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The NFL Draft, free agency, & the Seahawks roster

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There have been a lot of discussions lately about whether or not this is the year that the Seahawks trade up in the Draft, a change of pace from their normal M.O. of trading back and accumulating picks. This isn't a rebuilding team anymore, many of the positional groups have quality starters and acceptable depth, and Seattle goes into Day 1 with 10 picks, three more than what they started with last year. Those 10 picks probably won't all make the team, and that's the kind of atmosphere that Pete Carroll absolutely wants. A competitive cauldron.

I'm not here to argue against trading up, -- I wouldn't put it past John Schneider and Pete Carroll to do so and if you assume that JS somewhat follows the Green Bay model of roster building, it doesn't go against what the Packers have actually done a few select times in the past too. So, the idea of trading up is not out of the question from a philosophical point of view, by any means. I wouldn't even be against it -- the thought of getting a game-changing defensive tackle or an elite prospect at some other position is enticing, certainly.

What I do want to do in this article though is point out part of the reasoning behind high-volume drafting and why this club, at the end of the day, whether they do trade up or not, will still probably end up picking nine or ten times (meaning I could see them trade back later to re-coup some picks, if possible).

First of all, with the Green Bay model, and with what seems to be a similar (probably partially different) version of what John Schneider is doing with the Seahawks, as Davis has postulated:

The idea is that one-third of your roster makes 'big money. This goes to the stars and/or core foundational players, - typically guys that are on big 1st round deals, or 2nd or 3rd contracts and have been in the league for a while. On a 53-man roster, this number is about 18 players, and Davis uses $2M (or more) per year as a benchmark cap hit to be a part of this group.

The other two-thirds of your roster is made up of 'role players,' 35 players or so, that are on rookie contracts or close to veteran minimum contracts (under $2M per year). This type of appropriation allows you to keep your stars and pay them market value (or more), but requires that you stock the rest of the roster with athletic, young, hungry, and healthy draft picks or cheap vets that fit and excel in your system.

The absolute KEY to this type of philosophy is to draft well though.

Let's repeat that because it's important: The absolute key to building a roster this way is to draft well. If you miss too often in the Draft, you either A) have shitty depth or B) are forced to spend in free agency and then risk losing your key players as you go over your budget on the salary cap.

So how do you draft well? It's one of the f*cking hardest things to do in sports, so there's no easy answer. The simplest answer is to draft a lot of different people, considering every single Draft pick of all time, no matter how 'safe' or 'foolproof' they seem, is a human being, meaning there are thousands and thousands of variables at play and even the best talent evaluators miss and the most promising guys end up sucking.

The Seahawks mitigate this inherent and unavoidable risk first and foremost by drafting a high volume of players. It's like diversifying your portfolio.

In addition to that, and one of the bigger reasons they've had success, is by having a very specific grading scale, a very specific system, and by getting, as much as possible, the coaches, scouts, and personnel executives working in harmony.

It's an imperfect system, but the best clubs have front-offices (coaches, scouts, personnel people, and ownership) that get along and have congruent and parallel philosophies. They rely on these relationship in order to find the right players, either through the Draft, free agency, or the CFL, fit them into specific roles, and then coach them up on how to succeed in this specific system.

Seattle has augmented the Draft by finding young, high-upside free agents like Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, and others, in free agency. But you can only do that so much to stay true to the model (that we have guessed the Seahawks are following, somewhat).

Greetings from Lord Humongous had a very interesting comment today that I think summed it up well, that pointed to 'why volume is important':

In 2010, we hit on Russell Okung and Earl Thomas but Tate didn't produce for two years, Walter Thurmond hasn't been healthy, E.J. Wilson was cut early, Kam Chancellor didn't start his first year, Anthony McCoy didn't do anything for two years and Dexter Davis/Jameson Konz didn't really do much.

In 2011, we spent a majority of our draft capital on James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Kris Durham, Mark Legree, Pep Livingston and Malcolm Smith. Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright are the only guys that are [thus far] proven, reliable starters.

In 2012, we used 10 draft picks to get two starters [Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson], a few nice contributors [Bruce Irvin, Robert Turbin, Greg Scruggs, J.R. Sweezy] and some promising guys that we can't necessarily count on (Jaye Howard, Korey Toomer, Winston Guy).

We have found a lot of great players in the draft but we've also drafted a bunch of busts. That's all part of the process. We need to draft in volume for this to work.

Part of being a 'consistent championship caliber team,' as John Schneider always puts it, is to build in high-quality depth and be able to weather the storm of injuries that happen over the course of a season. With Jason Jones and Chris Clemons suffering late-season injuries, Seattle's once-average pass rush became pretty much non-existant, and this become a huge, huge factor as Seattle faced Atlanta.

