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NFL Free Agents 2015: Finding value for the Seahawks on defense

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Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Free Agency nominally starts on March 8th as teams can begin negotiating with players, and on March 10th, it's the Oklahoma Land Rush. This year's free agent class feels stronger than the last few, and the talent is concentrated in a few positions that the Seahawks could really work with -- defensive line and tight end in particular. There are some interesting receivers sprinkled in, and cornerback is a spot that they could look at in trying to replace Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane.

Here's a cursory glance at some free agents that I happen to like for the Seahawks, keeping in mind they're more likely to look at mid-level types and cap casualties than the big-named guys like Suh or Cobb.

Pass rushers:

Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston were franchise tagged by New York and Kansas City, respectively, so that leaves Buffalo's Jerry Hughes as the de facto top pass rusher out there.

Jerry Hughes, Bills 6'2, 254, 26 years old

Hughes was a first rounder for the Colts in 2010 but didn't catch on there, ultimately ending up with Buffalo, where he's posted 10 sacks the past two seasons. He's a good run defender, is the ideal "LEO" type of player, and is still only 26 years old. You have to worry slightly that the guys on the line with him may have helped him produce so well the last few years, but I think there's no doubt that he's a very good player. He won't be cheap.

Pernell McPhee, Baltimore 6'3, 280 26 years old

McPhee is a Michael Bennett type, rushing inside and outside in a 25-30 snap per game rotation. He finished 2014 with 7.5 sacks, but his 64 pressures (hits, sacks, hurries per PFF) was the same number as Cliff Avril in 60 fewer snaps. You worry that McPhee is another in the line of Baltimore pass rushers that flame out after leaving the Ravens (Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, etc), but I think his numbers show that he's a good player. He's versatile and athletic, and adding him to the Seahawks' rotation would be very interesting. I'm guessing he'll be expensive though.

Brian Orakpo, Washington 6'4, 257 28 years old

Orakpo has battled injuries in his career but because of that may come at a discount on the free agent market (that and he's 28). He had 10 sacks in 2013 but only played 7 games in 2014. Reports have it that Washington is looking to sign him, but he'd be a great fit as a LEO pass rusher opposite Cliff Avril, and could play in a rotation with the Seahawks, potentially mitigating the injury risk. He'd be a surefire impact player if he can stay healthy.

Jabaal Sheard, Browns 6'3, 254 25 years old

Sheard has been miscast in a 3-4 this past year, and is more of a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 end. The Seahawks reportedly really liked him coming out of Pitt. He had 8.5 sacks rookie year, 7 2nd year, 5.5 third, and just 2 in 2014, so his value on the market may be lower than some of these other guys, and that makes him a potential steal. I think he'd fit with Seattle really well, and would probably come in and produce right away. He's still only 25, so that makes him attractive as well.

Brandon Graham, Eagles 6'2, 265 26 years old

Graham is the guy that the Eagles took right before Seattle selected Earl Thomas in 2010. He had 5.5 sacks in 2014, but had 51 pressures (hits hurries sacks) on just 225 snaps, which is an absurd rate. He'll probably get paid (had heard he wants $30M guaranteed, which won't happen), but he's a guy to watch.

Dwight Freeney, Chargers 6'1, 268 35 years old

The wily vet had 53 pressures (hits, sacks, hurries) in 2014 per PFF, in 372 snaps, which is a good per-snap number -- and most of his stats came on hurries. So, he can move or "affect" the quarterback, even if the sack production wasn't where he wanted it to be. He may be looking for one last shot at another Super Bowl ring, and the Seahawks would be a good fit in theory.

Anthony Spencer, Cowboys 6'3, 265 31 years old

Spencer came on strong for the Cowboys late last year, notching seven QB pressures and a sack in the Dalals' two playoff games. He's a long ways out from a knee microfracture surgery that limited him early last season, but I had heard that he was on Seattle's radar (the Cowboys guys at Blogging the Boys confirmed this) going into 2013 before he was franchise tagged for a second time by Dallas. So, it's been a while, but it will be interesting to see if the Seahawks still like him in their scheme.

Defensive tackles:

Stephen Paea, 6'1, 300 26 years old

Paea was third among true defensive tackles in QB pressures in 2014, behind only Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Williams (Watt is a DE, technically). He finished with six sacks and is known to be an athletic, powerful dude (he set the NFL Combine record in bench press). He's young, miscast in a 3-4 as the Bears switch to that, and would be an interior pass rusher that could even play some nose tackle once Brandon Mebane is done. He's still young at 26 and would be the type you sign to a four-year deal.

Henry Melton 6'3, 290 28 years old

Faded at the end of last year, had a bone bruise on his knee, but hits free agency again, most likely to a short-term prove it deal. The Seahawks pursued him last year, so I could see them going back down that road. Like Paea, he's an interior pass rusher in the Jordan Hill mold -- and you can't have enough pass rush. He had 5 sacks and 17 pressures last year.

Kenrick Ellis, Jets 6'4, 347 27 years old

Ellis lost his job to Damon Harrison but is a solid run plugger for base downs. He's huge but can move, and would be a replacement type for Tony McDaniel and/or Kevin Williams. He shouldn't be too expensive on the open market and would be a nice rotational player for the Seahawks' base packages.

Darnell Dockett, Cardinals 34 years old
Dan Williams, Cardinals 6'2, 327 27 years old

These two guys are interesting on the free agent market. It's sounding like Dockett may choose between the Niners and Cardinals, so it may not be in the cards. Dan Williams is a Mebane-type of player in that he's a base down nose tackle that can defend the run very well. The Cardinals were one of the best run defending teams in the NFL last year so it would make a lot of sense that Seattle would pursue a guy like Williams. Plus, he's only 27.


Walter Thurmond, Giants 5'11, 190 Age 27

Thurmond will almost surely not get "paid" in this free agency period after missing almost all of last year to injury. He's one strike away from a year-long ban. If the Seahawks can get him at a near league-minimum deal then it makes some sense to bring him in for depth on the outside and in the nickel. It wouldn't be a blockbuster move by any stretch, but provided he could stay healthy (questionable) it would be a nice addition.

Perrish Cox, 49ers 6'0, 198 age 28

It would annoy me to have to pay a premium for a guy that the Seahawks signed off the street in 2013, but after playing very well for the 49ers last year, it's a guy they may look at again. he has experience in the Seattle system, obviously.

Chris Culliver, 49ers 6'0 199  age 26

Culliver is another former 49er that fits the Seattle profile. He had four interceptions and a force fumble last year.

Will Blackmon, Jaguars 6'0, 204 age 30

Former Seahawk and Jaguar that knows Seattle's system and could provide some much-needed depth. I would see him more as a backup, but that's something the Hawks are in need of prior to the Draft.