BY Art Thiel 03:58PM 03/14/2014

Seahawks look to save by hiring damaged goods

Three free agents the Seahawks are recruiting have things in common: They’re 27, proven and had a major surgery in 2013. That means the players have little leverage.

Zach Miller was one excited Seahawk in the Monday night game against New Orleans. He may be less so these days. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

To help understand the Seahawks’ moves in free agency, it’s useful to keep in mind three names who aren’t free agents: Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson. Nearly every move the Seahawks are making in this year’s free agent period is influenced to some degree by the plan to retain the three stars with contract extensions over the next 12 or so months.

Put simply, the Seahawks are looking in free agency for bargain replacements for every player lost from the Super Bowl roster in anticipation of Thomas, Sherman and Wilson going bank.

That helps explain why the Seahawks are taking visits from at least two players considered damaged goods: TE Jermichael Finley and DT Henry Melton. And if reports are true,  the Seahawks are giving consideration to bringing back their own damaged goods: WR Sidney Rice.

Besides proven NFL free agent talents still relatively young, these three have in common one thing: Significant injuries in 2013 that limit their leverage in free agency.

Seahawks fans know that Rice, an eight-year vet at 27, tore his ACL in week 8, ending his season at 15 catches and 231 yards. He had successful surgery, but was cut to avoid his $7.5 million hit to the salary cap. Before the cut, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was enthusiastic about Rice’s rehab progress, and could be eager to bring him back under a far less expensive deal.

Finley, a six-year pro and 27 this month, took a severe, helmet-to-helmet collision in Week 6 and had neck fusion surgery in November. He visited Seattle Wednesday and took a physical, from which results aren’t known publicly. He left Seattle without a deal. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweeted Thursday that the Seahawks are waiting for Finley to gain full medical clearance.

Melton, a four-year pro and also 27, had an ACL tear and repair after a Week 3 injury. He took a visit Thursday to Seattle, and has been to Minnesota and Dallas.  Here is what profootballfocus.com had to say about Melton:

Henry Melton is one year removed from production similar to Jason Hatcher. In 2012 Melton was first among defensive tackles in Run Stop Percentage (11.6) and fifth in Pass Rushing Productivity (7.7). That one-year period between could not have gone any worse than it did though. It started with Melton getting franchise tagged when he could have easily broken the bank. He then started the season playing downright awful football. The Bears’ defensive tackle managed a paltry two pressures in 72 pass rushing snaps for a pass rushing productivity of 2.1. He also had the league’s worst run defense grade at -4.8 before he tore his ACL in week three against Pittsburgh. To top it all off Melton got arrested in December for public intoxication and assault.

Depending on how confident Melton is in his ability to return from his injury, he could be a solid candidate for a one-year ‘prove it’ contract. Another season like 2012 could land him one of the top contracts at the position. At just 27 years old, he has quite a few years ahead of him and could get a six-year deal if fully healthy. Teams are always willing to throw cash at pass rushers though and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone takes a chance and gives Melton a sizable deal hoping he regains form.

None of these players may be signed by Seattle. But their similar profiles suggest the Seahawks are hoping to score one-year “prove it” deals among the NFL’s remaining free agents that won’t compromise the team’s ability to construct future contracts for the three young stars on their roster.

It helps explain why Seattle couldn’t go top-of-market to keep Golden Tate, not after committing so many resources at the wide receiver position to Percy Harvin. Tate next season in Seattle might have had only six to eight touches a game, including punt returns.

He is among the game’s best in the open field, along the sidelines and with yards after catch, and his loss is the biggest blow to Seattle so far in free agency. But Tate, who earned the league-minimum $630,000 this season, would have received neither the opportunities nor the money in Seattle that he is getting from the Lions. He knew that 368 days ago when the Seahawks traded for Harvin.

Sherman’s rookie contract is up after next season, but in 2013 his base salary of $550,000 was less than one of his NFL contemporaries, Darrelle Revis, was making in a week. It’s fair to assume Sherman will clear his throat about it.

Thomas’s five-year deal as a first-rounder is worth $18.3 million and also is up in 2015. Wilson is two years away from free agency, but the Seahawks need to avoid too many long-term commitments to others that would compromise them in keeping Wilson, who will probably earn around $20 million annually.

That is why TE Zach Miller will likely have to be cut if he is unwilling to restructure his current deal that would bring him $6.8 million in base salary this year. The free agent market for top tight ends is less than $3 million. The Seahawks would prefer to keep Miller for all his blocking skills, but Finley is a better athlete and pass catcher — and a lousy blocker. So the Seahawks will have to adjust the offense.

