Since it's an over-simplification to classify players by just "re-sign" or "don't re-sign", I've decided to try and place each incumbent Seahawk in one of five tiers. Earlier I did a piece on the offense. Here is an explanation of my rough and very imprecise system:
Tier 1: Must-keep. Productive player, play-making, plenty of mileage left, and difficult or impossible to replace. Getting rid of them would be insane. (Example: Mike Williams)
Tier 2: Should-keep. Guys who are not necessarily world-beaters or irreplaceable, but are decent and contribute to an important spot and would only turn a mild hole into a gaping one if released. Also for over-performing role players. (Example: 2010 Ben Obomanu; 2009 Rob Sims and Josh Wilson)
Tier 3: Expendable. Good for depth or able to benefit from better health, a role change, or further development. Otherwise, quite replaceable. A Tier-2 player could find himself here if he plays a crucial position that demands better-than-average play.
Tier 4: Rookie pass. Rookies who haven't found their way into Tiers 1 or 2. No rookie is a bust after one season.
Tier 5: Should replace. Busts, non-contributing depth, and expensive underperformers. The team would most likely benefit from replacing them.
With defensive coordinator Gus Bradley retained for a third year, the pressure will be on to revive this defense from the bottom-five shaft it's spent two years in. The team claims to be focusing on the line, but too many of the back seven's problems are fundamental in nature and have nothing to do with the pass rush. This entire unit needs, and will experience, gutting.
And here is how I would rank each incumbent defensive and special-teams Seahawk from the 2010 season...
Earl Thomas, FS - Despite some coverage struggles and growing pains, Thomas has stupendous range and great intensity. He makes plays all over the field. Stardom awaits with experience and an effective pass rush.
Raheem Brock, DE - Coming off a rotational role, Brock had a career year and turned out to be a surprising force off the edge. He's already older than Patrick Kerney was when he hit the wall. If affordable, Brock offers versatility against both run and pass.
Red Bryant, DT/DE - Seattle will no doubt bring the big guy back in an attempt to re-create the early season magic. A little on the overrated side, but has astonishing quickness for a player his size. Could start tallying more coverage sacks with a more effective back seven in place.
Kam Chancellor, SS - The heir apparent to Lawyer Milloy didn't get a chance to show much in 2010, but had flashes of physicality, big plays, and special teams acumen. Needs to prove himself in coverage and play recognition. Plenty of potential there.
Chris Clemons, DE - Clemons is still under contract with Seattle and turns 30 during next season, so he could have quite a bit left in the tank. I wonder how much of his performance was the "Leo" role, and how much was Clemons himself. Still struggles a bit against the run and the receiver, which teams are quick to take advantage of, but a play-to-the-whistle kind of guy regardless.
Kennard Cox, CB - Amongst special-teamers, Cox is a Tier 2 guy with big tackles and turnovers. Just don't start him on defense.
Clint Gresham, LS - Lost in the chaos of 2010 is the fact that nobody's been complaining about the long snapper position for a while now. About time.
Roy Lewis, CB - An admirable replacement for Josh Wilson, Lewis had a knack for defending important passes and coming up with special-teams plays. Teams should never ignore the value of lesser role-players like this. We need to clone him. (Again, he's Tier 2 relative to his own position, not better than Lofa Tatupu.)
Olindo Mare, K - Missed a few crucial kicks but didn't get thrown under the bus for it this year. Probably best known for repeatedly making the same field goal after being driven back by not one, but two 10-yard penalties on the same attempt. Definitely still worth re-signing.
Brandon Mebane, DT - Putting him here is painful, but Mebane is being played out of position for the second straight year and has lost his impact as a result. His skill set make him an extra-toolsy 1-tech, not a 3-tech. Perhaps the departure of D-line coach Dan Quinn will see Mebane return to the position where he's succeeded before.
Jon Ryan, P - Only one touchback this year. Very consistent for the sheer amount of work he gets. Still might be out-kicking his coverage.
Marcus Trufant, CB - Reliable open-field tackling kept him in Tier 2 just barely, as did being exposed by lack of pass rush. But Trufant just hasn't been the same the last two years. He's now approaching elder status and the coverage burns are starting to appear.
