What to Expect in Free Agency

[This article was supposed to be published yesterday -- it was written just before the lockout ended -- but after updating it for the billionth time to reflect new personnel moves I decided to wait until the roster stopped moving last night to finish editing.  I'm sure things will start changing again as soon as this article goes live, but it's current as of this morning. -Ed.]

Until this week, I’ve been just sitting around the house bored out of my mind.  I need football, and I’ve been going through withdrawals.  How bad, you ask?  Let me put it this way: I was so hard up for entertainment this last weekend that I took my wife to the latest Harry Potter flick. I’ve also been spending a lot of time teaching my son the finer points of the zone blocking scheme the Hawks are going to run this season.  He’s a little shy of three years old and can’t even say “zone blocking scheme” without adding “dang gum” (it’s a Cars reference) to the phrase, but it’s never to early to learn.

It’s because of those withdrawals that I decided to scour the internet to figure out what the Hawks should do once the season finally began, and now that the NFL has left the courtroom and gotten back to football it’ll be interesting to see how close any of this guesswork comes.  Hey, it was either this or start going to Wal-Mart at one in the morning just to people watch.  Good times.

(To continue reading, please click on “Read More” below.)

Roster Churn

By now, most Seahawks fans are well acquainted with the way the new front office likes to churn the roster.  It seemed like every day last season the team would release four or five players and sign ten more.  I’m starting to think that a big reason that John Schneider and his staff went with that strategy was because they wouldn’t have to worry about the effect of all those moves on their salary cap.  Normally, a front office has to consider the future financial impact of every move they make, but 2010 was an uncapped year. 

Even with a salary cap back in place I think we’ll still a lot of roster moves, especially since the offseason has been shortened so much.  In fact, I expect that Seattle won’t be the only team churning through its roster as everyone frantically attempts to evaluate as many players as possible during training camp.  This means in the next few weeks we could see a lot of teams cut promising players on the basis of a handful of training camp workouts; if our scouting department is better than most, we could end up finding a lot of treasure digging through the rest of the league’s trash.

High-Priced Players and Restructured Contracts

The Seahawks have a few players whose contracts are too expensive.  Stacy Andrews, for instance, was just cut because he was due to be paid $5.25 million this season (the whole contract was worth a whopping $38.9 million over its entire length).  After the Hawks spent a first round pick in April on their new right tackle of the future, there was no longer a place for Andrews and his massive price tag.  Lofa Tatupu and Marcus Trufant also have larger contracts, and neither has really played well enough lately to justify the money they’re earning.  Trufant is starting to show his age and Tatupu has been hurt way too often, but expect to see them restructure their contracts rather than be cut like Andrews.

Free Agency

We know that the Seahawks have needs at multiple positions, thanks in part to a lot of contracts that expired at the end of last season.  What follows is my attempt at fleshing out some of those needs.

Quarterback (previous article): The 12th Man as a whole is hoping that the Hawks can pull off a miracle in this area.  The team needed a QB who could push Charlie Whitehurst for the starting job, and while some people wanted to see Vince Young or Matt Leinart get the nod the name that ended up emerging was Tarvaris Jackson, who was clearly willing to team up with his old offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell once again.  There are also the two undrafted rookie signings, Josh Portis and Zach Lee, but they are both more likely to be developmental prospects than serious competition for the starting job.

Like Whitehurst, Jackson fits every comment we’ve ever heard about the type of QB that Pete Carroll prefers: mobile, athletic, and strong-armed.  I know there are some serious doubts about Jackson’s ability to be a legitimate starting NFL QB, but he’s also got the benefit of already knowing the new offense Bevell will be installing in Seattle.  Honestly, I’m not sure whether I’d rather have Jackson or Clipboard Jesus under center.

There are also still some rumors out there about Carson Palmer being a viable option, but Jackson’s signing makes a trade deal of that size unlikely, plus the Bengals’ owner Mike Brown would rather see Palmer retire than trade him to another team.

