2011 Free Agents: DT

I trade a lot of quips with a guy I work with, mainly regarding a person’s weight.  I’m a little heavy for my height (5’11”, 235 lbs) — not all fat, but I’m not all muscle, either.  He, on the other hand, is super skinny and couldn’t add weight even if he wanted to.  He makes fun of my rotund nature, and I tell him that he is motivation for crack addicts who want to go on a diet.  It’s due to this fun working relationship that I’ve decided I like heavy people better.  They always seem happy to me, while skinny people like my coworker seem grumpy and upset all the time.  (I realize I’m guilty of stereotyping here, but I have to admit to it before I can deal with it, right?)

This view carries over to my affinity for linemen over skill players.  Skill players in the NFL seem like self-centered divas a lot of the time, whereas the linemen appear more laid back, like they’re just hanging out until it’s time to go to the next party.  Compare Terrell Owens to Warren Sapp and I think you’ll have a good idea of what I’m talking about.

The Seahawks have five big boys on the defensive line hitting free agency plus a tendered Brandon Mebane who might also be on his way out.  This means there might be a lot of free agency moves along the d-line coming up.  I also find it interesting that the Hawks didn’t take any defensive linemen higher than they did in the 2011 draft, since the talent pool was supposed to be very deep at those positions.  In fact, the one defensive lineman they chose, Lazarius Levingston, looks like he’ll be used mainly as depth behind Red Bryant.

In the past six drafts, the Seahawks have selected nine defensive linemen, including Bryant in 2008 and Mebane in 2007.  During that same time period, the team traded for six d-linemen (including DE Chris Clemons last season) and signed eleven in free agency (including Colin Cole in 2009).  I think we can expect that trend is going to continue for awhile under Pete Carroll, at least until he starts to feel more comfortable with the starting talent and depth along the d-line.

Every position along Seattle’s defensive line needs to be bolstered through free agency this offseason, but since the Leo position was covered in the DE free agency article I’ll be focusing on the remaining three: the strong-side DE, the 1-tech DT, and the 3-tech DT.  The strong-side position is technically supposed to be a defensive end lined up in the 5-tech position [i.e. on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle -Ed.], but as Red Bryant so capably proved last year, defensive tackles can fill the position just fine.  In essence, the 5-tech DE in Carroll’s 4-3 Leo scheme gives the team three DTs on the defensive line instead of the two DTs employed by a more traditional 4-3.  Using a DT at the 5-tech position allows the team to anchor well against the run, but that DT also needs to be versatile enough to rush the passer effectively.

With Colin Cole still under contract, the starter at the one-tech DT position appears to be set.  He’s considered a great nose tackle (0-tech) for a 3-4 scheme because he eats up space and blockers.  He doesn’t get much push, but in a 3-4 you just need someone to use his girth to clog up the middle while the defensive ends and four linebackers handle the pass rush through a variety of blitz packages.  However, Cole’s tendency to become an immovable object instead of getting a push is a problem in a 4-3 scheme because it needs a 1-tech who can collapse the pocket and contribute to the pass rush.

Brandon Mebane was great as a 1-tech, and I personally believe (along with a tone of other people in the Seahawks blog universe) that Cole’s signing has forced Mebane to play out of position for the last few years.  In 2009, Tim Ruskell and Jim Mora assumed that Mebane would be a great 3-tech because he was able to get penetration from the 1-tech spot.  He played at almost an all-pro level at the 1-tech position, but since being moved to the 3-tech he’s been just all right.  In my opinion, the Seahawks could solve this problem by finding a great 3-tech and signing him.  That move would allow Mebane to slide back over to his more natural 1-tech position and free up Colin Cole to rotate in on obvious rushing downs where he excels.

If the Seahawks are going to land a stud 3-tech they’re going to have to do it in free agency, but it will cost them.  With the emergence of the quick passing game and its 3 and 5 step drops, coaches started to realize that end rushers on their own just don’t have the time to hunt down the quarterback that they used to have.  Even the fastest edge rusher isn’t going to be able to disrupt a 3 step drop easily.  That’s why 4-3 defenses need a good 3-tech DT who can crash through the offensive line and cause havoc in the backfield.  A 3-tech who can get penetration on a regular basis can freak a QB out by getting in his face in a hurry, forcing erratic throws and cries for mommy.  Judging by the number of interior d-linemen who have been picked at the tops of the last few drafts, there are a lot of NFL teams who covet that kind of ability.