It's not always about finding 'that one guy' that will put Seattle over the top, because you have to assume two or three other key players are going to get hurt at some point during the year and your mind's image of a Super Bowl quality team, as you peruse the roster for next year, evaporates as you check off two, three, four or five 'starters' that you have to expect will go down at some point during the year. Unless you're freakishly lucky.

So let's look at the roster, eliminating free agents. The light blue designates guys that were on the 53-man roster at year's end. The darker blue shows restricted free agents.


Now let's look forward to next year's 53-man club, and I'll approximate positional numbers based on recent years, though I'm sure the final numbers won't be completely accurate...

Quarterback (2): Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn. It remains to be seen whether or not Flynn will be traded, but assuming he is, and assuming you get a pick for him, it's kind of a wash. QB is not a big concern going into next year, which is f*cking awesome.

Running back (4): Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin aren't going anywhere. Leon ($1.875M) and Mike ($2.5M) have key niche roles but on a relative scale of things are making a lot, particularly Leon, considering how kickoffs have been devalued. He's a Pro Bowler at kickoffs though.

My guess right now is that Michael Robinson will definitely be back with the team next year because of the leadership value he brings (he's also been very reliable as a lead-blocker and pass catcher, though as with anything, it's possible you could find a more dynamic and explosive option in the draft that would cost $500k. It's a good year for tight ends and H-backs).

Leon, I'm not so sure. His salary and lack of versatility makes him somewhat expendable, though I am not strongly suggesting he should or could be cut, it's a definite possibility, knowing how cutthroat this team really is. For this exercise, let's just assume that Leon is back.

Now is when we get into the positional groups that could stand to see upgrades, either through the Draft or free agency.

Wide Receiver (5): The only locks that I can see in this group are Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and Doug Baldwin. Ben Obomanu is coming off an injury, has likely reached his ceiling as a player (though it might be interesting to see how he'd do with the 2nd-half version of Russell Wilson), and is expensive, relatively ($2.5M cap hit). Jermaine Kearse, Phil Bates, Charly Martin, Stephen Williams, Bryan Walters, Deon Butler? Tough to say confidently that any of these guys factor into the 53-man roster next year. You'd like to see at least one, maybe two picks go to this position, honestly. For the sake of this post, let's just say that at the very least, two roster spots are 'upgradeable' through the Draft or free agency.

Tight End (3): Lock: Zach Miller, and with his plantar fasciitis injury, it casts some doubt upon his ability to play at 100% next year, despite what people will say about his recovery time. I'm one of Anthony McCoy's biggest supporters, but even I would say that it'd be possible to upgrade there. Cooper Helfet, Sean McGrath, and Cam Morrah are even more upgradeable. I'd be very surprised if Seattle looks at their tight end group and feels satisfied, I'll put it that way. I'm putting TE down for one realistically upgradeable roster spot, though I'm sure they'd love to get two really good guys in there to compete.

Offensive Line (10): Offensive line is a relatively strong position, with two Pro Bowlers in Max Unger and Russell Okung, an above-league-average RT in Breno Giacomini, and some solid depth players at both guard positions. I'm of the strong opinion that James Carpenter is going to be a long-time and solid starter at left guard, but let's be honest, that's still an unknown, and Paul McQuistan, while solid, does leave something to be desired.

John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy platooned at RG, curiously, and though Sweezy has a much higher ceiling in terms of potential and athleticism, he's still very raw and prone to give up sacks at really bad times. To pencil your 7th round DT-convert in at RG in 2013 might be a tad too optimistic, and considering Moffitt couldn't beat him out for the true starter's job there this season, you can't really do that with him either.

Here's how I see the offensive line group: Right now, it's a good line, Tom Cable has done a great job of coaching these guys up, but the guard spots continue to be a bit suspect, and I doubt Seattle, if they find themselves with a pick in the 3rd or 4th round and an offensive lineman they really like still sitting there, are going to be saying to themselves that they needn't worry about the OL. In a perfect world, maybe they see Sweezy/Moffitt/McQuistan as quality depth/swing players and could better picture a mid-round mauler at RG. Considering what Cable did with Sweezy this year, I wonder what he could do with a more talented, developed guy that has experience at the position.

In Pete Carroll's competitive cauldron of a roster, I'm doubting they stand pat with the current group. I'd say conservatively that at least two of these players - Mike Person, Rishaw Johnson, Lemuel Jeanpierre and the triumvirate of Moffitt/Sweezy/McQuistan are upgradeable, in the form of a better starting RG or a better group of backups.

Defensive Line (10): Defensive line is the thinnest group on the team, no doubt. With Alan Branch and Jason Jones moving to unrestricted free agency and Clinton McDonald into restricted free agency, we're left with Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Bruce Irvin, Greg Scruggs, Jaye Howard, and Chris Clemons, who may not even play in 2013 due to his ACL injury. Seattle, realistically, needs to add 5-7 players on the DL, either through free agency or the Draft. I'm not even talking about adding 'upgrade' players. They just need guys to fill spots.

