All Quiet on the Pacific Northwest Front
By Adam Hocking
Special to Pro Football Guru
Free agency in the NFL is always most exciting from the perspective of the teams signing the new players. When players leave their old team, there generally isn’t a huge demand for that story. We all want to know how a departed player will fit with a new team, change their fortunes, and impact the league landscape. For example, the number of stories discussing DeSean Jackson’s significance to the Washington Redskins far surpasses how many consider what his absence means to the Philadelphia Eagles.
A player departure is met with the familiar “cost of doing business” axiom that permeates the NFL. That cost has been exceedingly high for the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks this offseason, though nobody seems to have noticed.
Seattle’s best move to date was retaining star defensive end Michael Bennett. Other than that they’ve compiled a list of additions that would excite nobody, though that makes sense given that their roster was already good enough to win a championship. The lack of a big-name signing wouldn’t normally be worrisome except for the fact that Seattle has seen a huge number of their quality players leave for new teams.
Brandon Browner, who didn’t play much at all last season but is still a talented cornerback, left for New England. Browner’s replacement, Walter Thurmond, departed as well for the New York Giants. That’s two significant losses in the secondary alone, a unit that has to be considered Seattle’s greatest strength.
The Seahawks’ defensive line was excellent last year and relied on constantly rotating their considerable depth of quality players to keep everyone fresh and at their best. The rotation took a serious hit as starter and run stuffer extraordinaire Red Bryant was released and subsequently signed with the Jaguars. Bryant will be joined in Jacksonville by fellow defensive end Chris Clemons, a pass rush specialist that played a key role in Seattle’s pressure attack and compiled 38 sacks in four years with the team. Further line depth was depleted when reserve defensive tackle Clinton McDonald took his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All told, the Seattle defense lost five players that started or at least played significant time over the past two seasons. Even the best defense in the league is going to have trouble withstanding this type of talent exodus.
Seattle’s offensive talent doesn’t equal what’s on the defensive side of the ball, thus any loss on offense would be felt more acutely. While the Seahawks didn’t lose as many players on offense, some key contributors headed elsewhere.
Wideout Golden Tate was Seattle’s leading receiver last year, a guy who fit well with their tough-minded and physical attack. Tate is excellent when it comes to running after the catch, but the 64 receptions, 898 yards, and 5 touchdowns he notched last season now reside with the Detroit Lions. Breno Giacomini started at right tackle for Seattle when healthy and he recently signed a contract with the New York Jets.
The Seahawks are a supremely talented team, but they did very little this offseason besides watch much of that talent and depth walk out the door. They still have great players like quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Richard Sherman, and free safety Earl Thomas. However, a huge strength for them has been their depth of talent and that took a serious blow this free agency period.
With San Francisco virtually standing pat so far and in possession of eleven draft picks, it’s fair to say that the Seahawks’ arch rival closed the small gap between the two just by standing still.
Division foe St. Louis is a young and improving team that only figures to get better, owners of the second and 13th overall picks in the upcoming May draft.
The Arizona Cardinals were already a 10-win team last year and managed to pry a top level left tackle in Jared Veldheer from Oakland to bolster their offensive line. The Cardinals also added a good cover corner in Antonio Cromartie and blazing fast receiver/return specialist Ted Ginn.
It was a relatively quiet offseason in the NFC West as Arizona, St. Louis, and San Francisco mostly focused on retaining their own players and adding a few key pieces. Seattle probably made the most noise but did so to their detriment by letting numerous quality players exit.
The NFC West can reasonably be considered the toughest division in football. For Seattle this offseason has made things quite a bit tougher. Repeating as a Super Bowl champion is almost unheard of in this day of salary cap restrictions and the Seahawks could eventually face that harsh reality.
Adam Hocking is from Saint Paul, Minnesota where he covers the sporting world on his site: The Day in Sports. You can also check out his podcast by searching “The Day in Sports” on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter at @tdis_humblebrag.