Monday, August 1, 2011

Grading Seattle's Free Agency: Defense and Special Teams

Brandon Mebane (#92): A

In an stunning turn of events, I actually managed to be right about something. Not only did Seattle re-sign DT Brandon Mebane, they announced today that he'd be moving back to his natural 1-tech position, something I'd guessed at yesterday. A stud run-stuffer from any position, Mebane has a record of success at collapsing the pocket, that greatest single unsung component of all strong D-lines. The entire line could reap good results from this.

Alan Branch (#99): C+

So I have these voices in my head (which shouldn't surprise anyone) and decided to just mic them today to show you my internal debate on DT Alan Branch, recently released by the Cardinals and signed by the Seahawks.

Optimistic: Awesome! Branch was just starting to turn it on before Arizona dumped him!

Pessimistic: Of course he was. It was a contract year. Doesn't mean anything. Everyone's dismissing Chris Spencer's improvements for the same reason.

O: He's torn it up against us before.

P: That's what they said about Julius Jones. Defeating Seattle's 2010 O-line is not exactly cause for celebration. Branch was mostly quiet the rest of the year.

O: How do you know the cause for sure, though?

P: Branch has a long-established history of being unmotivated, from back before he was drafted.

O: Arizona's coaching staff doesn't know how to motivate people. Maybe Pete Carroll can get something out of him.

P: Weak argument. Carroll isn't a magic wand. There's plenty of players he wasn't able to motivate. Lendale White and Kentwan Balmer spring to mind.

O: Well, it's not as if we could just ignore the position. At least we got a 3-tech.

P: I'm not sure Branch is a 3-tech. His only success in Arizona came as a 3-4 end.

O: He's never played in a 4-3, so we can't dismiss his potential in Seattle.

P: True, but Branch is also about three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than what you want from an agile 3-tech. He's very similar to the dimensions of Red Bryant, who lacked leverage when playing on the inside. Both guys tend to play too high.

O: So he's a defensive end.

P: Probably. Rotational/depth guy.

O: Well, that's okay, isn't it? Our problem last year was lack of depth on the D-line.

P: Our problem last year was no interior pass rush even from our starters. Branch doesn't necessarily fix that. He's probably better depth than Balmer, but a bit expensive for that role, don't you think? Sorry, I guess I'm still mad about missing out on Drake Nevis and Jurell Casey in the draft.

O: Maybe he'll get more opportunities if Mebane keeps him clean.

P: Very possible. Maybe I'm just scared of the name.

Leroy Hill (#56): B

Leroy Hill is, ironically, the best linebacker left on the Seahawks after Lofa Tatupu's release. If he's retained his pre-2010 form, and that's a glaring if. Additionally, the Seahawks' linebacker corps isn't that good, so Hill isn't a world-beater by comparison. He was a solid tackler and run defender in days past, but the team already has plenty of that. What they don't have is pass rush and coverage, crucial skills in this pass-driven league. Hill shares these deficiencies; he hasn't rushed QB's effectively since his rookie season and is lost in zone coverage. Much like Curry, only cheaper. Still, he was available and Carroll kept him around for what he was worth.

Junior Siavii (#94): B

Siavii's return could be yet another piece in Seattle's 5-tech rotation, or it could be a comment on Colin Cole. Siavii is a decent backup built like a 3-4 end whose experience has come at nose tackle and will probably keep him there. Bringing him back could be another in the stream of subtle hints that Seattle is dissatisfied with Cole's play and/or doesn't expect him back from injury any time soon. At the very least, between Siavii and Branch, the Seahawks have upgraded their D-line depth quite a bit.

Matt McCoy (#52): C+

Again, decent backup material and special teamer with knowledge of scheme and personnel. McCoy made a little noise last preseason, but so did a lot of former Seahawks. Interesting to see where his competition against Wright and Smith, and Carroll's emphasis on good special-teams play, will leave him.

Lofa Tatupu (released): C+

Carroll doesn't play favorites, either with his own guys or the fans'. The surprising release of the Seahawks' defensive leader, expensive and shackled by injury over the last three years, reinforces the "moving forward" theme of this offseason and the front office's ability to make difficult decisions for the sake of financial prudence.

However, I have reservations. Tatupu's replacement doesn't appear to be on the roster. David Hawthorne is an adequate holdover at MLB, not a great one. He lacks Tatupu's coverage instincts, awareness, and consistency. Tatupu has lost the physical ability to cash in on those gifts, so I suppose it's a cost-benefit question, but Hawthorne isn't a long-term answer. Neither are Leroy Hill and Aaron Curry, who fit far better outside. Behind Hawthorne is the unremarkable Matt McCoy, rookies K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, and a gaggle of UDFA's. Yeesh.

I know everyone's excited about the Seahawks Youth Movement, but is there such a thing as too much youth? The flipside of youth is rawness and inexperience. The flipside of development time is poor performance. Too much of that might be too much of a tradeoff. Mike Sando pointed out that while Tatupu's 2011 price tag was expensive, it wasn't Aaron Curry expensive and could have been swallowed. If settle we must at middle linebacker, perhaps this is a case (and I don't usually make these) where veteran leadership could have made up for declining physicality? I don't know. Then again, it was Tatupu who initiated the divorce out of his own seemingly injured pride, so I guess I really don't know.