Offensive Line (OT and Interior Line articles): Headed into this week, the Seahawks were set at four out of five positions on the offensive line, and with Robert Gallery reportedly coming to Seattle to reunite with his old o-line coach Tom Cable the last hole on the line appears to be filled.  Depth is another matter, though.  With Andrews now out of the picture, the Seahawks are likely going to need to re-sign Tyler Polumbus to a new contract (he’s currently a restricted free agent).  The depth at the guard position is even worse, but I expect to see the Hawks address these needs in the next few weeks.

Defensive Line (DE and DT articles): The team has far too many holes along the defensive line for them to wait to address this area of need.  Currently, I have no idea as to how this one is likely to shake out in free agency.

Wide Receiver (previous article): [I decided not to update this section, just so everyone can see how spot-on Tom’s predictions were here.  Y’know, credit where credit’s due and all that. –Ed.] I know that this article is about what we can expect to happen in the coming weeks, but I can’t help myself on this subject.  I really feel that the Seahawks are going to make a splash in this area during free agency.  I also think there’s a real chance that the Hawks could go after Sidney Rice.  The front office didn’t do much last offseason to hide its desire to sign a true number one wideout, and I don’t think that Big Mike Williams was able to fully satisfy that need.  They’re going to want someone like Rice to complement BMW on the other side of the field.

Here’s a quick list of the other previous free agency articles:

Special Teams
Tight End and Running Back
Fullback
Cornerback
Safety
Linebacker

Salary Cap Changes

Thanks to a new salary cap floor being established, the Seahawks are going to need to spend some money in free agency this year.  According to John Clayton, Seattle is going to have to spend roughly $39 million on signing free agents and re-signing its own players.

This change also means that every NFL team will be hog-tied into conduct business in a similar manner, which will be hardest on small market teams that don’t generate a lot of revenue.  Forcing those teams to spend more on players means scrimping in other areas like coaches’ salaries and upgrades to team facilities.  Luckily, the Seahawks have the richest owner in the league, plus the VMAC is one of the very best training facilities in the NFL.  Put those two together and the Seahawks could be looking at a significant advantage over more cash-strapped teams.  Revenue sharing should help mitigate this disparity somewhat, but that’s hard to judge without knowing the exact figures in the new CBA.

Improvement in the Run Game

We know that Carroll wants to emphasize the run game more this season, and we’re already seeing that focus in the players the Seahawks have acquired.  The two offensive linemen the team drafted have gotten a lot of praise for their run-blocking prowess, and last year’s full stable of running backs (Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and Leon Washington) will be returning to carry the ball behind the revamped o-line.  The new OL coach Tom Cable will also be bringing an added level of quality and toughness to the running game.

The Seahawks will thrive or die based on this commitment.  I think we’d all love to see the Hawks return to the Mike Holmgren glory years when they could line up on offense, announce to the entire stadium exactly where they were going to run, and then proceed to do so.  There’s nothing better than watching your favorite team smack their opponent in the mouth knowing that there’s not a thing that other team can do about it.

An improvement here will help in other areas as well.  First off, it’ll allow our defense to get off the field and rest.  Too many times in the last three years the offense’s failures have left the defense to spend the majority of the game on the field, especially late into games.  A strong run game will help our defense stay fresh and competitive while the other team’s defense gets worn down to the point that the players care more about sucking oxygen on the sidelines than they do about stopping our running backs.

Secondly, a good run game takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback’s shoulders.  If the running game is doing its job, then you don’t need the QB to come in and win every game on passing alone.  If we only need a game manager-style quarterback to be successful on the field, then that also means that we don’t have to cross our fingers and hope that our team bombs in 2011 so they can get a shot at drafting an expensive franchise QB.

But mostly, I can’t wait to see more of the “Beast Quake,” especially if it gets unleashed on our NFC West rivals.  But now that you’ve heard me out, what do you guys think about all this?

P.S. The Harry Potter movie was actually pretty good.  [I didn’t like it that much, but then again I was rooting for Voldemort.  Someone's got to root for the homicidal melty-faced bad guy, right?  -Ed.]

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