When it comes to evaluating a player's worth to a team, I have trouble breaking players down into just "sign" or "don't re-sign". It isn't that simple. Some players' value depends on scheme, others' on age, others on price, still others on the talent around them. Some guys need further time to grow, others have injuries to heal from. It also matters how important the player's position is, and how hard the position is to fill. There are plenty of players whose worth to a team isn't summed up in "he's good" or "he's bad".
After thinking about it a while, I decided to try sticking players into a five-tiered system of value. Here's how it works.
Tier 1: Must-keep. Productive, 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.
The biggest X-factor here is new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and how he views our personnel. He is supposedly going to retain much of Seattle's scheme, but judging from his time with the Vikings, he's also likely to emphasize the run game, call plays less rigidly, and get creative with his weapons. And as usual, Carroll's competition mantra makes it harder for almost any player to lock down a spot on the roster, which might drop a few players down the pyramid a bit.
And here is how I would rank each incumbent offensive Seahawk from the 2010 season...
Russell Okung, LT - On his way to great things.
Leon Washington, RB - I've been worried since Week 3 that Leon is going to skip town in favor of an offense that will feature him more and make better use of the return yardage he offers. Bevell could be that guy. Shell out, Seattle.
Mike Williams, WR - Not only an incredible story and surprising locker-room leader, but even now underrated by a few. His regular-season numbers lie, masked by scheme issues, injuries, and a number of catches that were denied as touchdowns only by circumstance. There were touchdowns in the playoffs, and Schneider was not slow to re-sign him.
Justin Forsett, RB - Lacks elite speed and thus elite status, but a terrific complement to a power RB and a legit weapon in the passing game. Terrific footwork and elusivity. Hard to argue with that kind of value from a seventh-rounder.
Mike Gibson, G - Improved from unremarkable backup to borderline starter in 2010. Sufficient pass-blocker, surprisingly decent run-blocker. Definitely a competition candidate for next year.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB - He is not the future of the Seahawks and should not be given a long or heavy contract. He is, however, a safe option in the event that Seattle cannot find a starting quarterback in the draft or obtain one of the few decent free-agent options. Also, Bevell is probably the best fit for Hasselbeck since Mike Holmgren left.
Marshawn Lynch, RB - Even after "The Run", Lynch has a higher plateau of production to reach and some key gaffes to make people forget about. But he has yet to run behind a cohesive line, and there's no denying his high intensity and infectious attitude. Feature backs are becoming more and more of a relic anyway. Bring on Beast Mode!
Ben Obomanu, WR - One of the out-of-nowheres that showed Carroll's willingness to develop existing talent rather than rely on his revolving door. Obo has the tools, great toughness, a rapport with Hasselbeck, and immense value on special teams.
Tyler Polumbus, T - Solid depth guy at almost any line position, possible starter at right tackle. Has exceeded the expectations he carried coming out of Denver. Carroll and Schneider can find even backup tackles better than the last regime.
Chris Spencer, C - Has finally broken out into the upper tier of centers despite a truckload of adversity (injuries, scheme changes, being scapegoated by two head coaches in a row). Why throw out years of development now?
Brandon Stokely, WR - Some guys just march right in and click with your quarterback. Stokley is 35, yes, but was 34 last year and it didn't stop him. He still looks tough to me and is near-automatic on third downs.
Stacy Andrews, G/T - Not great shakes at guard, but a better fit for the needy right tackle spot. Seattle is now the second straight team to play him out of position.
Chris Baker, TE - Disappointed in the passing game. Good blocker, but one-dimensional tight ends aren't much of a commodity.
Deon Butler, WR - I'm starting to doubt he'll ever become a viable weapon in this league. He's just too small to withstand jams at the line or make catches in traffic. Won't find much use as a deep threat with Hasselbeck under center. Also disappointed as a return man.
John Carlson, TE - Badly regressed - disappeared, in fact - for 2010, though he showed some blocking improvement. Could have had something to do with being a new father. Could re-emerge with a more consistent scheme, better receiving talent, and/or a line that doesn't need him to block as much.
Ruvell Martin, WR - Made some surprising contributions this season, but those contributions can be matched by a lot of receivers. Still valuable as a special-teamer.
Cameron Morrah, TE - Fleeting glimpses of talent in the passing game, but questionable as a blocker and inconsistent. How did all our tight ends end up in this tier?
Chester Pitts, G/T - A reasonable signing, but just can't seem to stay healthy. Has anyone figured out what kind of blocking scheme this line is running?
Michael Robinson, RB - I like this guy and was torn on where to place him. He's a far better blocker than some give him credit for, a potential trick-play weapon, and lays the wood on special teams. But he's not much of a fit with the more traditional Bevell, especially since he can't catch passes.
Isaiah Stanback, WR - Intriguing jack-of-all-trades type, perfect for Carroll's competition pipeline but perhaps not for the NFL. Training camp sure was rough on the Seahawks.
Charlie Whitehurst, QB - Not a whole lot of promise so far, but he's only around for another year and Bevell is a noted QB developer. Hard to say whether he'll ever get any snaps with Hasselbeck still around.
Ray Willis, T - How much did he get out of a season's worth of starting experience at right tackle?
Jameson Konz, WR - Smacks of Jordan Kent 2.0, but hey, let him get healthy first.
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.
Golden Tate, WR - Route-running remains primitive, and worse, rumors are now emerging that he lacks work ethic. The creative Bevell, however, may not give up on him.
Paul Fanaika, G
Breno Giacomini, T - I think he was pretty bad in Green Bay.
Chris Henry, RB
Lemuel Jeanpierre, C
Sean Locklear - Even at a reduced cost, the last vestige of 2005's revered O-line is now a liability in every facet of blocking. Quality right tackles are more easily found than some appreciate, and Seattle has in-house alternatives already at hand.
J.P. Losman - Being placed behind Charlie Whitehurst despite having the edge in starting experience tells you what this front office thinks of Losman.
William Robinson, T
Max Unger, G - There's quite a bit of competition going on already at G, and unfortunately Max has looked pretty overmatched in the pros. Either that was a nasty toe injury that he suffered, or the team doesn't have much of a role for him.
Chris White, G
Tier 1: 3
Tier 2: 8
Tier 3: 12
Tier 4: 2
Tier 5: 9
What do you think?