Lawyer Milloy (not pursued): B+

The departure of Lawyer Milloy feels better because Milloy has an heir at the strong safety position. SS Kam Chancellor looks ready to start and there's been a deliberate public passing of the torch between the two via Twitter. Some worry about Chancellor's speed, but a Cover 2 SS doesn't need speed as much as awareness, instincts, and strong tackling. Chancellor looks to have those, and now he has his chance to shine. Meanwhile, we thank Milloy for the sometimes underappreciated skill he brought to the defense. He was actually quite valuable while Chancellor learned the ropes.

Will Herring (to New Orleans): C

Seattle could have used Herring. He was a fast, intense, determined player and valuable special-teamer for the Seahawks. I suppose he's another Bentley or Koutovides, jumping at a chance for better money and playing time. Good for him.

Olindo Mare (to Carolina): C

Like Herring, we're not sure if Seattle offered anything to Mare, but this is an example of not knowing what you've got until it's gone. Regardless of what Jim Mora said, Mare was clutch and impressively reliable. I'll never forget his faithfulness in that field goal against Arizona after someone (Cameron Morrah, I want to say?) committed the same penalty twice in a row and forced Mare into two retries. Nailed it all three times. Thanks for everything, Olindo.

Anthony Heygood, Joe Pawelek (cut): C

They seemed a slight cut above your average camp fodder, but last year's preseason hopefuls always wind up being this year's afterthoughts. Heygood especially seemed promising as a backup before he got hurt.


  1. In the NFL, youth is served most of the time. Except in clutch situations, and tight playoff games, where veterans always seem to be the ones making the big plays and young guys crumble.

    I think we are going to Miss Mare. He was definitely far above replacement value.

  2. I've gotta rank the Branch signing slightly higher than that, if for no other reason than that he provides a plausible backup if Red Bryant goes down again. Also, while I too will miss Mare's consistency his greater strength was touchbacks, and with the league's kickoff rule change making those easier to achieve he became slightly more expendable.

  3. Good stuff Brandon. But I think the Heater could be a long term solution at MLB. We were spoiled with how quickly Lofa came onto the scene and directed the defense as a rookie. That is pretty rare. Hawthorne played his first season largely on special teams, 75% of his 2nd year at MLB--where he made a $hitload of plays (4 sacks, 2 FF, 5 PDEF and 3 INT's)--and last season as Will, where he led the team in tackles for the 2nd consecutive year at a new position. The dude is quick and always around the ball. His deficiencies in coverage are exaggerated in the context of his experience. Additionally, his 1 season at MLB was under one of the most inept coaching staffs in the history of the universe.

  4. Branch looks great as depth but I don't know about paying him starter money. Why didn't we try to get Haynesworth? Very obvious fit here who was on the market for a very long time, with a front-loaded (already paid) contract who went for only a 5th rounder. Why isn't he a Seahawk?? And Mebane's back at 1-tech, Good!, but why did it take Pete a year to figure this out?

    Our D doesn't look great. It could have used the draft resources we spent on RT and RG, and someone legit at 3-tech. This seems to me like an obvious observation.

  5. Nano - Heater could develop, sure. It's encouraging that they're moving him back to Mike, which he was much better at than Will. He's already paid off well for someone who went undrafted.

    seattl - I tend to agree. I'm not excited about Haynesworth, but PC/JS's failure to find a 3-tech in the draft could be a lingering bugaboo for this defense. Then again, I'm a believer in "the best defense is a good offense", and evidently Carroll is as well. We have time.

  6. Competition to keep Mebane was fierce because he's that good. Seahawks kept him and at a great price. Grade: A+

    Branch was signed to starter money because he is poised for a breakout year as a 4-3 starter. AZ agreed, that's why they bid him up. He's huge, that's what Seattle likes. Grade: B.

    LeRoy has had tastes of greatness, he's angry to have fallen so quickly, He's in shape and focused. Grade: B+

    Siavii provides decent but unspectacular depth. Need guys with upside here. Grade: C.

    Matt McCoy: Perfect special teamer for backup linebacker role. Grade: B

    Lofa was at his greatest leading the team in tackles and dropping back for interceptions, those days are over. He's not one of the best three linebackers on the team any more and the backup slots need to be filled with upside special teams monsters. If other teams disagreed with Seattle's assessment, he would have been snapped up for big bucks. Holmgren would have held on too long to the team's detriment. This was a smart call, Hawthorne is very good and could have a breakout year. Grade: A-.

    Milloy: He'll be 3-4th string all year as he won't be picked up by other teams but he'll be avaible if injures pile up at safety. If he was still more effective, he would have been picked up by other teams. The younger guys need playing time to improve. Backup safeties are special team spots. Grade: A-

    Herring would have been nice to keep but they can discover others in that spot. Grade: B

    Mare should have been extended last year to a 2 year deal for half what Panthers paid. Not over-paying was good, but strategically could have extended him for less. With new rules, kickoff depth less important. A younger guy might be better at coverage. Grade: B