Because the draft looms in May, the Seahawks aren’t looking to replace every loss in free agency now. But when they do sign a veteran, don’t expect there to be big money or a long term. That’s no way to keep Thomas, Sherman and Wilson.

Pats sign Browner: 3 years, $17M

Former Seahawks CB Brandon Browner, an original member of the Legion of Boom, signed with the New England Patriots Friday afternoon for three years and $17 million, according to ESPN.com. The deal marks a splendid recovery for Browner, 29, whose three-strikes suspension for a full year in December was initially believed to be be career-threatening. He negotiated it down to the 2014 season’s first four games. The positive rest was reportedly for marijuana during the the past season.

Backup QB Tarvaris Jackson agreed to return to the Seahawks on a one-year contract deal worth $1.25 million . . . . . . CB Walter Thurmond was in Jacksonville Wednesday and visited the San Francisco 49ers Thursday.

Seahawks Free Agent Tracker

Date Player Action Skinny
3/14 CB Brandon Browner Signed-NE 3 years, $17 million
3/7 OL L. Jeanpierre Re-signed 16 games, 3 starts
3/7 S Jeron Johnson Re-signed Backup joined as undrafted FA in 2011
3/10 DE Michael Bennett Re-signed 4 years, $28.5 million, $16M guaranteed
3/11 TE Anthony McCoy Re-signed Didn’t play in ’13 (Achilles injury)
3/11 DT C. McDonald Signed-TB 4 years, $12 million
3/11 LB O. Schofield Signed-NYG (voided) 2 years, $8 million
3/12 S Chris Maragos Signed-PHI 3 years, $1M guaranteed
3/12 WR Golden Tate Signed-DET 5 years, $31 million, $13M guaranteed
3/12 DT Tony McDaniel Re-signed 2 years, $6.3 million
3/12 RT Breno Giacomini Signed-NYJ 4 years, $18 million
3/13 QB Tarvaris Jackson Re-signed Played 3 games in 2013

Seahawks Cuts / Restructures

Date Player Action Skinny
2/28 WR Sidney Rice Cut Saved $7.3 million in cap space
3/11 DE Red Bryant Signed-JAX 4 years, $17 million
3/12 DE Chris Clemons Signed-JAX 4 years, $17.5 million
3/15 TE Zach Miller Restructured Base of $3M, down from $6M

Unsigned Seahawks Free Agents

Player Pos. Age Skinny
Doug Baldwin WR 26 50 receptions, 778 yards, 5 TDs in 2013
Kellen Davis TE 28 15 games, 3 receptions
Steven Hauschka K 29 143 pts led NFC (4th NFL)
Paul McQuistan OG 31 16 games, 14 starts
Michael Robinson FB 31 Seahawk since 2010
Walter Thurmond CB 27 Missed 4 games to drug suspension

Free Agents Signed By Seahawks

Date Player Pos. From Skinny
3/12 Taylor Price WR JAX 26-year-old injured last two years

YourThoughts

  • ss

    Offensive efficiency and productivity, running and passing, was noticeably improved when Zach Miller was on the field. The run game worked better and that’s huge for our run reliant offense. His pass protection assistance to the tackles, especially for the young guy that will step in when Okung goes out with injuries (which you can count on), makes a big difference for Wilson. Miller’s not the most gazelle-like of receivers, but he brings a great game. Hope they can work it out with him.

    • art thiel

      All true. They definitely want Miller to stay, but Luke Willson has impressed too. A good TE is large in Bevell’s offense. Miller will find more money if he’s cut, but unlikely a better situation.

  • jafabian

    The Patriots are making some good moves this offseason. Moves I thought the Broncos would do. Hope the best for Browner.

    I hope the Hawks can keep Miller. He can catch, it’s just not his role. Interesting how the Hawks are going after damaged goods in free agency. The Mariners have had the same approach over the years. Hope they have better success.

    I don’t think Tate is going to get any more opportunies on the field than he did here. Not with Megatron on the other side of the field. And as far as money goes, he’s going to a bankrupt city with a bad economy, a state with an income tax and a team that never goes to the playoffs. I question if he’ll make as much money as he thinks. I also predict he’ll be cut in two years in a money saving move.

  • Tequila Kid

    Damn, Artie, you need more readers.
    Listen, the Hawks can do whatever they want with damaged goods. Ask the Mariners how well that works. They’re counting on Felix and Cano making bank, too. You wanna go to Vegas on the rest of the team?