Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Class, Competition, and the Change That Might Not Be: Part 1

So, we've signed a starting quarterback with two starts under his belt who doesn't fit Pete's "mobile point guard" profile all that well, and NOW it's a good offseason?


It's nice when your thoughts organize themselves into convenient categories. My reaction to Seattle's signing of Matt Flynn is threefold. In brief: He's far from a bust-in-waiting. Still, it's a little surprising...and a little much excitement has been generated in Seattle by a 7th-round QB who has flashed success in very limited starting experience in the NFL's most efficient offense. Harsh way to put it? Sure. But not untrue, and not irrelevant.

I'll elaborate on Flynn later. First I want to talk about how his arrival affects our incumbent quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson.

I'm the last person to suggest that our QB situation last year was ideal. I know exactly what we have in Tarvaris Jackson: a "bridge QB" with glaring holes in his game who will probably never survive in the playoffs. And towards the end of the year as Jackson experienced a solid stretch as a "game manager", a lot of folks seemed content with that and gave Jackson credit for what he had accomplished. It's a rebuild, we said. We'll get there.

Then free agency came around, and the scent of new possibilities seemed to trigger all kinds of panting amongst the fan base.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lukewarm on the Red Bryant Re-Signing

DE Red Bryant is a favorite son of Seahawks fans. He's an exciting comeback story, an opportunistic playmaker in the mold of Carroll's perpetually overachieving "dirty defense", and certainly has a role in Seattle's lopsided scheme.

Today he finally signed an offer Seattle had on the table for a while, 5 years for $35 million. That was bigger than I was expecting. It was 40% bigger than Brandon Mebane's contract last year. I feel a bit like a stormtrooper in the midst of the celebration over Emperor Palpatine's death, but I have a few nagging reservations about this.

- First, it complicates efforts to sign DE Mario Williams. But this doesn't qualify as the foremost reason, because Williams to Seattle was never a certainty and perhaps never even a likelihood. I don't recall reading anything that really convinces me of drooling interest on Seattle's part. (While I was typing, Mike Sando confirmed this.) Outbidding four other teams to give him the largest DE contract in NFL history wouldn't exactly fit Carroll/Schneider's style. I'd qualify that by saying that Carroll/Schneider's style is to win at the end of the day, and Mario Williams would certainly service that. He'd have been a young, scheme-fitting, all-around superstar at a position of desperate need. But disappointment with Bryant over a free-agent signing that may never even have happened wouldn't be fair to our favorite relative of Jacob Green.

- Secondly, it takes the "Bryant experiment" and turns it into a long-term fixture. Red has a reputation of making life complicated for opponents' run games, but after two years I'm still not convinced that his impact is all that. What he did in 2010 was too circumstantial to trust, lambasting bad running teams in his first six games and happening to get hurt (along with the rest of the line) right as Seattle reached the worst part of its schedule. He stayed healthy in 2011, but Seattle's run defense didn't. It was declining towards the latter half of the season as speedier backs like Demarco Murray and Roy Helu found traction against them.

Something else that continues to decline is our pass rush. Everyone agrees that this is an issue, and while Bryant isn't an active part of the problem, he doesn't do much to help (and isn't intended to). He's a big guy with unusual quickness, but not enough agility or closing speed to harass quarterbacks, especially scrambling ones. This leaves our front pass rush up to one individual, which weakens it right away, as one of the elements of a successful pass rush is unpredictable origin. Carroll seemingly has plans to compensate with one hell of a blitzing linebacker corps, but that's not a requires blitzing lanes and still leaves coverage holes.

With due respect to wrinkles, if there are four players on the line when the ball is snapped, it's a 4-3, and a 4-3 mandates pressure from the 4. That isn't going to be Red, and any pass-rush specialist that spells him to get it will have to be cheap. That, even more than the cap hit, means no Mario - or anyone expensive, for that matter. You don't spend $22+ million annually on one position being shared by two players. Mario couldn't even displace Chris Clemons, because that would preserve the original problem - front QB pressure coming from only one place, a strategic disadvantage. To really blow this thing open, pass-rush reinforcements would need to go right where Red has just been entrenched, and not just on third down. "Hey look, Red's coming off the field, they must be gunning for Brady!"

Bryant's contract, however, signals Carroll's approval of a system that overemphasizes run-stopping ability in a passing league, keeps what pass rush we have constricted to LDE, and also tends to telegraph our intentions at the line by whomever appears at RDE. Reading similar complaints from me a year ago makes me cringe as to how simplistic they were, but Pete's habit last year of swapping Red out with pass-rush specialist(ishs) on 3rd down makes me think he agrees. Which leads me thirdly to...

- ...the statement that Red is worth $10 million more than Brandon Mebane. A lot of folks already disagree with this. 5Y/$35M is not insane for a DE, but it's awkward to justify for one who usually plays two downs, generates no QB pressure, doesn't take well to kicking inside, and should rightfully be playing in a 3-4. It's being said that Bryant's influence in the locker room explains the added value, as does the market - New England was supposed to be interested at one point, and possibly drove the price up.

This certainly isn't a fatal signing or anywhere near a dangerous one. There are plenty of options, as some have theorized - an enterprising schemesmith like Carroll is no doubt still at his whiteboard right now. We are looking at pass-rushing linebacker types in the draft, as well as Jason Jones in free agency (a 3-tech at last! Yay!)

Let's call this what it is - somewhat overpaying for a one-dimensional specialist who's crucial to the team identity but whose usage paints the pass rush into a corner and potentially blocks any big draft investment in defensive end. It's silly to conclude that this front office is financially naive - they were willing to let this heavily valued player test the market rather than eat up (har har) the franchise tag - but some heads around Seattle are cocked.

I suppose we'll see where this goes. I do look forward to blocked field goals all year long. And while I wouldn't expect any pricey defensive ends to appear on Seattle's roster in the near future, money has never been an obstacle to Carroll finding talent. After all we've seen so far, Pete gets the benefit of a doubt from this blogger.

As if the title "blogger" made me any sort of authority on this stuff. Haha.