Thanks to last season’s display of a total lack of depth, Seattle’s front office has to know that finding and keeping defensive line talent is a huge priority, but they didn’t do much in the draft to improve this area of need.  I think they plan to use a mix of undrafted and veteran free agents to add depth and talent to the roster.  I’m not against this plan just because the holes the Seahawks had to fill this offseason far outnumbered their draft picks — there was no way they were going to be able to avoid having to fill some through free agency.  Still, the fact that free agency has yet to happen isn’t helping things much.  When free agency does finally start I expect the Hawks to sit out the first weekend until the huge, ridiculous money signings get out of the way.  Schneider is from a Green Bay organization that always looked for bargains in free agency, which is in direct contrast to the glitz and glamour that Ruskell went for.  The Seahawks currently have one of the lowest salary loads in the NFL, which will allow them to add a lot of free agent help this offseason.

Brandon Mebane (SEA)
26 years old, 6’1”, 311 lbs

At only 6’1”, Mebane has the natural leverage and wicked quickness to give interior linemen fits.  He’s as underrated as they come, although when you look at his numbers it’s easy to see why he’s often snubbed when discussions of the best defensive tackles come up.  Mebane has the work ethic and tools to be a dominant defensive tackle for the next decade, and he’s been a big part of the Seahawks’ run defense the last few seasons.  We need to re-sign Mebane.  I know that a lot of the 12th Man will be very upset if he’s allowed to walk away from the Hawks, especially if they only get a third round pick in return.

Aubrayo Franklin (SF)
30 years old, 6’1”, 317 lbs

Though not as terrific as he was in ’09, Franklin had another strong season as nose tackle for the 49ers.  He was late to report to training camp after being slapped with a franchise tag, and if the Niners don’t reward him this year with a long term contract he won’t hesitate to go elsewhere.  That’s assuming he won’t have a franchise tag placed on him again this year, but who knows if we’ll even still have free agent tags in the new CBA.  He could be useful to the Hawks.

Pat Williams (MIN)
38 years old, 6’3”, 317 lbs

There’s no reason why the Hawks should sign Williams.  I’m sure he could still be helpful on a rotational basis, but he’s very old for a free agent (he’s the league’s oldest defensive player) and I’m not sure that the benefit of having him on the team would be worth the cost of signing him.  Still, recent comments by Williams make it sound like he’s ready to play next year, and he continued to play at a productive level last year even though the Vikings were having a disappointing season.  He’s ready to return to the Vikings if they want him, but he’s predicted a “rough” transition for the team and is open to leaving Minnesota to join a Super Bowl contender.

Shaun Cody (HOU)
28 years old, 6’4”, 306 lbs

Cody played for Carroll at USC.  If Carroll thinks highly of him, I believe he’ll end up with the Hawks.  He’s long enough to play the 5-tech spot and stout enough to to help out at both interior d-line spots.  I think he could be great depth for us, or better yet fill in on a rotational basis.

Other Notable Free Agents:
Anthony Adams (UFA) – Chicago
Alan Branch (UFA) – Arizona
Desmond Bryant (UFA) – Oakland
Tim Bulman (UFA) – Houston
Barry Cofield (UFA) – NY Giants
Ron Edwards (UFA) – Kansas City
Fred Evans (UFA) – Minnesota
Jonathan Fanene (UFA) – Cincinnati
Ronald Fields (UFA) – Denver
Andre Fluellen (RFA) – Detroit
Eric Foster (RFA) – Indianapolis
Gary Gibson (UFA) – St. Louis
Kedric Golston (UFA) – Washington
John Henderson UFA) – Oakland
Chris Hovan (UFA) – St. Louis
Antonio Johnson (UFA) – Indianapolis
Ed Johnson (RFA) – Carolina
Tank Johnson (UFA) – Cincinnati
Derek Landri (UFA) – Carolina
Damione Lewis (UFA) – Houston
Trey Lewis (RFA) – Atlanta
John McCargo (UFA) – Buffalo
Tony McDaniel (UFA) – Miami
Daniel Muir (UFA) – Indianapolis
Darryl Richard (RFA) – New England
Bryan Robinson (UFA) – Arizona
Clifton Ryan (UFA) – St. Louis
Junior Siavii (UFA) – Seattle
Shaun Smith (UFA) – Kansas City
Craig Terrill (UFA) – Seattle
Marcus Thomas (UFA) – Denver
Kevin Vickerson (UFA) – Denver
Gerard Warren (UFA) – New England
Gabe Watson (UFA) – Arizona

Thanks goes to Football’s Future for the list of free agents.