2011 Free Agents: Safety

[After spending the last week-plus moving into a new home, I’ve finally got my internet service installed at the new place and can get back to work here on the site.  As you have all noticed, during my brief absence spam messages have been piling up like snowdrifts in the comments, and I apologize for that.  When the site reverted to the old comment system to make it easier for you guys to post, it also made it easier for spammers to hawk their terrible wares all over the place.  Since the switchover I’ve made a habit of spending a few minutes at the end of each day deleting any new spam that crops up, but when I’m not able to do that for a few days the result is a flood of junk for everyone to wade through.

On another note, I’ve been receiving more complaints about the “Read More” link not functioning properly for everyone, especially people trying to read the site on their iPhones and the like.  The jealousy center in my brain wants me to turn a blind eye to your rich man “hey look at me I have an internet capable phone” problems (I’m still using the cheapo free one that came with my bargain basement plan four years ago), but thankfully the more rational part of me that doesn’t want to alienate readers won out.  Until the problem can be resolved, the full text of every article from hereon out will be available on the front page of the site. -Ed.]

Now that Kris Richards has taken over the defensive backs coach job, it will be interesting to see if he makes any changes to how the Seahawks have conducted business in the past.  Since 2008, the team has kept an average of four safeties on the roster.  As of right now, we have three safeties under contract (Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and James Brindley) and two safeties who are currently free agents (Lawyer Milloy and Jordan Babineaux).

Earl Thomas is a stud in the making (I’m not ready to say that he’s already become one, but he’s definitely on the right track).  He was one of the youngest players in the draft last year, and now he’s just 21 years old and already has one year of NFL experience.  Thomas is signed through the next four years, so we are set at free safety for the time being.

At strong safety, however, the team has some question marks.  The previous starter at the position, Lawyer Milloy, is a free agent and the Hawks can’t do anything about that until the new CBA is finalized.  Personally, I think Milloy played really well for us last year, and on top of that he was a great mentor for Thomas.  I don’t think the importance of that can be overstated; anytime you can have an older, savvy vet around to show a promising youngster how to prepare, how to break down video, what he should pay attention to on the field (and what he can safely ignore), and how to maintain his body through the long NFL season, you’re setting the younger player up for a great career.  I’d love to see Milloy return to Seattle, even if he would no longer be starting.  If a promising younger guy like Kam Chancellor (who saw action last year in the Bandit package and on special teams) beats him out in training camp, Milloy can still provide quality depth and continue his role as a valuable player/coach.

Thomas and Chancellor are the likely future of our safety position.  But even if they both develop in the manner we hope they will, the team is still going to need depth behind them — every starter on the team should be challenged for the role by his backups.  If Pete Carroll is going to chant his “Always Compete” mantra, then let’s see it actually happen.  What fan wouldn’t want to see backups on the roster who could make the Pro Bowl?  Even if we had both Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu starting for Seattle, I’d still want to see the Hawks both pursue quality depth in free agency to back them up as well as draft players for the position who have both the talent to succeed and a realistic chance of developing into high-quality contributors.

After reflecting on our current situation at safety, this is what I’d like to see happen in free agency.  First, I’d like to see Milloy and Babineaux re-signed so that the secondary has some consistency in its personnel.  Along with his usual big plays, Babs is also adaptable enough to play every position in the defensive backfield, and Milloy is the wily veteran who can teach the young guys how to carry themselves.  Secondly, I’d like to see the team use a late-round draft pick on a kid who hurt his draft stock by getting hurt or messing up off the field. 

Lastly, I’m not so sure I’d like to see the Seahawks pursue any other free agent safeties.  It isn’t that I want to upgrade the position, because I do, but I’d rather keep the younger guys we already have and see how they grow and develop next season.  In terms of raw potential, the safety position is one of the brightest spots on the entire roster.  I have faith that Chancellor will develop and become the Robin to Thomas’ Batman, he just needs time to bring his skills to fruition.

That being said, could an addition in free agency make the safety position even stronger?  You bet it could, so let’s take a look at who is available.

Quintin Mikell (PHI)
30 years old, 5’10”, 206 lbs
This guy has made the Pro Bowl once and been named to the second team twice, plus he has a little Super Bowl experience (2004).  He’s one of the better starting strong safeties in the NFL.  He’s a little older than we’d like to see in a free agent pickup, but he should have two to four good seasons left in him.  Mikell doesn’t give me goose bumps, but pairing him up with Earl Thomas could be very cool.  However, I have a feeling that he is going to want to be paid more than we’re willing to give him.

