Seahawks 2017 Offseason Part I
It is less than a week away from the 2017 NFL Draft. Excitement is brewing in each organization as individuals, teams, and organizations will forever change because of the upcoming draft. The draft is the most important and influential offseason event for every team. It gives each team the most opportunity to improve- adding the missing piece to a Superbowl run or finding the next franchise player to build a dynasty around- or regress, failing at find the talent needed for success. Still, the draft is not held in a vacuum and is shaped and influenced by the changing environment as much as it influences it. Before the draft teams have had the opportunity to attain valuable free agents to help fill out and complete their roster to enter the draft with as few holds to fill as possible. This allows each team to base picks on value rather than need. Though not as active as others in free agency Seattle was busy adding competition to their roster before the draft. This article will go over these moves, how they fit to the overall goals and needs of the organization, and likely what GM John Schneider and Co. will do in the 2017 draft.
Since the first couple of years at Seattle, Schneider has not spent heavily in free agency instead finding value in cheap contracts with veterans or 1-year “prove it” deals. Not relying on big money deals in free agency allows the Seahawks to build through the draft and retain their own players. Again, this year was much of the same. However unlike in previous years, there was no major free agent Seattle had to retain- Steven Hauschka being the biggest free agent to leave- and with $25 million in salary cap space Seattle had the flexibility to take some flyers on talented but flawed players.[i]
As of this writing Seattle has acquired 11 players through free agency and relinquished four players.[ii] Now, I can’t talk about every acquisition the Seahawks made as the article would quickly turn into a novel, but for those who are curious here is a link to all transactions made by Seattle this offseason: http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/seattle-seahawks/. Instead I will discuss holistically what Seattle is trying to achieve with this process, linking it to current strategies and philosophies utilized, specifically talking about several transactions I liked and several I didn’t, and finally what this all means for the 2017 draft.
As discussed in my previous article the biggest needs Seattle has heading into next season are offensive-line, cornerback, and defensive tackle. They have addressed two of those issues in free agency- resigning two CBs in Deshawn Shead and Neiko Thorpe and S Bradley McDougald, as well as signing LT Luke Joeckel and OG Oday Aboushi. Clearly Seattle is trying to address the two biggest areas of concern and I suspect further investment in these two areas come draft time. Surprisingly they have not addressed the defensive interior which I assumed they would do by signing a veteran DT.
Of the 11 free agents signed six are on the defense side of the ball, while five are on the offensive side. This illustrates Seattle’s desire to make every position competitive by completing and filling out entire roster. With every position having quality competition allows everyone to work hard and continue to develop as a player. The average age of the free agents is 26.7 years old, which ensures team is stocked with young talent- keeping the team young allows continued success. The oldest player signed is ILB Michael Wilhoite, who was added to be a star on special teams. Another similarity, all contracts where for one-year deals (except for CB Neiko Thorpe’s who received a two-year deal due to his young age and potential).[iii] These one year “prove it” contracts are friendly for both sides. Neither party is heavily invested long-term so if the deal doesn’t work out it is not crippling financially, and it allows both parties to maintain flexibility in the future. Also, this type of “wait and see” contract I believe shows insight into the how the Seahawks view free agency. Free agency is not a slam dunk- there are so many variables that contribute to a player’s success like being in the right environment and system- that signing proven players from elsewhere for big money does not guarantee success. Due to the modest success rate for free agent players and the high investment needed, Seattle appears to see the draft as the key to long-term success, and view free agency as a stop-gap measure. Still, free agency can still have a big impact on the team and I want to highlight several signings that have the potential to be great personnel moves.
Seattle appears to believe in the failed 2013 draft class, or at least believes the 2013 draft class needs redemption. Seattle has signed the #2 and #3 overall picks in that draft in Luck Joeckel and Dion Jordan. Both were busts for their perspective teams but perhaps a change in scenery will change that. Seattle also signed the 61st player in that draft as well in RB Eddie Lacy.[iv] Lacy was a beast for several seasons, eclipsing over 1,000rushing yards in his 1st two years until health and weight became a problem. However, when fully healthy and in-shape he is a monster. His physical, punishing running style is something the Seahawks have been craving since Marshawn Lynch retired. Getting Lacy on a friendly one-year $4.25 million deal with only $3.5 million against the cap is a great deal. If Lacy works out he will be well worth the money, and Seattle could then sign him to a long-term deal, and if Lacy is unable to return to form the investment is small and short enough to not hurt the team financially. Adding a bruising back, a need heading into the offseason, on a team friendly contract is a nice risk/reward signing.
