We usually reserve this weekly feature during the regular season for a closer look at the Seattle Seahawks upcoming opponent. But the next meaningful game Seattle plays isn’t until September, so instead I’ll delve into some of the most pressing issues the Seahawks need to address during the offseason.
But I’d like to take on one MINOR issue right off the top. If you’ve been listening to a steady diet of local sports talk radio, as I have the past few weeks, you might be convinced that what Seattle will do with reserve quarterback Matt Flynn is at the top of the to-do list during the offseason for general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll.
But it is not.
Yes, we’re talking about someone who made $8 million in total compensation in 2012, yet played a total of 34 snaps during the regular season – none of them meaningful – as the most important situation the team must deal with in the coming months.
Here are the reasons being given for Flynn’s importance to Seattle’s fortunes on the field in 2013.
Flynn is the best backup quarterback since Jeff Hostetler came off the bench late in the season after Phil Simms suffered a broken foot to lead the New York Giants to a win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV, apparently. Some folks believe the Seahawks need to keep Flynn as insurance in case Russell Wilson gets injured, no matter what the cost.
For goodness sakes, Wilson’s a mobile quarterback and you just never know when Patrick Willis is going to put the hammer on the little bugger and knock him out of the game, right?
Flynn enters 2013 in the second year of a three-year, $19.5 million deal. He’s set to make $5.25 million in base salary in 2013, $2 million of which is guaranteed. If traded or let go, Flynn’s contract would count about $4 million against the team’s salary cap.
Here are some salaries of backup quarterbacks who started games in 2012:
Chicago Bears Jason Campbell ($3.5 million in 2012) 0-1 as a starter
Pittsburgh Steelers Charlie Batch ($925,000 in 2012) 1-1 as a starter
Jacksonville’s Chad Henne ($4.08 million in 2012) 1-5 as a starter
Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck ($5.5 million in 2012) 2-3 as a starter
Kansas City’s Brady Quinn ($1.5 million in 2012) 1-7 as a starter
Why Flynn won’t be on the team at that number
Just take a look at Schneider’s history of dealing with players he and Carroll view as being overpaid and/or not worth putting up with because of their attitude. Julius Jones was asked to take a pay cut after he lost his starting job. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was released, rather than allowed to be a malcontent in the locker room.
Aaron Curry, Lofa Tatupu and Mike Williams were released or traded after their salaries proved to burdensome compared to their value on the field.
The same thing will happen with Flynn. Carroll already said during his season-ending presser that he’d like to bring in a quarterback with a similar skill set as Wilson. The Seahawks will try and move Flynn this offseason. If they find no takers, Flynn will be asked to restructure his contract. And if he refuses, the Seahawks will give him his release.
Flynn’s trade value will be driven by the number of teams interested in his services, not some arbitrary draft value chart. The Seahawks gave up what amounted to a late, second-round pick for Charlie Whitehurst heading into the 2010 season because Arizona also was interested in Whitehurst’s services.
Buffalo gave up a seventh-round pick to Seattle for Tarvaris Jackson, likely because they wanted to make sure they had control of Jackson rather than wait for him to hit the waiver wire.
Who has more value as a quarterback, Whitehurst or Jackson? I think you know that answer to that question.
Another reason you can’t have Flynn on the roster for a second straight season at his current salary is I believe you can’t have the backup making that much more than your Pro Bowl quarterback for a second straight season.
Wilson’s set to make $525,217 in 2013. Even though the team isn’t paying a lot for the quarterbacks in the room, it undermines Wilson’s credibility to have the backup making that much more than him, and it will be used against Seattle by Wilson’s agent when the team begins to negotiate a contract extension with Wilson at the end of the 2014 season.
And how much will the backup really play with Wilson at quarterback? We’ve already seen that Wilson is great at sliding or getting out of bounds when he runs. He seldom takes big hits. With Wilson, Seattle could have one of the more durable quarterbacks in the league, similar to Peyton Manning and Brett Favre in their prime.
Also, if Wilson does get injured and is done for the year, the likelihood of Seattle making a Super Bowl is slim to none. Sorry, the days of a game manager like Trent Dilfer engineering a team to a Super Bowl is over. As you watched last year, Seattle’s defense is really good, but not elite in my opinion. You’re going to need a playmaker at the helm for this team to make it to the big game, and ultimately win the Super Bowl.
I apologize for being long winded, but here’s what I believe are Seattle’s top five needs that the team should address this offseason.
A pass rusher (or two)
One of Seattle’s struggles this season was generating a consistent pass rush on third down.
The Seahawks allowed opponents to convert 38.38 percent of their opportunities on third down during the regular season, No. 17 in the league.
Part of the issue late in the season is Seattle had to play without two if its best pass rushers in Jason Jones and Chris Clemons.
Both finished the season on the injured reserve, and will have to rehab knee issues during the offseason. Jones is a free agent, so the Seahawks will have to determine if his lingering health issues are worth the gamble of bringing him back on a multi-year deal.
And Seattle will have to find a replacement for Clemons either through the draft or free agency. Clemons is returning from ACL reconstructive surgery, which can take up to a year for a full recovery.
Seattle may look to the St. Louis Rams and how that head coach Jeff Fisher defensively created pressure, and try to emulate that model. The Rams 52 sacks in 2012 tied for the league lead with the Broncos.
