to find that on the open market because cornerbacks are in high demand. It’s getting hard to play the position and a lot of athletes are maybe choosing receiver over cornerback as they enter college and begin their ascent towards being an NFL caliber player. It’s a theory, that’s all, but I do think there is way more talent at receiver than there is at cornerback. There are going to be good free agent receivers next season. There are also going to be a lot of starting cornerbacks who are bad. So the top names on the market will be guys like Steven Nelson, Ronald Darby, and even Pierre Desir. If Desir costs $10 million per season, is that something the Seahawks should be interested in?
Like several other positions that I’ve profiled so far, cornerback seems to be one that Seattle is going to have to hold out hope for in “internal value appreciation” rather than external forces like free agency and the draft. I think it could be difficult to re-sign Coleman given the desire that he and his agent likely have to test out a free agent market that could get very competitive for his services. I also think it will be hard to find a good player to compete at cornerback with Griffin and Flowers without paying them so much that you almost have to start them. Seattle will obviously bring in some under the radar types again — a practice squad player from another team, a veteran looking for a chance to start somewhere and doesn’t prioritize money anymore — but the most likely outcome in my mind is that when August gets here, the biggest hope is that Flowers is going to develop into a dominant number one. And that Griffin will be a reliable number two. And that the slot position can be filled as cheaply this year as it was with the trade of a seventh round pick for Coleman in 2017.
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Others hanging around: Akeem King, Kalan Reed, Simeon Thomas, Jeremy Boykins
Should the Seahawks re-sign Justin Coleman if the contract guaranteed him $8 million per year over the next 3 years?
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