According to multiple sources, including the team itself, the Seahawks have signed both Leroy Hill and Matt McCoy to one year contracts. I guess this means that someone over at the VMAC finally noticed the roster was thin on linebackers.
After injuries and off-the-field problems all but derailed his career, it was a minor miracle that Leroy Hill was asked to return at all last season, let alone earn back his old starting outside linebacker position. Hill made the most of his second chance by producing on the field — he ended the season with 89 tackles (the fourth-highest total on the team1) and 4 sacks — and by not missing a single regular season game to injury, something he hadn’t done since his rookie year back in 2005 had failed to do in his previous six NFL seasons [Apparently if you stare at a computer screen long enough, the number 15 starts to look a whole lot like a 16. Whoops. -Ed.]. In fact, according to Rotoworld he played 87% of the Seahawks’ defensive snaps last year, which may very well be the most durable he’s ever been in his entire career. All of that should have combined to land Hill a modestly-sized contract with Seattle or elsewhere, but a new drug-related arrest earlier this offseason scuttled those hopes. The charges were later dismissed, but the damage was already done, and the Seahawks were likely the only team willing to sign him at any price at all. Hill turns 30 in September, so the odds of him repeating his 16-game feat in 2012 are not good, but he should do just fine as a cheap, reliable placeholder who can hold down the weakside linebacker job for another season or two until someone better comes along.
Honestly, I’m much more excited about the prospect of Matt McCoy returning, which probably deserves some explanation. First off, I’m not saying this because I think McCoy is a better player. On the contrary, McCoy is less physically gifted than Hill, he has just 13 career starts to Hill’s 77, and he’s spent the majority of his career as a special teamer, which is all the more disappointing when you consider that the Eagles used their second round pick on him back in ’05. By any rational measure, Hill is a more intimidating, more productive, and more accomplished linebacker than McCoy has ever been or ever will be.
No, what excites me about McCoy is what Gus Bradley and the Seahawks’ defensive staff were doing with McCoy before Aaron Curry destroyed his knee on a special teams play and ended his season2. I know I’ve mentioned this several times before, but McCoy had carved out a niche for himself as the designated middle linebacker in the team’s nickel coverage package, a formation they ended up using on over a third of their defensive snaps in 2011. You see, McCoy may have washed out in Philadelphia because of his inability to play the run (the guy couldn’t shed a blocker if his life depended on it), but he’s always been well above average when it comes to instincts and coverage skills.
By making him a part of the nickel defense, Bradley et al were able to make sure McCoy would only be on the field on obvious passing downs, thereby playing to his strengths and minimizing the chances of the other team taking advantage of his weaknesses. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but Bill Belichick has five Super Bowl rings to his name in large part because he’s a master at taking fundamentally limited players, figuring out the one or two things they’re especially good at, and then tailoring his schemes in such a way that those players are only ever put in situations where they’re asked to do those few, specific things. Seeing the Seahawks take that same tack with McCoy may be a small thing, but it’s a good sign that this coaching staff might just have what it takes to hoist a Lombardi or two of their own in the not-too-distant future.
1 The top three were David Hawthorne (115), Earl Thomas (96), and Kam Chancellor (95).
2 Sometimes I wonder if it was that play that convinced the powers that be down in Oakland that Curry belonged in a Raiders uniform. “Holy crap, he destroyed his own teammate’s knee for no good reason at all? That’s all I needed to hear. I don’t care what it costs, you get someone up there in Seattle on the phone and make this trade happen tonight, you got that? Oh, and tell my secretary on your way out to bring me a fresh infant, would you? Wait, better make that two — I skipped breakfast this morning.”