The other free agent move I appreciated was re-signing some core depth players in Neiko Thorpe, Luke Willson, and Deshawn Shead. Seattle needed depth in the secondary and were able to retain two contributors under modest contracts. Shead, and average starter, is coming off a serious knee injury and has a one-year “show me” contract, but adds depth and size at the position. Thorpe signed a two-year deal due to his potential and room for growth but again being 6’1” adds valuable depth and size at the position. Resigning TE Luke Willson was another smart move. With him on the roster, Seattle has a 3 solid TEs with unique skills, with Willson providing the deep threat from the TE position. Though these three signings lack splash or flare they allow Seattle to enter the draft with flexibility, without having to address these positions early in the draft, though I think they will. Finally, I like taking a one-year flyer on Dion Jordan. He is obviously extremely athletic having been selected #3 overall in 2013, he just wasn’t able to capitalize on his raw ability in Miami. One of the reasons I believe he was a bust in Miami is because he was asked to play the wrong position. Jordan is 6’6’’ 260lbs and played upright and in space at the University of Oregon as a 3-4 OLB, but the Dolphins trade to make him a 4-3 DE wanting him to gain weight and put his hand on the ground. The switch didn’t work out- he had trouble gaining weight and as a result I believe started taking PEDs to bulk up. Now with the Seahawks his best fit could be filling in the SAM linebacker role on 1st down, and then pass rushing on 3rd down. If the Seahawks try him at that position I think he has a good chance of making the team and having an impact.
Now that I discussed the free agent signings I liked I will now mention one signing that I didn’t. Seattle signed free agent Luke Joeckel to a one-year deal worth $8 million dollars with $7.25 million going against the cap to bolster their horrendous offensive line, easily the worst position group on the team. Adding offensive line help was a great move and necessary; however, not at the price. That contract makes Joeckel, a talented but underperforming bust who was an average LG last year, the 9th highest paid player on the team, ahead of guys like KJ Wright and Cliff Avril.[v] Joeckel has been below average every year he has been in the league and doesn’t show the promise he had coming out of Texas A&M. Last year he switched from LT to LG, but still underperformed grading at a 68.3 by Pro Football Focus.[vi] Giving that much money to a below average starter, although only one year offers very little value. The Seahawks are paying him what he could potentially be, not who he is. And if Joeckel does turn his career around Seattle will then have to pay him big money next year, meaning there is very little value in the deal. I would have preferred a two-year deal worth a total of $10 million to increase the upside at basically the same risk. However, with a weak offensive line draft class the market for offensive lineman has been expensive with most players getting well overpaid, so maybe this type of deal was not possible. Still, the contract has low upside for a pricey investment- I guess that’s the price you pay when desperate for offensive line help.
Another signing, or lack thereof, which I was surprised did not happen was signing a veteran DT. It seems almost every year Schneider bolsters the defensive line with a savvy veteran at great value… except this year. Not adding depth at that position, I believe forces Seattle to invest in that position with one of their first four picks in the draft. Being a need it was surprising that Seattle didn’t address that position when there are still decent players out there. Seattle should take a close look at DT/DE Jared Odrick who ranks as the 50th best free agent according to NFL.com.[vii] He is a year removed from having 5.5 sacks and would provide valuable pass rush and depth from the interior. At this point Seattle will probably wait till after the draft to sign a player where they will have more leverage thus making Obi Melifonwu the contract cheaper.
Overall Schneider did a good job in free agency filling out the roster so there are very little holes entering the draft. He bolstered Seattle’s two biggest need in Offensive line and cornerback in free agency, as well as adding young versatile players that can contribute to special teams. Nevertheless, this draft will be crucial for Seattle’s success and Seattle has a good chance of finding valuable starters with 4 picks in the top 110 selections. I see Seattle addressing the offensive line, defensive back, and the defensive line with three of these four picks. In the first round if the three big offensive lineman- Ryan Ramczyk, Garett Bolles, or Forrest Lamp- are off the board I wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle trades back to try and pick up a 4th or 5th round selection (which they don’t have this year). Many people have the Seahawks linked to S Obi Melifonwu out of UConn who has visited Seattle twice and could fall back in the draft to take him. If they select Melifonwu, I believe they see him able to play cornerback opposite Richard Sherman. I also like the idea of taking local kid CB Kevin King from Washingont, who fits Seattle’s mold of a tall, rangy, athletic corner. In the second and third rounds, I envision Seattle again addressing the line on either side of the ball. A couple of names to keep an eye on in these rounds are DE/OLB Tim Williams from Alabama, OG Taylor Moton from Western Michigan, CB Rasul Douglas from West Virginia, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, OT Dion Dawkins from Temple, and WR Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington. All players would answer team needs, have key measurables Seattle looks for, and would provide a some new skills to add to the team.
With Part I of the football offseason, free agency, almost over it is now time for part II, the draft, the most crucial time for every team. Seattle is positioned well having done a solid job filling out the roster with small, low risk investments. Though no high-end moves Seattle is again ready to maximize on the draft, focus on positions of weakness, and again look to improve the roster which is already one of the best in the NFL. Sometime after the draft I will post Part II of Seattle’s offseason and how they look heading into the season, stay tuned.