Roman Harper (NO)
29 years old, 6’1”, 200 lbs
I’ve had my doubts about Harper ever since I saw John Carlson fake him out of a touchdown last season.  I remember hearing an interview with Carlson after that game in which he said that this was a tendency of Harper’s which they intentionally exploited.  I know that was just one play, but even so I don’t have any desire to see Harper in Seahawks blue.

Eric Weddle (SD)
26 years old, 5’11”, 200 lbs
Weddle is a good all-around safety who can play the run as effectively as he can the pass.  He’s got a lot of potential which appears to have gone largely untapped; he didn’t make any amazing plays last year, but there are a lot of people around the league who expect him to continue to improve.  The biggest compliment you hear about him is his athleticism.  Due to his relatively young age, I’d be interested to hear what his asking price is in free agency.  If it isn’t a lot, I would love to add him.

Dawan Landry (BAL)
28 years old, 6’0”, 210 lbs
Dawan had a bounce-back season in 2010, showing the same stellar form he displayed as a rookie.  Back in 2008, he suffered what could have been a career-ending spinal concussion injury while tackling running back Jamal Lewis, and in 2009 he was still recovering.  Although he is already 28, he could still be a good strong safety pickup.  After playing with Ed Reed he knows how to support a game-changing free safety, and that experience could help Earl Thomas a lot.

Tanard Jackson (TB)
25 years old, 6’0”, 200 lbs
Jackson is a young stud of a safety.  However, as you might guess from his indefinite suspension after the second game of the 2010 season, he isn’t the brightest star out there.  Currently, he isn’t eligible to hit the field until September 22, 2011, which means that whoever signs him in free agency is going to be taking a gamble.  He won’t be able to participate in spring training, putting him at a huge disadvantage. 

Most people will look at Jackson and decide that he isn’t worth the time, but the Seahawks could view him as an investment.  He is going to come fairly cheap, and if he can be signed to an incentive-laden contract like Mike Williams he could be an amazing find.  I know John Schneider loves a bargain in free agency, and Jackson could be just that bargain.

Bernard Pollard (HOU)
26 years old, 6’1”, 228 lbs
Pollard is Kam Chancellor 2.0: a massive safety who is amazing in run support but horrible in pass defense.  That weakness in his game led the Chiefs to cut him in 2008.  If a defense already has a great set of cornerbacks, then they could plan around a safety who struggles against the pass, but the Texans and Seahawks both have the same weakness at corner.  I really don’t want to see the team sign Pollard.  We already have a project in Chancellor, and we don’t need another.

Atari Bigby (GB)
29 years old, 5’11”, 213 lbs
After causing Marcus Pollard to fumble a key pass during the playoff game against the Packers a few years ago, Bigby is already well known to the 12th Man.  He is injury-prone, but if he can get past that he could be a decent starter who could bridge the gap until Chancellor is able to start.  Bigby is a bruiser, and he’s well known for his big hits.

Other Notable Free Agents:
Matt Ware (ARZ)
Haruki Nakamura (BAL)
Tom Zbikowski (BAL)
George Wilson (BUF)
Gerald Alexander (CAR)
Chinedum Ndukwe (CIN)
Gibril Wilson (CIN)
Danieal Manning (CHI)
Abram Elam (CLE)
Sabby Piscitelli (CLE)
Alan Ball (DAL)
Gerald Sensabaugh (DAL)
Charlie Peprah (GB)
Anthony Smith (GB)
Melvin Bullitt (IND)
Sean Considine (JAC)
Tyrell Johnson (MIN)
Husain Abdullah (MIN)
Brandon McGowan (NE)
Jarrad Page (NE)
Darren Sharper (NO)
Michael Johnson (NYG)
Deon Grant (NYG)
Brodney Pool (NYJ)
Eric Smith (NYJ)
Reed Doughty (WAS)

Again, I want to stress that safety is not a strong need for Seattle.  I’d like to see the Hawks sign the free agents they already have, then focus their remaining dollars on filling other, more pressing needs on the roster.  With the exception of Tanard Jackson, there aren’t any names on this list that really pique my interest.  Given his checkered past, he could be signed at a bargain rate.  If he works out, then great, but if he doesn’t then the team isn’t out much money.  Everyone else is going to be overpriced for the Seahawks’ needs.  If you have an opinion on the matter that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.