Jordan Babineaux, S - Still good for a Big Play every five blown coverages or so. Fan favorite or not, knack for being in the right place at the right time or not, Babs has too many holes in his basic game. This struggling coverage unit needs more.
Kentwan Balmer, DT/DE - Seems to have left his attitude behind in San Francisco, but Red Bryant he ain't. Remains one of the better candidates for rotational 3-tech.
Colin Cole, DT - Benefited enough from the hybrid 4-3 to avoid the label of "weakest link" in 2010, but still has zero value as a pass rusher and is still displacing Brandon Mebane from his strongest position. He wasn't as big a factor against the run as some claim.
Aaron Curry, OLB - I can't bring myself to call him a flat-out bust, but I don't have to. Sometimes a player and a team just aren't good for each other. Curry can defend the run and jam tight ends, but he doesn't cover or rush the passer well and so worsens the two biggest deficiencies of this D as a whole. He needs a big third year. And a long break from Twitter.
Amon Gordon, DT/DE - Has been on and off this team for months and doesn't seem to be sticking, but that's what I said about Frank Okam and Michael Bennett. Darned Bucs.
David Hawthorne, OLB - Coverage whiffs, spotty containment, and inflated tackle numbers from the fact that he's an OLB and teams aren't afraid to run or pass at him. Great tackler and good for occasional fumbles, but like Curry, he shares and magnifies the defense's weaknesses. He could still improve and is great depth. Signed through 2011.
Will Herring, OLB - Like most of the defense, he alternates big plays with big plays given up. His background as a safety hasn't translated to coverage in the NFL, and he draws too many key penalties. Again, good depth and valuable on special teams.
Matt McCoy, LB - Decent nuts-and-bolts guy. Suddenly developed an on-field temper late in the season, don't know what that was about. Not much impact beyond that.
Junior Siavii, DT - Not bad as a rotational run defender. Carroll gets good mileage out of other teams' castoffs.
Lofa Tatupu, LB -His leadership and intangibles aren't translating to a good defense, and he himself is struggling with injury and slowness. Needs to get back into form quickly, because his contributions right now are easily overlooked.
Craig Terrill, LB - Another one-dimensional defensive tackle who tends to deflate against the run. Should such a player be kept around for his value in blocking field goals? (That's actually a serious question.)
Dexter Davis, DE - Given very little chance to gain experience as the backup Leo he was drafted to be. Could shift to linebacker.
Anthony Heygood, LB - Was starting to make some noise in training camp before being IR'ed. The team could certainly use every LB camp body it can find, so expect to see him again.
Anthony McCoy, TE - Still some potential peeking through all the adversity from college. Would be nice if he could manage a week or two off the injury list.
Walter Thurmond, CB - Didn't get a whole lot of playing time, which is perhaps good. Looked lost on the field quite a bit, but was still rated as high as a second-rounder in the draft. Has recovered fully from his injury and should be looked to as a future starter.
Marcus Brown, CB
Leroy Hill, LB - Has declined to the point where he provides nothing that Seattle's D doesn't already have, except negative publicity. A shame to see such a fine player fall this far, especially after a good start.
Kelly Jennings, CB - Vulnerable in any kind of physical coverage, unable to withstand blocks, too light to reliably tackle, prone to simple inside moves, and notorious for never making plays on the ball. Even Jimmy Clausen found success picking on Jennings.
Lawyer Milloy, SS - It's hard to imagine this NFL elder having much left in the tank. 2010 was brutal on him. He's served the Seahawks admirably and more than deserves retirement. Seattle would miss his experience and play-reading savvy, but they do have his successor in place.
Joe Pawelek, LB - Better depth is both needed and available.
Josh Pinkard, CB - See above.
Jay Richardson, DE - The least adept of the Red Bryant Succession Corps, Richardson got blown back and sideways an awful lot. Seattle looks primed to target the position in the draft, so there's not much room for him.
Tier 1: 1
Tier 2: 11
Tier 3: 11
Tier 4: 4
Tier 5: 8
What do you think?