Linebackers (6): K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Malcolm Smith. Locks. Bubble? Mike Morgan. Heath Farwell is a special teams ace. For the sake of this discussion, I think it's realistic to say that Malcolm Smith and Mike Morgan are players that you can get by with, but are certainly upgradeable through free agency or the Draft. I don't think that Toomer, Knox, or Bradford are those guys. Toomer maybe.

Defensive Backs (10): As strong as Seattle's defensive backs unit is - with Kam, ET, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, and Walter Thurmond, the depth at nickel is a big concern, as WT3 can't stay healthy, and depth behind Earl and Chancellor remains tenuous at best. Seattle may look for another Earl-type player to as a backup or a guy that you can put in on 'passing downs' to free Earl up to move around as the defensive 'joker piece'. Reports were, last year, that Mark Barron was one of the players at the top of Seattle's Draft board, and it's something that I actually believe. Kam's strength is in the box, and maybe the Hawks will look to keep him there more often next season. There are a lot of things you can do with three very good safeties and two very good linebackers in nickel situations. Regardless, it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Seattle add even more defensive backs this year.

Bottom line - if you're Seattle's front office, here is what you're asking yourself: Are Chris Maragos (restricted free agent), Deshawn Shead, Jeron Johnson and Winston Guy 'locks' for this roster and guys that you would feel great about depending on if some of the guys in front of them get hurt? Doubtful. You can bet Pete Carroll will, at least, want to bring in guys to compete for jobs at that position.

Kicker (0): Seattle has no kicker under contract, and Clint Gresham is a restricted free agent.


Now, this post might seem like I'm just picking the roster apart and criticizing everyone, but I actually think this is the way that Seattle's front-office and coaching staff has to look at their team. The list of guys that they're completely satisfied with is probably shorter than you'd think.

There are depth issues at several spots. There are talent issues at several spots. There are the issues that come along with the fact that about $70M of the cap space is represented on offense and only about $40M is represented on defense. From what you hear Andrew Brandt say on Twitter, from his time in Green Bay, the studies that they'd done indicated you're best off approaching a 50/50 offense/defense cap hit split.

There are issues with re-signing core foundational players and guys that are coming up on the ends of their deals. There are the issues that come along with rolling over an appropriate amount of money into next year to stay ahead of the curve in cap space. It's a balance. You have to plan two to three years out on this kind of thing.

So - to sum up. Say Seattle will look to add two guys at WR, and probably one or two guys at TE. That's three picks or free agent signees, conservatively. Say they'd like to add two or three guys to the OL, either as starter potential or to improve depth. That's four, or five picks/signees. The defensive line needs attention, to the tune of possibly five, six, or seven new faces. Let's say five thinking that Branch/Jones/Clemons are probably gone/injured and Howard/Scruggs are unknown quantities. We're now at 10 or 11.

Say you'd like to add another WLB as Leroy Hill/Malcolm Smith don't really do it for you. That's 12. Say you'd like to add a nickel corner, a better backup free safety than either Maragos or Jeron, and another corner or hybrid guy to compete with the current group of Shead/Parker/etc. You're now up to 13 or 14 guys you'd like to add to this team to improve starter talent, bench depth, or simply PC competition. You still need a kicker. 15. This is me being conservative.

The front-office mentality I could see is that Seattle is looking at, at least, 15 or so roster spots that could be upgraded (probably around 10 that SHOULD be upgraded - 2WR, 1TE, 4DL, 1LB, 1K, 1OL). The always compete mentality drives this. This won't happen in one year, so you have to prioritize. You have to expect that 25-50% of your draft picks, at least, won't hit or won't produce for a couple of years. And, you still have to keep yourself cap-conscious and avoid the trappings of free agency.

You can add a couple of key guys in free agency, but remember, you're 70-40 in favor of the offense, so you probably don't want to add any high-priced guys on the offensive side of the ball. Have to look to the Draft for offense then. For defense, if you want to add one or two big names to bolster the DL, that's probably pretty safe to assume, but not much more. But that means you'll have to find a nickel corner, depth at safety, depth at linebacker, and a kicker in the draft and low-cost free agency. That ain't easy. Some free agents don't pan out. A lot of Draft picks don't pan out or take a couple years to develop.

Seattle may trade up, and like I said, it wouldn't overly surprise me, but I do think they'll still look to draft around ten times, and add more in the undrafted free agent ranks, and high-profile free agency, and low-profile free agency. This isn't churn churn churn anymore, but with the competition atmosphere and the relative lack of injuries Seattle lucked out with this year, I honestly don't think this front office is sitting on their hands and saying that they have a surplus of draft picks. I think they are still greedy about those picks.

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