No teams have been identified, but several have apparently told NFL.com's Michael Lombardi that they're hungrily investigating Seattle defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.
Teams have told me that if the Seahawks allow Brandon Mebane to hit the free-agent market, he will be highly sought after. Young defensive linemen with some rush ability are a rare commodity in free agency.Mebane is one of the league's under-the-radar talents. He broke out in 2007 largely because of the injury of someone higher on the depth chart (in this case, DT Chuck Darby), which is commonplace in the NFL. Mebane took only a season to establish himself as an excellent nose tackle, capable of collapsing pockets, stopping the run, and even sacking a few quarterbacks with 7.5 sacks in 26 games up until the end of 2008.
Afterwards, the Seahawks decided to switch Mebane to the under tackle position. He has played capably there but not excellently, as the position doesn't take advantage of his unusual tools. His production, and more importantly the production of the entire defensive line, has not been the same since. It's not Mebane's fault, not in my eyes.
I really wish I knew why Seattle is playing Mebane at under tackle. Maybe there's a good reason, but it's frustrating to not know it. I will not believe that former Seahawks D-line coach Dan Quinn (now a coordinator in college) is simply clueless, because he's done good work with other players and is credited for the emergence of Red Bryant at defensive end. But it's hard to fathom why the Seahawks shoved Mebane away from his position of strength and replaced him with Colin Cole, who provides no pass rush. The results speak for themselves.
Mebane faces the frustrating but commonplace fate of being one of those guys who gets cut because the coaching staff insists on mis-using him, not because of a lack of ability or effort. He has flashed the talent to be a potential Pro Bowler on another team. No, he's not worth franchise DT money, but who in this league is? It's appearing more and more that the only alternative to franchising and overpaying Mebane is to lose him entirely, and perhaps some of us undervalue Mebane. He really was special in 2008.
I know I'm not a coach, and maybe I don't fully appreciate the financial side of the league. But I do appreciate Mebane, the value of the position he's valuable in, and the importance of setting a rebuild up to succeed. My opinion is that Seattle needs to slap the tag on Mebane, restore him to over tackle, find a real under tackle pronto, and let roll the good times again. Pull that off, and I actually think Mebane could be almost worth the sky-high price tag of a franchise defensive tackle. Almost.
It'll be tough to replace Mebane without a draft pick because of the labor situation, so this likely won't be rescued with a lateral move a la Darryl Tapp and Chris Clemons. It's more likely to be another unmitigated step back a la Rob Sims and...yeah. It's my judgment that overpaying him is better than creating another hole and letting another proven talent walk because of scheme. Lemme hear what you think.
Click here to read Kip Earlywine's much better and more educational writeup on Mebane's talents, his murky usage by the Seahawks, and his value to the team's future.