Both the Rams’ defensive ends Chris Long (11.5) and Robert Quinn (10.5) finished in double digits in sacks.
But the backup defensive ends Williams Hayes (7) and Eugene Sims (3) totaled double digit sacks together. Both of those players came in to rush the passer on third down.
Nick Wagoner, writing for the Rams official website, reports that St. Louis finished second in the league in sacks when blitzing with 26, and second in success rate as they got home for sacks on 12.38 percent of their 184 called blitzes, according to STATSPASS.
After Clemons (11.5) and Bruce Irvin (8.5), Seattle’s next best pass rushers were Jones (3 sacks) and Brandon Mebane (3).
And with Clemons rehabbing from ACL knee surgery, the Seahawks will need at least two pass rushers to add to the mix on third down situations.
Rookie Greg Suggs showed an ability to rush the passer on third down situations. Red Bryant also needs to improve in this area. And fourth-round draft pick Jaye Howard spent essentially a redshirt year learning the pro game.
The University of Florida product will be reunited with his coach from the Gators in Dan Quinn, and now has to start living up to the expectations of hi draft status in his second season.
A run stuffer
With defensive tackle Alan Branch expected to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the Seahawks will have to decide whether they want to bring back the University of Michigan product on a multi-year deal, or fill that spot via the draft or another player in free agency.
The Seahawks finished in the top 10 in run defense, giving up an average of 103.1 yards a contest. But as Bill Barnwell of Grantland points out, on first and 10 running plays with the score within 14 points, Seattle’s defense gave up an average of 5.6 yards per carry in the second half of the season, which was 30th overall in the league.
Part of this, I believe, can be attributed to Bryant dealing with a foot injury down the backstretch of the season. But you also have to wonder about the defensive front seven’s ability to consistently stop the run in 2013, and what new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will do to rectify that issue.
Getting another run stuffer like Georgia’s Johnathan Jenkins to pair with Brandon Mebane up front through the draft might be a good start.
A zone defender
Seattle’s struggles stopping teams in late-game situations last year has been well documented.
Several folks point to an aging Marcus Trufant as the problem, and want to see the Seahawks either draft or seek a nickel defender in free agency to rectify the issue.
But to blame Seattle’s struggles on third down only on Trufant is to gloss over the issue. The problem is really Seattle’s inability to defend the middle of the field in zone coverage because of the inexperience in that area, when you add linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, along with Kam Chancellor to that equation.
Factor in Seattle’s inability to create consistent pressure on the money down, and you have a significant problem that Carroll and the rest of coaching staff needs to address.
Part of that answer already exists on the roster if Walter Thurmond can come back healthy. Yes, I know that’s a big if, but Thurmond is a starting-caliber cornerback, and could develop into a playmaker on third down if he has a good offseason.
Couple a healthy Thurmond with another year of experience for Seattle’s young linebackers, and the Seahawks could be looking at an improved group on third down.
The Seahawks may also want to revisit drafting a play-making safety for third down, with Chancellor playing some WILL linebacker in obvious passing situations. Winston Guy was given more responsibility late in the year, so it’s possible he develops into more of an impact player in his second season. But while proving an enforcer in the back end of the defense, Chancellor does struggle at times in coverage.
A red zone target
Many folks are clamoring for the Seahawks to sign a big-time receiver Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace in free agency, but I think that’s a waste of money.
Seattle doesn’t throw enough to warrant spending top dollar in free agency for a diva receiver who’s going to demand the ball and prove an attitude problem in the locker room.
And in my opinion, Sidney Rice is a No. 1 receiver in the NFL; he just isn’t targeted like one.
Rice and Golden Tate combined for 14 touchdowns during the regular season. Only seven other teams (Green Bay, Denver, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Dallas and Cincinnati) had receiver duos that finished with more combined touchdowns.
I think Seattle’s three-receiver set with Rice, Tate, slot receiver Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller is solid. Where the Seahawks could use some help is an explosive receiver or pass-catching tight end who can stretch the field or score touchdowns in the red zone.
Someone like Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who at 6-3 and 205 pounds has great speed and elusive running ability after the catch, as you can see in the video below.
Yes, Patterson is raw in terms of his route-running ability and understanding of a pro-style offense, but he has a tremendous set of tools to work with and develop.
A road grader
The game-by-game, and sometimes play-by-play juggling of playing time at right guard between John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy probably was the most head-scratching decision of Seattle’s 2012 season.
Neither was consistent enough to take over the job full-time, and Carroll’s uncertainty at that position points to a need for a butt-kicking guard that needs to be added either through the draft or free agency.
However, just like nickel cornerback, the need for a road grader at offensive guard already could be filled by a healthy James Carpenter returning to action in 2013.
Although he looked solid at times at practice, I thought Carpenter’s return from major reconstructive knee surgery was rushed in 2012, and he should have been allowed to work on building strength last season.
The team seemed to confirm that thought by placing Carpenter on the injured reserve list after seven starts in December.
If Carpenter can return healthy and take over at left guard, that allows Paul McQuistan to shift back over to right guard, and I think it gives Seattle one of the better starting offensive lines in the NFL.
If Carpenter can’t come back healthy, then I think the Seahawks would like to see Sweezy take that next step in his second season.
Regardless, I think Seattle continues to build the interior of the offensive line through the draft.